Sunday, July 29, 2012

King Salmon Marathon (Cordova, AK) Race Report

It's Saturday morning and threatening rain, but that's normal as you later learn that you're in a community that gets the most snow of any town at sea level. (This past winter, the total was 30 feet of the white stuff.)

The school bus you ride with another 15 or so of your newest friends from across the country and Alaska looks like it came straight off the set of the Partridge Family. (If you're younger than 30, you might want to Google that.)

One of the five comments on states that they assigned a car to every runner to ensure that you didn't get chased on the course by a bear or a moose. (Obviously, an attack hasn't materialized; therefore, the 1:1 vehicle to runner ratio wasn't in play in 2012.)

You know it is a point to point course and you know that part of it will be on gravel; however, after you get off of the pavement, where the Merle "Mudhole" Smith Airport is, you realize that it isn't the halfway point. It is at about mile 15 and the majority of your race will be on gravel.

The bus keeps getting farther and farther away from town and you surely think that the bus driver is adding extra miles and turning it into an ultra.

But you get to a point where the gravel becomes kind of sandy, the road goes no further (as the only way you can get to this town is by ferry and by air) and first of almost 30-plus orange cones that you'll run by marks the starting line.

All of the runners get off, find a bush, and within five (5) minutes, the start of the King Salmon Marathon in Cordova, Alaska begins - with everyone ON the starting line. Needless to say with just 15 runners - down from the past two years - everyone gets to toe the line like an elite.

I don't know how other runners who are trying to run a marathon in all 50 states target their races, but for me, it is: if the schedule fits and I can get there (without bankrupting me), I'm there.

I found the race on and then started to see if I could make the logistics work while I took Waverly on vacation to Alaska. And this adventure turned out not to be cheap, but in about 13 months, I would be able to have checked off two of the hardest states to get to: Hawaii and Alaska.

And while running the Gold Discovery Run in Fairbanks the Sunday before did I realize that I could realistically count that 16.3-mile trail run as my half marathon for Alaska too.

So even though Alaska was the 49th state to be granted statehood to the United States of America, it was 47, 37 and then 27 for me.

When I finished the Alaska Men's Run in Anchorage on Saturday - a 5-miler - that made the 47th state that I had finished a race in, leaving Michigan, Rhode Island and Vermont.

The Gold Discovery Run gave me a half marathon in 37 states.

And finishing the King Salmon Marathon in 5:06:03 -- my 7th best time in 42 marathon finishes -- would make a marathon in 27 states.

Yes, the adventure has been fun. On the bus to nowhere, there were the following:

+ A husband and wife, daughter and boyfriend from Wasila, Alaska. Yes, the home of Todd and Sarah Palin, who were in The Woodlands the day before for a political rally for Ted Cruz.

+ A young man, who ended up finishing third and running 3:22, from New Jersey who was running his second marathon ever and running for the Challenged Athletes Foundation in New York City this coming November.

+ A woman from North Dakota, who I learned had run the Extraterrestrial Midnight Half Moon Marathon in Rachel, Nevada twice. This is the site of my next marathon -- a week away!

+ A woman who had run the Texas Marathon in Kingwood in January 1, 2011. Small, small world.

+ A woman from the Missouri area who was at the Run For the Ranch Marathon in Springfield, Missouri this past December. I had run the marathon there and she had run the half.

+ Another woman was running her first marathon -- and she and I would battle each other for the last couple of miles.

When we were on the line, we were already late. So there was no gun to fire, no timing system to make sure that was ready and no pretty red head to sing the National Anthem.

My only worry was: not to finish last.

By the time that the first mile was over, I knew that was safe as there appeared to be a walker in the group.

A gentleman from Soldotna, Alaska started behind me, but by mile two he was ahead of me and would stay that way, finishing just under five hours (as I would later find out at the evening dinner).

He told me later that when he had to go to the airport, off the course at mile 15, to go to the restroom, he was worried that I would have gotten in front of him.

The woman from North Dakota was stopping to take pictures.

The woman from Wasila was doing a run/walk and it took me to mile three to get ahead of her.

The lady who was doing her first marathon stayed close for the first few miles, but I wouldn't see her again until the self service aid station at mile 12.

This is where nature called and I'm glad that there was a port-a-john. I had seen a state park restroom on the way out, but couldn't find it while we were running back in.

As stated earlier, the pre-race material stated that the half-way point was at the airport. Well, not exactly.

Once I hit the pavement, I was really good to go. With the exception of stopping at an aid station (near 16 and near 20), I was still running and clicking off sub 12-minute miles.

With six miles to go, I had caught the woman who had done Kingwood in 2011 and shortly thereafter, I passed a man who - I found out later - was doing the half marathon. I couldn't place him on our bus, but I figured it was possible that I could have missed him.

I was still running fairly strong - surprising even myself, but fatigue started to set in in the third to last mile and at the sign that said, "Two miles to go", the woman who was running her first marathon was on my heels.

Plus, her husband had biked out to see where she was and my biggest concern was that she was going to use that assistance to pass me. Perfectly OK, of course, but aren't we all a little competitive?

There was a water stop right before the last mile so I gulped down a cup and resolved myself not to get passed in the last mile. My only words to her was that I was going to do my best to keep it under 5:10 -- and I was at 4:55 at that point.

Waverly, of course, was waiting at the finish line, which was in the parking lot of the Cordova Community Hospital. She could see runners on the main road as they cleared some trees and even she said later on that she didn't want the woman to beat me.

She didn't. I held on by about 30 seconds to post a 5:06:03 -- my 7th best marathon time in 42 finishes.

Waverly had run the Humpy 5K, which started at 10:45 a.m., and did so in 38:46.

A very different, but positive experience. The race director, Kristin Carpenter, went out of her way to take care of everyone and continued to do so at the Awards Presentation that evening.

My splits are listed below (as you can see the mileage signs told you how many you had left to go, which actually was a good motivator):

First 1.2 - 12:53.56
25 to go - 10:48.15
24 to go - 10:53.57
23 to go - 10:53.59
22 to go - 11:33.62 (included self serve water stop)
21 to go - 11:10.04
20 to go - 11:02.01
19 to go - 11:05.64
18 to go - 12:46.78 (included self serve water stop)
17 to go - 10:59.59
16 to go - 10:02.20
15 to go - 11:51.49
14 to go - 16:12.94 (included self serve water stop and port-a-john)
13 to go - 10:57.00
12 to go - 11:06.79
11 to go - 10:53.38
10 to go - 13:18.65 (included water stop and GU)
9 to go - 11:43.19
8 to go - 11:44.89
7 to go - 10:19.17
6 to go - 11:41.39
5 to go - 11:20.55
4 to go - 11:33.57
3 to go - 12:38.24
2 to go - 11:55.54 (included water stop)
1 to go - 11:49.77

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