Monday, June 20, 2016

Alaska Road Trip Report

My first trip with Nick along with his fiancee Cara.  It was a bit of a downer to not have my own significant other but I still enjoyed the trip very much.  I left work on time after my day on Tuesday and arrived in Atlanta that night without a hitch. I did have a close call in the parking lot of Nick's place when a car nearly backed into me.  Not a good start.  That would be the last of my logistical troubles.  Our flight included a long layover in Chicago's O'Hare so we had a sit down lunch at Chili's.  From Chicago, it was a 6 hour flight into Anchorage but we gained 3 hours.  Anchorage is located just north of the bay and surrounded by majestic mountains that are more beautiful than Colorado.  I saw stunning views on glaciers, lakes and snow capped peaks on my way in just before landing.

We arrived around 7:30 PM local time to crystal clear blue skies with the sun in a position that suggested it was mid-afternoon.  Even though my body was tired from the travel, my mood immediately became brighter shortly after landing.   All 4 days were a perfect sunny and 75, which is about 10 degrees above average for June in Alaska but it does hardly ever rain in early summer.  If anything, it was actually a little on the warm side when we went hiking and during the race. The sunset occurred at about 11:40 PM with the sunrise being around 3:30 AM and twilight lasts longer the further you are from the equator so yes, it was plenty light enough at midnight for outdoor activities and I'm not sure that it was completely dark even at 2 AM.  On an impulse, I went out for a 1 Mile junk run after midnight just because I could.  It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to run in the daylight at midnight.  Some people were worried about how it would affect my sleep.  That answer was not that much.  I often felt tired at 10:00 PM but got a second wind around 11:00.  Once I settled in to bed however, I slept uninterrupted for 6-8 hours every night.
Midnight in Alaska

The next day was a 4 hour drive north up to Denali National Park with stunning views all the way.  The National Park is actually near Fairbanks, which is as far north as you can go by car.  In Fairbanks, the sunset is after midnight and even the twilight is very short.  Once in the park, we embarked on a strenuous 4 mile hike up and down a smaller mountain.  Pictures don't do it justice but we saw some incredible views of nearby snow capped mountains including Mt. McKinley (aka Denali) in the distance with a peak over 20,000 feet, which is the highest in North America.  From there, it was back down to our cabin in the town of Talkeetna about 2 hours south of the park on the way back to Anchorage.

On Friday, we drove through the town of Talkeetna and saw even better views of Mt. McKinley at 3 different locations including an overlook, a lake and a lodge.  My only complaint was that because of a late start to the day and a sit down breakfast, we had to scratch Denali State Park due to time constraints.  The State Park is closer still to the mountain and likely had even better views.  Still, what we did see was breath taking so I did not gripe much.  Instead, we went to a Reindeer farm, which also included a bison and some elk.  We were back in Anchorage around 4 PM so we picked up our numbers at a small expo then later went to dinner at a very good but overpriced steakhouse before settling in for an earlier night.  I got a few compliments on my southern accent when talking to other runners in the hotel.

Race day:
The race did not start until 9:00 AM and I would have preferred earlier because temps warmed to near 70 by the finish with sunny skies.  Yes, in Alaska it was a bit warmer than ideal.  I cautioned myself not to go out too fast but the first mile was almost all downhill so I ran a 7:21, which I figured was probably the equivalent of a 7:40 on flats.  Miles 2 and 3 were mostly flat along a bike trail overlooking the bay.  I deliberately held back in Mile 3 and was pleased to see a solid 7:45 split.  My realistic goal was to beat my time from KC (1:45:58) but a sub-1:43 (7:50 pace) would have been my fastest time since 2014 and it appeared that I had a good shot at it in the early miles.
7:21-downhill (7:21)
7:39- flats (15:00)
7:45- holding back (22:45)

