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

Friday, June 3, 2011

My Vermont Marathon

     I ran the Burlington Vermont Marathon a few days ago, I had an incredible time both in the race and while on vacation exploring Vermont and Northern New York.



I did get a little short hiking in the day before the race, actually because they were having record breaking rain I was able to see some incredible waterfalls.
I took the Ferry over lake Champlain to New York and drove over to the Ausable Falls area.  Completely beautiful!



I also went over to Lake Placid New York that same day and found this beautiful water fall.

High Falls, Lake Placid NY

Race day, I woke up to a little rain in the morning.  Luckily not a heavy down pour like had been the past few days.  Actually ran the first few miles of the race in a light rain.
When the rain came to a stop, the humidity was probably the highest I've ever run in, and the temperature climbed through the morning, I believe it was mid-80's.
I felt pretty good, but a funny thing that happened.  It was around mile 5 or 6.  I looked down the tree and pond lined road, and I saw what looked like some steady downhill.  So I figured, hey I'll try and pick up the pace a little.

However, I couldn't figure out why at times I was feeling much more tired than I should have for down hill, it was actually even worrying me.  I thought, Oh Great, I have only begun the race I hope I am not going to have one of those days where my legs feel heavy and tired the entire way...  I was only imagining what it was going to feel like when running back on the other side of the road on the up hill.

Well, when I got to around mile 8, which was near the out and back turn around.  As I was running back on the other side of the road it was much easier.  I realize then, I was having one of those "I'm an idiot" moments, as I had been running up hill on the other side, it was just the treeline and how it looked that made it appear that I should be going down hill, when it was really up...
Thank goodness though!!
Lake Champlain
I've been battling a foot injury, and I was hoping it wouldn't bother me during the race, but of course things like that rarely work out like you'd like.
Between mile 11 and 12, my foot was in such extreme pain, I wasn't sure I was even going to be able to finish.  And that thought has NEVER crossed my mind in a race EVER.
My foot felt with each step that it was almost broken.

So I slowed down to a walk to figure out what I could do.  At first, I tried a run walk, but it wasn't working the pressure was causing the pain to get worse and worse.
After much thought, I started playing around with things, and I started by teaching my self to walk and only put pressure on the side of my foot that didn't hurt.  Then once I got the hang of that, I tired to do a little run/walk combo to try to teach myself to run on only the other side of my foot.
I remembered I had some Tylenol on me, so I took a couple just in case they might help.
It took about 5 to 6 miles of this run/walk combo to get the hang of only running and putting pressure on one side of my foot.  But it worked, THANKFULLY!

I had lost a bit of time during that process, but at least I had figured out a way to run through it.
The only problem was, any extreme up hill, or uneven surface I wasn't able to run with my foot trick, so I had to slow in those area's to be careful.

Lake Champlain
Luckily, there weren't too many places like that.  The lake had over flowed, and some of the trails they had us on, were a little muddy.  But truthfully, the race officials did a great job making them far more passable than they would have been.  They were probably just a little sloppier and muddier for me because of the many runners in front of me who had stomped through the area first.
But I will say, the area was absolutely beautiful, maybe more so because of the rain, but the area was just so green and lush, a very beautiful marathon.


When out in the city, I noticed the heat and humidity the most.  Lucky I guess for me, because of the foot problems, it really took my mind off the heat, to be honest it really didn't bother me.
When it did, there were plenty of houses and kids in the neighborhood portions of the course that were more than willing to give the runners who wanted a quick cool spray as they ran by.

The last 6 miles of the course were on bike paths and a trail along the lake.  Just beautiful, I absolutely LOVE the green hills and mountains of Vermont!
Also, by this point, I had really gotten the running on one side of the foot thing down, and I ran almost all of those last beautiful miles of the course.

One thing I'll say about this race for anyone looking to run one in Vermont.  I highly recommend this one.  It's a great course, a few hills along the way.  But then hills are what make a marathon even more fun, right!
There is A LOT of crowd support and cheers for the runners, both in and around Burlington and even in the surrounding neighborhoods.
The community seems to really support this race!

I had a little more time during this race vacation than others, so after the race I headed up to Palmyra New York, and visited the Sacred Grove and other surrounding areas.

Sacred Grove
Such a beautiful place, and pretty community.  I loved my drive through the Adirondack Mountains, I had never realized New York would be so green and lush too!
And of course, while in Vermont I hit up Ben & Jerry's.

I had done a wedding for a lady who lived in New Hampshire, and she told me to make sure and have a Maple Syrup Breakfast in Vermont when I visited, which I did!
I had a great time and lots of memories.  I really hope to be able to make it back to this area one day, I just LOVE all the trees and green lush mountains!



Ben & Jerry's



Now to the next phase, getting my foot healed.  Because of the new way I had ran on it for most of the race, it was a bit sorer than normal after.  But hopefully, I can get it healed quickly and ready for my next marathon state!