Loch Ness Marathon – September 27, 2015 (Inverness, Scotland)

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If I had to describe this marathon in one word, it would be LONG. Everything about the race seemed to take forever – the 7:15 am bus ride to the starting point near Ft. Augustus (the ride took over an hour), waiting around for the race to begin (we arrived around 8:40 but the race didn’t begin until 10 am), the long lines for the portapotties, the incredibly steep ups and downs of the never-ending hills along Loch Ness, even the distances between aid stations (there would be individual stops for water, electrolyte drinks, and gel blocks and shots). I am sure that the final mile into Inverness and the finish line at Bught Park must have been at least a mile and a half or longer, although it might have been my overwhelming fatigue that made it just seem like forever.

It had been 45 years since I had last visited Scotland so I was eagerly looking forward to this trip. Because Darcy and I had been immersed in moving and all the angst involved with selling and buying houses, I decided to use Amazing Running Tours based in Huntington Beach, CA, to book our trip. Overall, it worked out fine, with just a few snafus, and it certainly saved me lots of time and decision-making.

We left on Sunday, a week before the race, flying from Jacksonville on a red-eye to London Heathrow and then on to Edinburgh. A driver met us at the airport and brought us to the first of our hotels, the Crown Plaza Royal Terrace. This hotel was located close to several pubs, shops, and tourist sites, so it turned out to be a good location. Past experience has taught me to always book an upgraded room or junior suite when traveling overseas because European and British hotel rooms tend to be on the small side compared to American hotel rooms. Our suite at the Crown Plaza was a large room with a fireplace and included access to the club lounge for snacks, drinks, and light meals.

To make the most of our time in Edinburgh, I used Viator.com to book several excursions. On our first full day we took a 3 hour motor coach tour and Forth Bridges sightseeing cruise. The bus trip had audio commentary about the streets and houses we passed on the way to Queensferry and our boat. The cruise portion took us under several suspension bridges, along Inchcolm Island, and by numerous seals and seabirds. Afterwards we had a late lunch at the Deacon Brodie Pub in the heart of the bustling tourist district.

The next day we slept late and then walked to Edinburgh Castle where I had booked tickets on Viator for easy entry. We joined a guided tour and learned about the history of the castle, viewed the Scottish Crown Jewels, and walked through the National War Museum and the Royal Palace of Mary Queen of Scots. Of course, we also had to visit several of the gift shops in the Castle and taste some real Scotch whisky (which I later learned was delightful Scotch whisky liqueur, rather than the much stronger actual whisky).   We also had to have tea and scones at the Red Coat Café. To round out the day, we toured the National Gallery of Scotland as well as the Museum of Childhood and then walked up Calton Hill, site of several monuments including one that resembled the Parthenon of Athens.   We took our late afternoon meal at the Royal Theater Pub where I indulged in traditional fish and chips and a Tennant’s lager, a locally produced Scottish beer.

On Thursday, it was time for the Highlands portion of our trip. We took the train from Edinburgh’s Waverly Station to Inverness, a 3 ½ hour ride. We had so far been very lucky weather-wise. There had been no rain at all in Edinburgh during our time there and although it was cool, it was also fairly sunny. However, when we alighted from the train station in Inverness, the weather was blustery with a light drizzle. We opted for a taxi to take us to the Glen Mohr Hotel, situated right across from the River Ness. The location was prime but the hotel had definitely seen better days. Once again, I was glad I had booked the junior suite because we had two good-sized rooms, with one overlooking the river. However, the hotel in general was badly in need of a good paint job and some upgrades. At least it was clean and certainly convenient. After checking in and depositing our luggage, we went looking for a place to eat. Most of the pubs don’t serve food until 6 pm so we chose a restaurant nearby that offered nachos (yes, nachos) and mac and cheese.

Our tour package included an all-day tour of the Highlands so on Friday we boarded a comfortable motor coach at 9:15 am and took off for an extensive trip past Loch Ness, several picturesque villages, Urquart Castle, Eileen Donan Castle (where we stopped for a self-guided tour), and on to the Isle of Skye. I tasted Cullen Skink (finan haddie) soup at a local restaurant on Skye and then we toured several other small towns. We returned to Inverness after 7 pm – it was a very long day and we were tired.

