Category Archives: Running

Lost Lake Run Series: Looking Back and Looking Forward

I did indeed finish the Lost Lake Run back on August 23, 2014 as planned. But my finish was the only thing that happened as expected. In short, I was undertrained and overconfident. I floated for a couple of years on a large running base, meaning I could just hop of the couch and run a race. I thought I was still there last summer, but that was true only in my mind. My body didn’t follow suit, most likely due to the episode of pregnancy/childbirth/nursing that happened in between. (Duh, right?)

Anyway, I ran (mostly) the 16-mile point-to-point race, and it was beautiful. Just as everyone had said, it was 1/3 up through dense evergreen forest, 1/3 across a high ridge line, and 1/3 back down muddy single-track. The high points were pretty socked in, so it wasn’t much for views that day. I struggled mostly on the downhill portion. My legs were done at about 10 miles and pretty pissed about the pounding I was asking of them on the descent. After the finish I tried standing in line for a beer at the finish line festivities thinking that would help, but ended up just lying on my back in the gravel instead, which was probably more helpful.

I'm just pretending to run because people are looking.
I’m just pretending to run because people are looking.

On top of that, I didn’t reach my fundraising goal for Cystic Fibrosis. AND I didn’t ever run into Sabrina Smith-Walker, who I had interviewed for my Lost Lake Series, and who, it turns out, is the daughter-in-law of Alaska’s new Governor, Bill Walker. Who knew!

Overall, Lost Lake Run 2014 was a pretty big disappointment. The good news is, the disappointment is completely my fault. Wait, what? That’s good news? Yes, it is. It’s good news, because it means that I am fully in control of doing things different this year, and ensuring a great Lost Lake 2015, or at least maximizing my chances. Training? I’ll actually do some this year. Fundraising? I can put a whole heck of a lot more effort into that. Meeting up with people? Planning and communication go a long way.

So, I’ll just call 2014 Lost Lake BETA. Look out for the updated version, rolling out in the near future!

Didn't want to smile, but didn't want to not smile even more, so I just ended up with this.
Didn’t want to smile, but didn’t want to not smile even more, so I just ended up with this.
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Lost Lake Series: Surviving, Living, and Thriving with CF

Lost Lake Banner

When I decided to help fundraise for Cystic Fibrosis research through the Lost Lake Run, it was important to me to match some faces with the cause.  It’s one thing to raise money for a virtual cause, but quite a different experience to raise money for real people with lives, families, struggles, and goals.  One name that kept popping up in the Alaska CF sphere through my research was Sabrina Smith Walker, a local Anchorage runner who is both living with CF and active in the cause for spreading awareness as well as fundraising.  I asked her a few questions so she could tell her story about living with CF.

Donations to my Lost Lake Fundraiser are accepted here.

Donations to Sabrina’s Lost Lake Fundraiser are accepted here.

Vote to put Sabrina on the cover of Runner’s World magazine here!

 

Sabrina Smith Walker -  Cover model in the making!
Sabrina Smith Walker –
Cover model in the making!

How old were you when you were diagnosed? 

I was 4 years old when I was diagnosed, but I was born with Cystic Fibrosis. 

What was it like to grow up with CF? 

I was young when I was diagnosed with CF so I really didn’t know any different. I have memories of Dr’s visits. I remember my first hospitalization and trying to run away from the Dr. when he was trying to give me my first IV. I had an IV infiltrate during my first hospitalization and it left a scar on my left hand that I still have today. I have to take daily enzymes (5 with meals and 4 with snacks) to help me digest my food. When learning to swallow pills my parents would empty the pill contents into apple sauce and I would eat the apple sauce. 

I really didn’t know any different and I didn’t understand that I was following routines that were not normal to others until I got older. In elementary school, I would go to the nurse every day to do my nebulizers and receive postural drainage (a form of airway clearance).

Did you feel like you were different than other kids, or just a normal kid with some extra things to deal with from day to day? 

I didn’t understand I was different until I was older and realized that not everyone missed weeks of school for hospitalizations and not everyone took pills when they ate. 

