Monday, August 05, 2002

RR Alaska

Trip Report
Juneau, Alaska
Aug 1-4, 2002

I mentioned at the end of my last marathon report (Denver- June 9th) that I was still trying to decide where marathon #199 would be. Since #200 was cast in concrete for Reno, NV on Aug 25th I needed a race in early August. I wanted/needed a road race to tune the old bod a few weeks before #200. There were a few marathons in CO in late July but they were trail races and they are not the same as a road race. So it came down to two possible marathons – my first choice was Nuuk, Greenland on Aug 3rd. However we had left it too late and when I tried to make reservations with the tour agency the only flights available required a one-week stay in Greenland. Sorry – ‘been there, done that’!
My sports manager and I spent 5 lonnnnnnnggggggggg days in Nanisivik on Baffin Island (500 miles above the Arctic Circle in Canada) in 1997. That four-day tour was lengthened to 5 days due to weather and those 5 days felt like 5 MONTHS by the time the plane finally lifted off the ground. No way we were going to spend a week in Greenland! So I asked the travel agent to put us on the wait list for next year and to book a 3-day trip only!

Plan B or 2nd choice was the Frank Maier Marathon in Juneau, Alaska also on Aug 3rd.
This choice provided a number of benefits: a) I needed a second marathon in Alaska as I make my way around the 50 states for the second time b) I still had enough air miles in an old Alaska Air account from business days for a free ticket and c) I was able to schedule a layover in Seattle on the return trip to spend some time with our son Chris.

So Alaska it was for #199! Unfortunately my sports manager was not able to accompany me because I only had enough miles for one free ticket. But we had already visited Juneau on an Alaska cruise in 93 and for anyone who has been to Juneau, you know that there is not a lot to visit? I had obviously forgotten that fact myself as I arrived in Juneau on Thursday afternoon – 2 days before the race! I rented a car on Friday to check out the city and area. Juneau is the state capitol and is a land-locked harbor. The only way in and out is by plane or ferry! There is a highway that runs from Thane, about 5 miles south of the city to Echo Cove, about 40 miles north of the city. It dead-ends at both locations and there are no roads /highways going east to Canada because that region is blocked by the Juneau Icefield that covers more than 5,000 square miles!

To the west of Juneau lies Douglas Island across a very narrow Gastineau Channel. This region is all part of the ‘Inside Passage’ and the Alexander Archipelago that is frequented by the cruise ships. The scenery is quite spectacular since the region is a temperate rain forest with 90+ inches of rain per year and mountains rise almost straight out of the seas/oceans to heights of 6,000 feet. And then there is the Juneau Icefield with more than 140 valley glaciers flowing down from it. One of the larger and more accessible glaciers is the Mendenhall Glacier, only a few miles from Juneau.

After I had driven all 45 miles of paved highway I crossed over to Douglas Island and drove all 15 miles of paved road there – of which the marathon course used 13.1 miles for an out-and-back route. In all, with the city streets and the road to the Mendenhall Glacier there may be 100 miles of roads in Juneau and the surrounding area. But there are more than 260 miles of trails for hiking/biking etc so at least they have their priorities straight. But what to do now? I had driven almost every inch of paved road? I drove downtown, parked and set out to explore on foot.

One hour later I had covered every major street downtown and visited every tourist shop on the two main shopping streets. The only thing I remembered from our previous trip was the ‘Red Dog Saloon’ – an old saloon that sits strategically on the edge of downtown and is the first bar the cruise passengers see when approaching the shops. Juneau gets 4 or 5 cruise ships each day that drop off 5000+ passengers to spend money. And the prices reflect that easy economy. I noticed mountain-type items that we had purchased here in Summit County to furnish our home – they were marked up an additional 100% over the high prices we pay in the High Country! Needless to say I bought nothing except for my customary souvenir postcards. And I had had enough of those crazy cruise passengers/tourists!

I left the city and drove out to the Mendenhall Glacier. On our cruise we had taken an optional helicopter tour to the Glacier where we landed on the Glacier and then our kamikaze, ex-Vietnam copter pilot pretended he was ‘Luke Skywalker’ and buzzed down and between the crevasses in the Glacier. Some of the crevasses are 800 feet deep and very narrow so it was a very terrifying but thrilling ride. I still have a video of that exciting tour! But now I had only my feet so I hiked about 2 miles into the Glacier from the Visitor’s Center. Alaska was experiencing a heat wave with temperatures in the mid 70s and the locals were swimming in Mendenhall Lake at the foot of the Glacier to escape from the heat? And they actually looked like they were enjoying it and having fun as icebergs floated by? BBBBRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I was wishing that I had brought shorts but there was no way in Hell that I would have even put a toe in that water!

But now it was time for the usual pasta dinner and a good night’s sleep for an early race. I was upset and disappointed that I could not enjoy an all-you-can-eat Halibut and Crab Feast that a local restaurant was holding! Damn – I love halibut and crab!