On Saturday the expo opened so I walked from our hotel to Bught Park to get up my race bib and pasta dinner tickets. I remembered that finisher shirts in some overseas races are not sized for women so I decided to purchase a Loch Ness Marathon cotton tee shirt at the expo just in case. I walked back to the hotel, did a little shopping in town, and then Darcy and I returned to the expo site for the pasta dinner inside a big tent set up in the park. If the tickets to the dinner had not been included in our tour package, I would have definitely passed on this meal; the pasta was not especially tasty but at least it was filling. There was a choice of chicken or veggie ziti, vegetable soup, and either fruit or cheesecake for dessert. Water was the only beverage.

Race day dawned clear and cold but the weather for later in the day was predicted to be sunny and much warmer. That made it hard for me to decide what to wear, since I knew I would be standing outside for 3 hours or so in cool weather but then would have to deal with warming temperatures. And that is exactly what happened. I was over-dressed, even though I tied my jacket around my waist after several miles. I walked to the park around 7 am and boarded one of the two or three dozen buses waiting to transport runners to the start. As I mentioned earlier in this report, the bus ride was long, the wait at the start was long, and the portapotty lines were long. I learned from chatting with some people from Aberdeen that the weather last Sunday was pouring rain so I was very grateful for the clear skies. Right before the start of the race, a high school band of bagpipe players, dressed in colorful kilts, marched through the runners and gave us a wonderful sendoff.

The scenery was stunning. The course follows the River Ness all the way back to Inverness, passing through neat little towns like Foyers and Dores. Around mile 17 the land changed from forests to pastureland, with sheep and cattle and horses dotting the landscape. But what I remember most, especially in those later miles, was the hills. In the beginning, it was fun to run down the hills and walk up them. As my legs tired, though, I plodded up and down the hills, feeling just a little discouraged about how far I still had to go. It had been over a year since I had done a hilly race of any caliber, and this one qualified as extremely hilly. Although I usually get a resurgence of energy by the time I reach mile 20, that didn’t happen in this race.   At mile marker 22, I was trying hard to push my way up a hill when my right hamstring seized up. I had to spend several minutes stretching before I could move – slowly – again. From that point on, instead of speeding up, I had to walk gingerly to avoid cramping.

Oh, it was so wonderful to finally reach Inverness and see mile marker 25! But then I still had a very long way to go (or so it seemed) until I could get to that finish line. I crossed in 6:24, under the 7 hour time limit, so I was relieved and happy to have marathon/ultra #206 (and country #11) under my belt.

The medal shows the 3 humps of the Loch Ness Monster, as does the finisher’s shirt. The 3 humps on the shirt are actually laces of a running shoe – a very unique and creative expression of the monster. The post-race food seemed to be leftovers from the pasta dinner of the day before – more chicken and veggie pasta – so after returning to the hotel for a shower and quick nap, Darcy and I headed out to a pub for a tasty meal. We had several long travel days ahead of us so we needed our rest.

This was definitely a fun race to do and very walker-friendly. There were at least 40 people who finished behind me, the last one around 8 hours, and because the course follows the river, it is essentially impossible to get lost, even for me. Just one caveat, however; be prepared for hills!

 

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A Couple of Reruns: Tallahassee Half (February 8) and Austin Marathon (February 15)

About Tallahassee:

There’s not really too much to say about the Tallahassee races – the courses for both the half and full begin on the Florida State University campus outside the gym and end on the university track. I do the half marathon here because of the strict 6 hour time limit (which I might be able to meet but it would be very lonely on the course at the very back); besides, I like doing the race with my oldest son who lives nearby and is willing to do a half with minimal training.

While both races wind through some uninspiring areas of town, I can manage to deal with the boredom because it’s fun to see lots of familiar faces (lots of people from around Florida and Georgia sign up). The volunteers are great and so are the police – there is excellent traffic control. Lots of people who want to try and qualify for Boston do this race because it is extremely flat. The temperature this year was relatively mild for Tallahassee in the winter so I soon tied my jacket around my waist and enjoyed the mild weather.

I finished in just under 3 hours, which pleased me, but I was extremely impressed with my son, who shaved over 30 minutes off his finishing time to complete the half in2:14. We celebrated with a buffet lunch at Azu, a really great Asian restaurant in Tallahassee.

