Saturday, June 10, 2017

Duff's Skagway Marathon (Alaska)

June 10, 2017
Marathon 57, State #50 (Age 49)
Skagway, Alaska

23 years, 7 months, and 18 days.   Talk about a long time in making!   This is the time it took for me to run a 26.2 mile marathon in all 50 US states.   I think all the way back in 2012 I put together a 5 year plan to finish my last 12 state marathons by summer 2018 or about my 50th birthday.   It's funny looking back at that plan because it's no where close to how to how I imagined it would end although even the 2012 plan did save Alaska for last.   Finishing 12 months ahead of schedule was going to require some ingenuity and sacrifice seeing that 5 of my remaining states were in the Northeast, or in other words, very far from home here in Southern California.   

When I discovered in 2013 that that there was an opportunity to run back to back marathons on the same weekend in neighboring states (Connecticut / Rhode Island & New Hampshire / Maine) this could help move my completion date forward...provided my legs and body could take the punishment for me to survive!   I remembered in 2003 I once did two marathons in the same weekend in (Delaware & New Jersey) so that gave me a little hope I could probably pull it off again, albeit I was over 10 years older the 2nd and 3rd time around.   This would require only 3 trips to the Northeast instead of 5 which also saved a few dollars on airfare/travel expense.     

In my race to the 50th state, I ended up running 2 marathons in 2013 (Montana, New Mexico), 3 marathons in 2014 (North Dakota, Connecticut, and Rhode Island), 5 marathons in 2015 (one of these was Los Angeles which I didn't have to run but wanted to have run my home town marathon the others were South Carolina, Wyoming, New Hampshire, and Maine), 2 marathons in 2016 (Vermont, Wisconsin), and then finally only Alaska was left in 2017.   

I already mentioned 2 back to back marathons which wasn't easy, then for Wyoming I signed up for a in 2015 for a 50k trail run, this is swearing after my first ultra in Oregon in 2005 I would never run an more that 26.2 again.  Wyoming ended up being nothing less than brutal.   The remaining decision was picking the perfect marathon in Alaska.   In choosing #50, instead a big popular race in Anchorage, which would have probably made the most sense, I discovered a newer tho much smaller marathon in the tiny town of Skagway.  The marathon's slogan was "Alaska's Toughest & Most Beautiful Marathon".   We all know the famous line from Jerry McQuire, "you had me at hello", well something about their slogan I think got me.  Perhaps the "Most Beautiful" part, not the "Alaska's Toughest".  

The description goes on to describe the course as follows, "an amazing race that takes place in the wilderness of Alaska. This 26.2 mile run climbs multiple hills as it traces its way through pristine Southeast Alaskan fjord coastline, through a glacially-carved valley, an enchanting Sitka Spruce wood, over the Taiya River trestle bridge, past numerous trickling streams, up West Creek Valley, before finally reaching a forest opening with a spectacular view of West Creek Glacier and breathtaking mountain peaks and alpine scenery."   Who would not enjoy that?

First was trying to sell "going to a tiny little town in Alaska" to my family and friends which I expected was not going to be very easy.   Just the logistics of getting to Skagway was going to be a challenge because it could take a couple days of travel just to get there.   Next was figuring out how long to stay, where to stay, and the best dates for travel to maximize what we can see in a such a narrow window.   

So far it looks as my good travel companion George would be up for the challenge and helped me piece together our plan.    The race is on Saturday the 10th so we would fly into Juneau 1 week early and take in the sites of the surrounding (Southern Leg) of our visit, then after the race make our way to Anchorage (Northern Leg) where we wanted to visit Denali National Park.

With any marathon there is always that thing called "training" that is required, something that I've always been a believer of under training vs over training.   One good thing about under training is that generally it helps the body keep injury free.  On the other hand, my friend George's training plan may be more typical which he puts in a lot more running miles.    Two weeks before race day I was trying to funnel some his energy.   While I wasn't going to run 18 or 20 miles, a long bike seemed like it could fit into a three day Memorial Day weekend.

I was looking over my race results and my last nine races were all over 4 hours, the only exception was Myrtle Beach in February 2015.  Not that is a bad thing, I suppose 1x was an ultra, 2x were bloody hot, 2x (twice) were back to back in the same weekend, so I suppose the last one in Wisconsin I can say is the one I'm least proud.   Maybe I've gone through the motions and haven't trained very hard as may be evident by comparing my weekly millage to George's. 

