My goal is simple: to run a marathon or ultramarathon in each of the 50 states plus DC by age 40. Here are the stories behind my efforts...42 down, 9 to go!
Mayor's Marathon- Anchorage, Alaska
I have wanted to do the Mayor’s Midnight Sun marathon since 2007, when my roommate at the time came back from Anchorage raving about the scenic course. In the same breath we announced our move to Fairbanks earlier this year, I also signed up for this race! I was seriously overdue to run a marathon, having done my last 7 months ago in Arkansas.
Training began in mid March, also known on Alaska thermometers as “high of 5 degrees”. Lots of treadmill running. After the final snowfall in late April, it began warming up and I had excellent weather and 20+ hours of daylight during the months following for high mileage and doubles. Feeling pretty good about my progress, I was thinking about the possibility of a Boston qualifying (BQ) time. Then I read some reviews of the race.
I doubt that too many people set PRs on this course…the top finisher took 2:36, so that’s not a course for a Boston qualifier…..don't try and do any sort of PR; maybe even quit looking at the watch…it is not a BQ sort of race…Brutal course!
Say WHHAAAAAAAT? As it turns out, this race is a hilly combination of narrow bike paths, single track trail, and 8 miles of gravel (or as the reviews put it: “loose, golf ball size gravel”, “big, ankle-biting rocks”, “FML terrain"). Okay, cool…I found a gravel road and trained on it. It takes a considerable amount of time and money to travel from Fairbanks; my BQ needed to be in state- no excuses!
After a beautiful drive through Denali and down to Anchorage, I enjoyed the low key expo and stayed at the host hotel. This is a huge Leukemia Society Team In Training (TNT) event so many in the hotel were with them. Each of these folks had committed to a very challenging fundraising goal; I enjoyed conversations with a lot of their first time marathoners, each with an interesting story about why they were there.
The race morning shuttle to the start of this point to point course was, to put it lightly, CHAOS. I chalked it up to everyone else being as nervous as I was about the forecasted rain, but the combination of the busses being slightly late and the aforementioned group feeling like they had to do everything 20 deep didn’t help. The only calm people? Locals and/or Marathon Maniacs. An unofficial prerequisite for living in Alaska is to be chill (seriously, this state has sucked the Type A right out of me!) and Maniacs have enough experience to be cool with whatever amount of time given beforehand. By the time we made it to Bartlett High School for the start, there was a lot of loud, accented yelling…I can tell you exactly where the Northeast TNT chapter was at all times.
With 5 minutes to spare, we lined up for the start with runners representing 48 states and 7 Canadian provinces. With only 1000 or so marathoners, started separately and an hour earlier from the half, the narrow bike path was not an issue. As my roommate had reported 3 years earlier, it was a remarkably beautiful course. Even with the light showers that began around mile 5, Mount Sustina was visible and wildflowers decorated the grass in bright purple and yellow. Weather was perfect- about 60 degrees. The first 7 miles went by swiftly in just under an hour, an average of 8 minutes per mile.
Miles 7-15 were run on the gravel “Tank Trail”, just outside Fort Richardson Army Post. The gravel was exactly as others had described but I felt at an advantage having trained on similar terrain. I knew I would slow and had paced myself to lose about 30 seconds per mile; unfortunately, paired with some pretty relentless uphill sections, 2 stream crossings, and a heavy downpour of rain I slowed to 8:45-9 minute miles. The Ultima sports drink provided on course did not help. Peee-youke.
I wasn’t physically hurting but admittedly frustrated, thus hurting mentally earlier in the race than usual. The TNT support along the course was especially helpful at these times and they recognized the Maniac jerseys as much as their own purple. I was right on point for a BQ at the half marathon point with a time just under 1 hour 50 minutes. This was also the location for the first sensor mat, which makes sense for keeping track of runners but negates the purpose of having a chip. No sensor mat at the start = no chip time = wish I had started more toward the front!
Even though I was finally in a marathon that allowed headphones, my mp3 broke the week prior and my old backup was giving me issues the night before. This left me with an audio book on player that I purposely treated myself to in the second half: “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw”. Yes, this is the third in a series and I had already been through the other two. Reading levels be darned, it helped charge me up and down the hills and I was holding onto a 8:20ish pace through mile 20, entering the Tony Knowles coastal trail at 2 hours 47 minutes. By this time, it had stopped raining and the hurt had “flipped”: physically, my quads were spent from the hills but mentally I felt great as a result of getting faster in the late miles. I continued to speed up, coming back to an average of 8 minute miles for the final 4.
The largest hill at Mayor’s comes at mile 25.5, connecting with the half marathon where there are a significant number of pack runners. In all my painful glory I charged up this hill, using the Jen Cox mantra “I didn’t train to WALK”. Apparently the halfers had the opposite strategy- as I sped up, they slowed. It looked like they barged in on a race by mistake during their Saturday walk. Instead of empowering me, I sort of felt like an ass. Sort of, but not enough to follow suit.
A lap around the track at West Anchorage High led me to the finish line, where I crossed at a Boston Qualifying time of 3:37:53- gun times only here in Alaska! I was 2nd in my 25-29 age group, beaten by a girl from…wait for it…North Carolina! I was also the 15th female of 384 and part of the small percentage that BQed; however, both stats are somewhat skewed given the higher than normal field of first time TNT runners. Nonetheless, my proudest finish and my 25th state in an effort to do all 50 plus DC. Would definitely recommend Mayor's to other 50 staters looking for their AK. Pavel approved the medal, too.