About Austin:

This weekend was supposed to include the Love Run half marathon in Huntsville, Texas, as well as the Austin marathon. Our original plan was to fly into Austin, pick up my race packet plus those of a few friends who were also doing the double, then drive 3-4 hours to Huntsville, spend the night there, do the half marathon on Saturday, drive back to Austin, prepare for the Austin marathon on Sunday, and fly home on Monday. However, our flight to Atlanta was delayed for over 4 hours, causing us to miss our connecting flight to Austin. We had to scramble to find other flights that would still get us to Texas on Friday. This meant that we had to jettison our plans for Huntsville since we would be arriving too late for the long drive in the dark.

Oh, well. The unexpected happens so I had to pull out Plan B. We used Hilton Honors points for an extra night at Embassy Suites Town Lake (our favorite hotel in downtown Austin), canceled our rental car, and decided to make the most of our extra day in a city that both my husband and myself enjoy. We had a great dinner on Friday at Guero’s and a delicious barbeque lunch at Ironworks (the beef ribs were amazing!) on Saturday. We walked to the expo at the Palmer Center on Saturday to visit the expo, pick up the race packets for myself and my friends, and then walk to REI and Book People.

The marathon and half marathon relay are very popular in Texas and about 80% of the participants are Texans; however, according to the race announcer, every US state is represented as well as dozens of foreign countries. I’d done this race at least 3 times in the past and enjoyed it every time. The course begins on South Congress and goes as far north as Northcross Drive, then heads back to town via the University of Texas campus, and finishes near the Capitol. There are just enough hills to present a challenge but it is not a roller coaster course like at Blue Ridge or Georgia marathons. Aid stations are plentiful and offer water, Gatorade Endurance, and occasionally orange slices and pretzels. Many neighbors set up informal aid stations and offer everything from red licorice sticks to beer. Lots of people sit outside with children and dogs along to cheer. As for entertainment, there are musicians playing everything from country to rock to hymns. The Westside Presbyterian Church even had its choir outside clapping and singing to motivate us – that was great! In addition to a gender-specific technical short-sleeve shirt (bright orange this year), finishers get a handsome medal. Post-race food includes bagels, chips, granola bars, and fruit, but I hankered for fajitas, so I was willing to wait until after my usual shower and nap. I finished in 5:55, good enough for 3rd place in my age group. It was satisfying to complete the race in under 6 hours (my 2nd time this year).

This race is definitely recommended for walkers. There is a 7 hour time limit and with over 3000 full marathoners, it is not so lonely at the back. The logistics are easy, with several hotels within easy walking distance of the expo and race start and finish. Taxis to and from the airport run about $25-$30, pretty reasonable compared to cab fares in some of the cities I’ve traveled to. Restaurants are plentiful and the food, especially Tex-Mex and barbeque, is great. It is very easy to enjoy Austin and its marathon.

 

The 2nd Celebration Marathon – January 25, 2015 (Celebration, FL)

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Celebration is only a short distance from Disney World in Orlando and most of the participants in the full and half marathon here, perhaps 98%, are from Florida. This is bound to change as word spreads about this neat set of races. Last year I did the inaugural marathon and enjoyed it so much that I decided to do it again.

The race this year did not disappoint. Although the weather was colder than last year (mid-40’s at the start and only 60 by the time I finished), it was sunny and dry. The dryness was important because the wooden boardwalk bridges which are so easy on the feet and legs become treacherous when icy and wet. I discovered this during the first loop when I could feel my shoes slip while crossing the bridges. While the bridges were dry, the cold chilly weather during the night must have caused them to freeze. I came across two people in two separate places who had fallen and needed medical assistance. I wasn’t going very fast to begin with but I slowed way down as I became aware of the slippery nature of the course in those wee hours. As the sun rose, the bridges became much less of a problem.

My posting from January 28, 2014, gives more details on this race and the local area, so I will just summarize here and note several positive changes. We stayed at the host hotel, the Bohemian Marriott. It is pricey, even with the marathon discount, but you cannot beat the convenience. It is right in the heart of downtown Celebration and the start and finish are within easy walking distance. In fact, I could see the starting line area from my hotel room window.

