On the plane, I found myself confounded with how I should design my sleep schedule to best prepare me for the race the next morning. On the one hand, I was still on New York time, but on the other hand, the race was on Alaskan time, so it was a tossup as far as which to go by. In the end, it was decided for me: I was way too tired to stay awake on the plane from SEA to ANC, so I got about 2.5 hours sleep there. Once arriving and heading for the hotel, the darkness and clock times reading 2:00 AM convinced me to go to sleep again. Despite the very obvious sounds of sex coming through the thin hotel walls (moans, “oh my god”s, etc), I drifted off to sleep by 2:30 AM and managed to sleep lightly until 6:30. Total sleep: about 10 hours. Fabulous!
I awoke feeling well rested and ready to go. With such a short trip, I had finally mastered the art of packing really lightly (I think I ended the trip having used every single thing I packed, with the exception of one extra book), and so I got ready very quickly with no time spent digging through my bag for the things I needed. Fearing rain, I realized the one thing I had neglected to bring were some plastic bags to try wearing on my feet inside my sneakers. I’ve frequently seen other runners do that to keep their socks from getting wet, and I figured that this race (forecast: 96% chance of rain throughout the race) would be a good chance to try it out. Improvising, I discovered that the plastic bags around the styrofoam cups in the bathroom were the perfect size to fit my feet. Done! Stopping at the front desk on my way out, I also managed to procure a large trash bag to poke holes in and wear over my body as a makeshift poncho.
I had chosen my hotel to be just over 1/2 mile from the start/finish, and though nothing was open at 7 AM, I enjoyed peeking in the shop windows as I walked to the start. Anchorage is a surprisingly cute town! I definitely wished I had more time to stick around and check it out. It didn’t take me long to walk to the start, and on the way I was able to call Boyfriend and my mom to see how their days were going. There’s a definite advantage to doing marathons that are a few time zones behind: I have people to chat with on the phone before the race without waking them up! Also good: while the sky was gray and the pavement was wet, it was not currently raining. with my luck on flights having turned around, I hoped that the weather would do a similar turnaround and that the rain would hold off for the duration of the race.
Arriving at the start, I found Bart Yasso at the volunteer tent with copies of his book. I had been bummed to not get to see him speak the night before the race, so I decided to go up and reintroduce myself (we had met before at the Atlanta Thanksgiving marathon, though I doubt he remembered). He was super nice, making a big fuss over the marathons I’ve already done, and he asked to write down my name and some vital stats so he could announce me as I crossed the finish line. Cool! I also asked for his opinion on wrapping my feet in plastic bags to prevent them from getting wet in case of rain, and he pooh-poohed the idea, so I reluctantly removed the bags. What have you all found about this practice? Good or bad?
While waiting, there were already some booths set up with refreshments. Normally the pre-race refreshments just include water and maybe a bit of fruit, but a local bakery was slicing up delicious bread and serving up cinnamon chip bread or whole wheat bread, with optional butter. I typically don’t eat more than just a sample size Larabar before a race, but I decided heck with it, I’d try the bread, and I was so glad I did! The cinnamon chip bread was heaven, and it was all I could do not to go back for another slice. Instead, I promised myself I’d have more after the race when it wouldn’t be weighing heavily on my stomach for the run.
Heading over to the late packet pickup, I bumped into another 50 state friend, Zan, whom I had met just a few weeks prior at the pasta dinner in Carrollton. Humpy’s was going to count as his 49th state – so close to finishing! His plan is to finish his last state (New Jersey) at the Atlantic City Marathon in October, and I’m bummed that I can’t be there to celebrate, but my plan is to do the Wichita Marathon that day. Though now that I’m doing Missouri in September (Lewis and Clark Marathon) and not doing Wichita as a double with Kansas City, maybe I should find another Kansas marathon and use that weekend to knock out Rhode Island (Breakers Marathon) and New Jersey (Atlantic City)? Could be fun, and I know Boyfriend would be super psyched about a trip to AC!
