Moose’s Tooth Marathon Walk: Anchorage, Alaska (August 17, 2014)

I had forgotten how wonderfully pleasant a marathon can be when one is right in the middle of the action. The Moose’s Tooth Marathon Walk begins a full hour ahead of the similarly named marathon run, giving walkers as well as velocity challenged runners the chance to get several miles down the road with no fears of getting lost on the course.

The Moose’s Tooth Marathon Walk and Run are just two of the events that comprise the Big Wild Life Runs; there is also a 49k (since Alaska is the 49th state), marathon relay, half marathon, and several shorter races. The marathon used to be called Humpy’s Classic Marathon but the name was changed a few years ago; Humpy’s Great Alaskan Alehouse was one of the founding sponsors, and it remains one of the best places to eat in Anchorage, but now the race series has an array of sponsors and is directed by the Anchorage Running Club.

After we returned from our trip to Australia a few weeks ago, I found myself suffering from an abysmal case of jet lag. My body rebelled from traveling through 14 time zones; the trip home going west to east was especially difficult and my circadian rhythm was upset for days. I was concerned that another long jaunt would completely break me. Fortunately, I found that the trip to Alaska, passing through only 4 time zones, was a piece of cake, and now that I am back home, my body seems to have adjusted without any major sequelae.

Our previous trips to Anchorage have included the Mayor’s Midnight Marathon (twice) and an Alaskan cruise. This time our focus was the Moose’s Tooth Marathon, in part because it attracts so many Maniacs and 50 Staters, and with good reason. Because the races start and finish in downtown Anchorage, there is no need for shuttles (as in Mayor’s) and there are plenty of good hotels nearby. The course consists of a few miles in the city and then moves to the breathtakingly beautiful Coastal Trail for an out-and-back of approximately 14 miles. This was my favorite part of the course. There is another long out-and-back along the inland Chester Creek Trail. The final miles head back to downtown and the finish line. The trails are bike paths so they are paved (hooray), although there was a short detour around a broken bridge and that meant a little dirt and mud (but not much). The course is billed as flat but there are a few rolling hills and one especially mean incline in the final miles.

Our Alaskan adventure began on Friday morning. It took 3 flights to get to Anchorage, via Atlanta and Seattle, but they were pleasant and Delta upgraded us on all of them. After Australia, I consider any flight less than 10 hours to be reasonable, so a couple of 4 ½ hour flights seem comparatively brief. We arrived around 6 pm and took a taxi to the Sheraton. This was not one of the host hotels but we opted to stay at the Sheraton because it is in a quiet area away from the more crowded downtown yet still within easy walking distance to everything.

We had eaten two full meals on the flights to Seattle and Anchorage so Darcy and I were not very hungry Friday evening. We skipped our evening meal and went to bed. On Saturday morning we had breakfast at the Sheraton Club Lounge and then went to the expo at the Egan Convention Center for packet pickup. I had originally signed up for the marathon run because I wasn’t sure if walk participants would get an official finishing time. When we arrived at the expo, I asked several at the information desk and was reassured that all participants, whether in the walk or run, would have an official time as long as they finished within the 6 ½ hour (7 ½ for early starters) time limit. Since my recent finishes have been over 6 hours, I decided to opt for the early start walk. That way I would not have to worry about being at the very end and getting lost and wondering which way to turn. It turned out to be a great idea. Walk participants were given orange bibs so it was easy to recognize other walkers. I had a wonderful time on those out-and-back sections, high-fiving and shouting support to all the other walkers and runners I saw during the race. The sense of camaraderie was palpable and helped make the race all the more enjoyable.

Packet pickup went smoothly. After switching to the walk and getting my bib, I received a long sleeved blue gender-specific poly-cotton tee shirt (nice – finally something I will actually wear), and an official guidebook. We browsed the booths and apparel offerings and then headed to Humpy’s Alehouse for lunch. While Darcy had a hamburger and fries, I devoured a huge omelet filled with salmon. After eating our fill, we walked to the Quilted Raven on G Street. My husband decided to seek out a secondhand bookshop while I indulged in selecting quilt fabrics, patterns, and other sewing stuff. Every visit to Anchorage means a chance to enjoy one of my favorite quilt shops. Then we walked through the craft and food displays at the open air market at the edge of downtown. Of course, we had to try all the various samples of food and bread and coffee and ended up purchasing additional souvenirs and treats. Then it was back to the hotel for the evening.

