Two Saturdays ago, I ran my 12th half marathon, the Mayor’s Midnight Sun Half Marathon. This was also my 13th race of the year and my 7th state on the 50 State + DC quest. Needless to say, this race crossed off a lot of several lists. I decided to run with Lauren for the race and try and get her a new PR. She had run her first half marathon in Pittsburgh and she did great, but I knew she had so much in here to crush that PR. I also just wanted to take photos all along the course and just have fun! Running with Lauren was the best decision I could have made for this race.
On Friday afternoon, Mike, Lauren and I headed to the Alaska Airlines Center to pick up our bibs and look over the expo. I guess they have never really had an expo before, so we figured we’d check it out. It was quaint, but had everything you’d expect of an expo. Bib pick up was super easy and took no time at all. In fact, we ended up picking up bibs for Michele (@NYCRunningMama) and her husband Paul as they couldn’t make it into Anchorage that day and there was no race day pick up. Secretly, we were really happy to do this so that we could then meet Michelle in person!
The start time for the half marathon wasn’t until 9am, so race morning didn’t consist of any 5am wake up calls. I was pretty excited about this. We ended up getting up around 7:15am and were at the start line by 8am. The first order of duty was to check our bags. We didn’t know what the situation was with bag check, so we took only changing essentials to check and then Mike’s friends were bringing our other bags. When we got there, we quickly found out you could have checked any bag and they actually put it in big clear plastic bag and label that bag. Super convenient actually and if we would have known (we didn’t see anything on the website about gear check) we would have just brought everything with us.
We then met up with Michelle and her husband Paul. It was a quick hello, but she is just as awesome in person as one would think! I then got to meet up with some other fifty state club members and got to be in my first pre-race picture! Score! After a quick bathroom run, we quickly found ourselves in the starting corral and were sent off by what was probably the quietest starting pistol.
The first half mile of the course was through some neighborhood. However, the first maybe 200 feet of the course seemed to go straight downhill. The problem with this is that sure it felt good going down, but we knew and had in our heads for 13 more miles that we had to go back UP the hill. Once we were out of the neighborhood, we headed onto the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. It was really only for 2-3 runners wide, so it was really congested. It didn’t help that a lot of walkers started in the front of the pack and some not being polite and taking up a lot of the trail.
Since I was running with Lauren, I tried to let her dictate the pace. I knew I could go out pretty quickly and I didn’t want to do that and burn the pace. We were honestly more concerned about staying together and just doing the bob and weave through the crowd. You quickly realize this trail is gorgeous! It was along the water way and it was something else!
Once on the trail, it was mostly flat for these miles. A few small bumps, but nothing great. In the neighborhood we did have 1 decent climb (right after the first downhill) and one more downhill after that. Having that decently flat trail then was a nice start to the race. These miles seemed to fly right by. We did a quick walk break at mile 2, but otherwise we trekked right on through.
At the end of mile 2 we started heading a bit inland on the Coastal Trail and started to look a bit like Fern Gully. Then as we hit mile 3, we also came to the first decent hill. It almost had 2 stages of the climb. You got to one point, flattened out a little and then had a bit more of a climb to the actual top. Since we were on this trail for 75% of the race, we didn’t expect to see a lot of spectators. Well, at the top of this hill, we had some good cheers bringing us up!
At the top, we actually turned left and went away from the trail. Lauren and I both commented that you could smell the local wild fires. It was only in this spot that we could.
From here the next 2.5 miles were on roads behind the Anchorage airport. It was nice to have the space to run as the pack had thinned out mostly by mile 2, but wasn’t all that thing just yet. We also had some decent climbs on this part of the race. It just seemed to keep going up and up at points.
We had a lot of run on these miles and actually met a lot of friends and chatted with them. We even saw another girl running with a Pittsburgh shirt on. I don’t think seemed as happy to see another runner from Pittsburgh as we were. Oh well. Through these miles I had made an internal goal to get Lauren to the finish line under 2:45. I didn’t exactly tell her this, but when we passed mile 5 around 57 minutes, I knew we’d be able to hit this goal. Lauren was still doing great and even when we did some walk breaks, they was some intense power walking happening.
This is where is got interesting. Earlier in the week, Mayor’s Marathon posted these photos of this trail and said it was looking good and ready for runners. I was pretty confused as I thought the course was all on roads or the paved Coastal Trail. Well, I quickly found out that for 3/4 of a mile, we had some intense grassy/mud trail that was our cut through from the airport roads back to the Coastal Trail. For local Pittsburghers, this trail just reminded me and looked much like sections of the Rachel Carson Trail.
It was at mile 6.25 that was saw an aid station and then runners just taking off right into the woods. I was hesitant at first, but as we got into the trail, I was actually starting to love it. I actually passed a lot of people during this mile and took off through some parts but making sure Lauren was still behind and moving forward. It definitely got me jonesing to do some trail running back home. It wasn’t all flat either. There were some good climbs and one solid downhill that I just took off on. I must have passed 10 people alone on this one downhill portion. It was fantastic! Finally with about 50 feet to go on the trail (I could see the paved Coastal Trail ahead), my left ankle just felt weak and boom, rolled it. I recovered quickly and it didn’t seem to hurt to put weight on it, but I could feel some discomfort. At this point, we had half the race to go and Lauren had to get that PR.
We were back on the Coastal Trail and really having a good time. Okay, well I was having a good time and I think Lauren for the most part was having a good time! I just had to put the ankle discomfort behind me.