Anyway, while talking to Zan and his friend Greg (another 50 state hopeful, he’ll be finishing with Zan at AC), I discovered I had made a critical blunder in my planning: the race didn’t start at 8:00 AM, but rather 9:00 AM (8:00 AM was the early start for walkers). This left me with a bit of a problem, as my hotel was only able to give me late checkout until 1:00 PM and swore up and down that any later was absolutely not possible. I considered just showing up late and seeing what happened, but after discussion with Boyfriend, decided the better course of action would be to pack up my stuff now, check it at the front desk, and ask them if they could possibly let me use another room for 15 minutes to shower and clean up after the race. I headed back to the hotel and then trekked back to the race again (in case you’re counting, this is now an extra 2.4 miles of distance tacked on to the marathon), still arriving at the start with about 30 minutes to spare. I hung out with Zan, Greg, and some other friends for a bit, which was fun to catch up. One of these was Larry Macon, of the “has done over 500 marathons, including last year setting the world record for most marathons done in one year” fame (you all think I’m crazy, but he did 105 in a year!). He spent a bit trying to again convince me to do a triple over Labor Day weekend (Pocatello, ID on Saturday; Albuquerque, NM on Sunday; and Pike’s Peak Trail Marathon in CO on Monday), but this time I flatly refused :) I had fun with my double, but I definitely don’t think I’m ready for three in three days!
With ten minutes to go, I had just enough time to check my bag and call Boyfriend and mom once more before the start. Boyfriend was sweet, wishing me good luck, but my mom has apparently turned into my coach. She had looked up the marathon online and found the course maps and elevation profile, and wanted to warn me about the hill at mile 5 and one hill near the very end of the race. I listened gratefully, having not even glanced at the course map myself – probably a mistake considering several people had commented on Marathon Guide that they got lost on the course because it wasn’t well-marked and the field was so spread out that they didn’t have anyone to follow. Oops! I hoped that being right in the middle of the pack would help me in that regard.
I lined up just as the Star Spangled Banner was starting, and respectfully listened instead of fiddling with my iPod or Garmin (I really hate when people do that). However, unlike with most races where there’s a big delay or some announcements, the national anthem finished and we were then told the race would start in 30 seconds. Yikes! Along with Greg and Zan, we all punched frantically at our Garmins, trying to get them to locate satellites and be ready to start. Mine was of course turned to “GPS off,” so it took me a bit longer, and when the race started, I had to pull to the side to try to wait for my Garmin.
The whole field passed me by in short order (I believe there were only about 700 full marathon runners) and not wanting to be rude, I just headed across the start with my timer started but the satellites still not found. It did make me feel a bit better to realize that there was a woman next to me cursing her Garmin and also staring at it frantically as we crossed the start, the last two in the race :) I quickly made up for that, passing a lot of people who were going at a slower pace than I wanted. I still didn’t have my iPod started, but the friction of the garbage bag I was wearing made a loud rustling song that somehow made me not miss the music, so I didn’t bother trying to put it on. Guess I’m not too picky!
In the first mile, we went down a short downhill that I realized would later be the uphill at the end of the race that my mom had warned me about. “Oh, whatever,” I remarked to Zan. “This is totally not any kind of hill to worry about.” Famous last words…
By mile two, I was done with the rustling of my garbage bag. Zan urged me not to get rid of it, warning that Murphy’s Law dictated that as soon as I took off the bag, it would start to pour. But no one else was wearing any kind of poncho or anything, and it wasn’t raining yet, so I decided to ditch it at the mile marker. I felt a lot more free without that stupid bag, and a whole lot cooler, since it had been trapping my body heat and making me significantly more overheated than I should be. I also decided that with no more rustling, it was time for my iPod. Having listened to Jon Schmidt’s Taylor Swift/Coldplay arrangement all morning while I was getting ready for the race, I decided to play all my Taylor Swift songs, starting with her newest album, Fearless. It actually made pretty good running music, with most of the songs giving me a beat that was great to run to without being overly upbeat and sapping my energy.
