Absolutely Awesome Alaska Marathon
Wow, what I realize is that although it is completely awesome to travel and go wherever you want to go in life, it doesn’t mean a thing if you are not with the people you love the most as sharing is the deepest joy. I say this as I left my 11-year-old daughter at home crying and not wanting me to travel to Alaska to run this marathon. I asked each of my kids if they wanted to go, but they had so many snow days, full days of school and finals as well – not to mention gymnastics, soccer playoff commitments and fun activities planned with their friends and teams. But on the other hand, it is also completely awesome to travel as an independent person and be free to experience life in all its glory. I feel so grateful to be able to pursue my passions in life and have a family that supports that. I told one of my greatest friends ever (Jeff Hamilton) that he needed to keep me laughing the entire time I am in Alaska so I maybe wouldn’t miss my family so much. The fact that I am even went to this race kind of started all out of a whim and a set of circumstances that frankly were meant to be. I wasn’t planning to run Alaska in June 2018. I was thinking about the Kona Marathon on the Big Island. Last November (2017) while I was driving to Philadelphia to run the Philadelphia Marathon when I texted my friend Jeff and told him that I was running Philly and going to visit one of my best friends, Kelly, who lives outside of Philadelphia. He proceeded to send me a link to this race and that he was going to be living in Alaska during the summer and I thought, “Why not?!?!” You don’t have to twist my arm to travel to Alaska, see one of my greatest friends ever and run a freaking MARATHON (one of my favorite things to do in this life)!! So as soon as I got back from Philadelphia, I found a flight and booked it! It is ironic because my first marathon (Rock N’ Roll Arizona going from Phoenix to Tempe, Arizona) ran right by Jeff’s place but Pat and I didn’t see him because he was so sick with the flu, so I thought this was a chance for a “do over”. I assessed the feasibility of this trip 7 months into the future and made travel plans! There is no need to deliberate endlessly, you JUST DO IT! That is true living in my opinion. Gone are the days of “no sorry I can’t, I have shackles and chains attached to me, I can’t get pry myself away from my stupid boring work project, my husband and/or family won’t let me go because I can’t do anything without them, etc.” Nope, that is not the kind of life that I lead, so I investigated, informed my husband, he encouraged me and I booked it!
By the time I made it to Alaska on June 19th at 11:30pm Alaska time which was really 3:30am EST, I was awake for almost 24 hours and I was trashed (I mean tired….us runners don’t drink foolishly anymore). It was funny though – since it was still daylight then, people were running and riding bikes. Um, yes, those CRAZY FREAKING PEOPLE! I thought “How the heck would I feel good enough again to run a marathon in a few days?!” I didn’t quite know, but I knew I would find a way like I always do. I arrived late on a Tuesday night and the marathon wasn’t until Saturday, so I purposely did that, so I would have time to recover and rest. My running was all done for the week prior to flying to Alaska, so it was really a time to rest and recover from the grueling travel. Of course, we found so many things to do: see a glacier, walk the many miles of paved bike paths in Anchorage plus the downtown area, travel many miles of the course to be completely prepared, search for moose and bears and even an easy 4-mile hike after the marathon. I was amazed how quickly I adapted to Alaska time! I stayed up late because it never really got dark there and midnight was the equivalent of 4am back home. So when I slept until 8am, I was almost in complete shock!! I rarely do that at home. We would be walking around outside at 10:30-11:30 at night and so were many other people! I realized by Thursday that I better get to sleep earlier because the race starts at 7am on Saturday. If I sleep too long, I will miss the race and I would not be happy! It’s a runner’s biggest fear is to oversleep and/or miss the start of a race.