The hills came steady in Mile 4 with only 1 break that was level not downhill,  My pace was still respectable given the terrain but I could feel a massive fade on the way.  I should still be relatively fresh after Mile 5 and that was not happening.  The next mile had one major decline with a nice view of the sea but the rest was rolling and mostly climbs.  The elevation rose close to 200 feet over the previous 2 miles and Mile 6 was similar but it was in the full sun next to an airfield, which was not very exciting.  By this point, I was in survival mode and not checking my watch very often.
8:00- uphill (30:45)
8:00- rolling (38:45)
8:21- cramping (47:06)

Just before the halfway point after a brief downhill, we turned off the road onto a trail section.  I thought it would be gravel but it was all grass and bumpy with lots of turns.  There was one short but very steep climb, which I walked and the following downhill was so steep that you had to brake or else you would have fallen.  Mercifully, the grass trail was only about a Mile though it felt a lot longer.  Once we got back on the bike trail, I managed only a slight resurgence.  My groin was cramped up pretty badly and it was now obvious that the pills were off.  When I saw my split at Mile 8, I knew that even with a ghastly fade, a sub-2 was assured and it was likely to be in the low 1:50s.  Unfortunately, Mile 9 was also nearly all uphill and again, I had to take a short walk break and did not get much of a resurgence in Mile 10.
9:34-technical trail (56:40)
8:48- back on pavement (65:28)
9:21-uphill (74:49)
9:04- back down, water stop (83:53)

With 5K to go, we were now on the same bike trail heading back to where we started so I knew that since the first mile was nearly all downhill, the last mile would be nearly all uphill.  Fighting imbalances and feeling the effects of under training, I'm sure I let up on this section.  I knew what was coming and really did not want to have to walk those last hills so close to the finish so I saved the little energy I had and yes, I did manage run up all those hills.  My gun time was 1:55 flat but my watch time was 1:54:52.  I was just hoping to be in the top half in my age group but was pleasantly surprised to learn that I had placed 19th of 82 (77th percentile).
9:22 flats (1:33:15)
10:04 saving it (1:43:19)
9:57 uphill (1:53:16)
1:36 uphill (1:54:52) last .17

Pills were clearly off and once I got back to the room, it was confirmed that Lithium was the culprit.  An adjustment was needed and it was simply unfortunate that it happened on race day.  Fortunately, the methylation support prevented a total disaster.  If not for that, I would have been well over 2 hours or worse had to drop out after Mile 3.  Still, realistically I am not much better than the 1:45 I ran in KC on this course even if the pills were on target.  Over the past 8 months, I have done only 3 runs longer than 10 miles and 2 of those were half marathon races.   Steady training at 40 MPW with some quality should get me well under 1:40.  The long-term formula should be set by the end of the month and I'm going with it until the Fall.  That should allow for more consistent training.  If I'm not much better by then, I must see a functional medicine doctor even if it costs a fortune.

Race organization:
Only fair overall.  The scenery was terrific by the bay but I could have done without the trail and air base section.  Instead, I would have liked more downtown running.  I suppose for a relatively small event however, you can't shut down traffic all day.  The race distance was accurate but mile markers were short by a tenth of a Mile all the way which made for a long Mile 13.  Also, beer was SOLD at the after party.  IMHO, at least 1 beer should be included in your entry fee.  If you want more after that, then you pay.  All in all however, a sub-par race experience really did NOT put a damper on the trip overall.

We got cleaned up and went out to lunch where I had fish and chips and 2 beers then took a walk down by the bay for one last photo op before a walk around a downtown city park.  By mid-afternoon, it was time to go back to the airport.  I could have taken a red eye and gotten back to Atlanta by Sunday morning or early afternoon but I can never sleep on a plane so I decided to take an overnight layover in Seattle.  This also enabled me to catch up with my friend Beulah from Clemson.  We had a nice breakfast together at Denny's and she took me back to the airport.  The flight back to Atlanta also went without a hitch.  Maybe I could have made it back to B'ham that night but it would have been very uncomfortable and I would not have arrived until midnight because of the time change and I did not plan on coming to work on Monday anyway.  Fortunately, Nick gave me a key and allowed me to crash so I had an easy drive back and plenty of time to decompress.

No comments: