Saturday, July 29, 2017

A Lot to Not Like: Frank Maier Marathon Race Report

I think this was marathon #52, and state #43. Alaska and Hawaii are the big, expensive ones for 50-staters. I just wish that my enjoyment of Alaska was in any way proportionate to the amount of money this trip cost me. Now, Will loves Alaska, but somehow he is home watching the dogs while I am sitting in the Juneau airport writing about how much I DON'T love Alaska. That doesn't seem fair, does it? But I digress.

There are not a lot of choices for Alaska marathons, and truthfully none of them had great reviews. I picked this one over the Anchorage one because I've already been to Anchorage, and once was DEFINITELY enough for Anchorage. I really wanted the Fairbanks one in September, but then I found out it didn't have finisher medals, and no medal = no race for me. So Juneau it was.

It took 3 flights (one of which I missed) and 8 hours on a plane to get here. As my plane descended, I was looking forward to awe-inspiring mountain views. Instead I saw... clouds and rain. Very occasionally, I caught a brief glimpse of a mountain, but then it was gone. Finally, right before touchdown, we broke through the clouds and I could see a dark, forbidding grey and green landscape. The forecast for my 36 hours in Juneau was dismal -- rain, rain, rain, and low 50's. Even though I had checked the forecast before coming, I somehow forgot how cold 50 degrees is, and had packed only one thing with long sleeves, a zip-up a little bit thicker than Kleenex that clearly was going to be totally inadequate for anything outside, including a marathon.

The town of Juneau is really pretty small. It stretches out in a line between the base of the mountains and the water. I was staying at an airbnb on Douglas Island, which is across the Gastineau Channel from Juneau. As I drove from the airport to Douglas Island, I saw a bald eagle fly overhead. I was like, "Oh my God! A bald eagle! So awesome!" Ten minutes later, I had seen about 15-20 more, and they were no longer interesting.

I took a nap at the airbnb, then set out to explore. I went to see the Mendenhall Glacier, and that is worth making a trip to see. I know what a glacier is, of course, but actually seeing one up close was awesome in the literal sense of the word -- inspiring awe. I saw a sleeping bear (who the ranger told me had just eaten a salmon), a porcupine up a tree, and so many salmon swimming up the little tiny stream that I wanted to reach out my hand and catch one. I also crossed paths with a near-hysterical woman from New Zealand who told me her husband had gone for a walk on the beach and she couldn't find him. She was really freaked out, even more so because a porcupine had crossed her path and she was afraid it was aggressive. She asked if I could help her find him and stay with her because she was scared. I said yes even though I had already been to the falls and was walking back and I didn't know this park any better than she did, partly because she really was terrified and partly because I needed to walk a little more to even begin to justify the amount of food I was eating. We soon located her wayward husband on the beach, where he had stopped to take pictures of rocks. His reaction to his wife's hysteria made it pretty clear this was not the first time this had happened. I left them and walked back to the visitor's center. It rained on me the whole time I was at the glacier, and my plantar fasciitis foot was seriously hurting for the first time in a week, which did not bode well for the race the next day.

Packet pickup was a non-event in the community center in town. No expo, just someone sitting there handing out numbers and T-shirts. I asked if there was anything I needed to know about the early start option. This race offers an early start of 6:00 a.m. if the standard 7:00 a.m. start is too late. The woman asked me if 6:00 was okay or if I wanted an earlier one, and said I could start whenever I wanted as long as she knew about it and was there to mark my bib. I said no, 6:00 would be fine.

After that, I walked around downtown Juneau for a while and was unimpressed. I needed to buy a good warm long-sleeved shirt, but do you think I could find one? No. None of the dozens of tourist shops had anything as useful as a warm shirt, although there were infinite supplies of little carved wooden walruses, reindeer skins, and snow globes full of fake gold. I had to drive all the way back to the Sportsman's Warehouse by the airport to get what I needed.

I woke up at 3:45 a.m. and it was already getting light, so I figured I may as well do the early start since I was already awake. The start line was in a park on Douglas Island. There were about 20 other people also opting for the early start. It was chilly and damp, 49 degrees, but not really raining, more like seriously misting. I was excited because there was an actual public bathroom and I didn't have to start the day with a Porta Pottie. Another girl and I were heading in that direction when the race director called after us, "Make sure you lock the doors!" and laughed. We could not figure out why she was laughing -- was there a bear outside the bathroom? Or a pervert? Once we got into the bathroom, it made sense. There were three stalls and none of them had doors. Why, I ask? This is a capital city -- I know, the capital of Alaska, but still, surely money could have been found somewhere for doors in the bathroom of a city park? Anyway, we managed.

