Hi everyone! Today is a very special (and sort of long) recap! A few months ago my coworkers and I decided to sign up to do a 4 person relay of the Mayor’s Midnight Sun Marathon. I was excited because I’d never run a relay before, and I knew it would be great practice for Ragnar in August. As race day got closer, one of my coworkers got injured and another trained less than she planned, so it wasn’t until the day before the race that we all came up with a strategy for completing the four legs. In fact, we thought that all of the legs were an equal 6.5 miles, but learned that the legs varied in both length and terrain:
Leg 1: 7.1 miles of hills on a paved bike trail along the Glenn Highway
Leg 2: 8.1 miles on hilly trails, including the highest point of the marathon course
Leg 3: 6 miles on sidewalks/paved trails downhill
Leg 4: 5 miles along the flat Chester Creek trail (paved) with the obligatory end-of-the-race hill at the very end.
At the expo, my manager and I learned about the trail portion and we were concerned with the description of the hills and the single track trail portion. I googled the race course later and learned that leg 2 apparently had giant golf ball sized rocks all over the trails and was hard to run on – and was mostly uphill! We decided right away that the two of us would take the longer hilly portions, while the injured runner would take leg 3 and the run/walker would take leg 4. I originally decided to take leg 1, but as the day went on I realized that taking leg 2 would do a few things for me: it would get more of my long run done (I had 2 hours on the schedule and figured that I’d just have to run or walk a little bit longer to complete the requirement), would cross “Complete a trail race” off of my bucket list, and would give me a chance to start a bit later in the day. So even though I was totally freaked out, I decided to take the hardest leg of the relay.
Our group planned a few strategies for getting through the race in one piece. If you’ve never run a relay, it involves a lot of planning!
- We got matching shirts. We originally did this so that we could feel more like a team and have cute matching pictures, but in reality it really helped us along the course – both the runner and the rest of the team could easily spot each other at the tag areas and spectator checkpoints.
- We all parked at one person’s house near the finish line, and then drove over to the start line together. No one had the chance of being late or getting stuck in traffic!
- We had my husband drive us around on the course. We thought about just passing the keys on to each other, but my husband was willing to help us out and I think it was awesome not having to worry about driving while tired!
- We had lots of food and water in the car that we all shared with each other after the run. I also brought wipes to help us clean up after running, and I think we all felt so much better driving around together knowing that we were semi-sweat free!
The race started at 7:30 at Bartlett High School, so we met downtown at 6:30 and everyone piled into our car to drive over to the start line. There was no traffic and parking was super easy! After listening to the Alaskan flag song (what?) and the national anthem, my manager was off and running! There were no spectator viewpoints on her portion of the course, so we drove over to the first tag area. It was a cloudy and cool morning which was such a welcome change from our 80 degree sunshine, so we wore jackets while we waited. I may have gotten super nervous while waiting because I was about to run on trail for the first time ever and it was in a race environment! What if I got hurt out there? I decided to run with my phone just in case something went wrong.
My manager estimated she’d be done at 8:50, so we were all happily surprised to see her running towards us at 8:45! I tore off my jacket, grabbed the timing bracelet, and I was off! And it turned out that the trail was pretty nice at first. It started on a military tank trail, which is basically a wide gravel and dirt road through the forest. I noticed after about a half mile that the mile 7 marker was on the side of the course, which confused me since I thought runner 1 was running until 7.1, and my app was definitely off at the other mile markers as well so I’m not sure what happened there with the course measurement. Other than the wonky mile markers, the course was great! We crossed over a few creeks, and I could tell that the views of the mountains would have been amazing if it weren’t for the clouds. There were signs along the trail warning users of “nearby gun fire” and “live ammunition” in fields which was pretty crazy, but it was on military property so I guess it makes sense? I definitely saw a few big rocks and potholes along the course, but overall it was just like running on a road and I settled into a pretty good pace for the first 3.5 miles.
At mile 4 I started seeing the rolling hills that I’d been worried about. I took a strategy of walking up the first hills I would come to, and running up the ones behind them. Taking a minute long break to get my form and breathing under control helped me push up the remaining hills much easier! I also made sure to stop at the water stops at miles 2, 4, and 6 because I wasn’t carrying any water. The aid stations were full of lots of cheering volunteers and inspirational signs.