We turned onto a bikepath going along what I asked about and learned was Cook Inlet, this beautiful body of water with fog rising off it and nothing but sky in the distance. So pretty! Somehow, it was exactly how I thought Alaska should look, what with the wide expanse of water and fog, the big oil tankers all over it, mud flats between us and the water, and a “Big Sky Country” kind of feel (though yes, I realize that usually applies to states in the Rockies). The course was a nice paved trail through the woods, with the right side open to the water so we could see the gorgeous views. It reminded me a lot of the bike trail at the end of the Vermont City Marathon, though better, because there weren’t trees in between the path and the water to block the view. Though we did turn in and out of the woods, for the most part, the view was there, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.
I had been mostly ignoring my Garmin and just running at what felt like a comfortable pace to me with my music. This was partly due to the fact that my Garmin’s band was really irritating my wrist. Do any other small boned runners have this problem with the 405? I know the wristband is adjustable, but the problem is that the face of the watch is bigger than my whole wrist, so the flexible part of the band doesn’t even start until a centimeter or so out from my wrist. I either tighten the band normally, in which case the Garmin isn’t really secure and likes to spin around my arm as I run, or I try to get it tight, in which case the flexible part of the band digs into my arm while the problem of the face being too big is still not solved. Unfortunately, short of trading my 405 in for a different model, I don’t think there’s anyway to fix this.
Anyway, as I said, I had largely been ignoring my Garmin except to adjust it to try to make my wrist more comfortable, but by a few miles in, I realized I was comfortably running about a 9 minute pace, sometimes a little less, and it felt good. I started to get ambitions about tearing up the course with a new PR, but tried to put them out of mind – in the first few miles, I always think I’m going to PR, and it hasn’t happened for the last 20 marathons I’ve done. Not even close. In fact, I’m beginning to wonder if the Run San Francisco Marathon course is short – you’d think if I’ve done 20 marathons since then, I’d at least come close to hitting that PR time again, but I think the best I’ve done is about 8 minutes over.
The “hill” at mile 5 finally approached – at least I think it did. In general, the course seemed to be mostly flat, but not pancake flat at all – lots of little itty bitty ups and downs to keep your leg muscles ever changing and comfortable without really being challenged. The “hill” at mile 5 was pretty minor, and set along with a couple rollers, so fairly indistinguishable as a big hill. In short, with the weather cooperating (it was a bit cool, maybe mid 60s, but not raining), it was a really perfect course for a fast time. Overall, I’d say the race was really well-run, with my only criticism being that while the aid stations were frequent (about every 2-3 miles), only about half of them had Gatorade – the rest had only water. As far as the volunteers and the spectators, I had heard a lot about how the only creatures you see are moose, but I didn’t see a single moose and instead saw a lot of really supportive fans out on the course. I was surprised to see this was the case even in the rain, particularly since reviews had indicated that past years had perfect weather and still no spectators. Maybe Alaskans like the rain? Either way, I found that the race was not at all like I was expecting from the reviews. Another case in point: the race is advertised as only being on paved roads for about two miles. That’s true, I suppose, in that you’re not on paved roads but paved trails, but it still came as a surprise to me. A pleasant one, though, as with the previous night’s rain, I did not want to have to deal with the mudpits that unpaved trails would become.
I already mentioned that I hadn’t really looked at the course before starting; this was another thing I found inconsistent with the reviews. Many of them said that people took wrong turns and got lost. I’ll agree that the course wasn’t very thoroughly marked; however, it really didn’t need to be because you just followed the paved path, and at every intersection there was a volunteer whose sole duty it was to point you in the right direction. Additionally, the course turned out to be kind of a figure eight out-and-back, meaning you did the first out-and-back, which connected to another out-and-back, before doing a final mile or two to the finish. I started to wonder if I had been reading comments for the correct marathon, because it just didn’t make sense at all! I guess it just goes to show that you can’t always trust the reviews on Marathon Guide.
