Whoopee!!! Alaska – My 50th State!

It took me 4 ½ years but I finally accomplished one of my major goals – to complete a marathon in all 50 states.  After finishing  the Mayor’s Marathon on Saturday, June 18th, I can now officially call myself a ’50 State Finisher.’  It was a real adventure.  Just getting to Alaska from Florida required 3 flights each way through 4 time zones.  It took an entire week after I returned before I could remember what day it was.

The story began on Thursday morning with the early morning drive to the Jacksonville Airport.  Because of thunderstorms in Atlanta the night before, several flights to that destination had been canceled.  Ours fortunately was still scheduled to leave on time.  I was grateful for this since we had 2 connecting flights and tight time frames.  After arriving in Atlanta without incident, we flew on to Minneapolis and grabbed a quick bite to eat, then made our way to the next plane, and found our seats for the 5 + hour flight to Anchorage.  As we settled in and the boarding door was closed, the plane began to move down the runway and then stopped – suddenly.  Oh, dear – passengers looked around wondering what happened.  The captain said a light was not working properly and needed to be checked so we sat on the tarmac for about 15-20 minutes.  Better safe than sorry, at least this was the last leg of our journey to AK.    Light fixed, we took off, and continued on our journey.  Our flight took us over the snow-capped Canadian Rockies, a breathlessly beautiful sight, replete with glaciers. 

The first thing I noticed upon landing in Anchorage was how green everything was.  I had associated Alaska with snow and cold and envisioned the land as barren and brown.  Not so – there were trees, grass, flowers, just like in the lower 48.  Temps were in the 50’switha cold wind every now and then, but it was a pleasant change from the 100 degrees we had been having in Florida. 

We got our checked bags (we had packed for cold weather with jackets and sweaters) and then looked for a taxi to take us to the host hotel, the Sheraton.   This hotel is just a couple of blocks from downtown in a quiet area (a cemetery is across the street) but close enough to town to be very convenient.  Our friends, Karen and David from Arizona, were staying at the same hotel but it took us an entire day to find each other.  Finally, on Friday afternoon, we made contact.  But on Thursday night, Darcy and I deposited our bags in the room and began to explore.  Since we hadn’t had a decent meal all day, that became our major concern.  Naturally my husband had done his research and had a list of great places to eat.  Over the next 4 days, we managed to try them all.  Thursday evening it was Humpy’s Great Alaskan Alehouse – I had a halibut burger (fish, yes!) and Darcy a Humpy burger and we both tried the local beers.  The first of many excellent meals!  After eating, it was about 11 pm eastern time and we wanted sleep!  My only complaint about this hotel was the existence of a loud mechanical noise (like AC that never stops) that was disturbing to me.  It turns out that this noise is louder on one wing of the hotel than the other and as soon as we could, we switched to a room on the other quieter wing – which was much better.  In fact, we found the perfect room, #1307, and plan to ask for that room next year (yes, I am planning on doing this race again next year, perhaps followed by a cruise, if we can afford it).

The next morning, we went to packet pickup which was located right in the Sheraton.  Timing device is a chip, the kind you attach to your shoe, but this chip did not have to be returned which was nice.  Expo consisted of a few local merchants selling shirts, goos, children’s books about Alaska (with the author there to autography them), posters ($15, expensive, but attractive, so I broke down and got one).  No tee shirt until after the race, but that’s okay with me. 

For those readers keeping track of the restaurant reviews, we ate breakfast at Snow City Café.  We had to wait about 45 minutes to get in; evidently this is THE place to eat breakfast in Anchorage and there were lots of tourists and marathoners in line.  It was very good, worth the wait (unless you are absolutely famished).  I had a fried egg sandwich and salmon fritters (had to get the fish in there somewhere).   Next, we played tourist and wandered through the customary souvenir shops, visited an indoor mall, and stopped at a chocolate shop (the Chocolate Lounge) with unusual combinations of chocolate and spices and flavorings.  I found a wonderful quilt shop called the Quilted Raven and bought some fabric designed by Alaskan artists.  Then we  visited the Anchorage Museum.  It costs an admission ($12) to get in but we found the museum very worthwhile – lots to see about Alaskan history and people.  We spent over an hour there and could have stayed even longer but I was getting tired and wanted to rest a bit – after all, the marathon was the next day and I was still feeling the effects of jet lag.