I woke Sunday morning before dawn to have my breakfast meal of homemade bread and coffee. It was strange for me to be so calm before a race, especially one I hadn’t done before, but it was a good kind of strange. At 7 o’clock Darcy and I walked to the downtown race start where we saw several familiar faces – Liz and Mike and Nick, Barb and Jeff Galloway (they were doing the 49k which started at the same time as the marathon walk), and several other people I recognized but whose names escaped me. We all lined up in front of the start line just before 8 am and after a prayer and the national anthem, we took off. The first couple of miles went back and forth along several downtown streets; my husband caught me a few blocks over and was able to take a quick photo before we all turned south and west to begin our sojourn on the Coastal Trail.

There were aid stations every 2 miles or so, with water, Gatorade, and occasionally some extra treats, including cookies, orange slices, and pretzels. There were also at least one or two porta potties at the aid stations. Although spectators were few except for volunteers and people cheering at relay and aid stations, that was fine with me; I enjoyed the relative peace and quiet. Every now and then we would come across an enthusiastic person playing a musical instrument for us.

Weather is always unpredictable, but the forecast on race day was for rain all day. Fortunately, this was not the case. Temperatures hovered all day in the 50’s, with no wind, some cloud cover, and just occasional sprinkles of rain. It was perfect racing weather. Even if it had been sunny, the plentiful shade on the course would have made it bearable.

A slight hill a few blocks before the final turn to the finish line caused my legs to cramp so I slowed down a bit to stretch my muscles. Then it was straight to the end, with the announcer calling out my name and a volunteer placing a medal shaped like the state of Alaska around my neck. I’m not usually too hungry immediately after a marathon, but I was eager to eat several slices of the sweet watermelon that was offered as well as a big chunk of yummy cinnamon bread from the Great Harvest Bread Company and grilled cheese sandwiches. My husband went over to the timing official to check my finishing time: 6:10:22, good enough for 2nd female in the walk category. After a shower and nap, we celebrated by having a tasty meal at the Glacier Brewhouse.

My only disappointment this weekend was not sighting any wildlife on the course. In previous years, other racers have spotted moose on the course but this year, although I was looking, I did not see any.

The marathon walk is highly recommended for walkers of all abilities. The early start means minimal stress, no worries about taking a wrong turn, good support, and lots of food at the finish line. In addition, Anchorage is a wonderful place to visit. It is clean, its people are friendly, and there are lots and lots of great places to dine and shop. I only wish we had had more time to shop, eat, and drink some of those delightful microbrews!

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An Aussie Adventure: Two Races in the Land of Oz (Part 3: The Brisbane Marathon August 3, 2014)

This was to be our final weekend in Australia and my second marathon in less than 2 weeks (not counting the 50 mile Cremator the weekend before we left). I was tired but not exhausted. The blisters on my feet had healed and my legs were ready to go. My only major concern was Brisbane’s tight 6 hour time limit. I seriously considered dropping down to the half marathon to ease my stress level and take some of the pressure off. I postponed any final decision until the last moment.

We left Sydney on Friday morning for an early flight to Brisbane, once again traveling on Virgin Australia. After a pleasant and thankfully brief 2 hour flight, we took a taxi to our downtown hotel, the Brisbane Marriott. The weather was noticeably warmer here in than in New South Wales (Queensland is known as Australia’s ‘sunshine state’) but still cold for me. Our hotel was situated close to lots of shops and eateries as well as the bike and walking paths that were to make up a good part of the marathon. This Marriott was older than and not as elegant as its Sydney counterpart but it was clean and quiet, with helpful staff. The city of Brisbane seemed more relaxed and casual to me, very different from more cosmopolitan Sydney.

