First, let me tell you about the course. Except for the first few miles, it’s beautiful. The first few miles, you are running along a bike path along the Glenn Highway, heading out of Anchorage. The bike path is maybe 20 feet or so off the highway, goes gradually but steadily uphill, and it’s probably the least pleasant part of the course. Once you leave the bike path, you run along a street crossing the highway, and continuing for another couple miles towards the foothills flanking the west side of Anchorage. From there you transition to tank trails used by the military. The tank trails are very hard packed gravel.
You then traverse a very short (less than half a mile) single track trail through the woods, and emerge onto the Chester Creek bike path that meanders through town in an elongated greenbelt, which you follow until you reach Westchester Lagoon. From Westchester, you wind through neighborhood streets up some fairly steep hills, to the finish on the Park Strip in downtown Anchorage. As an aside, it seems like sheer torture to make you run up steep hills at mile 25 of a marathon, but by that time you know you’re almost done and just want to get to the finish anyway.
I really, really struggled with this race. It was way harder than it should have been. Part of it is my own fault. I was very tired. I stayed up late, then had trouble sleeping. At some point, with all my tossing and turning, I worried about sleeping through my alarm, which made it even harder to sleep. Never mind that I never manage to sleep through my alarm on work days. I’m not sure why I so often think I will on race day. My alarm went off, and I did wake up, a couple hours earlier than normal. With the late, restless night, and early morning, I was exhausted before I even started. The other major physical issue was my stomach. For whatever reason, I struggled with an upset stomach for the first half of this race, and spent an inordinate amount of time in port-a-johns along the course. (TMI, I know. You’re welcome.)
But I think that what really did me in was my own mind. From when we first got out on the bike path along the highway, my brain was stuck being Negative Nelly and I could not shake it. I probably spent 25 of the 26.2 miles thinking about how hard this run was, how running along the highway sucked, how hot I was, how my new hydration pack was too loose and moving around too much, how crappy my stomach felt, and later, how much my feet hurt, etc.
I do remember having a couple of minutes on the single track trail enjoying running through the woods. And there was a spot around mile 15 that I remember being glad that my stomach had settled down and that I was starting to feel ok. Of course that thought was promptly followed up by “yeah, now that the race is more than half over.” I also spent way more time than I should have telling myself that I didn’t really care that I wasn’t going to meet my time goal, because after all, this is really just a training run. I kept trying to shrug it off and just enjoy the run, but I couldn’t. And by the time I got to the hills at the end of the course, they were just one more thing to get through before the finish and I could stop running.
This was a really weird experience for me, because I generally really enjoy running. If I had the thoughts on every run that I had all through this race, I would hate running!
I really don’t think any of this was due to the race itself. The course really was beautiful, and aid stations and port-a-potties were every 2 or 3 miles. And once I passed the halfway point, all of the aid stations had orange wedges. I have to say, those orange wedges were little slices of heaven!
I put Tailwind in my hydration pack, and as I have done successfully before, I made it about half the recommended strength, and planned on supplementing with typical running fuel; gels, sports beans, or honey stingers. The Tailwind was fine, but with my stomach acting up, I couldn’t manage the other fuel. Even M&M’s they were handing out at about mile 12 did not go down well. I definitely would have been better off this day with the Tailwind at full strength, and only using that. Like I said, though, the orange wedges were wonderful, juicy and sweet, and they didn’t upset my stomach at all.
By about mile 20, my feet were getting very sore, but once I realized that they hurt less when I was running than when I was walking, I just kept running. I eventually crossed the finish line, for which I was thankful.
There was a first aid tent with ice baths for your feet, and I took advantage of that. The ice water hurt and felt good at the same time. After that, since once I was done running, my stomach felt a little better. I had some cinnamon bread from Great Harvest Bread Company, and half a grilled cheese sandwich from Franz Bread, which went a long ways to restoring me. I was in a much better mood after that.