Alaska is supposed to be "hard" so I guess I'm more about having fun than concerned with my finish time.  I supposed it's not hard to believe a majority of the runners are from Alaska, but there should be a few from the lower 49.  I also looked an finish times and 3:19 to 5:00 seems to be the two extremes so I'm guessing if we are in decent shape, depending on the weather and the course difficulty, there is a good chance I thought I could finish somewhere between 3:58 and 4:25. 

I've been training more, well that is running more, and cutting calories and believe it or not went from an all time high of 191 and the last couple weeks have kept in the 176-179 range.  I had hoped to make it down to 175 by race day, but I don't think I can make it there and race week will be less concerned with cutting calories.   This should make carrying this bag of bones at least a little easier!

So back to channeling George's energy.  I made plans with a friend to ride a route 75 miles to the beach and back, a nearly a 5 hour ride along a bike path, no cars to worry about, just few homeless camps to go through, but most of the route is urban along a river trail.  We were supposed to ride at 9 a.m. and 7 a.m. I get a text, "not feeling good, have to cancel."  I was excited for the ride and had packed my bike the night before so I was ready for the challenge, a little different than the canyons I ride every weekend.  The canyons are half really hard climbing and half just flying back down the mountain.  With a beach ride the highest grade is 1% so it's solid pedaling all the way there and all the way back.  It ends up I do some work around the house and before I know it it's already getting close to 4pm.  With a sunset at 8pm and a 5 hour ride I'm already looking at the last 1 hour home in the dark so I packed a LED light.   Starting out it was warm, nearly 90 degrees and downhill all the way to the beach tho with the head wind you would never know it. 

I'm reading a book "Eat and Run" by Scott Jurek and in Chapter 16 after he wins 7 years in a row 1999-2005 he tells a store of him pacing a runner from Seattle in 2006 named Brian Morrison in the Western States 100.   This is the grand daddy of 100 mile races, and home of the famous golden belt buckle.   Long story short, he is leading the race by 12 minutes and collapses 3 times on the track and because he received outside assistance to cross the finish line, he was disqualified.   I think because he was so dehydrated his sense of judgement was impaired and his body stopped when he thought he was at the finish line and couldn't take another step.   I guess the morale of the story is that as endurance athletes we focus on a goal and push our body just enough to reach that goal. I was thinking about Brian Morrison and of his determination when I was biking last night and wanted to finish what I had started.
I could have called a Lift or Uber at any point along the way for a ride home, this first crossed my mind when I was getting to the beach.  My afternoon had started nearly 90 degrees, and by the time I reached the beach it had dropped and was barely 60 degrees.  I was a little cold and first thought I don't want to overdue it and catch a cold by being chilled, but turning around the wind at first was at my back so it immediately felt a little warmer.  It was only 6:30 so if sunset was at 8pm I would have to bike the last 5-7 miles in the dark.  The wind did not cooperate and now all the way home was not only uphill, but also cross wind so the whole way home was not easy.  I was so hungry and legs were burning but I kept going.  I even saw a McDonald's sign about 10 miles from my car and thought about pulling in for a snack, but was focused on training and getting to "the finish line".  After all there isn't going to be McDonalds in the heart of the Alaskan wilderness to stop on race day.   I wanted my ride to simulate race day so kept going.
The last 7 miles were in pitch black, so it's a good thing I had packed my light.  The last 5 miles I turned off my ipod and just rode through the desert landscape under the moonlight and tried to parallel my ride to what my run would be like in two weeks.  My time was 4:39 minutes which is probably equivalent to what I may do race day.  It was nearly 9 pm and my only hope was that Chipotle was still open.  I got to the line at the restaurant and my legs were shaking and I could barely stand in one place.   My legs were screaming, similar to what it feels like the moments after you stop running a 26.2 mile run.  I wondered if I had overdone it, but then at the same time I feel like I needed to do this to complete my training.   Now that I completed this ride I would have to say it's safe to let the tapering before race day begin.  
So as for training in 2017 I've been pleased with the miles I've been able to log and legs and body are feeling great!    My cycling was pretty consistent with prior years, but I think I ran more than past marathon training.  Still hard for me to commit to long training runs so my longest was 13 miles on   April 30th.   Most of my runs were 5-9 miles each.  

I've actually really enjoyed running this year more than ever, Parisa's swim schedule every night worked perfect that she was in the water for 1.5 hours which gave me the luxury to run and shower any day I could get home early enough to take her to the pool.  It may be a little more tough to stay motivated without a new goal on the horizon, I'll have to work on the plan for what is next!