There were several major improvements over last year’s event, including:

  • A larger expo with more vendors (though it is still small compared to many larger race expos)
  • The tee shirt is gender specific and a women’s medium fit me fine; even better, the fabric this year is a soft blend of cotton and bamboo in a pretty light green.  I will actually wear this shirt
  • The course is very well-marked and this year had large signs with red arrows to keep racers moving in the right direction.  Since this is a double loop course for marathoners, it gets pretty lonely on that second loop, so it was good to have those directional arrows as well as plenty of volunteers to make sure we didn’t get lost
  • The dangerous section between mile 12 ½ and 14 was altered so racers were directed to the sidewalk instead of to a street closely packed with parked cars and traffic – an important safety measure
  • There was more food at the finish line for back-of-the-packers.  I am not sure how people fared at the very end of the race, but when I finished at 6:16, I was able to have my choice of pizza, beans and rice, chicken and rice, bagels, and fruit as well as mimosas, beer, and water

There were plenty of well-stocked aid stations with gracious volunteers, some offering gels, orange slices, and bananas. The 7 hour time limit makes the race a good choice for walkers.

My only concern as I traversed that second loop was the lack of volunteers monitoring the course in case someone needed help. On that first loop when several people fell, there were many racers around to assist and medical aid and volunteers on bikes were plentiful. On the second loop, however, if I had fallen between miles 14 to the finish, it would have taken a while for someone to realize I was hurt and to get help. Since I was aware of that, I slowed my walking pace considerably. Despite this, I enjoyed the race immensely. My guess is that this marathon will increase in popularity and will draw more runners and walkers from around the country.

The Bahamas Sunshine Marathon – Nassau, January 18, 2015

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I probably would never have thought to visit Nassau for a marathon if that race had not been chosen as the site for the first face-to-face meeting of the Marathon Globetrotters (MG), a new group dedicated to completing marathons in countries all over the world. To join MG as a provisional member, runners and walkers must have finished a marathon in 5 countries. Once a racer has completed 10 countries, he or she is welcomed as a full voting member. The Bahamas Marathon would be my 10th country so I really wanted to go!

Darcy and I had visited Nassau numerous times but only during cruises. We’d already toured Atlantis, taken multiple excursions, and walked around the island’s capital often enough that we felt no need for a long vacation. This would be the first time we would actually be staying in a hotel on the island, albeit for just one night.

Yes, one night. We flew down early Saturday morning and caught a ride to the British Colonial Hilton downtown. It was too early to check in, and we were hungry, so we left our bags at the concierge desk and walked around the corner to Senor Frog’s. It was very crowded, smack dab in the middle of lunch hour, and there was a 25 minute wait. We people-watched and enjoyed the ocean breezes while we tried to wait our turn. An employee told us about a new restaurant owned by the same management; it was just a few yards away and there was no waiting and even better, it offered authentic Bahamian food. It sounded good, so off we went. I wasn’t crazy about eating Mexican food in Nassau anyhow (Tex-Mex snobs that we are, we eat only Tex-Mex in Texas) so Bahamian food sounded perfect. The restaurant was called ____ and although the portions were relatively small for the price, everything we had was exceptionally tasty. I had conch corn fritters and red snapper while Darcy devoured his chicken in honey sauce with a side of mac and cheese. For drinks, we each tried a different brand of Bahamian beer.

We finished eating just in time for the 4pm Globetrotter meeting in a Hilton meeting room. There was no need to visit the expo because several of the MG officers had already picked up our race packets and tee shirts for us. After introductions, we voted on bylaws, officers for the New Year, and discussed other matters. Members Kevin (Brosi) and Kino (Hideki Kinoshita) took pictures and we adjourned. Time to get ready for the race tomorrow!

Back in the room I started pulling the essentials from my backpack. The weather prediction was for warm temperatures with high humidity. I had a choice of shorts or crops but because I knew I would probably have to wear my racing outfit on the air-conditioned plane, I opted for the longer crops. Every race since late October had been in freezing cold weather. I was excited to be finally enjoying a warmer climate.

Globetrotters and Maniacs (many of us are both) met for pictures at the starting line at Junkanoo Beach 10 minutes before the official 6 am race time. A local vocal artist sang the Bahamian national anthem and there were several announcements, including recognition of our Globetrotters group (I think we provided at least 30% of the total number of marathoners). The race includes about 500 half marathoners and 170 full marathoners; both races began at the same time. I took my place near the back of the group of racers and at 6 am a horn blew that sounded the official beginning of the races.

