Feet don’t fail me now

What was I thinking? I signed up to run the half-marathon in the Mayor’s Midnight Sun Marathon. That’s 13.1 miles. A little less than 35,000 steps.

The longest I’ve ever run before without stopping is five miles and I reached that milestone just last weekend. My typical runs consist of two- to four-mile trail runs. On top of that I have developed a wheeze and restriction in my larynx from running in minus 5 degree temperatures this winter. And what’s that sharp pain in my lower-left back the past few days?

I rationalized race registration by saying that any average person should be able to crank out 13.1 miles even if they have to walk the entire distance. Another motivating factor was that a classmate of mine had trained for a full marathon this spring. She trained while working part-time, going to school full-time and raising her daughter. Peer pressure is a powerful thing.

Since no decision is made until it’s acted upon, I registered online and now I’m in training mode. I don’t run much more than I did a month ago, but I’m expending a lot of mental energy on my race strategy. I know which shorts and shirt I will wear. I will take my recently-prescribed Advair inhaler in my fanny pack along with some fresh socks if my feet start getting sore at mile 10.4 from pounding the pavement. I plan to walk into and out of each 2.6 mile checkpoint so that I can drink and absorb enough sport drink and water. If I overheat, I’ll lose my shirt even though I’m sporting the Alaska tan—none. Most of the other racers are in the same pale situation as I am.

I’ve set several goals for the race. First and foremost is to complete the half-marathon at whatever speed it takes. If I can’t do that, I don’t deserve to be the outdoor and sports editor. My second goal is to finish in two hours or less. This is a tough one given that it requires averaging 9.1-minute miles. When I do my four-mile hill runs, I average a little over a 10.3 minute pace. On the plus side, I ran my first five-miler at an eight-minute pace. Even if I reach this goal, I might still have some grandmothers passing me on the trail.

My third goal is to meet a really hot gal while running the race, hit it off, go back to my place after the race and then…. she gives me a foot massage. What can I say? Everyone has to have a stretch goal. 

Race Day
It’s raining today, which is actually a good thing. It’s been too hot for me to run without sweating like a pig the last few days. I arrive at the West High parking lot and people are hanging out under the eaves of the buildings to stay dry. Some are wearing trash bags. Most of them are from out of town, like the leukemia and lymphoma cancer teams from all over the country. They are easy to spot in their purple shirts. Thirty minutes prior to the race, the announcers try to get people to start lining up but the crowd isn’t cooperating. The only people lining up are those waiting to use the Rent-A-Cans.

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After minimal pomp and circumstance, the race starts—walking at first, but jogging fairly soon after dodging some of the walkers who should have lined up in the rear. After about a mile, I can tell my shins will never survive the run so I move off the pavement to dirt tracks and the road shoulder in certain places. The people I was pacing earlier start falling behind. I’m actually running faster on the soft ground. Other runners fall behind on the modest inclines along the route.

At the first-aid station, I walk through to make it easier to drink. I also take a bio break since there is no line at these Rent-A-Cans. By mile five, you pretty much realize who you will be running with for the rest of the race. At about mile 5.5 I start to see the lead runners coming the opposite way on the airport road. I yell at the leaders “Hey! Wait up guys!” But nobody thinks this is funny.

The stretch between mile 6 and the half-way turnaround at mile 6.5 seems long, but I just focus on the tunes on my MP3 player to take my mind off running. Many of my songs had a reference to running like “Running on Empty” by Jackson Browne or “Run” by Collective Soul.

The time between miles eight and nine seem very short. The long, slow uphill grade from the previous mile-and-a-half level out and is even a bit downhill. By Mile 11 my left foot is a bit sore, so I ease up on my pace and it feels better. Many people start slowing down after mile 11 and I find myself passing quite a few. By this point it’s clear that I’ll come in at less than two hours, so that gives me a little more motivation. Focusing on the music helps my mental and physical states.

At Westchester Lagoon, the route leaves the coastal trail and climbs steeply up toward West High. It’s a hard hill to plug away at after 12-plus miles of running. Finally, I reach the high school and start snaking along the path toward the finish line at Romig Middle School. I was running on pavement the last mile, but my feet are doing fine. Once I hit the running track, I turn on the heat, since my editor had said he was going to be there expecting a strong finish.

And then it’s over. I’ve done it. One more check mark on the list of things to do in life. My time is under two hours. Then the lactic acid starts to kick in. I’ve stopped running and the muscles are responding. Have you ever had so much lactic acid build-up in your muscles that it hurts so much that all you can do is laugh from the pain? Yeah, it feels something like that. I kneel down with great effort to take a picture of 99-year-old Colonel Norman Vaughn and I’m sure he is thinking “Come on you pansy! Let’s see how you look when you’re my age – if you last that long.”

But my morning isn’t over. As a reporter I have to finish covering the race and I hobble over to the finish line in time to see the first woman marathoner cross the finish line: former UAA skier Esther Jurasek. Seeing her win is a bigger thrill than my own finish, since I know how much she wanted to at least be the first Alaska woman to finish. She also trained and ran much harder than I did to cross the finish line.

“The race was really difficult—26 miles of difficult, every bit of it,” Jurasek said. “Miles 15 to 17 were really tough on my pace. There were some serious up-hills and I just went ‘byehhh!’ Then I had a steady pace of around 6:45 after that but I knew I couldn’t make up the two minutes I lost.”

“I was faster once I got off the trail,” Jurasek said. “The curves were sapping my energy. I’m more of a road racer. Once I got back on the road, I tried to get my lost time back but thought ‘maybe I’m a ways ahead of the second woman racer.’ There are relay teams too, and you don’t know if the people passing you are marathoners or relayers.”

Jurasek was way ahead. The second woman finisher was six minutes back. The benefits of UAA athletic training were also reaped by other top-finishers. Former UAA runners Todd List and Vern Campbell finished second and third respectively in the men’s marathon, while UAA bialthete Rachel Steer placed fourth in the women’s half-marathon.

This is Jurasek’s second Mayor’s Marathon and only her third marathon overall. “I remember watching the race when I was in high school,” Jurasek said. “I ran the first half with a friend. I always admired the people who could do the whole thing.”

Today, Esther, it is I who admire you.