So, back to our room at the hotel.  Just as I settled in for a nap, the phone rang; turns out it was my friend Karen.   We were on the same floor different wing so we arranged to meet near the elevators and spent the rest of the day discussing our plans for the race while our husbands talked baseball.  We first met when I was in Wisconsin for the Green Bay marathon several years ago.  Since then, we’ve been to races in several states together; Alaska would be Karen’s 48th state and my 50th.  Our husbands tolerate our marathon quests with a benevolent grace, taking photos of us at the start and finish of our races and making sure we have good repasts when we cross each finish line.  

Now to the really important stuff – the race.  There are really several races – a full, half, relay, and 5 miler.  The half marathon  and 5 miler begin an hour later than the marathon and relay and occupy a completely different course so there is no crowding and confusion.  The marathon course is point-to-point with shuttle buses leaving from  various hotels to take racers to the start.  Of course, Karen and I made sure we got on the first bus, since we are both a little paranoid about getting to the start in plenty of time.  The race doesn’t start until 8 am, and the buses begin leaving at 6:30 or a little earlier, so we didn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn.  I should say something here about daylight in June in Alaska.  It does not get dark until about 11 pm every night and then it begins to get light around 4 am, with the result that there is very little darkness (no wonder the race is called the Mayor’s Midnight Sun Marathon).  It would be the perfect place to do a 24 hour race (at least for me) because  there is so much daylight.

Something else to note about these races –there is a huge Team in Training component with TNT teams flying in from many states.  Even on the flights over here, we noticed many purple shirts, and our hotel was filled with ‘grapes’ (as I have heard them referred to – those purple shirts again).  These folks raise a lot of money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and that’s a good thing, plus their sheer numbers makes it much harder for back-of-the-packers like myself to get lost.  That’s also a good thing. 

The shuttle buses take marathoners to the start line at Bartlett High School which is OPEN for us to hunker down in to stay warm.  It’s only in the mid-40’s outside but it feels colder because of a sharp wind, so it is good to be able to stay inside.  Although there are plenty of portapotties outside, there are also real bathrooms in the school, another plus.  About quarter to 8, we start to file outside and line up in front of the start line banner.  No real corrals, but I position myself close to the back and get ready.    Since Karen is a runner and usually finishes about 30-60 minutes ahead of  me, we wish each other luck, and she moves further up towards the start.  Someone sings what I am guessing is the Alaskan state song, followed by the Star Spangled Banner, there is a BOOM and we’re off. 

As usual, I can’t remember particulars, just impressions.  I’m so caught up in the moment that I try to just enjoy the feeling of movement and try to take in the unexpected lushness of the countryside.  At first, we are on a road that is surrounded on each side by a chain link fence warning us not to enter – it seems it is part of an army or airforce base.   The first 5-6 miles are on this road, and then we enter the infamous ‘tank ‘ trail – a wide gravelly path that has earned complaints from many previous runners (just take a look at some of the comments on Marathonguide.com).  The gravel is hard to walk/run on, so I try to stay on paths that look worn down by ATVs.  Wisely I had decided to wear my trail shoes.  That helped a great deal, since the sturdy soles kept me from feeling the larger pieces of gravel which might have caused major problems with my healing blisters.  The tank road and the following trail (dirt and rocks) encompasses miles 7-17.  The rest of the race is bike path and city streets.  The course is VERY well-marked, with big signs and arrows.  We were warned about wild animals – moose and bear – but all I saw were some birds and – along the bike paths – some dogs with their owners.  Not sure whether to be happy or sad about missing the wildlife – guess I’m relieved.

