Marathon Route 19: Two Bears Marathon – Whitefish, Montana

 

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There is a classic running meme that shows a ferocious bear running down a road towards the camera and the caption reads “Not A Runner? Now You Are”. Imagine TWO bears. To toot my own horn, I haven’t lacked in the motivation department. I have stated on more than one occasion that I hate trail running.  This is categorically false. I actually love running on trails and the natural beauty contained therein but because I am not quite strong enough or tempered enough or experienced enough, this feeling of euphoria is usually short lived.  It is then replaced with feelings of pain, weakness, nausea, and impotence – thus why I think and say I hate trails. What I do on the trail quite often can’t be compared to running or hiking or even walking with a near fatal wound. A disheartened crawl best describes my movements on the trail, but I am determined to change that. I’ve got motivation to spare. So it was with gusto and idealistic intent that I chose to run the route of the Two Bear Marathon in Whitefish, Montana.

Reading and researching this marathon, I knew it would be tough. Firstly, there was a time limit on the official marathon of 5 hours and 30 minutes. Since I was running this as one of my unsupported training marathons, I didn’t need to worry about being taken off the course or spending money on a race that wouldn’t be counted or lists me as a DNF (Did Not Finish). The previous week I had finished a slightly hilly road race in that maximum time; I knew that the terrain and the steeper inclines on these mountains would add significant time to my run. The first half of the run would be wild and crazy, but essentially the second half (the second bear) would be steep at times, but it would be paved, so I would have firmer footing when I was most tired. Secondly, there were vastly more hills, with much greater inclines than I had previously encountered. On the website, the race directors joke that the net elevation is a loss of 229 ft, but the total elevation gain when totaling all the hills is 4,600 ft. Thirdly, I am a klutz and I have problems on roads or open fields keeping my feet under me.  The variety of surfaces and course material, gravels, pebbles, mud, dirt, and pavement, were going to hurt.  The pavement would eventually give my feet a little rest, but I had 15 miles of rocks to get through first.  This is a course that the race directors can’t get officially certified because the trail portion is too rugged. I wanted a challenge, I’m getting a challenge.  Please do not ask me why I do the crazy things that I do.

Course Review

It is at this point that I feel the need to confess – I did not finish this course.  I ran a marathon distance, but I did not finish the course as laid out by the race directors. I have had small discrepancies before on maps, areas I could not get permission to enter, wrong turns that linked up to the main trail, or questions determining exactly where the start or finish line is laid out, but considering this is a whole half marathon, I do not feel that this is something I can sweep under the carpet to clean up while guests are in the house.  The fact of the matter is that once again, on trails which were not clearly marked, I did not try to contact the RDs to determine whether or not the trail was accessible during non-qualifying times.  The race starts on the Lion Mountain Trailhead of the Whitefish Trail System, but to get to Delrey Rd. and East Lakeshore Dr.,  there a connecting jeep road that connects the trails system to the paved road – and I could not find it to save my life. The race leaves the trail and runs along one of the Beaver Lease dirt roads for approximately 1.7 miles where you should see that jeep trail, yet after running back and forth for about 2 extra miles, I eventually had a decision to make.  What I wanted to do wasn’t even an option; I could not continue the route.  So it was either follow the dirt roads to a paved road and hitch a ride back to my car or retrace the path that bought me here, effectively running the most difficult portion of the race a second time.  Knowing my ambition and my stupidity know no bounds, of course I chose that latter course.

Having run the first bear twice, in some cases an inch at a time, I do feel I got to know that portion of the trails system intimately. The race route starts off on wider trails designed for family and education purposes but then literally narrows to its purpose. There are a variety of little loops built into these first miles, most which lead to promontaries with stunning views of the surrounding mountains. After some rolling hills to get the juices flowing, you get a very fast downhill alongside gorgeous rock face that is featured prominently on the race’s marketing material. After that the trail winds through state and private property with lushly decorated, tightly cut switchbacks and inclines for another couple miles. There is a small mile and half break as you do a loop on one of the dirt and pebble country roads, before it’s back into the woods for more of the old up and down. It was gorgeous running these trails in the spring with a panoply of greens around and above you, I can only imagine the majesty of running the course in the fall with a variety of colors to catch the eyes. Also, running is the spring, part of the trail runs through a small crick that probably doesn’t flow in the fall. I reached the half mark in good spirits because as tough as the course was and even knowing that the toughest hill climb is at mile 14.5 I just kept thinking “Just make it to the road. Smooth running once you hit the road.” Except I couldn’t get to the road. It’s why my first instinct was to double back on the road. It had become my beacon. Tired and disheartened, I still had enough moxie to turn around and “run” the trail back to the start. You can see where I took some short cuts to make up for my extra search and rescue miles. I was exhausted and in pain and angry and disappointed in myself. Three and a half hours for the first half, over four and a half to get back to the start. The longest time I have ever kept moving.