In middle school I felt ashamed and embarrassed because it made me different, but I still ran x-country running and track and played volleyball. 

In high school I never mentioned my CF because I didn’t want to be seen as someone with limitations, I ran x-country and track. I could run a 6:05 mile in high school! 

I never felt normal because I was going to the Dr fairly often and I had to make room for all of my nebulizer treatments and airway clearance which took 2-3 hours every day. On top of it I wanted to hang out with friends and I competed in sports. I never made excuses for being tired and I really wanted to lead a “normal” life like all of my friends. 

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What are your interests now, and does CF create any limitations or opportunities for you?

As an adult with CF, I have learned a lot about myself as a person. I run and work out to stay healthy, I am accountable for my health. I have to be compliant with my medicines. This is my life and I am responsible for my health. 

I enjoy reading, hiking, traveling, I enjoy every moment with my husband and our two miniature dachshunds, I also cherish my friends and family. We have also been enjoying more bike rides because we bought a little trailer that our dachshunds can sit in and we tow them behind us!

This year I would like to learn how to ski.  

I would like to say that I would never let CF get in the way of my dreams or aspirations. I don’t ever want to make excuses for myself and say that I can’t do something because of CF. I can’t help the Dr’s appointments or the hospitalizations, but I can try my hardest to keep the hospitalization from happening. 

I went to college in Denver and received my bachelors in Elementary Education. I decided not to pursue that career because it was very hard to be around little kids who are sick all the time. I was always having lung infections and my last hospitalization was in 2011 when I was student teaching. 

How has running affected different aspects of your life and your management of CF?

Running is what keeps me alive! There is no better form of airway clearance for me. It gets the mucus moving and I can clear it out of my lungs. If I go for a 3 or 4 day break of no running or some form of exercise I can feel the difference in my lungs. The mucus builds up and it’s hard to breathe. I definitely huff and puff and cough junk up every time I run. 

It can be hard to find time to run because I work a full time job. The longer the race the more time is needed to train. I like to sign up for races because it gives me a goal to work towards and it holds me accountable for training. But I believe without running I would not be as healthy as I am so I make time to fit it in my schedule. 

How would you rate community awareness of CF, and how would increased awareness impact you? 

I would say that community awareness is so-so in Alaska. There are walks, garage sales, Shoot for the Cure, Lost Lake and probably other ways that bring the community together in Alaska to benefit Cystic Fibrosis. Those that personally know someone with Cystic Fibrosis are more inclined to participate in a CF related event. But if you asked most people who are running Lost Lake, they may not actually know what CF is and how much it affects a person who has it. 

More awareness could bring more fundraising opportunities to the table. The more fundraising and awareness that is available the closer we get to a cure. New and innovative medicines are made possible through donations.

What else would you like people to know about you and/or CF? 

I am 28 years old, I have CF and I am also a cancer survivor. I have been in remission from Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma for almost 9 years! I went through 4 months of CHOP-R chemotherapy and 1 month of radiation! 

I am grateful for each and every day that I am here on this earth!

A big thanks to Sabrina for sharing her story!  I’m so excited to be running Lost Lake next month in beautiful Seward, Alaska, and honored to be contributing to this worthy cause.  The outlook and quality of life for those living with CF is better every year thanks to increased awareness and fundraising efforts.  Please consider donating today!

Donations to my Lost Lake Fundraiser are accepted here.

Donations to Sabrina’s Lost Lake Fundraiser are accepted here.

Vote to put Sabrina on the cover of Runner’s World magazine here!

Crow Pass Trail: 24 Miles of Alaska

I mentioned in a post earlier this year that I was planning on running Crow Pass Crossing, the 24(ish?)-mile backcountry trail race, which takes place July 26th this year.  I have since decided it’s probably not in my best interest to run it this year, and will be saving up my registration fee for 2015.  That decision, however, didn’t prevent me from jumping on the opportunity to preview the course this past Sunday, June 29th.  I joined two other runners, Evan and Michelle, both of whom plan to race next month, for a casual hike/jog of the trail.