After checking in, our first order of business was to find packet pickup. We wanted to get this taken care of on Friday so we would have more time to explore the city and do some souvenir shopping (a task I had postponed) on Saturday. There was no expo for this race. Packet pickup took place at a small running store, intraining Running Centre, in Milton, a nearby suburb a couple of miles away. Armed with a map and my husband’s excellent ability to accurately interpret directions, we were able to walk to the store with no trouble. Now I had to make a decision – drop to the half or stick with the full? Despite my misgivings, I opted to go with the full. I already had one marathon under my belt in Australia so if this were to be my first DNF, so be it. I picked up my bib, with my number and name emblazoned on it in big letters (this I liked, because it made it easy for people to read my name and for me to cheer on other people by name) and a chip attached to the back. Along with the bib I received a colorful tech singlet, sized and gender-specific. On the way out of the store, we stopped to look at a big map of the course. That’s when I realized that the double-loop course was extremely confusing. It wasn’t simply two identical loops because the second loop had several different sections than the first as well as different turn-around points. I began to worry a bit more. Maybe sticking with the full was NOT a good idea. Oh well, it was too late now to change my mind. However, I did print off a color copy of the race map when I returned to the hotel so I could study the course.

Now we were hungry so we stopped at a Subway for lunch and then spent the rest of the afternoon window-shopping and exploring downtown. After a late snack at Pie Face (a popular franchise that sells all kinds of individual pastries like steak and mushroom pie, sausage rolls, and the like), we headed back to our room. It surprised me that there were no welcome signs for racers and nobody seemed to be aware that a series of races was taking place this weekend at all. But no matter – tomorrow we would check out the City Botanic Gardens where the races where supposed to start and finish and we would be able to get a better feel for the area.

On Saturday we slept late and then walked to a nearby restaurant for breakfast (‘brekkie’ in Australian). While we were eating, the hostess came running into the dining area shouting ‘Is there a doctor in the house? We need a doctor?” One of the guests rose and followed her into the kitchen. Later I asked her what happened and the person was doing. It turns out that one of the cooks had a seizure but was doing fine now. Nothing like a little excitement with our morning meal!

After eating, we walked to the start line of the race, or at least where we thought it might be. There were no tents or any kinds of race activity so we had to guess the actual location. I did see a few ‘street closing’ signs. I stopped at the information kiosk to ask for help and the lady at the booth had no knowledge about the race at all. Still, despite the lack of publicity and hoopla, I was sure that on race morning there would be lots of runners and excitement. We spent the rest of the day browsing the shops, buying some souvenirs, taking photos, and people-watching. For dinner, we had a tasty lunch at the hotel bar where I tried the Asian steamer basket with fish cakes, dim sum, wonton, and steamed dumplings. Then I tried, not too successfully, to relax.

On Sunday morning, we left the hotel at 5 am for the 20 minute walk to the gardens. Now we saw other racers moving swiftly along with us to the starting line. Porta potties were lined up on the street outside the gardens but it was a real plus to be able to use the real toilets in the park itself. Gradually people began to siphon into the loosely-defined corrals along the street in front of the start line arch. I positioned myself at the very back and waited. Suddenly I saw a person I recognized – it was Esther, a runner from Brisbane who had flown with us to Ayers Rock to do the Outback race. We chatted a bit and then once again I took my place in the rear.

Promptly at 6 am, the race began. The first 21kilometers were relatively uneventful. Kilometers 1 through 6 were on city streets and at one point we passed right by the Marriott where my husband popped out to cheer me on and take a few pictures. I was one of the very last racers, surrounded by about 5 or 6 half marathoners (half marathoners had different colored bibs so they were easy to spot). That was okay – I was resigned that I might be last, or close to last and, as long as I didn’t get lost and could make the 6 hour limit, I would be happy. I carried a copy of the course map in my back pocket just in case. It turned out to be very useful.

After kilometer 6, we passed by Kangaroo Point (no real kangaroos, there, darn) and onto a bike path that followed the river. We crossed a couple of bridges and made several out-and-back loops and as long as I was with the much larger group of half marathoners I never had to worry about getting lost. However, at kilometer 21, the half marathoners headed towards the finish line while the full marathoners (just me at that point) were turned onto another byway and sent over the Goodwill Bridge. The rest of the race is pretty much a blur to me. I know that from kilometer 22 to 35, I was dead last. A policeman on a motorcycle followed me for kilometers 22 to 32 and, although he never said a word to me, kept telling the volunteers and course marshals as I passed by that I was the last runner. This began to get annoying, especially since he never actually acknowledged me at all. I did realize that as long as I had a police escort I wouldn’t get lost!