Lessons Learned
Contact The Race Director
Can I really say I learned it this time? I have written this lesson so many times, I feel like Bart Simpson at the chalkboard during The Simpson’s show opening. I will contact the race directors. I will contact the race directors. I will…

Plan For The Worst
I was unprepared for a number of scenarios and that became a little scary. I did not have enough water for over 8 hours of activity. I had no plan if I got lost (flares, head lamp, non electronic compass). No bear spray (though I had been told by locals that it probably wouldn’t help). When doing trail races, I will need to come up with some alternative items to add to my prep list.

Physical Review

After about 8.5 hours on the trail, I was hurting pretty bad mentally and physically. Many of my running friends wax on and on about how running on trails keeps their legs feeling fresh and bouncy.  Not so much for me.  The first thing that hurts is my feet.  Running and striking the different rocks and roots and pebbles and stone daggers and hatchets makes my feet feel like I have been tortured for state secrets by a pro. Around mile 18 my left knee was sore every time I climbed a hill and by mile 20, my right hip would protest if I swung it to far or placed too much weight on it. After the run, I went to one of the local parks and plunged right into the icy waters of Whitefish lake.  I am so glad for my volcanic blood, because the plunge did so much good for my body.  It is so much easier to walk or jump into a freezing lake, stream, or ocean than watch a bath tub fill up, add a 5lb bag of ice and then slowly ease my sore body into the too small tub.  The knee continued to bother me through the night and I did ice it the next day.  Later, I did a light two mile test run and everything snapped into place.  Although I ran a marathon distance and have the pleasure of having persevered through the mess and not dropping my streak, this still feels a little too much like failure. Good to know what that feels like so I can move on and attempt another run. My next run is in Brookings, South Dakota and I will be shooting for an easy consistent marathon that will help realign my body and timing and bring back some sense of control.  Thank you as always for your support.  I look forward to your comments and question and hope you will join me next week as I, the Humpty Dumpty of running, get back up and run along the next wall.
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Marathon Route 17: Anchorage Mayor’s Marathon – Anchorage, AK

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There are still places on this planet that inspire the adventurer in us, that call to the intrepid desire to discover and explore, that push us to test our limits and test the mettle from which we are forged.  Alaska is one such place, where ice fields are surrounded by imposing mountains, where dangers still lurk for the unprepared: avalanches and polar bears and ice caves and melting glaciers and icebergs and a sun that never sets and messes with your internal clock so you don’t know if you are in a dream when you fall and hope that you wake when you hit the ground.  The great thing about being in Anchorage is you are only 20-30 minutes away from Alaska.  I heard five or six different variations on that joke before I got to Anchorage; the idea being that in the “big city” you don’t get the same flavor of isolation nor the far flung outpost feel of the smaller towns and villages.  This is a city that has one of the remaining Blockbuster Video stores and they still carry VHS. To me this is equivalent to time travel and technological backwardness almost equivalent to 8 track tape players.   Yet I did feel Alaska looming around me as the snow peaked mountains of Chugach State Park surrounded us, Mount McKinley floating in the distance on the clearest of days.  Where I’m from in Maine, you need to set about a purposeful trek to find moose, whereas here in Anchorage I came across three, two in my car, one on a running trail as I was running the route of The Anchorage Mayor’s Marathon.  There is an air in Alaska that calls for boldness and strength and tempering and I was eager to put myself to the test.