For the first mile or so, runners make their way through downtown and then across the bridge to Paradise Island and back again over another bridge to return to downtown. It is good these bridges come early in the race when the weather is still relatively cool. While not steep, the bridges were still challenging but because they came early on, I was able to run the downsides on fresh legs. After winding through downtown Nassau, we followed the ocean along Cable Beach Highway. At mile 10, the half marathoners peeled off and made their way to the finish line back at Arawak Cay. At this point, with the field slimmed down considerably, I was concerned about getting lost but since it was a relatively straightforward out-and-back, I was fairly sure I’d be okay. There were a few confusing traffic circles but enough police presence to point us in the correct direction (although on my return, I did have to ask several police for directions).

The scenery is pleasant, especially along the ocean. There was an occasional breeze that cooled us off but as the day wore on, we could definitely feel the rising heat. Several runners told me as I passed them that they were forced to slow down because of the temperature. For me, though, it felt wonderful, and I truly basked in the warmth. As I approached the final 1.2 miles of the course, I saw Darcy waving to me on the street. I asked him ‘where the heck is the finish line?’ because, although I knew it was on the beach close by, a fence covered with vegetation prevented me from seeing it from the street. He told me to go straight and then take a sharp left onto the beach. Sure enough, as I approached the marker for mile 26, I made the corner and crossed the finish line in 5:50, my first sub-6 hour race is almost a year. It was good enough for 3rd place in my age group; my award was a Bahamian cowbell (which clanked in my carry-on the entire trip home, reminding me of its presence). In retrospect, there really should have been a volunteer stationed at that final turn, or at the very least a sign with an arrow, because I later learned that at least one runner missed the turn and went straight, adding an extra quarter mile at least to her race.

At the risk of sounding maudlin and a little crazy, I will confess that before every race, ever since my son Ben took his own life last November, I ‘talk’ to Ben and carry him along with me in my mind. He was a great long-distance walker and I just know he would have enjoyed doing these races.

Plusses

  • Wonderful oceanfront scenery with warm sunny weather
  • Great volunteers
  • Cheering spectators – not huge crowds (after all, this is a relatively small island) but very enthusiastic smaller groups
  • Aid stations every mile or so, with water, Gatorade, and gels at two of them
  • Time limit was 6 ½ hours but racers were allowed to finish on the sidewalks

The only disappointment was the tee shirt; it was black (not a great color to wear in summer heat), polyester, and the medium size was so huge so I ended up leaving in the hotel.

All in all, it was a great quick trip to the islands. And to top it off, when I finished the race, I became the 100th full member of the Marathon Globetrotters!

First Light Marathon Revisited – Again (Mobile, AL, January 11, 2015)

This was my 6th appearance at First Light, a testament to its strong pull for me. While I always enjoy visiting the city of Mobile, the real attraction is the race itself – it all takes place in a relaxed, fun atmosphere, with friendly runners and spectators. The only real variable here is the weather; it can be icy cold, hot and humid, or rainy and damp. This year it was cool all day, in the 50’s at the start and just slightly higher at the finish. I dressed warmly, with long-sleeved shirt and light jacket, mittens and hand warmers, but kept the jacket on all day because of the cold breeze.

I stayed at the Holiday inn Downtown, in my opinion the best place to stay since the race begins just outside its front door. It is clean, comfortable, and welcoming, but there are other hotels in the area that are also close by. I simply like the simplicity of staying right near the start and the ease of getting to and from the hotel from the interstate.

I’ve written about this race several times here so I won’t go into lots of detail in this write-up. I would like to note, however, several changes that have been made since I last did the race in 2013. First, there is no longer a free pasta dinner the evening before the race. Instead, several area restaurants offer substantial discounts to runners for pre-race meals. There have also been several major changes to the course. Runners no longer have to worry about being stopped by a train in the early miles of the race. I was never fast enough to be caught at the railroad tracks but it evidently was a problem for speedier runners. The other major course change occurs during the final 3 ½ mile stretch to the finish line. Instead of following the heavily trafficked Spring Hill Avenue, runners now proceed down Dauphin Street. This substitution changes the milieu from a noisy busy street to a much quieter one and leads directly to the finishers chute in Bienville Square.

Proceeds from the marathon, half marathon, and relay go as always to L’Arche Mobile, a community of adults with intellectual disabilities. The medals are handmade by L’Arche Mobile members and are handed personally to all runners and walkers who complete the races.