However, at some point during those middle miles I noticed that my escort had disappeared. Apparently he was called to assist at the start of a 5k and he reappeared only to tell me to move aside so the faster runners in this race could have room. By this time, four hours into the race, many of the course marshals had left their posts and some of the directional signs, with arrows pointing to the appropriate turns, had been removed. This is where my map began to come in handy. I had to stop, remove my glasses so I could read the map, and try to figure out where to go. Several times I just guessed and only knew I made the correct turn when I saw the next kilometer sign.

This was very stressful. If I made a wrong turn it could be disastrous – that 6 hour limit started to seem very elusive. Up to that point I had been on target to finish by noon but now I was starting to worry and a negative mental state always affects my pace. Still I kept moving relentlessly on. Around the 37th kilometer, I passed a couple of runners who were struggling. Now I was no longer last! All of a sudden I came face to face with the policeman again. He looked at me with a question mark in his eyes. I knew he was probably wondering if he should turn around and follow me once more but I simply kept moving forward, determined to finish. He must have received word that other runners were behind me because he disappeared and I never saw him again.

I still had several roadblocks to overcome. There were at least 2 more times when I had to pull out my map to figure out which way to turn. This lost me precious minutes but fortunately I chose correctly. However the most irritating of these difficulties came at the very end. By the 41k marker, I was confused. I knew the finish line was very close but all the barricades had been torn down. There were no course marshals, no volunteers, no signs, no arrows, and no instructions. I couldn’t see the finish line or hear any crowd noises. I was essentially lost at the very final half mile. A young man came into view and I asked him where the finish line was. His response was ‘It is noon so we took it down!’ I told him that I am still on the course and I want to get to the finish line – and there are several people behind me. He pointed me down a path to the left and there indeed was the finish line. I crossed, got my medal, and met up with my husband. At that point, I was ready to be done. We walked (slowly) back to the hotel where I showered, took a nap, and then enjoyed high tea in the Marriott dining room.

We flew from Brisbane back to Sydney on Monday, spent another night at the airport Holiday Inn that evening, and left for home on Tuesday morning. It took us another long 14 hour flight to LAX and 2 more flights to get home late Tuesday evening (crossing the International Date Line in the other direction made for the longest Tuesday of my life). Here it is four days later and I am still trying to get back into my normal routine.

Because of the confusing course, paucity of accurate directions, and tight time restrictions, I would not recommend this race for walkers. Runners who can finish in 4 hours or less and walkers who are willing to do the half marathon might enjoy the event for the pleasant scenery, but otherwise this is one race walkers can skip. A couple of interesting side notes:
• It took me over 10 minutes to complete the final half mile (and I was doing 14 minute miles) because of the confusion over finding the finish line
• Despite the precious lost minutes trying to maneuver this course, I ended up first in my age group and received an email that I would be getting a prize! You just never know what can happen in a race . . . .

Good things about this race:
• Bibs had names on them in large letters so they were easily readable, especially for people with poor eyesight like me. That made it fun and easy to cheer on people by name
• The singlet and finisher’s shirt were gender-specific and had actual sizes on them (which we selected when we registered)
• The course was very scenic, especially along the waterfront
Not-so-good things:
• Very confusing course
• Directional signs and several of the course marshals and volunteers were scarce on the 2nd loop
• Finish line taken down way too soon

An Aussie Adventure: Two Races in the Land of Oz (Part 2: Interlude July 28-August 1, 2014)

Our weekend in the Outback was over and we were now in Sydney. We took a taxi to our hotel, the Sydney Harbour Marriott at Circular Quay. This turned out to be one of the best Marriott hotels I have ever stayed at, and one of the most attractive hotels of any brand – classy, clean, and attractive, and in an excellent location. It was late afternoon and we were tired so after checking in we walked a couple of blocks, found a Subway, bought a few sandwiches and drinks, and returned to the hotel for the evening.

