Race Report: 39th Annual Anchorage Mayor’s Half Marathon 2012

2 07 2012

The 39th annual Mayor’s Marathon was held on June 24, 2012, in Anchorage on one of the hottest race days in memory (according to a few local runners), and I couldn’t help but feel it was my fault.  After all, when I ran the January 2010 Walt Disney World Half in Orlando, it ended up 34 degrees with sleet in supposedly balmy Florida.  Go figure!  I guess if I was a mutant, I’d have to be Storm.

Race weekend, as always, started with the Expo.  Unlike the Rock & Roll Series or some of the large events in Chicago (where I live about 50 miles outside the city), this was a modest affair held at the Sheraton in Anchorage.  A handful of booths promoted the usual attire, products and services, but the coolest attraction was the chance to be photographed with a real live moose.  Sort of.

Along with a Youth Cup, contests on race day included a full marathon (individual as well as 4-person relay), a half and a five mile race.  I did the half-marathon which started, along with the 5 miler, at the West High School at 9:00 a.m. Saturday.  The marathon’s starting point was located at Bartlett High School a few miles away.  Although the half and the full marathon started in different locations, they shared a common finish line.

I got to the venue at about 8:00 in order to scope things out and warm up.  As my fellow runners gathered and we clustered near the start, the first thing  I noticed was porta potty lines long and number of facilities a bit short so I made sure to get nature’s call sorted out before joining the crowd.  Soon the emcee began the standard announcements and indicated that 48 states as well as D.C. were represented at this year’s event with the largest number ever of Alaskan runners present.  A cheer spread throughout the crowd and the enthusiasm made me smile.  At about 8 minutes before the gun, we stopped to listen to a recording of possibly the Alaska state song (since we don’t do this in Illinois, I wasn’t sure what was going on at first) followed by the Star Spangled Banner.  Then the surge of participants continued toward the start line to wait for the race to begin.

I had read a race report a few months earlier which commented on lack of organization among runners at the line and how tough it was to wade through the charity walkers scattered at the starting area.  Finding this to be true, I tried to squeeze in somewhere near the back without getting stuck in the last tiers.  I am not fast by any means but I didn’t want to lose time by having to fight my way to my own pace group.  It seemed like people were spread out all over the place and it wasn’t easy to decide where to stand.  As we neared the final moments before the gun, they played “We Are the Champions” by Queen and “Rock & Roll” by Gary Glitter, two great songs to rev up that running motor.  Immediately before the gun sounded, the actual Mayor of Anchorage turned up to announce the start.  I was pleasantly surprised by that.  Even with the moniker of “Mayor’s” race I would never expect to see Rahm Emanuel if it was held in Chicago, so I found it quite nice (and his hair was perfect).

Gun having fired, off we went.  Runners, walkers and crazy moms with jog strollers, we sorted ourselves out and took off through the neighborhood.  As the crowd thinned out, we wound down Northern Lights Boulevard for probably about three miles.  I spotted several people in costume:  the usual tutus and fairy princesses among the girls and a variety of animals among the guys, including Mr. Moose here who posed for several fellow runners:

 At Mile 2  was an orchestra ensemble serenading us on a corner.

Closing in on Mile 3, I noticed people stopping and snapping photos at the sky.  There was an eagle on the utility pole.

My cell phone camera doesn’t have a good zoom but I tried:  

A short distance more and we turned off along the Coastal Trail and the vista changed from urban to glorious Alaskan countryside.  Despite all the photo ops, I was still making decent time at this point.  It was warm for Alaska (with a high of 72 degrees on June’s hottest day) but the sun wasn’t at its peak yet and the few early hills were modest.  Aid stations were plentiful, being located at 2.6, 4.8, 6.5, 8.2, 10, and 11.5 miles, and each participated in a contest for originality and enthusiasm which could gain them a $500 prize.  It was nice to be offered pretzels and orange slices along with sports drink and water.  A couple of stations had gummy bears, and one even featured a singer wailing a version of “Dream On” a la Steven Tyler.

It must have been somewhere around mile 7 that we passed the airport runway and the muscle cramps began.  I had done well in the increasing heat and was careful to drink enough, but I really hadn’t had much for breakfast and I was starting to get hungry.  My food focus this entire year has been on weight loss and it was thus a bit of a task for me to increase calories in the days preceding the race.  Both thighs began to curse me for that poor choice at around this point in the run.

After passing the airport we continued on for some time and then turned off into a forest where we left the road entirely and took to the trails.  I scarfed down a Clif Bar which brought me respite from fatigue but my legs were still painful  – not so severe as to stop me but enough to dampen my spirits a bit.  The cool and shade of the forest was refreshing and kept the heat at bay for a few miles.

At one point we found ourselves on a crowded paved path which was shared with the general public, and a disconcerting dance with the bicyclists began.  Approaching us from both front and rear, they zoomed past leaving breezes and sometimes impatience in their wake.  Unfortunately, a teenage girl riding with her family tried to weave between the runners but lost control and fell to the ground with a pitiful shriek.  Several runners and I turned to help her but her mom waved us off, saying “it’s okay, I’ve got it, I’ve got it.”  So awkwardly forward we went.

Mile 10 arrived to find me walking more than running.  I was hot and tired and my left IT band felt like someone was holding a cheese grater to it.  The marathoners’ course had merged with ours and an aid station volunteer cheerily called out to them: “only 16 more miles to go!”  For a split second, my blood ran cold.  “16 miles!” I thought, “are you freakin kidding me?!”  Then my mind registered reality and I breathed a sigh of relief.

Passing the mile marker, a girl asked me to take her photo beside it.  I obliged and we fell in together for a short distance.  She was visiting from Washington DC and, like me, was a “slow runner” who enjoyed destination races.  We chatted a while and walked along but I soon felt the urge to push on at a faster clip.  Cramps be damned, I just needed to finish.  So I picked up the pace and bade her farewell heading along solo for the final 5k.

Onward I went running and walking in no specific pattern, all thoughts of a PR having wilted under the sun many miles previous.  The final ½ mile of the course was a steep uphill dichotomy, brutal and hopeful all at the same time.  And then there it was:  the finish line.

I cruised across the finish as the announcer mispronounced my name and a volunteer handed me a medal.  Fatigued and exhilarated, hungry and happy, I ambled off toward cold water bottles and a large chunk of cinnamon bread with butter from Great Harvest Bakery.  There was a beer garden and plenty of festivities to enjoy but I had a cabin waiting for me at Denali and therefore no time to tarry.

Overall, the Mayor’s Marathon proved to be a fun outing and a race I would consider again if I didn’t have 38 more states on my bucket list.  Despite the crowded start line, annoying moms with jog strollers and dangerous mingling with leisure bikers, the route was a pleasant one (even with the killer hill at the end).  The scenery was gorgeous, the aid stations were plentiful and the after party looked promising.  Other than a bit more typical Alaska weather, I couldn’t have asked for more.  How did I do timewise?  I really couldn’t say.  My bib chip didn’t register and I wasn’t accurate with my Garmin so I simply must assume that it was “good enough.”