Just as I passed mile 7 to begin the challenging tank trail, I looked up and saw Karen a few feet in front of me.  How could that be?  She should have been at least 2-3 miles ahead of me by now.  I caught up to her and asked if she were okay.  It turns out that she was having MAJOR problems.  Her neck and back were stiff and painful and she had to stop at one of the medical tents for some Biofreeze.  I tried to continue my relatively brisk walking pace but she was having trouble walking so fast.  She runs faster than me but I walk faster than she does.  So, I made up my mind then and there that I would keep my eye on her and stay close to make sure she finished.  I would walk ahead, turn around, check to see that she was still moving forward, she would run a bit to catch up with me, we would chat, then she would fall behind a bit, run to catch up – well, you get the idea. 

Of course, continuing to walk forward while turning my head to look behind me is NOT a good idea, especially for someone prone to falling, like me.  It was only a matter of time before I tripped and fell, scraping my knee (yes, I left some blood behind in Anchorage) and tearing my pants and jacket on some sharp rocks.  Once I got over the indignity of falling so ungracefully, I was fine.  I decided at that point that when I turned my head to check on Karen, I would STOP moving forward first.  That slowed me down and altered my gait, but I definitely wanted to make sure that we BOTH finished this race. 

It did get up to about 60 degrees but the wind was cold and I was glad to have a long-sleeved shirt on.  Aid stations had water and Ultima and orange slices, and a few had banana pieces and red licorice and pretzels.  Not many spectators but that did not detract from the beautiful scenery and the excitement of this race.  I have to admit that as I passed each mile marker, I would think to myself, “Only so many miles left and I will be a 50 state finisher!”  Pretty neat to think about.

Bottom line: Karen and I crossed the finish line together, chip time 6:11.  Success!

Our husbands met us at the finish line; a young man handed me my medal (large, silver, with the state of Alaska on one side, and the race name and date on the other) and we got our finisher shirts, a banana, and a cup of water.  Kind of disappointing that there was no real food or bottled water, especially since we had to wait over 30 minutes for a bus back to the hotel, but once we were on the bus, I was grateful to sit and rest.  After a shower and brief nap, we were off for a post-race repast at the Glacier Brewhouse.  Excellent food (I had the seafood chowder and a salmon sandwich – more fish) and my husband had the foresight to make a reservation ahead of time so we got seated right away.

We had the next day to explore Anchorage some more because our flight did not leave until after 11 pm, so we took a trolley ride around the city

 

and walked (slowly) through the local city market.  Then rested some more.  Red eye flight back (but we got upgraded – thank you, Delta!) and we arrived back in Jacksonville Monday evening.  It was back to work as usual on Tuesday, but with a difference – now I am a 50 state finisher!

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A Blistering Tale – the FANS 24 hour race, Minneapolis, MN, June 4-5, 2011

I may not be a very fast walker but I do think I have a lot of endurance, and how better to test that endurance than by trying a 24 hour race? FANS stands for Furthering Achievement through a Network of Support and it was begun in 1989 to help send inner-city students from the Minneapolis area to college. This is a fund-raising event and runners and walkers can get pledges to help the cause. However, it is not necessary to raise money. Just send in the entry fee and you can select either the 12 hour or the 24 option. Both categories have separate runner and walker divisions, and prizes are awarded in both divisions.

How could I resist? Well, I couldn’t, especially when I discovered that some of my acquaintances from the Walking Site Message Boards were also going to do the 24 hour challenge. So, early Friday morning my husband and I drove to the Jacksonville airport and flew to Minneapolis, checked into an aging but still attractive Embassy Suites in Bloomington, and took the light rail transit to Mall of America to look for a place to have lunch. We had both heard of this Mall but had never visited it before. It certainly is a sight to see. Multistory, with shops and restaurants plus an aquarium and Nickelodeon amusement park, it has something for everyone. We decided to stop at Crave, a restaurant that turned out to be a wise choice, with excellent food and service. Back to the hotel to rest for a couple of hours and plan our strategy for the evening.