Regardless of the race being not like I expected, I still enjoyed the course immensely. It was a lot of fun on the first out-and-back to get to see the faster runners coming toward me, though I had to remember to look for the green bibs (indicating a full marathoner) vs yellow bibs (relay marathoners). Marathons that incorporate a relay can be a bit demoralizing, because you’re getting passed at a sprint by someone when you’re dead tired (happened to me constantly both times I ran Vermont), but somehow I didn’t find it to be a big issue in this race. Maybe because I was BLAZING fast! :)
I reached the halfway point in almost exactly two hours, and that was when I really started to get hopeful (though cautiously so). If I could keep up the same pace or just a teeny tiny bit faster, I could break four hours and have a new PR. Furthermore, the shirt I was wearing (from the Niagara Falls Marathon last October) reminded me of something. Before that race, I was hanging out in the art gallery where all the runners waited, and I saw two girls wearing shirts that said “Beat Palin.” I didn’t remember the exact time now, but I remembered that when I asked them, it turned out she had done something right around four hours. In this race, Boyfriend was calling about every hour to provide encouragement and support, so when he called at the two hour mark, I asked him to look up Sarah Palin’s marathon time and let me know what it was the next time he called. Might I finally be able to “Beat Palin”?
I kept up the aggressive pace, even pushing it a bit faster to do sub-9 minute miles throughout the teen miles. After each mile, I did a self-assessment and determined that I still felt good… but I wondered when that would end. Now that I was actually pushing myself and racing (as opposed to the lazy half-hearted attempts I normally make), would I hit the wall? Would I burn out at some point? I didn’t know. This was uncharted territory for me. Even as I passed the seventeen mile mark (normally a huge mental turning point for me – the countdown then turns to single digits!), I was still unsure of myself. I was doing great so far, but who knew if all of a sudden I’d fizzle out and come in with another mediocre time.
The day started heating up, and this second out-and-back started seeming way too far. I kept looking at the mile markers on the back segment, comparing them with where I was at the same point, and dividing the different to figure out exactly where the turnaround would be. By my calculations, I’d hit the turnaround at mile 20.5, and right about when Boyfriend would call. While the coolness of the race thus far had made me not mind the water stations being 2-3 miles apart, I was now wishing they were closer together, and also that more stations had Gatorade instead of just water. I found myself asking people on the “back” segment of the out-and-back if there was water before the turnaround – I certainly hoped so.
Just before the turnaround, Boyfriend called, and I breathlessly told him that I had just passed the 20 mile mark – the fastest I had ever reached that point. He told me that Sarah Palin had finished in 3:58:36. “I can beat that!” I blurted out. He seemed confused by my odd desire to beat Palin, but encouraged me nonetheless. So now it was time for some calculations. Six miles to go, and just under an hour, meant that if I ran a 10 minute pace, I’d just make it. And if I could run faster? The beauty of going for a PR is that it’s constant motivation – every few seconds that you can shave off actually count. I wanted to push myself to the fullest, because this was it: my chance to knock 4:02 down as low as I could go.
Aha, here it came: The Wall. Longtime readers will know that I’ve always tried to hit the wall (I know, I know, who tries to hit the wall? Me, thinking it’s a measure of whether I’m pushing myself) but never yet succeeded. Finally, I thought I might have a chance of hitting it and of knowing that I had pushed myself to the limit. But really? I got fatigued, but I kept going without slowing. Did I hit the wall and push through it? I’m really not sure. They say that hitting the wall is something “you just know,” and I didn’t “just know.” Does that mean I didn’t hit it? Either way, I started going through a bit of a tough time, so I hope I don’t hit anything worse than that in the future.
By mile 24, we were coming into the home stretch and turning off the out-and-back. I knew the course from here – it was the same as the beginning of the race. I was on track for a good time (a PR! Beating Palin!), but I was getting really exhausted, and I knew that walking even one mile could screw it up and ruin my chances. Though I had spent the race thus far listening to Taylor Swift, I now switched over to my “Marathon Power Songs” playlist, hoping it would provide me with the motivation I needed to keep pushing it. The first song was the Biggest Loser theme song, “Proud” by Heather Small. What had I done today to make me feel proud? I was about to smash my old marathon PR and break the elusive sub-4 hour barrier – that’s what.