“Casual” is a funny term to use describing the trek.  For the actual race, runners are required to carry a substantial list of required gear to be prepared for anything.  The weather can change suddenly and extremely, and there are additional dangers, since it is, after all, the Alaskan backcountry.  Bears, moose, steep drop-offs, glacial rivers, snowfields, cow parsnip.  Then there are the logistics of just coordinating the point-to-point expedition.  Driving from trailhead to trailhead is 50 miles, so it’s either the 150 mile routine of driving two cars to the end point, carpooling to the start, completing the trail, and then driving back to the start to pick up the other car, or finding someone nice enough to chauffeur to the start and from the finish.  Adding in childcare needs, and an acute knowledge of being undertrained for such a feat, and I nearly backed out all together.

Luckily, the stars aligned in more ways than one, and due to having some very generous and kind people in my life and community, taking on the trail made sense.  To prepare, I assembled a modest collection of gear.  All week, the weather forecast predicted rain for Sunday.  Because of the elevation change, rain in lower areas may be blizzards up above, so in addition to my standard running layers, I stuffed a wool shirt, rain shell, running tights, extra socks and gloves in my hydration pack.  I made some date and coconut butter bars (recipes appearing here), filled my 2L bladder, and called it good.  Well, except for the revolver.  It is Alaska after all.

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Back towards Girdwood, less than a mile up the trail.

We started on the Girdwood side at about 7:30am with not a cloud in the sky.  I ditched my gloves, tights, and wool layer, but kept my rain shell just in case.  Plus is was brand new and seemed sad to leave it.  The trail climbs steadily for the first three miles.  I began the ascent at an easy jog, but within a quarter mile or so realized that might be a bit too ambitious.  My training lately has not been particularly consistent or focused, but can perhaps be described as sporadic and opportunistic.  My pace eroded to a steady hike, interspersed with jogging on the flats and stopping entirely for photo ops.

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The long up.
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Looking back over covered ground.
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Finally met up with the sunrise.
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Forest Service cabin near the summit.
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Snowfield about 1/4 mile from the summit.
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Crow Pass Summit! Elev: 3,500 feet
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Taking it in.
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Loving life!

Evan and Michelle had pushed a bit harder than I did to reach the pass, but waited for me at the top.  By my clock, I made it in 1 hour, 11 minutes.  With all of my dawdling on the way up, I have no concerns about making the hour cut-off next year during the race.

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Glacial views at the pass.
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21 miles to go!

After the pass, the remaining 21 miles are mostly downhill.  That always sounds like a piece of cake, but I’m frequently reminded that downhill running is my weakest area.  It doesn’t take much descending to trash my quads and leave me tiptoeing.  To remedy that issue, I’m planning lots of single-leg squatting and leg-pressing to prep for my upcoming runs.

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Eagle Glacier and Eagle River
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Gently rolling portion of the trail, but peppered with large rocks and hidden with tall grasses and cow parsnip. Deceptively technical, and it went on for miles.
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Red columbine
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Deep ravine cleaved down the valley.
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Somewhere before the distant mountains, but behind the closest ridges, is Eagle River, which we followed for the second half of the trail.
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I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day!

The descent from the pass to the river should have been the easiest part of the trail, but presented a series of challenges.  The trail was often rocky, and a few of the larger ones left me scraped and bruised since the tall and lush grasses concealed them from view.  The relentless downhill pounding is taxing and really takes it out of my legs.  But the views are spectacular!

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The alders were a welcome change of scenery after leaving the miles of lush meadows and approaching the river.
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Michelle and Evan up ahead, crossing Eagle River.
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My turn. Nothing like glacial melt on tired legs!

It took us about four hours to climb to the pass, and then descend to the river, which is about halfway through the trail, and right on schedule.  We were hoping for an 8 hour crossing, which is significantly slower than the 6 hour cut-off for the race, but much faster than the two and three days some of the backpackers we passed were taking.

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Eagle shaped cloud over Eagle River.

