Monday, June 27, 2011

My Alaska Marathon

     I just returned from running the Mayors Midnight Marathon in Anchorage Alaska, it was a great race with a few surprises.  Maybe I should have researched their course ahead of time, but I didn't.  Two days before the race when I picked up my race bib I found out that some of the course was off road.  To be honest I didn't think too much of it at the time.  Also found out that the Full Marathon was on a different course than that of the 1/2 or 5.6 mile run, I have to be honest I liked that.

Momma Grizzly & two Cubs - Denali
Seal on small glacier ice in Kenai Fjords
 Race morning was beautiful, it was light (of course - since the sun doesn't go down there this time of year.)  But it was also warm enough not even a jacket was needed while waiting for the race to begin.  The race started on time, and started on pavement with the first mile being pretty flat.  A short run down a steep grass hill to get to the paved trail, had me a little worried for my injured foot.  (I've been nursing an injury for over a month now, not 100% sure but it might be a small fracture.)  However, my foot held up, and I started to wonder if this was how the "Off road" portion of the race was going to go, running on a paved walking trail.
Orca's in the Kenai Fjord National Park
Caribou in Denali National park
 Miles 2-5 I'd say were pretty much an uphill climb.  We crossed over the freeway and onto what I call a country paved road around mile 4.  It was absolutely beautiful, just so green an lush.  Nothing like I thought Alaska mountains would look.  It was much greener than Utah, that was for sure!
Somewhere between mile 5 or 6 (I believe) the pavement really did end and we were put on what I think was one of the Military dirt back roads.  Miles 6-8 were pretty much uphill from what I remember.  But I was enjoying the beautiful tree lined run on the dirt road.  I had a lot of my concentration on my foot and making sure I placed it correctly on the road, there were lots of rocks and I had to pick my path carefully.
Some area's were better than others, but when I'd step on a rock wrong, my foot sure let me know it!
I kept my eyes open for bear or moose, we were definitely in their territory, but I was having no such luck at spotting any:(
Humpback Whale
Miles 10 - 15 were filled with lots of uphill and a few surprises.  Somewhere after the half way point I remember the dirt road we were running on turn into a trail.  At first it was a little wider, you could probably drive a small 4-wheeler on it.  But eventually it turned into a smaller trail, I believe it was one of their mountain hiking trails.  Although I didn't have to worry as much about the larger loose stones with my footing, but the ground was a little uneven so I still had to pay close attention to my footing as to not hurt the injured foot worse.  We ran over a small wooden bridge, no rails just large wires holding it up, and then I got to jump a small creek crossing the path. 
Yup, I was definitely getting some major cross country running in during the several unpaved miles of this race:)  But it was beautiful, just tree's, pines and fresh mountain air...  (Still no bear or moose sightings.)
Northwestern Fjords Glacier
Eventually the trails ended and the pavement began around mile 16.  My injured foot was really grateful.  However, it also made me take the focus off making sure I didn't put as much pressure on my injury, which around mile 18, I paid for.  But I quickly started running as I have been training myself on it and the pain lessened.
We came out of the mountains and into the city for a short time before back on paved trails within the city.  They were filled with so many tree's, rivers, streams and even a lake that honestly you still felt like you were running in the mountains.  However, there was a bit less uphill, kind of remember a little downhill and somewhat flat trails to run on for the last 8 miles.
Sea Lions on one of the small Aleutian Islands
The only thing I didn't particularly like about the race was on these trails, they didn't have them closed off to the public, so there was a few morning walkers, bikers and those skate ski people using the trails.  Made it a little difficult and at times they were obstacle courses as most of them thought they should have the right away, and some of the bikers didn't even care to slow down around the corners...
But I was feeling good, my legs felt stronger than they even have that late in a Marathon, I was still really enjoying myself.
Sometime at the end of the 25th mile, we did get quite the hill through a couple of neighborhood streets that lead to the finish line.  That was probably the only hill that really took a lot out of me.  (but then it was at almost 26 miles :)
Resting Seal in Resurrection Bay

Glacier & Glacier Lakes - Denali










I came into the finish area and ran through the shoots.  Had my parents with me for this race, it really is nice to have people at the finish cheering you on, rather than some races I do alone.
This race did something I really liked.  Instead of giving everyone a t-shirt at the expo, they made you wait until you crossed the finish line to get your shirt.  So only the finishers had one.  I really liked this, my dad said this was how all the races years ago used to hand out the shirts.
They also gave a beautiful silver finishers medallion. 
I enjoyed this race, it was beautiful, different (trails) and I felt really good and strong through the entire race!  I highly recommend this race to anyone looking to travel to Alaska to run!!!

     Additionally, I had an AMAZING trip to Alaska, and saw and did a few things I never imagined.  Several of which could deserve their own blog.  A few of the pictures I took of my trip I posted throughout the marathon post above.  But in short, I took a cruise around Kenai Fjords and was able to see and listen to the songs of a rare sight of 40+ Wild Orca's feeding and playing.  I saw 30+ humpback whales, some even close up.  Seals, Sea Lions, Puffins and the highlight of this tour was witnessing the calving process and listening to huge glaciers crack as loud as thunder and then fall into the ocean waters.  (Picture of Northwestern above.)
I was amazed at how much parts of Alaska look in a way like Hawaii (well lush green mountains with snow capped peaks.)

     I also took a day trip through Denali, saw lots of Grizzly bears, caribou, moose, and dall sheep.  See the bear and caribou pictures above.  Seeing all the tundra and mountain area was really beautiful! 

View of Peak in Denali
     I saw Mt. McKinley (Tallest mountain in North America) a few times from Anchorage.  Missed seeing it much during the tours in Denali (Only 30% of visitors actually see it.)
On my last full day, I had a pretty good view of it from Talkeenta (See picture #1 below.)  However at a last minute decision we decided to take a plane ride for a full aerial tour of the mountain and see the glaciers up close.  The clouds completely cleared, and words cannot describe how beautiful and how large this mountain and it's surrounding glaciers are.  Some are over 3,000 feet deep in ice, and 30+ miles long.  The mountains themselves are so tall.  McKinley has the largest wall in the world, even a bigger mountain than Everest climbing from 2000 feet elevation to it's 20,320 feet.  You have to see it to actually get an idea of how huge it really is, an experience of a lifetime. (See 2nd Picture below).
I also had the opportunity to land on one of the glaciers at just under 12,000 feet, another experience of a lifetime! 
If you haven't already had an opportunity to travel to Alaska, I highly recommend putting it on your "trips to take" in your lifetime list.  You'll have an incredible time.

Mt. McKinley view from a distance on a clear day 

View of Mt. McKinley a bit closer up

3 comments :

  1. Wow. What an awesome experience. Go, you!

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  2. Replies
    1. You are so lucky, it is so beautiful there! If I had my way, I would spend 2-4 weeks there every summer hiking and exploring:)

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