Tuesday was our first full day in Sydney. I had arranged for us to take a coffee cruise this morning so after a light breakfast at a nearby café we walked to the harbor and turned in our Viator voucher for cruise tickets. Most of the tours we take when we travel are arranged through Viator.com, a website I learned about from another frequent traveler. It is an especially easy way to set up tours in foreign cities because they can be prepaid in American dollars so there is no need to carry extra cash or use a credit card that might incur foreign transaction fees. The reviews on the site are usually spot on and accurate. The only time I was disappointed by Viator was in our transfer in Paris to our hotel – and when I complained about the problem, my money was refunded.

The coffee cruise was definitely a highlight of our stay in Sydney. It began at 10 in the morning and lasted 2 hours, taking us all around the city harbor. Elizabeth, our guide, was excellent, and explained the history and background of the major sites. We were able to view the opera house, bridge, islands, parks, and homes while sipping coffee or tea and eating a boxed selection of sweets. As our morning tour ended, I could smell the tasty beginnings of the luncheon cruise and pondered whether we should sign up for that as well. However, we had only this one afternoon to explore the city on our own because I had arranged for all-day tours on Wednesday and Thursday. Sydney is a big cosmopolitan city with lots and lots to do. We didn’t want to waste any time.

I had read in one of my guidebooks that it was fun to walk over the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Some intrepid souls prefer to climb the bridge on catwalks and ladders, definitely not for me! But there is a pedestrian walkway so we opted to try that. In retrospect, it was a waste of time because the traffic noise from cars and the many other walkers and cyclists made for a boring venture. The view from the cruise boat was far better and more relaxing. Darcy and I made it to the center point of the bridge and then retraced our steps.

Far better was our afternoon visit to the Hyde Park Barracks Museum. Australia became a penal colony for Britain in 1788 (England could no longer send convicts to the Americas after we colonists won our independence in 1776). The Barracks housed more than 50,000 convicts from 1819 to 1848. Beginning in 1848, the Barracks also became an immigration depot and was home to many women and orphaned children from English and Irish workhouses. Both Darcy and I enjoyed this look into Australia’s early history fascinating. There simply wasn’t time to fit more into this busy day so we wandered back to our hotel, stopping to get some bread and cheese to nibble on for a light supper.

On Wednesday we were picked up by AAT Kings tours (another Viator planned outing) and brought to the coach terminal at Star Casino. Sixteen of us boarded a mini-van for a tour of the Hunter Valley wine country. This all-day tour was another highlight of our Sydney adventure. We visited 3 wineries (Drayton’s, McGuigan’s, Lindeman’s) where we tasted a variety of Australian specialties, had a delicious lunch (salmon pasta for me, chicken for Darcy), and saw a lot of the countryside as we made our way to and from the various vineyards. Hunter Valley is especially noted for its Shiraz as well as other reds. We ended up purchasing several bottles (and one actually made it all the way home to the States with us). As a bonus, on the ride home we drove by a ‘mob’ of kangaroos (at least 30 of them) grazing in some fields.

Thursday was our last full day in Sydney. We had signed up for another Viator/AAT Kings tour, this time for a tour of the Blue Mountains followed by an afternoon visit to Featherdale Wildlife Park. Unfortunately, the tour operators tried to squeeze two additional options into an already full day, so we visited another tourist site (one we had not planned for) and also had to make a lengthy stop to let some people off at Darling Harbour for a cruise (and we had to wait until their boat came). We had a big bus rather than a small van and every seat but one was taken. The extra stops meant that the day was exceptionally long. The Blue Mountains (so named because of the blue tint from Eucalyptus trees) were not very high, not very blue, and not very impressive. The extra stop at Scenic World was boring for us because we did not want to take the cable car or railway (both were not for the dizzy or motion sickness prone). The highlight of the day was Featherdale. This was our opportunity to see wombats, koalas, Tasmanian devils, dingos, and kangaroos. We took full advantage – we waited in line to pet the koalas and to feed the joeys (baby kangaroos).