After the river crossing, about 12 miles remained of the trail.  Had I been a bit fitter, it would have been a blissful joy to fly all the way to the Nature Center.  The trail mostly flattened out and was wide and fairly clear.  Pretty much a dream run.  My leg juice gauge, however, was approaching E.  I did a lot of hiking, a little jogging, and after a couple of hours, no more picture taking.  Beautiful!  Beautiful.  Pretty.  Yep.  Yep.  Uh-huh. Uh.

Michelle and Evan drifted farther and farther ahead so I charged forward alone for the last couple of hours.  As the miles went on, I crossed paths with more and more other runners and hikers, so I knew I was getting closer to the Nature Center. Some looked happy to be out in Alaska on a beautiful summer day, and others looked as beat as I felt.  I’m certain the fatigue wasn’t showing on my face, though, because I felt genuine gratitude through the whole trail for all of the factors that allowed me to be out there that day.

With about four miles left, I decided I was too tanked to try running any more.  With two miles left, I was so bored of walking, I had to run.  I dug deep and passed onto the patio of the Nature Center in Eagle River running, 8 1/2 hours after leaving Girdwood.  Not bad for a lazy Sunday.

I owe a ton of thanks for this gun-toting, beta crossing of Crow Pass.  A big thank you to Jan for chauffeuring, Evan for his expertise and guidance on the trail, Maria for generously posting baby-duty, LJ for keeping me realistic, Zaz for the beer and peanut butter cups, and Michelle for making the dream become reality!

Good luck to Evan and Michelle when they take on the trail again in a few weeks for the 2014 edition of Crow Pass Crossing!

 

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Beautiful!
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Pretty.
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Uh-huh.

Aftermath: I was physically unready for the trail.  Although I finished successfully, and felt pretty good afterwards, my legs were sore for a record-breaking (for me) four days.  I had a nice selection of bruises and scrapes from the rocks on my shins and knees, and what I believe is a mild reaction to cow parsnip.  Nothing, though, that will keep me from preparing for 2015!

Lost Lake Run Series: What is Cystic Fibrosis?

Please donate to fund cystic fibrosis research! lostlaketrail-940x350

I’m in the midst of training for the Lost Lake Breath of Life Run in Seward, AK on August 23.  I was originally interested in running this trail race because of the amazing views I’d heard about, but as I learned more about the race, I discovered a much greater purpose.  The 16-mile race is held to raise funds for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.  While neither I nor anyone very close to me is living with cystic fibrosis, not everyone can say that.  According to the CFF website, about 30,000 in the United States are living with CF.

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Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disorder in which the body creates an abnormal amount of thick mucous.  The mucous can impair the function of both the lungs and the pancreas.  While there is no cure, there have been many advances in treatments and therapies over the past several decades, increasing both life expectancy and quality of life for patients.  Currently, clinical trials for a new drug are showing good promise as a potential treatment for the most common form of CF.

As a person who has dealt with both asthma and pneumonia, I can appreciate the struggle of sub-optimal lung function, though I know my experiences pale in comparison to what those with CF have to go through every day.  Having conquered both of my lung-related health issues, I feel it’s fitting to give back by using my lungs and running for the lives of others.

Please help continue the fight against CF by donating today!

March Forth: The Motto in Motion

I had my birthday early this month and, for the first time in 30+ years, noticed that my birthdate has an intelligible homophone: March Forth.  While a simple statement, the phrase has a wide range of applications, and feels particularly potent for me right now.  I expressed my surprise on Facebook that I had failed to notice “March 4th” sounds like anything other than a date, and a cousin mentioned that perhaps I haven’t been ready for it until now.  That seems like a legitimate explanation.

The following Saturday, I was able to put the phrase into practice.  Two months ago, I registered for the Snow Canoe Loop 11-Miler in Willow.  At the time, I was only running one non-stop mile at a time, but thought I had plenty of training days to work up to 10-12 miles.  My longest run before the race ended up being 6.  If this had been a road race, I probably would have backed out, but a few factors made it seem like the run would be doable, despite my lack of preparation.  The course is by default broken up into small sections.  During the summer, the course is a trail that links up a series of small lakes.  The idea is to alternate carrying and paddling a canoe through the loop.  This time of year, the lakes are frozen, so the entire trip is done on foot.  The topography creates a nice mix of flat open trail across the lakes, and gently rolling terrain in between.  I planned to keep a nice, sustainable run across each lake, no more than a mile at a time, then hike the portages.  Since I’ve been hiking through the snow with a baby up to five miles, I thought a 1/2 run, 1/2  hike with only my body weight sounded altogether reasonable.  Overall, all I needed to do was March Forth, and eventually I’d reach the finish.

