16 July 2013

A trip to Alaska & Mt Marathon

"When it comes to bears, if you don't have a .357, .44 mag or 12 gauge shotgun, be sure to have someone with you that you can outrun." 
- Sage advice from an Alaskan Sourdough
Prettiest mountain on earth.
Now that I'm back from Hardrock, I can finally get caught up on the blog and bring y'all up to date. I'll blog about Hardrock separately, as it will be a long one. First things first, however...

After four long years, we were able to cash in some unused mileage and fly back to Anchorage for a 9-day trip. My goals, besides seeing family and friends, was to hit some of the local trails, eat Moose's Tooth pizza, drink Kaladi's coffee, visit my favorite REI store and hang out in Seward for the 86th running of the Mt. Marathon race.
Off to a good start.
My parents still live in the house that I grew up in, near the airport and Spenard Lake. Dad has lived in Alaska since 1948, when his family moved from Mobile, AL to Homer, AK to homestead. My 96 year old grandmother still lives there, now a funky little town of about 5,000 where the folks are both outdoorsy and artsy and which prides itself in its Halibut fishing. Go there. 
Halibut Cove, a boat ride across Kachemak Bay
I managed to get out on two long runs while I was home; however, by the time I went to upload my pictures, they had mysteriously disappeared. GAH! My first run was with my friend Jeremy (aka AK Worm), which started after 8pm. The plan was to run up Near Point Summit, one of the many peaks in the Chugach Mountains that surround Anchorage. 

Running from Jeremy's house to the peak and back was around 14 miles and about 3k of gain. While the trails were rolling at first, once you get to the TH, they get steep. I wasn't a mountain runner last time I visited and I got a quick education in the difference between Alaska trails and Colorado trails. In Colorado, the trails were made for burros, mules & horses with endless switchbacks that eventually get you to the top. In Alaska, they go straight UP for the most part. I actually like that better, but I'm not as good at it.

Got some great pics on the way up and at the top; unfortunately, the only one that survived was the blurry phone cam shot I took at the summit. I estimated the winds up there to be 40-50 mph. 
Taken at 10:30 pm
Going down steep trails are only a problem if a) my knees are unhappy or b) I've got toenail bruising. My knees were fine, but as I lost my first toenail the day before, it was a bit tender. That made for an uncomfortable descent, despite being bandaged. Since it got bruised in mid-Feb and again in April, I suppose it was time for it to finally die. 

This run also reminded me of the need for bug dope with plenty of deet as the mosquitoes had a feast on my legs. Running in the woods at dusk didn't help matters... oy vey. J-man counted 27 bites just on my calves alone.

The second run I went on was on the Bird Ridge Trail, which is a 2.5 mile trail just off the Seward Hwy about 15 miles south of Anchorage. While it's a short hike, my Garmin registered 3,200 ft of gain. Alaskans like their hill climbs, folks. Once again, the only surviving snap from that run was this one:
Running along the spine of the ridge
If you look down to where Turnagain Arm meets the road, you'll see how far I came in those 2.5 miles. Too bad the clouds were low, or you'd see the complete view of the Kenai Mountains. I took another shot of Penguin Peak that was posted to Instagram too. Great place for hill training, despite being only 5 miles roundtrip.

I always plan my Alaska trips around July 4th so I can watch our premier race, the 1.75 mile hill climb up 3,022 foot Mt Marathon and back down. One of the oldest footraces in the country, it started as a bar bet in 1908 with the first organized race held in 1915. With the lottery system allowing finishers to gain automatic entry into the next year's race, it has been very difficult for never-rans to get in to. (They changed the lottery rules in 2013 to allow more first-timers in... yea!) This year, former USATF Mountain Runner of the Year, Rickey Gates was given an entry, adding some eliteness to the competition. Now in it's 86th year, thousands of people descend on the little coastal town of Seward to enjoy the race, the parade, the food and fun.