Our ride back to Sydney brought us to the city in the middle of rush hour. Just to add to the long day (and make it much longer), our bus was hit by a Mercedes as we were stopped at a traffic light. No one was hurt and the bus was not damaged (I’m not sure about the car). After an exchange of papers and reassurance from Adam, our young driver, that all was okay (‘no worries’), he proceeded to drop us off at our respective hotels. We turned down a narrow lane filled with construction equipment. One overhanging piece of equipment snapped the driver’s side mirror completely off. Poor Adam was beside himself. This was the last straw. He couldn’t drive the big bus without the mirror to help guide him, so he had to stay where he was. He called the depot to explain the situation and to ask for another bus to take the rest of us home. However, the remaining passengers (including us!) knew we could walk back to our hotels faster than we could get there by driving, especially if we had to wait for another bus to arrive. So everyone got off and headed back via foot! It was now past 8 pm and Darcy and I were exhausted. We had to get up early for our flight to Brisbane the next morning so we packed our suitcases, set the alarm for 4 am, and went to sleep.

An Aussie Adventure: Two Races in the Land of Oz (Part 1: The Outback Marathon July 26, 2014)

After completing the Cremator 50 Miler in South Carolina, Darcy and I had exactly one day to finish packing for our upcoming trip to Australia. Fortunately I had done most of the preliminary preparations beforehand so all I needed was to review my to-do lists and make sure I had remembered all the essentials. This trip required a lot more planning than most of our sojourns because we were visiting 3 distinct areas on the continent of Australia and making two domestic round-trips within the country using Virgin Australia as well as Delta. I am not sure how I managed to pull this off but somehow it all worked. We are now back home and trying to recover from 22 hours of air travel (and that doesn’t include the additional time spent waiting in various airports).

We left early Monday morning. My friend Marylyn was kind enough to drive us to the airport so we could catch an early flight to Atlanta for the start of our journey. It was a very long ‘day’ of travel that began at 5:30 am and didn’t end until Wednesday at 6:30 am (crossing the International Date Line meant we skipped Tuesday completely). Our flight from Atlanta to LAX left at 2 pm but we had to wait in LA until 10:30 pm Pacific time for the 15 hour trip to Sydney, Australia. I have decided that – for me – 15 hours is simply too long to be constrained in a narrow tube with 300 strangers. After 10 hours, I was ready to implode. Sleeping upright in a small seat is impossible for me so I was essentially awake for the entire trip. Words cannot express how relieved I was when we finally landed in Sydney.

Experience has taught me that when traveling overseas it makes sense to arrive a day earlier than necessary so we can remedy sleep deprivation by spending our first day at an airport hotel. So, after retrieving our bags and clearing Customs, Darcy and I boarded the Super Shuttle to the Holiday Inn at the airport where I had reserved a room. Fortunately our room was ready and we eagerly deposited our bags and freshened up. I looked longingly at the bed but knew if I gave in to sleep at 10 in the morning I would have trouble sleeping through the night. We decided instead to have breakfast in the hotel restaurant and then take a walk around the neighborhood to stretch our legs. We discovered a nearby Subway restaurant (Subways throughout the world have been a mainstay of our international diet when we cannot find anywhere else to eat) and several coffee shops. Around 1 pm we headed back to the hotel where I must admit that after a shower and change of clothes I fell into a deep sleep. I did not wake until 5 am the next morning.

It was now Thursday and we headed to the domestic terminal at the airport, this time to board a flight to Ayers Rock in Uluru, the ‘red center’ of the Outback in the Northern Territory. After the 3 ½ hour flight we were met at the airport by representatives from Traveling Fit, sponsors of the Outback Marathon. We joined dozens of other racers and their families for the short drive to the Ayers Rock Resort. The resort consists of several places to stay, eat, and shop, all in one central location. Our choice was Desert Gardens, a mid-priced hotel near the center of the complex. We had requested a room with a view of ‘The Rock’ and indeed our spacious room had a balcony large enough for two to sit at a small table and look out at the rock, although from a goodly distance. Desert Gardens was definitely not the most upscale property in the complex; it was a bit tired looking and smelled a little musty (this might have been from the dry red earth that seeped into everything, including my lungs). Lights were dim and furnishings Spartan but it was clean and the bed was comfortable.