As I approached race morning, I felt rested and ready. It was probably about 49-50 degrees and it had rained the night before so more chill in the air than expected. Honestly, I was scared poopless about running 9 miles on the trails because I didn’t want to encounter a moose or a bear, but that fear soon escaped my mind with the many runners nearby. As we lined up for the race, the woman said there were runners from 47 states, so I felt good to have travelled SO FAR for this one. It goes to show you – your passion takes you wherever you want to go! Travel 3400 miles for a marathon? Sure, no problem. I am in! As we took off to start the race, I stayed on the left side of the pack because I always try to be smart about running the tangents. As I approached the first mile, I hovered at an 8:20 pace, which is about normal for me. When I am fully rested for a marathon, that’s my usual, but I have ventured into the 7-minute per mile pace as well if I am feeling like a complete animal! The first few miles, I was still chilly, and I didn’t ditch my throwaway shirt until mile 2 and tucked my gloves into my shorts in case I still wanted them. Pat and Jeff kept texting each other and I kept hearing “ding!” and it was bothering me, so I had to turn that off. I need to FOCUS people!! LOL. The first few miles were along the highway and some gentle rolling roads, nothing too crazy. I felt good. The chill in the air felt good to me as well. As we reached mile 4, we went up and over an overpass so that was a nice little hill plus some additional ones before we approached a golf course. I got into a groove and I didn’t feel like the hills bothered me. It was straight and flat at the golf course, and I knew that by mile 6, we would be venturing off road to an Army training base. I wasn’t sure how this gravel and dirt road would impact my pace, but I tried to keep steady. This “trail” was very wide and there were still a lot of people out here, so I no longer seemed completely petrified of a bear jumping out and attacking me, but that didn’t stop me from wearing my bear bell! I am sure I drove people completely nuts that were running near me, but I only could hear the jingling between songs LOL. However, although I didn’t see any big ass bears, I saw a “shitload” of bear poop – probably about every 200 – 500 meters and always on the right side of the road right where I was running. I was careful not to step in it! So essentially there were bears THERE earlier in the day because the poop looked fresh. I was trying to stay on the most patted down part of the trail so that there was no chance of slipping on the gravel rocks. One older man kept shifting from side to side and I HAD to pass him to eliminate that distraction. I was keeping a very good pace throughout the trails. I hit 10 miles at 1:28 and it was right around that time when I realized I had to tinkle. But I tried to push that idea out of my mind. When your pace is good, you have to keep going baby!! There were additional hills throughout the trails but not enough to slow me. I never eat GU going up a hill (so I can breathe and eat simultaneously), but I feel determined to get it done. I was probably almost halfway when I saw a guy wearing a Red Sox hat backwards, so I asked him if he was from Boston and he said yes. Pretty cool that he travelled so far for this race too. As I approached the half marathon mark (no official mat right there), I was at the lower end of 1:57 at mile 13 so figure my 13.1 time was somewhere in the high 1:57 or low 1:58 range. Suddenly, I noticed a bunch of animated people cheering and I wondered if they were cheering for me, but I thought NO, because I had no idea who they are. Maybe just nice Alaskans?!? But then I saw my friend Jeff right after them and he completely surprised me! I totally wasn’t expecting to see him there, but he was the one who got this whole gang of people to cheer for me! And he was taking videos to send to Pat & the kids, which I thought was so nice!!! Even my own family doesn’t always try to find me throughout races but that is usually because some kid is acting up and having a nutty. It is always great if you see your family and friends in a race because they really lift you up. Shortly thereafter, the trail narrowed significantly. Suddenly we were a little further spread out and there was only a small trail to run on that crossed a couple of small streams and we had to run over these small bridges. In some places, two people could barely run next to each other. It was around this time that out of nowhere, my left foot hit a rock and then suddenly I found myself catapulting through the air like Superwoman. I thought “Oh freaking NO, I am going down!” I tried to regain my balance but no dice. After what seemed to be 10 minutes which was only 5 seconds, I fell mostly on my right arm. I don’t know I wasn’t thinking but I must have subconsciously done that so that I didn’t fall on a knee or leg. It hurt and my left calf muscle simultaneously cramped up and I thought “this is terrible, I can’t have this, I was motoring at a great pace and I don’t want to lose it, get