Tuesday, August 07, 2007

08/04/07 Frank Maier Marathon in Juneau

Alaska is an interesting place for all kinds of reasons. For one, it has a really strange shape. Yes, it is the biggest state in the US... but it also has a long stretch of islands that curl out from underneath. And it has a bit of a tail that winds down the coast towards Washington state. Juneau, the state's capital, is in this tail. While places like Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Nome are really far from the continental US, Juneau is actually a fairly quick trip from Seattle - about the same time in the plane as it takes to get to San Francisco.

Juneau itself is nestled in between various mountains and next to the water. Which water, officially, I'm not sure. But essentially it is connected to the Pacific Ocean as part of the "inside passage". There are a couple glaciers nearby too. In the summertime, the weather is very Vancouver and Seattle-like. And that makes August a nice time to hold a marathon.

The Frank Maier Marathon is a fairly small out-and-back race held on nearby Douglas Island. There's a bigger half marathon that utilizes the first and last miles of the marathon course, but even with those folks out on the road, race day is a small affair. The course is roly poly with a challenging hill in the last mile before the turnaround.

I did this race last year in just awful terrible fog/rain/wind conditions. So much for August being the best month for a marathon in these parts... it may be usually, but it isn't a guarantee. Now, the weather was not the worst I experienced in races last year (see: Tampa, Napa, Seattle), but it was plenty bad. I was underdressed, and it was the only race where I flirted with hypothermia at the end. Yuck. I had been told that the course offered wonderful sights, but I didn't see anything. I rolled into the finish with a 3:54 and then sat next to a fire shaking for awhile.

Once upon a time, I had looked to this year's edition of the race as a potential "go fast" opportunity for late summer. And the conditions this year on race morning were pretty good: overcast, 55 degrees, and no wind. Humidity was the only thing that wasn't perfect. However, my training over the last month has been so-so. I've had to cut my miles back from 70-80 mpw down to 50-60. Also, I had tentatively booked another marathon for the next day. So I decided to turn the first half into a slightly-faster-than marathon pace run by hooking on to a faster friend, Amy. I ran with her for 15 miles at Swan Lake, and I thought I'd run out to the turnaround of this race with her and then pull back to socialize with other runners and aid station folks.

We gathered at the start line and the nice digital clock that was counting down. It seemed like there were only about 30 folks, and perhaps another 20 that had started an hour prior. When the clock hit zero, we were off.

Same out-and-back as last year (and, I assume, every year). But a totally different feel. For one, I was running with my experienced friend... and she has the ability to speed up as she goes. Every mile was just a little faster than the previous one. Just as importantly, this year I could see the sights. And hear the birds. Lots of birds. I counted 10 different bald eagles and several nests. Lots of hooting and chirping from nearby trees - we never did see what all that was about.

The lead guy in this race was way in front of everyone. He'd finish with a 2:33. I haven't seen the official results, but I don't think anyone else except a chair guy broke 3:10. We were running within sight of the lead gal, and as the miles passed, we got closer and closer.

At M9, we crossed the creatively named Fish Creek.

I had been told that once we were close to the turnaround, we'd get a good view of the glacier. I looked and looked, and didn't see it. Up the big hill, and we hit the M13 turnaround at 1:45. Bye, Amy. I started backing off. And there it was: the glacier. I hadn't spotted it because it had been behind me, tucked between two mountains. When we turned around, it was in front of us. It was very impressive. I had only seen glaciers in pictures; in person this was much more massive than I envisioned. It was as if a dam had broken and water was roaring into a valley... but then frozen in time. It loomed over the bay.

Amy started pulling away. I talked to folks at aid stations as I went through them. I'm always impressed by little races put on by local running clubs. Their aid stations are generally plentiful and exactly where I want them. I've been to many large races where either there aren't enough stations, or they are so crowded that they become a hindrance. Not here.

At M19.45, I hit the turnaround for the half. The half started two hours after the full, and because I ran the first half a little faster, the back section of the combined course was crowded with half runners who were running faster than I was. These people blew by me. I gave encouragement when I could (though some people don't like this :-) ), and some folks commented on the pink shirt. "Breast cancer DOES suck" and "I like your shirt" were two common things I heard.

At M24, the aid station workers in the pink feather boas all thanked me for running for a cause that was (is) important to them. Like last week at Volcano, I was thankful for their assistance and cold water... but they'd have none of that.

M25. Earlier this year, I had been making a habit of burning through the last mile... it was fun trying to make it my fastest mile of a particular race. "Earlier this year" feels like a long time ago. Of all the things that weekly mileage, or lack thereof, does for me, one of the biggest things is how it affects my juice in the last bit of a race. Lower miles? Less residual juice. I had none. I did not turn on the turbo... I just ran it on in.

Which is why, in the picture at the top, you can see that gal motoring around me. SHE had the juice and she really REALLY wanted to beat me. As you can see, she was successful. That's alright.

While running with Amy, our pace went from 8:30 miles to 7:50 miles (M11 and M12). She held this and finished in 3:31. I believe she won the women's race outright.

I had purposefully slowed down and came home with a 3:48. Had I not been considering a race the next day, I'm sure I could have done 3:45. But not 3:31 with Amy :-).

It turned out that 3:48 was good enough for 3rd overall Masters. Small races are funny like that.

That race the next day? I didn't do it. I had comatose sleep.

Which might be my last good sleep for awhile. Jennifer's hospital and doctors have decided to cease all dealings with her insurance company. And she needs a new set of biopsies and follow-up care. I have consciously chosen NOT to write about cancer treatment and being cancer buddy in this set of stories so far... but it is a big part of my life and it does affect me.

Next up: Crater Lake, which I consider to be the hardest road marathon around. Not overall... Volcano and Leadville are harder, but trail races are just different. The next day, I'm supposed to do Haulin' Aspen, which IS mostly a trail race and quite technical in the second half.

I need to do both races. This will help me get ready for my first triple weekend in early September. And that is all leading up to the dreaded Quadzilla at the end of September: 4 marathons in 4 days.

Wish me luck. I'm gonna need it.

Jennifer could use some too.

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