J and I headed down to meet up with the Rinner clan, dear family friends of ours whose kids grew up with us. Their eldest son Shane is my age and though we fought as kids, we became friends as teens and now look forward to hanging out when I manage to get up to AK. On a side note, Jeremy (Worm) is married to Shane's sister, Tiff. Another sibling, Brandon, is a runner who specializes in hill climbs and his wife Shani and kids run their respective races, so there's several Rinners to cheer for.
Got an all-day date with the huz, thanks to Grammy & Poppa
We got there just in time to see the junior race, which takes kids 7 - 17 halfway up the mountain and back. Both of Brandon's kids finished well, but I didn't get a pic of either of them that turned out. The women's race was next and after the start, I planted myself at the base of the mountain so I could see them on the final stretch before the finish in downtown Seward. A rookie named Christy Marvin won the race in a time of 53:20.
Don't mess with these tough gals
You can see the runners going up the middle and down the right side
The wet and rocky chute at the base of the mountain
18 year old Ann Spencer was 3rd. Her dad Bill held the CR for 32 yrs
Shani Rinner in full-on hammer mode
There was a parade prior to the start of the men's race and I took the opportunity to jump on the open course and hike up the mountain to get some shots from the turnaround point. After reaching the half-way point about 20 min before the start, I thought I might be able to make it all the way to the summit before they did. I managed to get there with about 10 minutes to spare, which was good 'cause it was cold up there and I was looking forward to some downhillin' on the shale field.

The half-way point
The turnaround point, overlooking a foggy Resurrection Bay
Me and my Salomons waiting for the first runners to arrive
Rickey Gates came first
2011 champ Eric Strabel  was about to close the gap
Brandon Rinner came in with the front runners and set a PR
The descent looked scarier than it was
Runners going up and down
I had a ball going down this as I tucked myself into the gaps
I took a bit more time going down the little waterfall (aka "The Gut")
Eric Strabel went on to win and take down the 32 year old course record held by Bill Spencer with a time of 42:55, with Rickey coming in only 9 seconds behind him. I hope we'll see more elite mountain runners participating in this race to add some spice to things. 
Had me a spicy Reindeer Dog... Alaska food!
This race is always a highlight of my trip back home. This time, after going up and down the mountain myself, I realized that I'd love to get in some year and run it too. Maybe our next trip will be the year I get in? We'll see...

If you get a chance to go to Anchorage, the must eat place is Moose's Tooth. We ate there no less than three times. We enjoyed the Rockefeller, Apricot, Spicy Thai, Brewhouse, & the Avalanche pizzas. We also had an early anniversary dinner (8 years!) at their sister eatery, Bear Tooth Grill where I had the best salad of my life, the El Oso, and some delicious Alaskan blackened fish tacos. I sampled J's seafood chowder and it was really good. The Midtown Brown was my ale of choice, while J's was the Smokin' Willie Porter, courtesy of Broken Tooth Brewing. As if it wasn't obvious, the guys that started all three were rock climbers...

The only downer was that it was cloudy the entire time, so there were never any great views of the surrounding mountains. To have more than a week of clouds is unusual, but Alaska weather can be similar to the PacNW. I realized once again, how much I need to live in a sunny place. Clouds just drag me down after a few days. I totally lost my will to get out and run after about 5 days of that. Word on the street is that it's been sunny every day since we've left.  Boo hiss.

Anyway...it's a busy week with company coming and a house to still unpack, so expect a Hardrock report this coming weekend.

Happy Trails,



  1. Nice post, Alaska looks so interesting. And why didn't you "run" the race? And did they ever find that guy who went missing during the race?
    Looking forward to your Hardrock post...

    1. Steve, I didn't put my name in the lottery... didn't even cross my mind, but next time I can get up there you bet I will!

      Never found the guy that disappeared last year...after being at the top and easily being able to get my bearings, all I can think is that he fell into some thick brush that SAR couldn't get to. Very sad.

  2. Great photos of the course. Thanks for sharing. There's always some crazy folks from the area in the race. Never seen it up close before.--Lori

    1. What?? I had no idea that anyone from the Springs would be up there. Awesome! Miss y'all!