The morning started out cold.  The start time wasn’t until 10am, but by 9:30, the temp was still only 0* F.   I was glad I brought my INKnBURN Tech Tube.  At that temperature,  the air was piercing to breathe, but adjusting the Tech Tube so I was breathing through it warmed the air just enough to be comfortable. Snow Canoe

In most races, I use an app on my iPhone to track my pace and mileage.  In this race, my biggest concern was keeping the battery from freezing.  I stopped by REI a few days ahead of time  to look for carriers, and found a waist  pack.  I would feel absolutely ridiculous wearing it in a way that could be seen by anyone, but being able to keep my phone under all of my layers seemed like my best bet at having a functional phone if I needed it.  The carrier really limited my accessibility, so I just pushed “Start” on my running app at the beginning of the race, and forgot about it, though I did miss the nice lady who lives in my phone and announces each mile marker.

In the early part of the race, I settled in to a pace that felt like I was covering a decent amount of ground without being overly ambitious.  There had been some recent snowfall, but the trail had been traversed by several snow machines, making the surface packed but soft.  The sun was shining, the snow was fresh, and the air was crisp; overall, it was a beautiful day to be out.

I was surprised with how good I felt.  The small turnout of 22 runners spread out quickly, and I was satisfied with the spot I assumed in the queue: towards the back of the middle, but not last.  Though the snowy surface created some slow going, it was still easy to at least remain at a consistent pace.  As the miles added up, I continued to feel great and even started catching up with and passing other runners.

Tramping down the trail, it didn’t take me long to recognize my first rookie-Alaskan mistake. The sip of water I had taken earlier from my hydration pack had filled the tube with water, which promptly froze solid.  Too late I remembered reading a tip about blowing air into the straw to force all the water back into the pack.  I considered stopping to dump the rest of the water instead of having it slosh pointlessly behind me for the following couple of hours, but figured in a life or death situation I could drink straight from the bladder.

After a few miles, I had acquired a follower.  He was pretty close behind me, but being so bundled up, chit-chat was semi-impossible.  All I could knew was that it was a guy, so for the following miles, I ran the possible scenarios through my head.

“He wants to pass, but I’m blocking the way.”

“I should step off the trail so he can get around.”

“I’m walking up this hill; he hates me.”

I finally decided that self-conscious paranoia was really a waste of my time and energy, so I settled on, “He approves of my pace, and has decided to match it.”

With the frequent alternations between wide, flat, open lakes, and quiet, wooded hills, the miles passed quickly.  At each lake crossing, the temperature would shoot up.  Running completely exposed in the sun, I would start considering stopping to pull off a layer.  Maintaining forward movement paid off each time.  It was back into the trees and shade, and the air temp would lose about 20 degrees.

Without my phone handy, I tried to estimate about where I was.  Just as I was thinking I had to have gone at least 4 miles, I saw someone standing in the distance.  Four miles was a major underestimate.  The person was manning the race’s one aid station at mile 6.5.  At the aid station, I stopped for some water and was introduced to Jay, my follower.  He confirmed my final conclusion.  He’d started out with a group that was too fast, but my pace was just perfect.  With just 4.5 miles left, we started back out on the trail.

I’d been trying to count lake crossings.  I knew there would be 16 total, and I thought I’d done 9 already.  The countdown was on.  Several lakes later, and I wasn’t sure if there were 2 or 3 left, but I knew my legs were about done.  All the sun was making the snow soft, and the lateral sliding was taking its toll.   The loop part of the course had come full circle, and I was heading back along the beginning of the course, though each section now seemed much longer than on the way out.