Saturday was M-Day. The race started at 7am at Sandy Beach on Douglas Island. As I stated earlier the course was an out-and-back route than ran to the north end of the island and back. The road was very hilly and ran along the Gastineau Channel and overlooked the city and eventually the Mendenhall Glacier. There were only 30 runners in the Marathon (20 from out-of-state) and about 100 runners in the Half. The weather was cloudy and 50 degrees. All the locals were telling us how lucky we were this year – last year it poured for the whole race! Since the race was so small there were no age group awards – just Open and Masters Divisions. I figured that I had virtually no chance for an award but still wanted to place well in my age group.

At 7am we were off – all 30 of us since the Half started later. The race started at sea level and since I had driven the course the day before I figured the highest hill/point was no more than 200 feet above sea level – but there were a LOT of hills! There were maybe 6 miles of flat and 20 miles of hills! I took off with the lead pack and tried to stay with them because I thought that there were at least two runners in that pack that were in my age group. At the end of the first mile (uphill) they were running about a 7:45 pace and I knew I couldn’t hold that pace for 26 miles of hills so I backed off to an 8-minute pace and just tried to keep them in sight. At the 10-mile mark I was right on an 8-minute pace and I noticed that one of my age-group competitors had started to fall back from the lead pack. I managed to close in on him by 12 miles and passed him going up a hill to the turn-around point at 13 miles. I passed the Half a few seconds under 1:45 but I didn’t believe that I could hold that pace through those hills again on the second half?

And as I was running back down that hill my competitor/soon-to-be-friend passed me back! It didn’t take long for both of us to realize that the race was turning into a friendly but serious competition between the two of us. Might as well get acquainted! Andy was 53, had lived in Juneau for over 20 years, retired from a government job a year ago and started a part-time bike repair business so that he would have more time to ski in the winter and bike, hike, run and fish in the summer! My kind of guy – had his priorities straight! We continued this back-and- forth lead – I would pass him on the uphills and he would pass me on the downhills – for the next 5 miles. At mile 18 Andy made his move and surged ahead. I decided it was too early in the race to lower the hammer – heck the race doesn’t even start until 20 miles! Reluctantly I had to let him go but I did pick up the pace enough to keep him in sight.

As I passed the 20-mile mark I had slowed to about an 8:15 pace but still felt OK. At that point we also reached the turn-around point for the Half Marathon race. That race had started at 9am so now the Half-marathon runners who were running a 7 to 8-minute pace were reaching their turn-around point. I found this situation to be very confusing and discouraging because we now had several runners coming at us and then blowing by us. I am struggling to hold an 8:15 pace and runners are blowing by so fast that I have to look at my feet to see if they are still moving? However it seemed to have a positive effect on Andy. Unfortunately he seemed to get invigorated by the faster runners and picked up the pace. At that point I figured that there was no way I would ever be able to catch him.
However by mile 22, I noticed that I was closing the gap and I had not picked up the pace – yet! He had to be tiring and slowing down. Now I did pick up the pace! By mile 23, I had drawn within a few hundred feet and we had both passed the other runner in our age group that had been in the lead pack. By my recollection we were now competing for 1st place in our age group.

But I had to be smart. I knew that if and when I passed him he would respond and it would become a battle to the finish line. Fortunately I knew the course. Mile 24 was a slight uphill and mile 25 was a long difficult uphill followed by a fast downhill mile to the finish line. I decided to pick up the pace just enough on mile 24 to close within 10 feet of Andy as we approached the bottom of the hill to start mile 25. Then I surged and charged up that hill in 7:57. As I crested the hill I was too scared to waste time looking back – I knew that Andy would be coming! So I asked the Maddog to draw on every once of energy left in the old bod and I continued to push on that last downhill. The old bod came through with the fastest mile of the race –a 7:37 and I crossed the finish line in 3:32:53. As soon as I had handed in my race tag and collected my finisher’s medal I returned to the finish chute to greet my new friend and congratulate and thank him for a great race! He was very gracious and conceded that when I blew by him on that last uphill he had tried to respond but couldn’t and had to coast in. We were both surprised and pleased to learn that only one youngster (43 years old) in the Masters Group had preceded us so that we both had placed and trophied.

There was lots of food including a BBQ after the race but I can’t look at food for several hours and the awards were supposed to be presented at a post-race party at a pizza joint that evening so I decided to return to the hotel for a hot bath. I did attend the party that evening to meet some more of the runners and enjoy some of the great local microbrews.
One of the race volunteers had taken hundreds of pictures throughout the race and these were offered to all the runners. Turned out that they had presented the awards at the finish line but a volunteer drove home to get my award for me. I was happy and pleased with the organization and hospitality of the local running club and its members. They even recommended a great restaurant where I went that evening to finally enjoy my feast of Halibut before leaving Alaska.

On Sunday I caught an early flight home via Seattle. Chris picked me up at the airport in Seattle and we went for breakfast. He is somewhat down in the dumps because he broke his left shoulder a few weeks back during a 100-mile bike race and now he has been relegated to ‘couch potato’ status. I can easily understand his frustration but fortunately he is still young and can rehabilitate quickly. It was great spending some time with him.

But now it is back to more hills and probably at least one more run up a 14er to get ready for #200 in three weeks. Stay tuned for the next report.

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