While it is not essential to attend the prerace pasta dinner at the Nokomis Community Center, I thought it might be a good idea to go, if only to get my race packet and meet the other participants. Because there are no hotels close enough to the Center to walk, we took a taxi. The Center is also the location of the start and finish line along the shore of Lake Nokomis. We must be weighed at this dinner as well as every 4 hours during the course of the race, so our weights can be compared. If we lose more than 5% of our starting weight, we would be strongly encouraged to eat and drink enough to regain our original weight. The race directors here take their responisiblities very seriously and nobody complains as they get on the scale (maybe a few groans, but that’s all). As usual, I bypass the food at the pasta dinner, although my husband partakes. I see Mellody, Maryann, and Dan from the Boards and meet some high-achieving racewalkers, Ray Sharp and Ollie Nanyes, as well as a Darksider from GA who has done FANS before. It’s a lively group and we are all excited about the race. The dinner breaks up early so we can get a good night’s rest before the long day and night ahead of us.

At 7 am on Saturday morning, I take a taxi to the Center and wander down toward the Lake where people are setting up their personal tents and staking out their spots along the road that runs behind the Center. The primary aid station is already set up, with plates of food and drink, right beside the medical tent; I really got to know the medical tent and its helpful practitioners very well during this event. I find my friends and set my bag on their mats and we chat until just before 8 am. A few brief words at the beginning and we start on time, 8 on the dot.

The race runs counter-clockwise around Lake Nokomis on a 2.4217 mile loop (plus a one-time 1.656 mile out and back stretch at the very beginning of the race). All this math is already figured out for us, and as people pass by the main aid station, there is a big board set up with the loop numbers and mileage. Lap counters keep track of which loop participants are on and inform us as we pass by. This is good, because after a few loops, I can barely remember my name, let alone how many miles I have done. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The weather starts out quite warm, in the mid-60’s, and promising to get warmer and more humid as the day progresses, with sunny skies and no rain. Great! I’m used to such warmth and humidity, preferring it to cold and rain. I start out with a strong but comfortable pace, enjoying the sunrise and scenery. The lake is lovely, surrounded on several sides with sandy beaches that turn out to be heavily used by the locals , and on other sides by tall trees. It is just as I envision Minnesota to be – breathtakingly beautiful and pristine.

I was moving quickly, loop by loop, having a good time, when suddenly I felt an unpleasant sensation on the ball of my left foot. It felt like a walnut, about that size and shape. I guessed that it was a blister forming but since I had never before experienced one on the bottom of my foot, it took me quite by surprise. I was only on my 4th loop, about 10 miles in, and it was way too early to stop. So I continued going round, ignoring the increasing pain. A few loops later, I suddenly felt the pain ease off a bit; the blister had probably broken and I felt a sense of relief wash over me. I stopped at a bench to check and indeed the blister had popped (exploded would be more descriptive) and now blood completely covered my sock. I hobbled to the medical tent and asked for help. I was immediately attended to, with the blister cleaned and bandaged and duct taped. I made my way slowly to my duffle bag and changed into my extra pair of socks and another pair of shoes. Good idea to pack them.

Maybe that was the end of my blister saga, I thought. I continued around the lake, ignoring the lumpy sticky feeling of the duct tape on my foot. At least I had on a new pair of shoes and socks. Then I began to feel an uncomfortable sensation on the top of the bunion on my right foot. Again, I ignored it as long as I could, until I realized that I was changing my gait to accommodate it. That meant another stop at the medical tent where the medical folks lanced a huge blood blister, covered it with moleskin, taped it, checked and retaped the blister on my other foot, and sent me on my way.

With all this unexpected misery with blisters, I did get a real pick-me-up around 7 pm on Saturday evening. As I began another one of my loops, I looked up to see my husband waving to me and cheering me on. I gave him a big kiss and hug and said THANK YOU for coming! I really had not expected to see him until Sunday morning (it was a hassle and expense to mess with taxi rides) but he managed to figure out a way to take the light rail (plus a long walk) to get there. I also asked him to bring me another pair of socks and my sandals when he came to get me at the end of the race so I could change into something comfortable and clean for my feet.