Mile 25 was brutal. There was a series of rollers that had been almost imperceptible when my legs were fresh in mile 2, but now exhausted me. Going up a small hill, others around me slowed to a walk, but I pushed on, even though I realized that I could probably do almost the same pace at a walk while conserving my energy. I decided it didn’t matter – with a little over a mile left in the course, there was no need to conserve my energy. The mantra of “you can sleep when you’re dead” came to mind – not because I wanted to sleep, but because I wanted to remind myself that this was my chance to shine, and I shouldn’t relax now only to have extra energy later that I wish I had used.
It worked for most of mile 25, but then we hit that one hill that my mom had warned me about. I thought back to what I had told Zan when we were going down it at the beginning of the race (“Whatever, this is totally not any kind of hill to worry about.”), and I was a bit embarrassed. Now, it was something to worry about. I found myself ignoring the “you can sleep when you’re dead” mantra, and the shouts of the volunteers telling me how close I was and to keep going. Instead, I walked. Half a mile to go, and I walked – grr. At the time, I promised myself that walking now would allow a nice strong finish, but once I was up the hill (it was short – less than a minute), I tried to summon the energy I had and really kick it, but I couldn’t. It turned out that I really didn’t have much at all left in the tank, but I saw that as a good thing – it meant I had pushed myself enough early in the race that I was running out now. Of course I would have preferred to run out of gas at mile 26.2 instead of mile 25.9, but hey, it’s better than not running out at all or running out at mile 20. Well-paced, I think.
I was looking and looking for the 26 mile mark, fully intending to do my standard kiss-my-hand-then-touch-the-sign-then-sprint-it-in, but I never saw it. Instead, I opted for the sprint as I came around the corner with about 1/10 of a mile to go. There were some random walkers from the shorter races, but as I looked at the clock above the finish ticking away at 3:57, I gave it everything I had and steamed past them. I was happy to pass one or two people in this last little stretch to the finish, though chances were they had been passing me when I took a break at that hill. Either way, I had done it: I had broken four hours, beaten my PR, and beaten Palin. I had it all!
I crossed the finish line all smiles, and came across Bart Yasso hanging out in the finishers’ area before I even got my medal. I excitedly told him of my accomplishment, for which he congratulated me and then excused himself. I proudly accepted my medal, and then a few seconds later while waiting for my chip to be clipped, I heard Bart’s voice from the announcer podium, telling anyone and everyone that the girl who had just crossed the finish line was Laura from New York, and that I had just completed my 24th marathon and set a PR. So cool! I guess it pays to make friends in high places :)
The finish line had some absolutely delicious oatmeal chocolate chip cookies – my favorite. I like chocolate chips better than raisins (the standard combo with oatmeal cookies), but the oatmeal makes them chewier, so this was the best of both worlds. I considered getting another slice of the delicious cinnamon chip bread I had tried before the race, but decided against it in favor of another cookie. Yum! After getting my stuff, I headed back to the hotel, where I was fortunately granted a room in which to shower quickly before heading back to the airport. I wasn’t really in much of a rush, because there were a ton of flights back to Seattle and they all had plenty of room, but with nothing better to do I figured I might as well be on my way.
I arrived back home the next morning to find a Facebook request from Bart Yasso, along with a message that said I had won third place in my age group and missed my award. Unbelievable! I could certainly have stayed for the award ceremony, but it never in a million years occurred to me that I might be fast enough to win something, particularly when it wasn’t an especially tiny race. As it turns out, there were ten people in my age group, many of whom came in between my 3:57 official finish and my normal finish of around 4:20, so my speed really had made all the difference. I was bummed that I had missed the award ceremony, but I e-mailed the race director and hopefully the award can be mailed to me or something.
But whether I get my age group award or not, I am a winner! New PR with a new first digit in the hour position of my marathon time – fabulous. I heart Alaska :)