I lost Jay at some point and found myself alone in the trees.  I wasn’t sure if the next lake was the final crossing, or the second to last.  I decided to plan on expecting two more.  That way, I wouldn’t be disappointed, and I might even be pleasantly surprised.  This particular portage ended up being the hardest.  It wasn’t hilly, but was a long stretch of small rollers.  They would have been fun on a snowmachine, but were a mild form of torture on spent legs.  I resorted to hiking as fast as possible, which was a welcome reprieve.  The section was certainly runnable, but as long as I continued to March Forth, I felt no guilt.

The trees opened up, and I picked up my pace across the lake.  On the far side, the trail went straight up, or so it seemed.  I went back to my fast hike, not sure of what lay in wait for me over the hill.  To my delight, cresting the hill brought me not another lake, but the downhill road that led right to the finish line.  During my final trudge up the hill, Jay had caught up, and brought encouraging words.

“You pulled me most of the way, so you have to finish first!”

That was enough to put the spark back in my step.  In an attempt to sprint to the finish, I discovered my legs were essentially numb.  It was a welcome feeling.  I crossed the line to my waiting family, which was the most welcome feeling of all.

Other than my frozen pack, my race plans all worked out.  I even had a fully functioning phone that managed to record the whole race.  Admittedly under-trained, I not only finished, but had a great race on a beautiful day in an awesome place, and even ended up as the 4th female.  With such success, I’m ready to live March Forth every day of the year.

Taking it to the Next Level!

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I am super pleased and proud to announce that I was chosen to be an ambassador in 2014 for the company INKnBURN!  INKnBURN is based in Orange County, California, and designs and manufactures all of their vivid and unique fitness products there, which means no outsourcing!  All of their styles are created with endurance runners in mind, but everything crosses over easily to other activities and endeavors, and even work and play.  Their focus, goals, and processes are outlined here.  As a small company, they are about much more than just high profit margins and a bottom line.  They are involved in the fitness community, and are truly interested in providing amazing clothing for training and racing that help athletes achieve their goals in comfort and style.  I’m really looking forward to bringing INKnBURN along this year on all of my Alaskan adventures!  To try out any of their goodies for 15% off, use code INBSK14 at checkout!

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Willow Winter Solstice Race Recap

The single word that best sums up Saturday’s Willow Winter Solstice trail run is “pivotal”.  While my performance had nothing to do with that designation, time, place, and company were everything.  Some of the turning points from the run are:

Family

As the only declared “runner” in my little nuclear family unit, I’ve generally doomed myself to lonely race days.  I sometimes have my tiny fan club at the finish line, but I’ve taken myself to 5 of my last 6 races.  With small boys, and a sometimes long wait time between start and finish, it often makes more sense that way.

For this run, I was trying to figure out the logistics of racing in possibly finicky weather conditions as a nursing mama with a hungry infant waiting with a daddy who was also entertaining a preschooler.  Overall, the situation sounded pretty selfish of me.  Inspiration hit, and I emailed the race director.  She was prompt in her reply that the 5k was indeed a fun run, and my kiddos would be welcome on the course. I registered both John and myself for what would be a first 5k for 3 of the 4 of us.

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Alaska

Usually, my pre-race prep involves the following list: Shoes?  Check.  Shorts?  Check.  Sports bra?  Check and done.  For this weekend, I wasn’t even certain where I should begin.  Do I even need my running shoes?  Can I use those with snowshoes, or just spikes?  Should I just wear snow boots?  How many clothing layers will be warm enough, but not too warm?

Last year, the run, which also hosts a half and full marathon, was held in -30* weather.  This year, the forecast predicted temps in the 20’s and some snowfall.  Since I planned on not actually running much, due to the dual tasks of coaxing a 4 year old through 3 miles of snow and simultaneous babywearing, I opted for slightly warmer layers.  I ended up with fleecy tights under ski pants, snow boots, an Icebreaker top, fleece, and light water-resistant shell.  John and Silas layered similarly.  I put Skye in fleecy onesie jammies and a plush bear-suit, with socks on both his hands and feet, and planned to fit him into a front-carrier with a fluffy blanket covering the whole assembly.