Except for the Rock and the Kata Tjuta, or Olgas, another rock formation about 30 miles away, the landscape of the Outback is mostly flat, with some steep but very soft sand dunes, bright red earth just like in the pictures, and desert scrub and flowers. There are no trees and no shade to shield one from the brilliant sun during the day. Once the sun retreats, the temperatures can drop precipitously. The atmosphere is very dry. These were formidable surroundings and climate to me (an advocate of trees and humidity).

At the beginning of the trip I was occupied with logistics – packing, getting here, and settling in. Now I was starting to get very nervous about the race itself. Whatever was I thinking? Here is just a smattering of my concerns:
• Getting lost – and eaten by a kangaroo, dingo, or camel
• Falling – into a pile of termites or ants
• Getting bitten by a poisonous spider or snake (I read there are lots of both in Australia)
• Hallucinating

I was also afraid I would get too hungry, thirsty, tired, lonely, nauseous, or dizzy – and that would keep me from finishing the race. What about blisters? I was still nursing a blister on the ball of my left foot, a result of my most recent race. What about porta potties? In all the literature about the race, there was no mention of porta potties anywhere? Oh, I did indeed have lots to worry about. Darcy tried to quell my fears by reminding me that I have done 175 marathons and ultras in heat, cold, snow, rain, lightning, and hail, on sand, rocks, roots, in daytime and night, and have been lost (and found). It worked, a little, and I eventually decided the experience was worth the uncertainty. I would just do my best.

Although we had worked with Boston-based Marathon Tours for the Outback portion of this two-week trip, the actual marathon package was handled by Traveling Fit, an Australian company that sponsors trips to many international marathons. Traveling Fit personnel put together the actual Outback marathon and developed the tours, dinners, and bus transportation involved with the event weekend. In addition to the marathon, there is also a half marathon, an 11k, and a 6k – something for everyone.

Our weekend schedule was full, even though we had not signed up for any additional and costly tours. Thursday evening we joined other participants and family members for an outdoor buffet barbeque dinner at the nearby Sails in the Desert Resort. On Friday I went on a sunrise tour to Uluru and did the 6k baseline walk around the Rock. Darcy was too tired to join me (he was still trying to overcome jet lag) but I thought this was one of the highlights of the weekend and my only real chance to visit the Rock up close. I took lots of pictures but paid careful attention to avoid photographing those sections of a religious and sacred nature. Aboriginal people request that visitors not climb the Rock so it amazed me how many people ignored this simple request.

On Friday evening there was a mandatory safety meeting. I thought this was where I would learn
about the snakes and dingos and spiders, but – no – it was just a very basic routine description of where to get the shuttles to the start and at what time, how many aid stations would be on the course, and what to expect when we reached the finish line. There were only 6 porta potties in the area and all of them would be at the race, five at the start and finish and one on the course (and we would pass it twice). Every kilometer would be marked with a sign, with the mileage (in miles) listed in the bottom corner – that idea was wonderful and made pacing especially easy. The turns would be marked with arrows, red for the full marathon, and the few road crossings would be well-marked. A pasta dinner followed the race briefing, but both Darcy and I were still too full from our Aussie pizza lunch (pizza with bacon and scrambled egg) at the Pioneer Bar earlier that afternoon so we opted to go back to our room and relax. I had to get up very early on race day.

On Saturday morning I was up by 2:30 so I could have an early breakfast, dress, and try to relax. We were bused to the start at 6:45 am and after a 15 minute ride we reached the starting line. There were lots of tables and tents set up with beverages and a gear check and the promised quintet of porta potties. I was dressed in layers, with an extra sweatshirt over everything, long pants plus mittens and handwarmers, warm cap, sunhat with brim, and still I felt the cold seep through me. Later I removed all but 2 layers and was way too warm. There is just no way to prepare for a race with a 50 degree temperature range! I also wore gaiters and some old trail shoes. Bless those gaiters! If I had not worn them, I would have ended up with tons of sand in my shoes and socks (even with them, I had several inches of red earth burning my feet).

The half and full marathons took off promptly at 7:45 am, followed by the 11k and 6k at 8. Everyone took off, with me at the very back. It took me about half a mile or so to finally pass a couple of people. I was annoyed by one of the runners at the back who was surrounded by his family members and the press (perhaps he was a local celebrity?) who were interviewing him and constantly getting in my way to snap pictures. He was even followed by a very noisy helicopter that would hover near him (and me) to take pictures – the constant loud buzzing nearly drove me crazy. This continued until the halfway point when he took off to finish the half marathon. Thank goodness! Even though I was by myself for most of the rest of the way I much preferred the peace and silence.