I had made a major amateur mistake when packing for this trip, and hadn't packed my arm band for my phone, my fuel belt, or any gels. I cannot explain this, but it happened. I had gone to the one bike shop in Juneau (they didn't have a running shop, of course), and they had exactly one flavor of gel -- Honey Stinger, strawberry kiwi. Ewwww. They had five in stock and I bought four. Since I didn't have my fuel belt, I had three of the gels stuffed in my bra and the last one in my hand. No fuel belt also meant no chapstick, no Advil, no salt tabs, and no Tums, so I just had to hope I didn't need any of those things. No phone meant no music, which was a shame on this course since there turned out to be so few spectators I could count them all on the fingers of my two hands and still have fingers left over.

It started raining lightly as soon as we took off. The first mile was a pretty good climb followed by a lengthy downhill. This was predictive of the rest of the course as it was nothing but rolling hills all the way, with hardly any flat. That is actually my favorite kind of course. Hills break it up, and always give me something to look forward to -- either the uphill will stop soon, or I get to enjoy a downhill.

We had been promised aid stations every 2.25 miles or so. I had specifically asked if they would be functioning for the early start and was told yes. I didn't get to the first one till almost Mile 5; the Mile 2.25 just wasn't there until later in the day. Not that I needed it -- I never drink till Mile 8 unless it's a really hot day -- but that's not the point. Also, the second and third aid stations only had Gatorade, no water. The volunteers looked confused and apologetic when we asked for water. You can't get mad at volunteers -- they're out there because they want to help -- but how can there not be water at an aid station? I grudgingly drank Gatorade at Mile 8, and thought to myself that if I got an upset stomach from it, I would be pretty mad.

It was not the race's fault that the promised mountain views, bald eagles, and cruise ships did not materialize due to the heavy fog and steady drizzle. It was pretty much me and the pine trees. I was ahead of most of the other early starters except for two guys who were faster than me. I know there are some runners who prefer to be out in nature, alone with their own thoughts, no people or technology needed. I am not one of those. I like music, fans, and city views, of which this course had zero. Nevertheless, I was making good time and the miles were clipping by. My foot hurt not at all -- amazing, considering how it felt the day before at the glacier. It seemed like I hadn't been running that long when I came to the turnaround. On the way I passed Larry "1700 Marathons", who had started at 4:30 am because he was walking. He was walking because he was doing another marathon tomorrow. He asked me if I was too, and I said I was not. No more back to backs for me!

On the way back, I passed one of the guys who had started out faster than me. Then I started to pass a bunch of people who had taken the regular start at 7:00 a.m. I was still feeling strong, which has not happened in any marathon this year. Superstitiously, I didn't look at my time. I was going as fast as I could, and didn't want to worry about feeling like I should go faster.

At Mile 19-something, I passed the half marathon turnaround. The half had started at 8:00 (early start) and 9:00 (regular start), so there was one big clump of runners at the turnaround and another about 3 miles later. I enjoyed passing these people very much. It's nice to be almost done with my event and be passing all these people who are just starting.

I finished in 3:57-something, not a great time, but my best time in 2017 so far. This should have been a bad race for me for so many reasons -- no music, gels chafing inside my bra, no spectators, plantar fasciitis, hills, near-total lack of training, the approximately 5000 calories of mostly junk food that I ate the day before -- but somehow it turned out okay! I even felt totally okay at the end, which was a good thing. The end of this race is known for its feast of unlimited grilled salmon. I gorged myself like a grizzly bear pulling salmon out of a river, and topped off my salmon feast with a giant grilled hot dog. Then I had time for a hot shower and a nap back at the airbnb before heading back to the airport.

I've been in Juneau for 36 hours and that is just about the maximum amount of time I would like to stay in Alaska, although somehow I just promised Will I would come back with him... to Fairbanks... in the winter... What was I thinking?? I don't know -- I will worry about it when it actually gets close to happening. For now I'm just glad Alaska is done. I don't have any other marathon planned until Baltimore in October, and I'm pacing that one. Usually when I say I don't have any other marathon planned until... a long time from now, the unspoken conclusion to that sentence is, "...but that will probably change." This time I really don't think I will. There are no marathons in the states I need in August, and I'm teaching class in September, so I'm heading into a dry stretch.

43 down, 7 to go!