I should also mention the invaluable amenities (in addition to the medical expertise) available to us on this race. There were two aid stations, the primary one at the start/finish that held major foodstuffs (ham sandwiches, pb and j sandwiches, pizza around 6 pm, candy, rice krispie bars, lots of other goodies, and a variety of beverages, including coffee in the wee hours of the morning) and a secondary aid station set up a little over half way across the lake. This latter aid station had water, soda, and Gatorade, plus a limited variety of sweet and salty foods, easy to grab as we passed by. It also had several shifts of tireless volunteers who cheered us on the entire time. One portapotty was set up just before this aid station. About 6-10 portapotties were lined up just past the start and finish line. And of course the tent with lap counters and another with medical personnel were also arranged in this area as well. The lake also had real bathrooms available in the beach area and one extra portapotty at a smaller swimming section. People who wanted to set up tents or other individual areas for their bags and stuff could conveniently do so right along the course. We were well provided for.

Back to my adventure. Loop by loop, I was making progress. I passed the 50 mile mark and was determined now to reach 100k (62 miles). I honestly can’t say when these landmarks were reached; I just know that as I passed each one, I felt a tremendous feeling of success. The lap counters helped us celebrate each milestone with loud cheers and the ringing of cowbells. At some point, I passed 100k and then decided I would try for 75 miles. For a good part of these loops, I was first on the leader-board for walkers, an amazing feat considering the trouble I was having with these #^%$@ blisters.

Darkness fell around 9:30 pm and I was beginning to get tired. It was not fatigue from walking but rather the general idea that I knew I it was past my bedtime. As the night grew darker and I had to use my handlamp (which I carry in my hand because wearing it makes me dizzy), I found it harder to recognize my surroundings. The only place that was well-lit was the cement portion which crossed over a bridge and highway; the grassy portions of the loop and the asphalt sections were now completely pitch black. My eyesight is never good in the dark so I expected to have difficulty at night. I was prepared for this. My plan was to go much more slowly and carefully on these evening passes around the lake, watching my steps and avoiding possible tripping hazards. I made slow but steady progress, stopping only to sit on a chair for about 15 minutes every few hours . Finally, around 4:30 am, dawn began to break and I felt a resurgence of energy. I could see again!! No need to carry a light, I could now rely on daylight.

From 5 to 7 am, I continued my way around the course; my times for each loop ranged (I am guestimating here) from 35 to 45 minutes. I made one final stop at the medical tent because I could feel another blister developing on the ball of my right foot. I think I caught that one before it developed into a major annoyance. However, after attaining 76.7 miles by 7 am, I decided I’d had enough. With a marathon in Alaska, my 50th state, in less than two weeks, it simply did not make sense to me to pull out all the stops here only to jeopardize my 50 state goal. For that final hour, racers could decide to do some short laps out-and-back to add to their totals, but I told the officials I was done; I walked very slowly and carefully up to the community center bathroom where I washed up as best I could, changed shirts, combed my hair (what a mess!), and sat down to wait for my husband to show up. A few minutes past 7:30, Darcy arrived, bringing me my sandals and socks; I quickly changed and we headed back to the hotel via taxi. Time for shower and a nap, then brunch at Crave’s at the Mall of America, and a much longer well-deserved sleep.

There is a breakfast on Sunday for racers and their families and a brief awards ceremony. Although I didn’t attend, I heard it was very well-done. If I am fortunate enough to do this race again, I would certainly try to make it. However, this year, I was too anxious to begin the repair process for my blisters to care much about food or rewards at that point. Even so, it turns out I came in third in the walking division (men and women combined) and I was so very pleased with that. I only wonder how I would have done if the blisters hadn’t been such a problem.