Month    Run (miles, # days running)    Bike (miles, number of days biking)
January     39,8                                       164,4
February    71,13                                    113,4
March        83,14                                    229,6
April        90, 15                                     203,6
May         100, 17                                   205, 5

While this quest of mine to finish all 50 states is huge I want to put a shout out to two people that I look up and share something special about them.   In 2014 I met runner at my New Mexico marathon, he was 68 then and inspired me to do the double marathons in the NE because he had just done them a week before kicking my ass in Albuquerque.  I dropped him a note to him a few days ago and learned he finished recently his 400th marathon which means he's run 64 more marathons since 2014 in the same time I've only run 11 marathons and has completed all 50 states 7 times and did this between 68 and 72 years age.  Amazing.  I'm not worthy!  

Another friend of mine attempted Vineman, 70.3 mile Ironman, in May and had to abandon the bike at mile 7 because he was so cold and cramping up.  Funny story, since he dropped out he went to the start line to cheer for a friend, ends up something happened and all T2 bags were messed up and bikers coming in couldn't find their shoes.  Somehow he ended up offering his shoes to a complete stranger who run 13.1 miles in them else he would have had to abandon his race, believe it or not he saw the guy finish and gave him a big sweaty hug and he got his (soiled) shoes back!   Two great guys!

So no story would be complete without a little challenge.  As you may or may not know there is actually a 50 State Marathon club which recognizes the runners that have completed this same quest.  An interesting statistic when I ran my first marathon in 1993 only 13 runners had completed a marathon in all 50 states, so the the club was comprised of only a very small group of finishers.    I heard others talking about it so there were quite a few people already on their way to also complete the task.  As of the end of May 2017 there were a total of 1,262 finishers of all 50 states which is still an elite crowd.    

To qualify the marathons that are eligible have to fit the clubs rules.  A simple rule for example, if a marathon crosses a state border, you can only count it as one state unless you run the marathon more than once.  Well about a month before my June race I re-read the rules and discovered one of the rules stated that there must be at least 10 finishers of the marathon.   Well, the race I chose in Skagway is a very small marathon.  Only a few months prior to race day I learned there were only 6 runners registered including 2 of them myself and my friend George.  Being a hard marathon, a DNF doesn't count so it would be nice to have a little padding of a few more runners so I don't end up running such a great race in such a far away destination and it doesn't count.   One option if there are not 10 finishers is there is another much larger race in Anchorage 7 days later, so worse case scenario I'll have to run a week later to get an official qualified race for my final state.   Hoping I'm not going to have to do this, but the fall back plan was built into our travel plan just in case I needed to run the following Sunday!

Here begins the story of my 50th state adventure (one week before race day).

Most of my marathon destination trips with only a couple exceptions have been simply long weekends.   Alaska, my final state in my quest for all 50 I saved for last and it has morphed into a two week adventure departing Los Angeles seven days before race day and goes and another seven days after race day with hopes to take in as much as possible in the state known as the “Final Frontier”.
Sub-Sup Records - Sea-Tac Airport
Parisa and I left home bright and early and fly first to Seattle for our connection to Juneau.   We were blessed for a glimpse of a few of the peaks surrounding including Mt. Rainer sticking up their heads proudly way above the clouds.   We didn't have a long stop in Sea-Tac but I did take a couple minutes to walk through the Sub-Pop record store in the airport!    Seattle was about half way and the second half of our flight took us into the small Juneau airport, about as opposite as could be from where we took off at LAX!   Juneau couldn’t more opposite either with less than 50 miles of road and certainly a much less hectic rush hour.
After a long day of travel, Juneua at last
We had high hopes of seeing bears on our trip so the whole way along the six mile drive to downtown we had our eyes peeled.    No bears to be seen but Bald Eagles were a dime a dozen, almost everywhere we looked we could see them flying or perched in the trees.    Our travel companion George called to let us know he was able to get an earlier flight so we only had a short time to walk across the street to the peer across from our hotel for a quick bite to eat before making a trip back to the airport to pick him up.   All three of us headed back to downtown Juneau and walked around only a few blocks before we learned of a route “to the end of the road” where bears were sure to be found.    We drove the 37 mile stretch of road along the coast and took in all kinds of beautiful views but no bears this time around.  

Arrived Juenau
Our first planned adventure was to get up Sunday morning and go visit the Mendehall Glacier.   We made a quick stop for some groceries for our breakfast and lunch and were off to the visitor center for it’s morning opening at 9 a.m.   The Glacier was breath taking, however, the visitor center was a long way away from the Glacier itself so we followed a trail to a grand waterfall off the cliff to the right called Nugget Waterfall.   