After the race, participants are welcome to partake of the lunch catered by a local restaurant. Usually there is BBQ, beans, and coleslaw; I always look forward to the delicious coleslaw. This year the menu was changed to red beans and rice with cold pasta salad and a corn muffin. I was dubious; I had been mentally tasting that BBQ and coleslaw for the last 15k. But I was pleasantly surprised. Either everything was exceptionally tasty or I was especially hungry or a combination of both, but I managed to scarf everything up.

My finishing time was not so great (6:24) but the time limit is 7 hours so I wasn’t worried about being last, especially since I was surrounded by a number of hearty souls, mostly Maniacs, who had just raced the very hilly Mississippi Blues marathon in Jackson on Saturday and were running on tired legs. I admired their strength and gusto; I am not sure how well I would have fared if I had tried that double. All in all, it was another great race in a great city.

 

Flying High at the Air Force Marathon (Dayton, OH) – September 20, 2014

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Marathoners often enjoy a natural high when doing a race but it certainly helps when the race is on a great course with lots of polite and supportive air force personnel and volunteers. The Air Force Marathon had long been on my bucket list – it has a 7 hour time limit and is supposed to be very walker-friendly. This seemed to be a good year to check it off since I had an open weekend.

After two short flights on Friday, Darcy and I were in Dayton. The airport is a 30 minute taxi ride from the host hotel, the Holiday Inn Dayton/Fairborn I-675. I had not realized that Wright-Patterson Air Force Base was not really in Dayton but closer to the suburb of Fairborn. That meant a pricey cab ride to and from the airport and hotel. It also meant we didn’t see anything of Dayton itself, though the weekend was busy enough that we had minimal time to explore.

Once we settled into our hotel room, we walked the short distance to packet pickup at the Nutter Center on the campus of Wright State University. The expo was held in a large room with packet pickup at the ground floor level; booths were set up in the center of this section as well as around the perimeter of the mezzanine. It was crowded on Friday but we managed to get my bib, short-sleeve navy and orange tech tee shirt, and goodie bag with no problem.  I also must mention that – in addition to a tee shirt – there was also a neat patch for the marathon (I collect patches from places I travel and hope to incorporate them in a quilt someday) plus an orange marathon sports cap – more bling than I expected. I checked out the vendors, too, but didn’t see anything I wanted to spend money on except a few bags of sports beans with caffeine. Since it was now about 1 pm, we decided to find a place to eat lunch. Texas Roadhouse was right across the street and sounded appealing (other choices were more mundane – Taco Bell, Subway, McDonald’s). After lunch, we walked back to the Holiday Inn and relaxed. Well, Darcy relaxed while I set about pinning my bib to my vest and pulling out clothes, shoes, and snacks for the race.

Since we had stuffed ourselves at lunch, neither one of us felt much like eating dinner. Instead we went to bed early. The marathon was due to start at 7:30 but the first of the shuttles to the race start on the base was set to leave at 4:30 and I wanted to be on it. That meant I had to get up at least two hours earlier so I could have my breakfast and get dressed.

Weather on race morning was cool. No rain was predicted and the temps ranged from 50 degrees at the start to about 80 at the finish. The afternoon might have been slightly too humid for some but I enjoyed the warmth. I took the first shuttle at 4:30 and it left right on time – with me as the only racer! When we arrived at the start 15 minutes later, I had plenty of time to wander around, visit the porta-potties, and explore the area. The only problem was there was no place to sit or stay warm and out of the wind. There were plenty of porta-potties but they were on wet grass so my shoes and socks were sodden by the time the race began (though they quickly dried off once the sun rose).

I had expected the course to be mundane and unattractive but that was definitely not the case. I really enjoyed the pleasant scenery, wide lanes, and smooth roads; I even saw several dozen Canada geese pecking away in a field. After recently completing so many smaller marathons with under 400 people, it was wonderful to have people around me but not so tightly packed that I couldn’t move at a good pace. This marathon has about 3000 participants, a good number, so I was never really alone but it was not so crowded that I felt pressured. The course is very well-marked and the airmen and women enthusiastically and cheerfully directed us around every significant turn.