Finally around mile 8, I told Lauren the goal I had to get under 2:45. She asked if it was really doable and I said at the rate we are going, yes it totally is. She seemed to believe me but at the same time had a little bit of hesitation as she asked how much wiggle room we had for the end.
Somewhere around mile 9, we had a Team in Training coach cheering all of the runners on and telling us for the next 1.5 miles we had downhills. We saw so many Team in Training runners out there and the support their coaches give, even to known Team in Training runners is just amazing. I told Lauren to maximize these downhills as much as possible at this point in the race.
Also around this mile, we noticed a gorgeous overlook. We headed over and there were no signs about a steep drop or dangerous overlook but basically it went straight down. Holy cow was it scary. We got a quick picture and then was in the game.
At mile 10, I knew our goal of 2:45 was obtainable. I told Lauren we had to a 40 minute 5k and again she gave me a look like really, do you think that’s possible. I knew she had it in her, I just would help push her along these miles when she would need it. Mile 10 was mostly a downhill and started into the flat part of the beginning of the Coast Trail we ran in miles 1-3. I could feel more discomfort in my ankle on the downhill, so I was actually happy to get back on the flat part.
We passed several people in these miles that looked like they were hurting, so we cheered them on as we passed them and told them they were doing great and just less than a 5k to go. Other than the discomfort in my ankle, I was actually feeling great. Legs were doing well and I felt like I could go on for miles.
I believe it was only twice in the last 1.5 miles that I pushed Lauren from walking back to running. She really was doing an amazing job and I wanted to push to that goal, so I didn’t mind speaking up to push her there. We finally got off the Coastal Trail and back into those neighborhood streets we started on. It was actually at this fork that we met up with the marathon runners as well.
Turning into the neighborhood, we knew we had 2 decent climbs ahead of us. The first was basically as you got off the trail and the second was right into the finish. There was a third in there, but the middle hill I didn’t think was as bad.
As we got up the first hill, we did some walking. I kept checking my watch as I knew we were getting close to the finish and to our goal, so it was here where I really pushed to start running again. I just gave small distance goals. During the second climb, I told her to get to a stop sign and then when we got to that stop sign, I pushed it to a car. She did great getting to each one and we knew we had one more downhill and then the beast hill to the finish.
We took momentum into the downhill and gave it all we got. As we turned right into the last uphill I saw the 26 mile marker. Only .2 miles to go and basically it was all uphill. Seriously, cruel and glad I wasn’t running the full at this point.
There we so many people lining the hill and cheering on the runners to get up the hill that it was hard not to push yourself. We were walking up and I kept turning and telling Lauren to push hard up and as soon as we crested to run and give it your all.
Sure enough, you literally hit the top of the hill and headed onto a grassy area and had maybe 100 yards to the finish line. We picked it up and got across that finish with huge smiles on our face. Such an amazing crowd support at the end, it was hard to not smile about the finish and feel the support of the cheers.
As soon as were done, I gave Lauren a big hug, we got our medals and then picked up our finisher’s shirt. They don’t give you a shirt to pick up at the expo, but rather you get the official finishers shirt when you are done. I thought it would be a pain since I figured water, food, etc would be in the finishing chute, but there were only small cups of water and my hands were pretty free. We picked up our bags from bag check and then went over to the changing tents. This part was great! They just had a fully covered 10′ x 10′ tent for men and one for women that you could change in. It was actually nice to shed off the sweater clothes, take some baby wipes to the salt crusted skin and change immediately into some warm dry clothes. Big plus to Mayor’s Marathon staff for this!
After we changed, we spotted Mike and I actually went into the med tent to get some ice. The guy asked if before he gave me ice if I could soak my ankle in the big tub of water behind the tent. I was puzzled, but said sure. They had set up 3 plastic kiddie pools of ice COLD ice water for runners to use. I immediately plopped on a chair and put both feet in and Lauren quickly followed. In the pool next to us, a guy was soaking his whole body and telling us how he just finished his 120th marathon. These kiddie pools were the best idea ever and again props to the race staff for having these. I think every race should have these!!
Once we were done soaking, we headed to pick up some food given out by the race. They had oranges, watermelons, grilled cheese sandwiches and this amazing cinnamon bread from a local bakery. I actually got 2 huge slices of the bread as it tasted so good and was easy on the stomach. The one disappoint with the food area is that they had a water fill up station, but no bottles to give you. I understand the money in saving from buying bottles to give out, but they did not warn us and none of us had bottles with us. It was annoying not to have water after the race. Oh well. If that is the only pitfall to this race, inn the grand scheme of things, it’s not that bad.
After grabbing some food, we headed for the beer dome. We figured runners would get one free beer, but alas, they did not. We didn’t see the point of paying for crappy beer so we left and headed to meet Mike’s friends since they also had our bags.
Once we were all put together, we headed to the downtown area to take part in the Summer Solstice Festival and enjoy some of the Saturday Market. While at the market, we grabbed lunch and I figured sine in Alaska, I’d select a post race meal that suited the state, so I grabbed a reindeer dog. It was pretty good.
I was so glad that I could get this half marathon completed while in Alaska. I figured if I was going all this way, I might as well work to get this state crossed off the list. Most importantly though, I was so proud of Lauren. She really pushed herself and shaved 26 minutes off of her PR!!! It might not have been the fastest half marathon for (in fact, I think it was my 2nd slowest), but in terms of how much fun I had, it ranked number 1 and I wouldn’t trade that in for anything.
Official finish time:
114/162, Females, 30-34