Nugget Falls
Again a great place for a few pictures and then a hike back to the visitors center where we learned you can actually hike all the way to an ice cave and the glacier itself on the left side.  I'd seen post cards of the ice caves and they looked like they would be fun to explore.  It was about a 6 mile round trip hike but we came prepared with the right clothes, footwear, drinks and food so we were off for our first real Alaskan adventure on foot!
Perfect lunch spot with Vista of Mendehall Valley
It wasn’t and easy hike but we slowing made our way on a really fun trail all the way to the base of the glacier.  We found an excellent vista on the trail on the way to the foot of the Glacier and had our lunch before heading onward to our final destination.   We came in from a high ravine which gave us our first great views from close up of this mammoth chunk of ice.   We were excited to get close and made our way down to land directly in front.    We saw numerous groups upon the glacier so hoped we could find a path also to climb on top.   

As seen from West Mendenhall Glacier Trail
Our first experience was to wander through the spectacular ice cave that lead to the other side and where we found path to begin our climb onto the Glacier.   We only made it a short distance on the ice when we realized we were ill equipped without crampons to explore much so had to quickly turn around, but not before a few pictures.

Ice Caves - Mendenahall Glacier
We joined with another couple on the way back and found a much simpler trail back to the trailhead.   What was interesting was there were rock piles about every half mile with a sign of the year the Glacier had been at that particular point, so basically we were hiking on the path the Glacier had retreated from over the past 10-200 years.  Of of the stories I remember that I often joke about is that returning to our car hiking with this couple, there came a ridge we had to climb down on all fours, and I was scheping my Canon DSLR and zoom lens around my neck.  I was very slow because I was trying to protect the camera from flipping around and being smashed into some rocks.   The young girl thought I was moving slow because I was "old", and turned around to reach her hand back to help me down the cliff.  I had to laugh because I was in the shape of my life, just because of my camera I lagged behind but she didn't know that.
Sunday was one of the few days we could sleep in, so after a slow start, we finally got rolling in the morning we drove around the north side of Douglas Island which is connected to Juneau by a bridge and again attempted the “end of the road drive” in hope for bears, but again no luck.   Sunday afternoon we explored more of downtown Juneau including taking the Mt. Roger’s Tram to the top for a great view of the valley below.   We also learned there was a tasting tour at the Alaskan Brewery Company so like the say “When in Rome”, we had to check it out!
Mt Rogers Tram above Juneau
For the next part of our adventure Monday we flew out of Juneau on a smaller sea plane to Gustavus, the home of Glacier Bay National Park for two nights at the Lodge and a boat Tour of Glacier Bay.   Our flight while at first was a let down when we learned we would not be taking off and landing out of/into the water as we’ve seen downtown Juneau, but the 22 minute flight over the bay and a few islands was also pretty exciting as Parisa had never flown on a small plane before.   

First Flight for Parisa on a small plane (Juneau to Gustavus)
The even smaller unmanned airport was even more of a shock having just departed from LAX a couple days ago and we were surprised to see there was a shuttle already waiting for us and a 10 mile ride to the lodge.   We learned there was a short half mile hike to a crashed plane that is always a favorite, so after checking in we took the next shuttle to the trailhead.   We had been hoping to see a bear and finally we had our first sighting right next to the side of the road eating grass and flowers.   The bear nonchalantly walked right across the road in front of us and then into the woods on the other side of the road.    
First Bear Sighting - Glacier Bay National Park

Our trail was not too far from where we saw the bear so were were happy that wall had our bear bells on our packs!   The hike was fun and interesting to see the plane scattered across the forest floor, however not nearly as exciting as our trip back to the lodge.   The shuttle that dropped us off had gone to town and picked up a new passenger who when I spotted a porcupine along side of the road he said he would go catch it for us.   All of a sudden he jumped out of the van and chased the porcupine into the woods but just in time so we could see he put his boot on the animal and a few seconds later grabbed it by it’s tail and brought it back to the van for us to see!  Wow!