Some thoughts after my first 24 hour race:
• I was not as tired as I thought I would be after staying up all day and all night.
• But full recovery has taken me longer than I would have thought. Here it is one week later and I am still feeling an overall sense of exhaustion. I’m sleeping longer than I normally do and I don’t have my usual compulsion to get outside and walk 5 to 10 miles every day.
• It was much better for me to begin a timed race (or any race, for that matter) in the morning hours rather than in the afternoon or evening. I’ve tried it both ways and morning suits me far better.
• I think my blisters were caused by starting out with shoes that had already been well-worn. As I suited up Saturday morning, I noticed a worn spot in my left shoe exactly where the walnut-sized blister had formed later that day. So – lesson learned the hard way; I will be sure to examine my shoes carefully before deciding which ones to wear and will opt for newer ones with less mileage on them.
• Another issue was my socks. I was wearing the newer heavier version of Injinji toe socks rather than the smoother ones I usually wear. The combination of degraded shoe with rougher socks was apparently enough to cause problems. And then, of course, the hot humid weather didn’t help matters at all. For future races longer than a marathon, I will stick with my thin Injinji socks covered with a thin regular sock for extra protection.
• I will be sure to pack an extra pair of shoes and several pairs of socks (not just one) plus bandages and neosporin and other repair items for ‘just in case’ treatments.
• Everything else went smoothly so my other preparations must have been fine with the exception of the unexpected predicament with my feet.

The aftermath:
• My blisters are healing but much more slowly than I would like. There is improvement every day but still some sensitivity and soreness.
• I made a wise decision to stop when I did instead of stubbornly pushing through (which, to be honest, I did consider). I want to be in reasonably good form for the upcoming Alaska marathon next Saturday.

Would I recommend this race to walkers? I would say YES without hesitation. Both the 12 hour and 24 hour races would be a wonderful addition to a walker’s experience. The people who put on the FANS races think of just about everything to keep walkers comfortable, informed, and in high spirits throughout the day and evening. Timed races are special; there is no DNF (did not finish) possible since there is no set distance required, and fast and slower participants complete their races at the same time, so traditional back-of-the-packers don’t have to worry about being last and alone.
Would I do this race again? I am already making plans for next year!

Oh, Canada! – My first marathon in a Canadian province: Scotiabank Calgary Marathon, May 29, 2011

With my 50 state finish in Alaska set for the middle of June, I decided to expand my horizons a bit and look northward. Although I had traveled to the eastern and western coasts of Canada, I had never visited the prairie provinces before, so Calgary seemed a good choice. Since the marathon was on Sunday and this was Memorial Day weekend in the States, I wouldn’t even have to take a day off work. My husband and I flew up on Saturday morning, spent 2 nights in Calgary, and flew back on the holiday. Nothing like a quick foray into another country.

Of course, this meant we needed to remember our passports and to exchange dollars for some Canadian money (we did this ahead of time through Bank of America). We left JAX early Friday morning, flew to Minneapolis, and then on to Calgary where we went through customs/immigration and took an airport shuttle to our hotel, the Westin, host hotel for the race. I had expected that the host hotel would be close to the expo and the start/finish, but this was not the case. It was necessary to take the light rail transit system to get to both places. Although we had to get instructions, directions, and exact change to ride (the concierge at the Westin was very helpful with this), using the light rail turned out to be very quick and easy. The expo and packet pickup was at the Max Bell Centre, a few stops away. There I picked up my bib and long-sleeved tech shirt, bright red in color with ‘Run Calgary’ on the back, and a bag with some flyers and race booklet. The expo was a pretty small affair with just an assortment of local vendors and charities. I had hoped to listen to a course description talk at 3 pm but we arrived too late for that, so we just made our way via light rail back to the hotel.

I have to admit we did not expand our culinary horizons much on this trip. Chalk it up to travel fatigue and a desire for beef rather than Asian cuisines. Our hotel had a wonderful steakhouse while the surrounding area had Thai and Chinese and Indian offerings. My husband voted for beef and I concurred, so we had a very late lunch at the Keg Steak House and headed to the room so I could get everything ready for the race the next day.

It had rained all week in Calgary so I packed expecting wet weather, anything from light rain to a deluge. I also brought along my long sleeved bamboo shirt (breathable but soft and warm), Maniac singlet, mittens, jacket, rain jacket, and throwaway towel/scarf. I was ready for the heavens to open. But – welcome surprise – it was clear and cold with not a drop of rain in sight. I did not even pack my sunglasses, since I was so sure the weather would be dismal, but in reality I could have used them later in the race. Note to self – always bring sunglasses just in case.