Course  Review

Although this is a city marathon, you do not see much if any of the city, certainly none of the downtown core except at the very end and then only a smidge over the buildings that surround Delaney Park. Starting at Bartlett High School you get a little bit of strip mall ambiance before you head out on the highway pointed directly at the mountains and the rising sun (even if the day is overcast, I suggest wearing sunglasses if there is still snow on the mountain because it seems to amplify the brightness).  The first five miles are mostly flat except crossing over the highway.  After you cross over, you start seeing warning signs about being on the base.  If you are the type that likes to run parts of the route before the race, you will want to stop by the base and pick up a recreational pass.  It is very easy to obtain, you do not need a military sponsor as you do for other parts of the base, and they should inform you if any tests are being conducted at the missile or gun ranges that the course cuts through.  You enter the back trails of the base just before mile 7 and run though their back roads and training courses until mile 14. Most of these roads are hard pack gravel roads so watch your footing. Keep you eyes open for some of the most interesting scenery along this route.  Aside from your closest opportunities for mountain photos mile eight is where I came nose to nose with a moose.  Perhaps a bit of an exaggeration, the moose burst onto the road from the forest about 50 yards ahead of me and stood glaring at me in the middle of the road.  I froze thinking for a moment that the moose intended to play chicken with me to defend its territory.  Fortunately, it shook it’s head dismissively and trotted off to the other side of the road at which point I got some blurry, sasquatchesque, grainy photos that make you question if I saw any beast at all. Miles 10 through 13 you run through some different training courses, so it was a little odd at first to see a mosque and some desert huts through the pine trees as well as some heavily defensive guard posts with bridges and turrets.

As you enter the last mile of the base and the beginning of the Far North Bicentennial Park you encounter the hilliest section of the course. It is not so much the altitude or the length of the hills, but the steepness that should give you some pause.  Although these hills are no more than 100 to 200 yards in length,  the angle of ascent was abrupt and hurt my knees as I tried to climb them quickly. Also, as you are on the trails in the park, be careful if there was rain recently, as the trails were quite slick, especially as you descend the mountain back towards the roads. Miles 18 -20 take you along some industrial/city areas, but from mile 20 to mile 25 you start running through an emerald necklace of city parks that take you to the coast. Most of the trails run along Chester Creek so you have a lovely calm burbling brook tempo matching your tired footfalls, but the woods surrounding you should keep you cool as the sun warms up the end of your marathon.  Keep a little bit of gas in your tank for one final hill as you run through neighborhoods from the sea to Delaney Park and you have just finished this fun and scenic course.

Lessons Learned:

Local Support:

I try to reach out to locals in each city and drum up support for my run.  Some folks want to be part of it some don’t.  I was very fortunate that my host family was very excited to be a part of my journey.  Not only did they drive me to the start line at an ungodly hour for a Sunday morning, but they also roused the household so that the whole family was on the street cheering for me at mile 18 and they erected a finish line for me at Delaney Park and met me with bananas and electrolytes and cheers and hugs. I really can’t thank Red and Pyro enough for their care and friendship. I need to learn how to generate that kind of excitement in each of my host families and see if I can continue that into the communities. I also was able to get a ton of tips from a young lady who works at Skinny Raven, the amazing running stores in Downtown Anchorage.

Sunglasses Even On Overcast Days:

Even though most of the day was overcast, it seemed incredibly bright to me and I was squinting through most of the course.  By the end of the run I had a wicked headache that only subsided when I got into the car and eventually into the cool darkness back at the house. I need to remember that clouds don’t block UV rays and that’s what damages eyes. Bring sunglasses to each marathon.

Physical Review:

This was a tough race for me and I have no excuses.  It was mostly flat.  It wasn’t high altitude. It was a nice cool day. I started off in fine form, but over the miles, every little ache came to a fore – my feet, ankles, knees, hips, and lower back all took turns pestering me.  I had raced hard my last two marathons with a racing PR and a solo PR and my body wasn’t having any kind of speed workout that day. My finish time was 5:55:39 – not a stellar time, not a bad time, just certainly not a time to which I have grown accustomed.  I need to admit that putting up these miles on a consistent basis might be making me stronger but I also need to continue to rest and allow my body to recuperate throughout the week. I’m hoping that the reserved energy is being saved up for the big race in Tacoma, Washington next week where I have a lot of support, a 5 hour pacer, and beautiful weather.  Thanks as always for your attention and your support and I look forward to your comments and questions.

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