This race had all the markings of a PR course but I knew by mile 3 that I was going to have some trouble. Although I have been relatively injury-free for most of the 8 years I have been racing, every now and then something arises to give me trouble. For the last few months, pain in my left piriformis has definitely slowed me down. Early on in this race I could feel my gait change as I altered it to alleviate the discomfort. The miles passed and I exchanged pleasantries with a number of racers who passed or played leapfrog with me, and by mile 18, I could feel the pain dissipate, replaced by an all-over soreness in my legs. Instead of my usual push during the last 10k, I simply tried to maintain a steady pace. I did pass a number of runners who had slowed (in part no doubt due to the rising humidity) but that was more due to my consistency rather than speed.

The final 1.2 miles heads past the Air Force Museum, around a long stretch marked by flags, and down a runway with huge bombers and cargo planes on both sides. In the morning I had looked at this finish line and thought ‘what a rush that will be – to move along past those big planes!’ It seemed so exciting and I was so looking forward to it. Unfortunately, by the time I reached that point all I could focus on was the finish line at the very end. My mind and body was depleted; I just wanted to cross the finish line.

My time was 6:16, and I admit I was slightly disappointed I was not faster. However, considering my leg pain, I was relieved just to finish. The medal was impressive. For food, there were bananas and one pizza slice per person (plenty for me but it seemed a little chintzy for hungrier runners) plus water and Gatorade. I hung around after the race trying to scrounge a ride from Maniacs and people I had talked to during the race and was SO relieved that ‘barefoot’ Eddie was willing to drive me back to the hotel even though he was on his way to Cincinnati so he could make a flight to Omaha for the race there tomorrow. In exchange, I offered him a chance to shower which he was happy to take; I hope that was a somewhat even exchange.

Good things about this race:

  • The course was much better than I had expected – more attractive scenery, wide expanse of road so there was very little crowding, and not at all boring (which I had expected from races I have done on other military bases)
  • Part of the course went through the town of Fairborn and the streets there were lined with throngs of spectators
  • Polite and cute airmen and women positioned at every turn and at strategic places along the course.  I am old enough to be their grandmother and I wanted to hug them all!
  • The aid stations were a hoot!  Most of them had a theme and my absolute favorite was the extraterrestrials at mile 11
  • In addition to water and Gatorade, many of the aid stations had gels, bananas, cookies, licorice, and other treats.  Since I had forgotten my peanut butter crackers and lost my baggie with s-caps, I was grateful for the fruit and sweets
  • Plenty of medical aid was visible and available for those who needed it
  • The finish line was memorable – even if I was not able to truly enjoy it with more sore muscles
  • The marathon medal is great – attractive, heavy, and on a red, white, and blue lanyard

There were just a few things I did NOT like about this race:

  • The race finish is open for 7 hours but the website clearly states that timing begins with gun time.  That of course means that people who really need the full 7 hours are penalized from starting at the back.  In reality, it only takes about 5 minutes for those at the back (like me!) to cross the start line but it still doesn’t really make sense.  However, I did notice that people were allowed to finish past 7 hours, so I am not sure how strictly this is enforced.
  • The race start area was a scene of mass confusion – but maybe that was just me.  Many of the participants were returning racers (they were wearing shirts from previous Air Force marathons) and seemed to be comfortable with the atmosphere, but to me it seemed everyone was milling around in the corrals (full, half, 10k people plus bikes, baby carriages, family members) and moving in all different directions.  It wasn’t until the gun went off that people who were actually racing began moving slowly to the start – while everyone else was still in the way.
  • The PA system at the start was impossible to hear.  I strained to understand the announcements but between the poor sound system and the crowd noise, I could hear absolutely nothing.
  • But these were just minor irritations.  I only had one real complaint but is was big one and would definitely keep me from returning.  There was no transportation from the finish line back to the shuttle pickup point.  The shuttles only go one way.  They will take you to the start on the base but will not bring you back.  That means that racers have to have someone, a friend or family member, who will pick you up at the finish to bring you back to your hotel (or wherever else you need to go). The only other option is to call for a taxi to pick you up at the Museum near the finish line – and not only is that costly but it might also take a while for a taxi to arrive.  I was extraordinarily fortunate that barefoot Eddie was kind enough to drive me back.  It was hard to keep that mental anxiety about how I would get back from affecting my race just a little.  It seems that most people drive (there is plenty of parking), and I would highly recommend renting a car for those coming from out-of-town.  With that caveat, this race is a definite plus for walkers.

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!