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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