Margorie Glaier
The small hike didn’t satisfy us so when we returned to the lodge we found another trail we could access the trailhead from the lodge.  This hike was about 4 miles round trip and basically flat through the rain forest.   The forest reminded me of our many hikes in the Seattle area years ago, but was pretty fun and uneventful (ie. No bears).    We had dinner in the lodge and were off to bed for our early departure to see the many Glaciers upon our boat tour of the Glacier Bay National Park in the morning.    A park ranger greeted us at the boat ramp and was full of information about our surroundings and would be our guide for the day.    The first thing we learned was the tidal change every day could be as much as 23 feet, so we were standing on a floating dock.   When we departed tide was low and upon return it was high so we could really see the difference.  
Glacial Ice Berg
Our boat tour was a long 8 hour day, but we saw more than we ever expected to see including seals, birds, porpoises, whales, bears, wolves, and mountain goats.   The boat was very friendly in that you could sit indoor on either the upper or lower decks and then for pictures we could walk outside.   The boat tour is a story in itself.   Parisa volunteered to be an assistant to the ranger and completed her manual and took her oath to become a Jr. Ranger.    We saw numerous glaciers and the whole day from start to finish was unforgettable not to mention was also my 49th birthday.   

Happy Birthday to me!
Upon return we decided for a change from the dinning room at the lodge so hopped a shuttle to the small town of Gustavus to see if either of the small shops downtown were worth having a bite to eat.   One of the places was a small whole foods and organic grocery which made fresh sandwiches and we lucked out it was taco day and there was a burrito on the special that hit the spot!   Parisa surprised me with a homemade birthday card and a pint of my favorite Ben & Jerry’s Ice cream!   I had so many pictures I wanted to share from the boat tour of Glacier Bay tho the only wi-fi was at the lodge and the lodge was closed for the night so I decided to sit on the front porch where I could still get the wi-fi signal.   I sat outside in the still dark night and later learned a black bear like the one we saw the day before frequents the grounds of the lodge at night.  Luckily I didn't run into him but later there will be more to this story.

Thursday was a transition day to get us back to Juneau.  As far as marathon training, for this adventure leaving an entire week early my training schedule had been non-existent.  Granted, we had hiked over 12 miles, but still not the same as a run so laced up my running shoes.   Now for the first time in seven days I did a short trail run, even talked my trusty companion George into headed out for a whopping 2 mile run which was more just a sight seeing jaunt around a short trail loop that we hadn’t had a chance to see.   We stumbled up on a pretty pond so after the run I grabbed Parisa and we added another mile to our morning walking back to the pond and back before checking out of the lodge.    

Parisa made a friend on the boat the day before, ends up her family was on a five month vacation and she had already racked up around 46 junior ranger badges.  We would fly the same plane back to Juneau together.   Since Gustavus is so isolated, basically by water or air are the only two ways in, so we went back to the landing strip and had another short, and very beautiful, flight back to Juneau.  We checked into a hotel across from the airport, so we could walk.  The hotel had a free shuttle service so one last trip to downtown Juneau and early to bed for our early morning trip up to Skagway on the Alaskan Marine Highway System.   Parisa was especially excited this day because our last minute surprise guests for the next part of our trip would arrive and are checking into the same hotel and riding the Ferry with us in the morning.  Parisa tried so hard to stay up, but never got to see her cousin Anthony and uncle John till early the next day.

Flight between Gustavus and Juneau
So much for a vacation to sleep in, it seems as nearly every single day we are up at the crack of dawn.   Well, I guess that’s an expression, it was light 24/7 so there never really seemed as if there was a night!   This morning was no exception, we met Anthony in the lobby and brought our luggage out to the shuttle and headed off to the Ferry.   So excited to have some new travel buddies for the next few days.   The ferry was about 6 hours to Skagway and of course high hopes of seeing a humpback whale, however, not much luck.   I think we were on one of the older Ferry’s which was smaller (and slower), however not that small because there was a long line of cars and trucks at the dock that were waiting to board and were parked underneath the cabin.     It was another Alaska heavily cloudy day and not the greatest visibility, but made for a great atmosphere for our ride up the channel to Skagway.   We had checked the weather and just a couple days ago in Skagway it was a blistering 85 degrees, but as we arrived, the weather returned to normal, windy and 50 degrees. 

Ferry to Skagway from Juneau
It really wasn’t feeling much like a marathon trip until our first sights of Skagway.   Gustavus was way different from Juenau as was Skagway way different from both the of the previous towns we had visited.   This was the first town that was actually reachable by road.     Juneau and Skagway were only accessible by boat or plane.    I was a little concerned with a 6 hour boat ride the day before one of my “biggest” (ok, last marathon) and being sea sick, but thanks to some motion sickness prevention as well as mostly calm seas I quickly found my legs when we landed and felt fine.   We pulled into the dock and our hotel was only blocks away from the Ferry terminal so once again we schlepped our luggage along with us all the way to the hotel on foot.   Since Skagway is a on the cruise line route, while it wasn’t a particularly big city, there were lots of shopping and restaurants of the few blocks of downtown.  

