Dr. J on Running

33 Big Wildlife Runs Moose's Tooth Marathon, Anchorage, AK

18 August 2013

When my father-in-law Ron saw the dome train on TV and asked Marla to go with him to Alaska, I adapted my travel plans to give him an experience of a lifetime. Thus, our journey started on Thursday morning with a puddle-jumper from Syracuse to Chicago, a short wheelchair jaunt through O’Hare, and a First Class six-hour non-stop flight to Anchorage. Steak – that’s what’s for dinner in First Class.

I selected seats on the right side of the plane. The scenery changed gradually from farmland in Wisconsin and Minnesota to desolation in Saskatchewan and Alberta. Then nature treated us to a smorgasbord of ice and snow as we flew over the Yukon into Alaska. We saw bright blue glaciers dotting the pure white snow. As the weight of ice squeezes out air molecules over years and decades, pure ice turns bright blue under a clear sky.

Our corner room on the 20th floor of the downtown Anchorage Marriott offered a clear view of the Elmendorf and the coast, as well as easy access to the Concierge Lounge. Except for two platefuls of bite-size French pastry, I maintained my Paleolithic diet of protein, vegetables and fruits. Come to think of it, with its limited agriculture and heavy reliance on hunting and fishing, Alaska is a Paleo heaven. Bigger than Texas, California and Montana combined, Alaska has a smaller population than metropolitan Buffalo.

On Friday morning, I put Marla and Ron on the Denali Goldstar dome train for their eight-hour trip north to Denali National Park. As they enjoyed the great weather and beautiful scenery, I returned to the hotel to enjoy more eggs and bacon, and took the first of many naps. I ate a humongous lunch of corned beef, cabbage, potatoes and carrots at Humpy’s, and visited with Bill Rodgers – who autographed my bib - and Jeff Galloway at the marathon expo. There, I saw also Mike and Deb of Colorado, whom we had met at Sugarloaf Maine in May. I liked the long-sleeve race shirt, but required glasses to read the tiny font of the word Alaska.

Six daytime naps notwithstanding, I slept nine hours Friday night. I walked around town on Saturday, shopped for Ulu knives and salmon, and tasted a reindeer sausage at a hot dog stand on 5th Avenue. I reunited with my Ohio friends for lunch. I had met Mike, Jenny and Tom in Mississippi and Tennessee in 2012, then Jenny and Tom in Maryland in 2013. Patti and Brad joined them for Alaska. We ate at the Brewhouse, and we exchanged stories of past marathons and hopes for Alaska.

I enjoyed a Paleo dinner of steak, sweet potato and broccoli at Outback Steakhouse, then I picked up Marla and Ron from the Anchorage Train Depot. Ron seemed happy, and Marla seemed indigested. She blamed the bison chili for the GI problems that plagued her for the rest of the trip. A late dinner at Humpy’s took forever, as I waited anxiously to reunite with my pillow for a restless night.

Rain welcomed the runners at the start line on Sunday morning. I visited with Lois, the 50-Staters Club president, and Drew whom I had met in Maine. I joined the Marathon Maniacs for a group picture, and returned repeatedly to the hotel for bathroom breaks. Marla and Ron enjoyed their vantage point to watch the start of the race from their room. I wished good luck to my Ohio friends, visited with Mike and fellow Maniacs, and awaited the start.

I settled into a four-and-four breathing pattern as we ran around downtown. I waved repeatedly to Ron and Marla every time the course gave me a clear view of the top corner of the Marriott. I splashed through puddles and enjoyed the steady drizzle. I ran the first mile in just over 10 minutes. Lindsey and Maniac Vern joined me for the next five miles, and we enjoyed conversation and a steady pace.

An Alaskan from Eagle River, Lindsey worked as a river guide while preparing for medical studies. The Moose’s Tooth Marathon in Anchorage was her first marathon, so Vern and I imparted Maniac wisdom on our new friend. In return, Lindsey shared with us Alaskan stories, making the wet start of the race a memorable highlight of my Alaskan adventure. Lindsey kept me company until my first walking-eating break. I saw her at the two turn-around sections afterwards. She went on to finish in 4:47.

At the start, the race director warned us of a mama-bear and her cub around mile 9. I slowed down around mile 8 to conserve energy, and joined a group of slower runners. In the event of a bear encounter, my survival strategy was to outrun the plodders, not the bear. Fortunately, I saw no bear, although fellow Maniac Mike reported a sighting. My only wildlife sighting was that of a moose in the last part of the race.

Safely past mile 9, I resumed my deliberate pace, and reached the half in 2:21. In retrospect, this was my fastest first half since I started my 50-state quest 30 marathons ago. For that fast start, I paid dearly later. I planned to run-walk the second half, but a variety of cramps and pains intervened. At 19 miles, I resolved to walk the rest of the way, and projected a finish around 5:45.

The race was extremely well-organized. The aid stations were properly spaced, well stocked, and cheerfully staffed. The course was well-marked, and followed mostly paved trails along the coast and through the wilderness. The Y-shape with two turn-arounds allowed us to watch the leaders and trailers alike. The low altitude was deceiving, as rolling hills and turns spiced up the monotony. The early drizzle kept away bikers and hikers, but they came out in droves after noon.

Lia, a native of Anchorage, joined me around mile 20. The veteran of numerous triathlons on her first marathon, her goal was to finish before the 6:30 cut-off. We chatted as we walked, and threw in the occasional jog whenever someone passed us. Within a couple of miles, we were doing a decent amount of running, and approached the 25-mile hill with confidence. We walked up the hill and around the corner, and resumed running for the finish line. We finished in 5:26:10, a far cry from my self-pity projection of 5:45.

Marla and Ron watched me cross the finish line – probably the highlight of their Alaska adventure, certainly mine! We ate immediately at the hotel restaurant, before the shower and mandatory post-run nap. At 6pm, we joined Mike and Deb for dinner at Orso, before returning to the Concierge Lounge for éclairs and tiramisu.

After a restless night that I spent in the hotel lobby to allow Marla some sleep, we visited Wal-Mart and the Ulu factory for some last minute shopping. We returned to the airport, and embarked on a 22-hour triple-hop return trip home. The Seattle-Chicago red eye brought a pleasant surprise – our flight attendant Maria was a Marathon Maniac, ending a great trip on a high note.

Dr Kamal Jabbour completed his 33nd marathon and 33nd state in the company of family and friends. Dr. J's RUNNING Column appears in Cyberspace whenever endorphins call.

© 2013 Dr Kamal Jabbour