We took the light rail to the start (in an area called Bridgeland at Murdoch Park) on Sunday around 6:15 am. It was freezing cold, 30 degrees, and I could see my breath in the air. Along with the marathon, there was a half marathon and a 10 K. The full and half began at 7 am followed by the 10 K racers at 7:30. A few minutes before 7, the announcer asked us to ‘doff our hats’ so we could sing the national anthem. A recording of ‘Oh, Canada’ then played. My husband looked at me and grinned – this was the first time he had heard that tune before a race. However, I had been at other races in states near the Canadian border where both the ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ and ‘Oh, Canada’ had been played so I just smiled. Nobody sang, which surprised me a little, and I thought that if I continue to do Canadian races, I must learn the words to their anthem. The sun began to rise just as the race started, right on time, and we were off.

One curious thing I had never seen at other races; instead of signs with pace times, the pacers here had little paper bunny ears attached to their real ears and each ear had a pace time on it (hey, so that’s why they call them ‘pace bunnies.’) Good idea, because I have often heard pacers complain about having to hold the sticks with times on them.

The course took us by a zoo (we could see and hear some of the animals), through several attractive neighborhoods, along the course of the Bow River, by a large hospital, and up several big hills. The steepest incline began around 15 k and took us from 1040 meters to a high point of 1150 meters at the 26 k mark. Yes, everything was marked in meters and kilometers, something I should have been prepared for but was not. Same with temperature; I had forgotten the formula for changing Farenheit to Centigrade and back, so all weekend I was guessing at the actual temps. Second note to self – whenever traveling to another country, bring translations of temperature, mileage, and other important facts.

There were plenty of aid stations, about every 3 k or so, with water and Gatorade. Quite a few cheerful volunteers and lots of police helping with traffic. Spectators were relatively sparse but a number of folks sat in their yards or on porches and encouraged us. One thing to note about this course: the roads had lots of small pebbles that managed to find their way into my shoes. Usually I can just ignore such irritants, especially if they happen late in a race. But these felt like rocks, and not small ones either, so I had to stop several times to empty them out of my shoes. The first few times this happened, my hands were still so cold that I had a problem tying my shoes!

Time limit for the marathon was 6 ½ hours, plenty of time (or so I thought) for me to cross the finish line. Funny thing, though, when I carefully read the little guide handed out at the expo the evening before, I saw that the course would be completely open to traffic after 5 ½ hours. Well, that was an eye-opener – and certainly increased my concerns. Sure enough, at about 12:15, two trucks began to drive along the course with workers jumping off every several hundred yards to pick up the orange cones that marked the course. At that point, I made it my business to ‘beat the trucks’ by making sure I kept ahead of the cone picker-uppers. I managed it, but just barely; it wasn’t easy. For that reason, I would say that this course is really not walker-friendly and I probably would discourage walkers from trying it unless they were able to do a 5 ½ hour race.

My time was 5:51:25 and as a crossed the finish line the announcer called out my name, that I was ’64 years young’ and had come all the way from Florida. A volunteer put a unique medal shaped like a belt buckle around my neck and two other volunteers (one may have even been the race director) congratulated me and shook my hand. Nice touch. As I made my way through the finish area, I was directed to the food tent where I was handed a little reusable plastic tote bag that I could fill with food: banana, oranges, water bottles, granola bars, chips. I really appreciated the tote bag. Too many races have me stuffing my pockets and juggling food and drink on my way back to my hotel.

Back to the hotel for a shower and nap, and then we dined at the Keg again, this time in the bar since the restaurant hadn’t yet opened for dinner. I tried some Canadian red wine and we shared some nachos and sliders. Our flight back did not leave until 11 am the next morning, so we had time on Monday to walk around the city and eat breakfast at Tim Horton’s, a local chain that’s sort of a cross between McDonald’s and Dunkin Donuts. Despite my concerns about the race (which, while realistic, were unfounded), my impressions of Calgary were positive. Calgary is the provincial capitol of Alberta and sits at the foot of the Rockies.  Its downtown seems to be undergoing a process of revitalization. It has an excellent light rail system, a mix of new and old buildings, and a young dynamic. I noticed many young professionals, college students, and families with small children bustling around town. It was a great place to complete my first Canadian marathon.