First view of Skagway at end of Channel
Arrived Skagway!
After checking into the hotel we walked around a few shops and found a mountain bike for Parisa and Anthony.    They took off together on a ride with John and George and I were left to walk down to the marathon expo.   

Renting Mountain Bike for the Marathon Ride-a-long
I use that description lightly, it was really just packet pickup.   We were the first ones to arrive.   Kristin, the race director, which I felt like I practically knew with all the questions I had for her when deciding if I was going to make Skagway Marathon #50,  greeted us with cheers from the all the girls at the packet pickup and Kristin even surprised me with bib #50!   She shared with me that there was a guy doing a story about the marathon and he wanted to interview me before the race.   I was starting to feel like a celebrity!  

Packet Pickup
Number #50
Now the only thing left was to get some dinner and a good night of rest.   Parisa and Anthony finally returned and I learned they rode the first half of the marathon course and that it was beautiful, but hilly.  I sort of knew that!   Parisa trying to keep up with John and Anthony on the bike I think they destroyed her.  She’s like, “dad, don’t let me ride with them for the marathon, I’d rather follow you by myself.”   No problem, how exciting would it be for both her and I to run/ride together…in Alaska for state #50!   I had leftover spaghetti  but we walked back to the restaurant for some fresh meatballs to toss on top.  I’d never seen my girl scarf down a plate of food so fast!   

Skagway Mountains overlooking the town
There was a small grocery store across the street so picked up the basics: OJ, bagel, banana, Gatorade, and Red Bull.    Now back to the hotel to get some sleep.   Alarm again seemed to come to early.   Back in the day there was this nervousness about race day, but as a seasoned veteran at this marathon stuff it was business as usual.   Clothes out the night before and basically in the morning roll out of bed, eat, restroom break, and walk to the start line.  I’m starting to like these small towns, commute sure beats Los Angeles!     

Marathon Morning
George was up and ready to roll so we headed to the start.  I had told him about my race day outfit and that it was going to be something else, but even though he was expecting something he was surprised to see me in red, white, and blue head to toe.   I got a few strange looks from some town folk as we made our way to the start by the ferry terminal.   I was greeted again with cheers and did my mandatory check in with the officials.   There was a Mountain Hardware expedition tent at the start which was provided a break from the wind off the channel and were I saw Kristin again.   She introduced me to the gentleman that wanted to interview me.   While it was excited to be interviewed, I didn’t lose sight that I needed a bathroom stop before the gun went off and that was more important that the interview so I put him on hold for a quick pit stop.   
With Christelle, running her 48th State!
George & I at start line of Skagway Marathon
We shared a few pleasantries and was surprised that I was actually videotaped as part of the interview.  Only a few basic pieces of information were exchanged.   I was hoping he was going to ask more questions, so after a brief discussion it was time to line up.    A little shocked, one other runner had the same shorts as me, but he didn’t have the top or socks to match!   I also ran into another woman doing 50 states, this was state #48 for her, I think she only had Hawaii and one other state left on her list.  Now only minutes before the start still there was no Parisa, Anthony or John, who were still having breakfast, but not to fear they arrived with seconds to spare.    A few kisses and hugs and the race was on.    The starting line was a whopping 22 runners.   All fears of not having at least 10 finishers and having to run again next week in Anchorage were gone, all that was left was enjoying the day.
Around mile 5, a nice downhill on pavement before the gravel road started
I had planned on running the whole race with George, but he was holding back and starting conservative and told me to go on without him.   With only 22 runners it wouldn't take long for the field to spread out especially since we start at sea level the race starts immediately climbing and after leaving town at mile two the first real hill climb begins.  It didn’t take long to warm up and within a mile I shed my wind breaker so was left with shorts and my red, white and blue stars and striped tank top over top of a long sleeve running shirt which was comfortable for the rest of the run.     