As I hit more and more hills, I started walking more frequently. And when I say hills, I’m talking about some pretty steep sections that you could see winding up through the woods for a while. The good news is that most people were walking too, and I got to meet a lot of people! I spoke to a Marathon Maniac who qualified by running 2 marathons in 2 weeks, some people who had run the Philly Marathon, and a group of Team in Training runners from New Jersey who were willing to talk to me about Wawa! It made the hills go quickly, and I was able to fly down the other sides with lots of renewed energy! That is, until I got to mile 6.5 AKA the longest hill ever. It was probably a mile long, and I just couldn’t deal with it. So I power hiked as fast as I could until I got to the top, and was running pretty strong until I got to the last 1.5 mile portion which was definitely a legitimate hiking trail.
This was the part I was worried about – my legs were tired and weren’t listening to my brain, and there were big rocks, roots, and uneven footing everywhere. It was also really narrow and closed in during parts of it, and it made it really hard to pass people. I had to speed around people when I could and tried to make up as much time on the downhills as possible. Once I heard far off cheering, I starting going faster. I ran through the tag area with perfect form and a smile on my face to show my teammates that I was feeling great…except that they weren’t there. In fact, there was almost no one there for any relay runners! It turned out that the road to the exchange point was only down to one lane and my car was stuck in traffic for a few minutes. I was really happy for the water and pretzels that they had there while I waited. I also got the chance to analyze my leg, which turned out to be a surprise 8.6 miles!
I was really proud of myself for tackling my first trail race, and happy that my pace was so close to HTH goal race pace even with all the giant hill walk breaks I took! By the time my team got to the checkpoint I was feeling pretty good and was excited to pass the bracelet off to runner #3! We drove to a viewing point where I was able to stretch out a bit while waiting to cheer her on. I was feeling back to normal by the time we got to checkpoint #3 at Goose Lake, and was enjoying my typical post-race Nuun and chocolate milk with some more pretzels! We cheered lots of runners on at the 21 mile mark as we waited for our teammate, and once she arrived we sent off runner #4 and promised to see her at the bottom of the hill by the finish line. Except that it didn’t end up happening! We drove to a viewing point and waited to see her for a while before getting a call that she was already done! We rushed over to the finish but we were so bummed that we didn’t get the chance to run across the finish line together. They were also out of relay finisher’s shirts and gave us half marathon ones instead, but at least we all got a medal!
By this time my manager and I were starting to get really tired and hungry, so we rushed over to the solstice festival for some reindeer dogs and mac and cheese. I didn’t get home until 3 pm, and I was pretty beat for the rest of the day. But oh man, I felt so proud!
Overall, I liked this race! I’m not sure if I could ever handle the full marathon – the hills and the changing terrain might kill me! But I’ll definitely be running in either the 4 miler, the half marathon, or the marathon relay again! What was awesome?
- The expo was actually bigger than I thought it would be and featured tons of local and nationwide vendors. It was a really quick and easy experience getting our bibs and timing bracelet.
- Although we didn’t need it, there were shuttles from downtown to the start line for people who were from out of town.
- The marathon race course was point-to-point instead of a loop, and took runners on a full tour of the Anchorage area.
- The marathon course and the half marathon/4 miler courses were different which caused very little congestion on the courses! It looks like the half course was along the coastal trail, which is really beautiful, paved, and also hilly!
- The aid stations were well stocked and had lots of loudly cheering volunteers, even when they were in random places out in the forest.
- Every runner got a medal in every race, which is a big deal because almost no races in Alaska give out medals. You also get a finisher’s shirt.
- There was grilled cheese sandwiches and Great Harvest Bread Co. cinnamon chip bread at the finish again!
- I loved getting the chance to run as a team and being able to run 26.2 miles with some awesome ladies!
- For people traveling from out of town, it’s on the best weekend to visit Alaska! The sun is out for almost 20 hours each day and there’s lots of celebrations around town all weekend.
What I didn’t really like:
- Getting to some of the viewpoints and exchange points was super challenging due to traffic, and we were late to the exchange points twice. It was really hard to time everything correctly even though all of us pretty much stayed on our projected paces.
- The route is definitely not easy and if you’re not a trail runner you should be aware that there’s trails in the middle!
- The race ends on a hill – I didn’t have to deal with it but everyone running the full marathon had to. No one wants that in mile 25.
I’m excited that my first trail race is in the books. Now I want to actually practice trail running so that I’m ready for future trail races!
Have you ever run a relay? Have you ever accidentally signed up for a trail race? How did you celebrate the summer solstice?