back up and keep going”. I rose to my feet, although a bit shaken up, but I started running again (at a slower pace initially) as I was assessing the damage. I kept thinking my arm stings like a bugger and it looked nasty, but I could bend it and swing it, so I felt it was not broken. For the next mile, I was tentative but thought I can do this. I am NOT QUITTING this race. No bleeping way. I was doing this. I didn’t travel all the way to Alaska to quit. I soon regained my composure and my pace. I saw a clock and reached mile 15 in 2:15 so I knew I was still at a 9:01 pace which was great for that point in the race. It was exactly where I was in Hartford (personal best race) at mile 15. There was a port-o-potty at that timepoint, so I really had to go and took 30-40 seconds out to at least make my bladder feel better! I had studied the course and I knew that there was a big ass downhill after mile 15 so I thought it was ok to take a pee break now so I could focus the rest of the race. What the hell, I had already fallen, and my elbow was bleeding…. a pee break was simply a necessity! What’s another 30 second timeout? After that, I enjoyed that downhill and the next few miles were absolutely AMAZING!!!! I was on fire! I was saying this in my head and out loud too. Although my elbow still hurt, my legs were on overdrive. They felt fresh and great. It was awesome. I was so grateful that I did not smash my knee on a rock!! I felt so good for so long. I was exceeding my own expectations. I only started to feel a bit fatigued around 20 miles – which some races I feel it earlier. I saw Jeff again around mile 22 and he was videotaping me and said “Summit (my dog) says HI!” I was so happy to see him there – I was feeling fatigued but that was a nice boost. I kept plugging along on the paved bike paths until mile 25. I knew I had to plow through 3 hills during mile 25 so I was thinking about that. I saw some poor guy pull up with what seemed like a hamstring pull or cramp in mile 24 and I thought “that sucks buddy, I feel for you”, but I couldn’t stop. I had to keep going. I kept thinking that I had to get my elbow cleaned out as soon as possible too. I was sure there was a lot of dirt and rocks in there and I did not want an infection. Since Jeff and I had walked that last mile of the race many times in the preceding days, I knew that part of the course very well. It was at this part of the course where we met back up with the half marathoners (whose race started in a different location and hours later than the marathon). I kept looking at my watch and thinking “just freaking go”!!! I reached mile 26 at 4:07 and I knew I couldn’t get a personal best at that point but damn it, I was going to break 4:10. I was at the bottom of that huge ass hill (see picture) and I knew the finish line was at the top of it. Only 0.2 miles to go baby. Bleeping floor it! I started passing the half marathoners and trying to truck up that hill as fast as humanly possible. I was giving it whatever I had left. My body was tired of course, but I was determined to break 4:10 and obtain my 3rd fastest marathon ever. Despite one third of the course being gravel and dirt trails, the hills, falling, pee break, whatever, THIS was happening…. TODAY! I didn’t just run 26.15 miles TO only screw it up at this point. You run, and you RUN HARD all the way until the very end. NEVER QUIT. What I absolutely love about the marathon is that it is so unforgiving. There is ALWAYS something you need to overcome to get it done. Today was different but it was equally rewarding, even though it wasn’t a personal best, it was one of my BEST races because I gave it my BEST and overcame obstacles to complete the journey. I felt so good for so long in this race and I am completely convinced it was because of how I tapered for this race. I only ran 30, 20, 10 miles per week in the three weeks before the marathon compared to my usual 90 miles (40, 30, 20 miles per week). I was so fresh and rested for this race and I felt amazing for most of it. If I could bottle this “on fire” feeling and sell it, I would be beyond rich. Having this experience is one of the greatest feelings in the world. The human body again has completely amazed me – as it does every single time. I absolutely love it.
I recovered well from this race. Sure, I flew home 3 days after the race and I was hurting but I came out of this race with NO BLISTERS, only regular soreness, a scraped and bruised elbow. It was really my elbow that hurt the most and now 4 weeks later, it has healed but still hurts if I bump it into something. My legs recovered so quickly that I wanted to run another marathon on July 21 in Oregon but decided not to – so that I could spend time taking my son to visit colleges (that is much more important). (So far Bentley, UVM, URI and Bryant U. are in the lead but we still have a lot to visit.) I am not in a huge hurry to run all 50 states, but I absolutely love it. The more marathons I run, the more quickly I recover and the more frequently I want to run them. That is the truth!!! 😊
Next stop: Niagara Falls International Marathon