Running along the Taiya Inlet
I’m a firm believer of not trying anything new on race day however broke my own rule.   First I didn’t wear my lucky socks which I think were with me for 45 of my 50 states.   Second, my Garmin GPS watch that I train with I left at home instead brought a different model that I typically use for hiking which I think has a stronger GPS so I hopefully didn’t risk losing a signal.   My training watch only has one run mode, however my trail watch has categories of “run” as well as “trail run”.    Trail run was the default mode when I turned it on and seemed appropriate so that’s what I choose.   It was only seconds into the race I realized that all my screens to show me the data that I had programmed for “run” mode where completely different from “trail run” mode.   Ok, no problem, I can deal with only one screen, I just wanted to see my heart rate, nothing else would matter so I could see my exertion level all day.   Damn if “trail mode”, every single screen I could toggle and not one of them had heart rate info.     Oh well, I wasn’t about to restart the time so I sucked it up and figured I know my body enough that I can probably gauge how hard I’m working but would it have been ever nice not to have made that rookie mistake.  

Yes, mostly scenic like this the whole way!
Leaving town I figured was going to be the end of crowd participation, however, who doesn’t show up in a car following my, and filming, was the guy that had interviewed me.   Ok, this is cool!   He knew the course and kept showing up to film me running across bridges, down trails, and in places I would have not expected to see anyone.    The course took a turn and headed uphill.   It was a long and relentless hill.  Had I trained in Ohio this hill would have been torture, but training in California hills are part of my daily training runs, so I just shorted my stride and kept putting one foot in front of the other.   Parisa was awesome, she would pedal ahead and pull over to get pictures of me every couple miles.   I could tell she was working hard to bike up this hill and pulled over and stripped down to just a tee shirt.     

My Trusty Companion for all 26.2 Miles
Water stops were every two miles and each table I approached all the volunteers would start cheering and grab there cameras and take pictures of me.   Honestly, I wasn’t use to this treatment, but the feeling never got old.   I passed a few girls in town in the first mile of the race who had stopped at a little Java hut and were all dressed in Amish clothes.   I didn’t know Alaska had Amish, but I guess it all added to the small town feel.   It wasn’t until a later water stop I found out that these girls actually were working their own table and this is how they dressed to show their spirit.   They cheered louder than any other table and of course at least one of them had cameras in hand.   

Running on Dirt Section of Marathon Course
The course went from paved road, to a long stretch of gravel road, and then eventually to an narrow almost trail but wide enough as it was also used as some kind of road to nowhere.   The course was so beautiful and every twist in the road it seemed as if there was another perfect Kodak moment.    Parisa got some great shots along the way as well as I carried my iPod touch and broke it out a few times for some shots along the route as well as at the start and finish line.    There were only water stops every other mile, but since it was an out and back most of the stops I got to see two times.   Having Parisa along she was always she helped to keep me hydrated as there was always plenty of water in my bottle.    She did a great job keeping up with me, I was going slow enough so it was a big break for her compared to a day ealier as she had tried to keep up with John and Anthony the day before, but I could feel that the hard work the day before was wearing down on her.   After all she's never mountain biked before, probably only rode 25 miles 1 time before, and between the hills and the terrain this route was nothing less than challenging.   

Still looking Strong
We got to the near single track and it went straight up, plus was very large gravel chucks which wasn’t particularly easy to run (or bike on).    This hill was ruthless and I think was the first time I had to take a few walk breaks, but I started to pulled away from Parisa as she couldn't bike up this section.   I knew she could easily catch me on the first downhill but the hill kept on going.  I was a bit scared as we were deep in the woods by now, but fortunately they had a couple ATV's driving back and forth on this section hopefully to scare any bears away!    I finally started seeing runners coming back from the turn around so I could gage how far ahead they were (or how far behind I was).    When I made it to the turn around myself now I was able to see now who I was in front of.  In a field of 22 there weren't many runners left.   Parisa was still rolling and really tired and thirsty when I passed her as I ran down the hill, so I encouraged her if she wanted to do the whole course just around the next corner was the turn around as well she could refill her water bottle.   She was relieved to hear this great news and in no time she caught back up with me for the mostly downhill section we had just ran up a few minutes ago.   

Bridge Crossing
I passed George and could tell he was far enough behind that I might not see him till the finish.   Both of us still in good spirts especially me because I was on the downhill section. Once we left the narrow trail and back on the dirt road finally John and Anthony had found me.   Neither John or Anthony are runners, so now I think they could see exactly how far I had run and acknowledged this marathon stuff was tough work.   The return was into the wind, so this course continued to relentless all the way back to the finish line. 