Although the course map looked very complex and convoluted, in reality it turned out to be not so difficult to follow. I could easily see the large signs with red arrows pointing the way. Every crossing and turn was marked with signs or had volunteers stationed nearby. There was only one questionable section and there I managed to make the correct turn. I was relieved that birds and small insects were the only wildlife I came across. My timing was way off; it took me 3 ½ hours to get to the halfway point, half an hour longer than usual. I attribute this to the thick layers of sand that were hard to walk through, especially going up sand dunes. My toes were becoming very tender and I felt a blister developing under one of my big toes. Around 10 it became VERY hot and I realized I was overdressed so I removed a couple of layers. The remaining clothes were still too warm. There was no shade and with the sun beating down I began to slow down quite a bit. Thank goodness for the volunteers at the aid stations; they kept water and Gatorade flowing and cheered me on.

By noontime, I was wilting and nasty flies began buzzing around my head and arms (perhaps they were attracted to my sweat or maybe I tasted like dead meat). Despite my exhaustion, at this point I managed to pass 2 people who seemed to be struggling. It took me almost 7 hours to finish, one of my slowest times ever. Darcy met me at the finish line and the announcer called my name and (clearly coached by Darcy) mentioned that I had just finished marathon/ultra #176! I received my medal to the cheers of the remaining racers and volunteers. Then we took a shuttle back to the resort. I could barely walk because of my sore painful feet. Once we got to the room, I emptied my shoes outside the door – I couldn’t believe the quantity of red earth that tumbled out. It was time for a shower, nap, and dinner. We toasted our 27th anniversary with some local red wine. Sleep came easy to me that night.

Sunday was a true day of rest for me. After a big buffet breakfast at the resort, I slept, read, and watched television. By 4:30 we were ready for the Sounds of Silence Celebration Dinner. We met the bus at the front of our hotel, along with all the other racers, and were driven to a viewing platform in the park where we started the evening off with canapés and champagne while watching the sun set on the Rock. Then we sat at tables set up in the desert and had a superb dinner under the stars. I tasted kangaroo (a lean tasty meat), crocodile, and other Australian specialties, while wine, beer, and soft drinks flowed. An astronomer pointed out the southern constellations and everyone chatted and relaxed. The entire evening was enjoyable and a good (but not especially silent) way to end the weekend. Buses transported us back to our resorts and again, it was easy to fall asleep.

Finally it was time to leave. Darcy and I slept late, ate a hearty breakfast, packed our suitcases, and took the noontime shuttle to Ayers Rock airport for our return flight to Sydney. The first part of our adventure was complete.

Things to note about this portion of the trip:
• It’s a long way to Australia; if I had the money, I would have preferred to stop in Hawaii for a day or two to break up the horrendously long flight. Better yet, if I were rich, I would cruise here and give myself plenty of time and space to adjust to time and weather changes
• I was definitely impressed with Virgin Australia; personnel were friendly and efficient, airplanes were clean and on time, we were given snacks and drinks on every flight, and boarding and exiting planes went like clockwork
• Prices are expensive in Australia. This was especially true in the Outback, so if you go, be prepared to spend a lot on everything, even basics like water and groceries
• Summer in the northern hemisphere is winter in Australia so bring warm clothes. Mornings before sunrise in the desert environment of the Outback can be freezing; during the day the temperatures can rise and it can become outrageously hot and dry
• If you like deserts, this area and the race will be fun; if you find deserts inhospitable, the area and the race will be challenging – worthwhile but difficult. The scenery is tedious if you prefer variety and there is no shade at all on the course
• The Outback Marathon is well-organized and very walker-friendly. There is an 8-hour time limit and the organizers make sure that everyone who starts and wants to finish will do so
• It’s a tough course, with sand dunes, red earth, and ubiquitous sand that will get inside shoes and socks (gaiters help but the sand will find a way inside). I wore an old pair of shoes and threw them away afterwards.