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Post-baby

Even though I’ve been going to the gym regularly since Skye was three weeks old, I’m not even close to being fit enough to actually run a 5k.  On the treadmill, I’m up to half a mile at a time, which is a joke compared to the effort it takes to run three miles in 8” of fresh snow.  The most liberating part was that none of that mattered.  Brushing all preconceived notions about racing aside, my biggest goal for the day was to have a memorable day with my family in the beautiful place we live.Image

Winter Solstice

The particular day of the year for the run represents the largest scale pivot point of the day.  The first true day of winter is really something to celebrate in Alaska, because from here on out, the days are just getting longer.  I’m pleased to say that the short days really haven’t been “that” bad.  Our sunrises have been around 10am, with sunsets at 4pm.  That leaves a modest portion of the day with sunlight.  It really only messes with my head on days I don’t work, when getting ready for the day with a cup of coffee mysteriously lasts until lunch.

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The Race Course

The race site was a little over an hour up the Parks Highway from home.  We left around 7am for the Willow Community Center.  The driving directions from the race website only said “Parks Highway, Mile 70”, which turned out to be completely adequate.  In the Community Center, I took the opportunity to see what the other runners were wearing.  Everyone was in running shoes, some with spikes or snow tires, and some with gaiters, some without.  Black running tights, presumably fleece lined, were the universal choice, with a variety of running jackets concealing whatever top layers were chosen. Everyone was topped with a headlamp, including us, as it was the only required equipment.  Start time was 9am, and still in the dark.

The three of us pinned on our race bibs, I situated the baby, and it was time to go!  John was feeling ambitious, and started out encouraging Silas to try to run, at least to hurry, but the attempt turned out to be futile, for a few reasons.  For one, the newer snow layer was soft and deep, turning every step into a trudge.  Mainly though, Si is 4.  “Sense of urgency” is not a factor in his MO.  He spent at least 2 miles of the 5k holding my hand and jabbering away.

The 5k course was easy enough to follow: out across a field, down a road, around a lake to the turnaround, then back.  Taking up the tail end made it even easier to navigate: in the hour before sunrise we only had to follow the twinkle of bobbing headlamps.

The three of us marched along over the snowy landscape, with the baby sleeping snuggly.  About 2/3 of the way to the turn around, it started getting lighter and we began crossing paths with the actual runners on their way back.  Every runner we passed appeared to be struggling with the resistance the snow was providing. Only one runner was in snowshoes, but that seemed like the smartest idea of all.  I really wished I had been in mine.  A few runners looked downright annoyed, and I had a hard time imagining signing up for 26.2 or even 13.1 miles of that abuse, though I may feel differently next year.

After passing the lake, which was indiscernible from a snowy meadow, we made a right to the turn around, which was a woman in a red jacket.  At the halfway point, John, who had been trying to maintain some dignity by at least hiking quickly, gave in to our casual plodding pace.  He even pulled out his e-cig, which is quite the epic sight during a 5k.

As the sun rose, we were able to take in our surroundings, which was nothing short of absolute serenity.  We trudged on, and the community center came into view.  During our final approach to the finish, cheering and shouting began, and we were surprised by  the little crowd that was waiting to usher us in, even though we had easily taken twice as long as the next runner before us.

Inside we were greeted with hot soup and the relief of no more slogging through the snow.  We stayed until 11, two hours after the gun, and no half marathoners had returned.  When the results posted two days later, I saw 2:20 (men’s) and 2:46 (women’s) were the 13.1 winning times, and the first marathoner came in at 4:36 (5:37 for women).  Winter events are certainly a different kind of racing in Alaska.

This run did turn out to be a meaningful way to celebrate the winter solstice.  Though we still have plenty of winter to go, potentially until May, the days are indeed getting longer, albeit quite slowly.  Because the idea of the longer races holds very little appeal at the present moment, I’m thinking the 5k would make an amazing family tradition.  Every year will present something new and unexpected: wildly different conditions to plan for and navigate through, as well as adapting to the changing and developing abilities of my two little boys.  It will take years, and plenty of practice, but we may even reach a point as a family that this 3.1 mile, first-day-of-winter race is, in fact, a run.

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