Single Track...Bear Territory?
There was a mobile water stop that passed me a few times but I was always stocked with everything I needed.    I usually walk water stops, but they were so infrequent it seems as I took less walk breaks than I usually do for a marathon.    I knew the rest of the route home, or thought I did, it seems as I had forgot about the long section that was downhill on the way to the turn around, now it was an uphill section.  This uphill section lasted from mile 20-23 and usually it’s mile 19 when runners hit the wall, so this was particularly hard.   Since the race slogan was “hardest marathon in Alaska” I actually had envisioned harder route, so while it wasn’t easy, I slowly chugged up these three miles knowing that the last 3 miles.  This last uphill section I started to have second thoughts that the course was starting to live up to it's reputation.   


Yes Windy all day on the Course
 When I started the downhill section a girl that had we had paced each other the whole race turned it up a notch and was gone.   She said to me, “I’ll let you pass me at the end”, however, I didn’t have the drive to go after her and took it easy all the way down hill.   I asked Parisa to go to the finish line for pictures, so I was mostly running alone the last few miles, or that is until about one mile to go again the guy that had been videotaping me earlier was back.   This time he was on bicycle and followed me all the way to the finish line.   Lucky for me to because while I knew where the finish line was located, I didn't really know the exact streets to turn to get there without accidentally cutting the course.   No sense getting DQ'ed this late in the game.    There were so few runners and by this time we were so spread out I could hardly see anyone in front or behind me.   I did catch up with a few of the half marathoners, who started way after the marathon, and left them in the dust as they were only at a walking pace.
Almost there!
The small crowd that was gathered at the finish line were all cheering for me as I closed in on the finish line.   I was in a groove, I never picked up my pace at the end, well, maybe a little, but was so excited to see the finish.    This crazy notion I had had in my twenties I finally came through and was about to fulfill.     Usually the breaking the ribbon is reserved for only the winner of the race, but again Kristin was too kind and had the volunteers put the ribbon up for me.   Too funny tho because I wanted to finish with my patented somersault across the finish line and I ended up actually rolling under the ribbon so my only chance ever to break it and I failed, but no worries, none the less I had finished!

 I proudly accepted my medal and went back to where I stashed a jacket near the start to put on to stay warm, also a few snacks were in the Mountain Hardware tent at the finish line and I grabbed a chocolate milk which never tasted better.   I again was greeted at the finish with my whole crew Parisa, John and Anthony.   Parisa videotaped my finish from one side of the finish line and Anthony videotaped it from the other side.   We posed for a finish photo and again I was interviewed.    I’d run so many marathons where I finished all alone I suppose I wasn’t used to all the support I was receiving which must have distracted me from the thoughts and the emotions I was probably feeling at the time.     

2017 Finisher - Skwagway Marathon
 I crossed the finish line with a time of 4:22:31.  I ended up finishing 15th out of the 22 runners.  Only 11 of the runners broke 4 hours.    I think from the beginning I was estimating I could break 4:25 for this rugged course and I while the last couple mile into town I could have pushed it and shaved off a few seconds/minutes there was no need, all I need to do was cross the finish line.   I was surprised to know the 50 state club was keeping and eye on me and I received a confirmation email that I was a "certified" finisher and #1,267 on the official roll.   I guess quite a few runners save Alaska for marathon #50 as there were 8 finishers a week later in Anchorage.  
At the Finish Line with Race Director Kristin
Again the guy that had interviewed me before the race and filmed me running all over the course was now ready for a few closing remarks which I gladly shared as I pulled up a chair and sat down to rest.  The dust settled fast, Parisa wanted to go get some lunch so headed back to the hotel with Anthony and John while I waited for my friend George which I hoped was not that far behind.   George had run 5 half marathons while I ran full marathons and was my support, now this was my first time to return the favor.  I started walking the course backwards and hoped to run in with him the last mile.    I figured he could easily get lost or pick an incorrect turn to the finish line so if he did I might miss him, so I waited by a point that he would have to cross no matter which direction he came from.  It ends up he ended up creating his own ending route the last half mile of the marathon, but I found him and cheered him on to his finish.    I again posed for a couple more finisher photos and then was the walk several blocks back to the hotel where we shared about our stories of our morning. 

The whole gang, Parisa & I, John & Anthony, and George all gathered for lunch and shared in good spirits of our accomplishment with some pizza and cold Alaskan Amber brews.   It would be a pretty low key day after lunch and rest and relaxing back at the hotel.   The next morning we would have one last adventure in Skagway riding the White Pass & Yukon Railroad, about a four hour tour up to the top of the pass and back, just enough time to squeeze in before we had to board our ferry to take us back to Juneau so we could catch a flight to Anchorage the following morning so we could continue with the second week of our journey.




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