I Run Alaska

Running Adventures in the Last Frontier

Ice Ice Baby

vanilla-ice

No, not that kind of ice…

It may be well into November, but winter still hasn’t really hit in this part of Alaska yet. We got a few inches of early-season snow, with nothing since then. Instead, we’ve had several rounds of freeze-thaw-freeze-thaw, leaving our sidewalks and trails covered in ice.

Still wanting to get outside and run, but not wanting to fall and hurt myself, I properly studded my shoes several weeks ago. I’ve tried numerous traction devices for running in the winter on snow and ice, and have found simply inserting screws into my shoes to be the most effective, and (better yet) the least expensive method. Even with studs in my shoes, things can get a bit perilous on glare ice, of which we currently have plenty. Over the years, I’ve learned to slow down and alter my foot fall a bit to ensure I stay vertical.

Another sneaky technique I’ve used for dealing with the ice is to run on the indoor track at The Dome. Back in October, they had a great deal on annual memberships. My dear wife, not wanting me to injure myself, got me a membership. My son has karate two nights a week, and his dojo just so happens to only be a few blocks away from the Dome. So I’ve been spending a lot of time lately running around in circles while my son learns the touch of death. No, it’s not the same as running outdoors, but it is nice not having to deal with the ice, and being able to just run in a t-shirt and shorts.

What are your tips and techniques for dealing with running on ice?

Getting My Running Mojo Back

So, it’s been a few months since I’ve really been running regularly. To be completely honest, it all started going downhill last fall when I DNF’d Pine to Palm 100. It was a tough course, to be sure, but I was well trained and ready for the 20,000 feet of climbing ahead of me. Instead, it was the heat that got to me. It got up to 100 degrees on the day of the race, and this Alaska boy just isn’t used to that kind of heat. The most insulting part was that both the weekend before and after the race, it was in the 70’s, which would have been entirely manageable.

The main problem it caused for me is that I just couldn’t keep my heart rate under control. Running on a flat section of trail, or even downhill, my heart rate was going crazy, which forced me to take regular walking breaks to get my breathing under control. I was trying every trick in the book to cool myself off at the aid stations. I poured ice water over my head, neck and back, tied a bandanna full of ice around my neck, but none of that was making a big enough of a difference for me.

I do feel good about the fact that I never quit, I kept pushing even when I felt like crap, but I was moving so slowly that I missed the cutoff at mile 42. This was my first DNF, and I took it pretty hard. I had trained all summer for this race, flown to Seattle and then drove all the way down to southern Oregon with Sharla, my awesome crew for the weekend. I had a lot invested in this race – physically, financially, and emotionally.

After returning home defeated, I told myself I would take it easy for a month or two, and not sign up for any races anytime soon. As we moved into winter, and still not having any races on my schedule, I found it easier and easier to make excuses not to go for a run. At this point, I was running once, maybe twice a week, for just a few miles at a time.

Then December hit, and my mother got sick and spent several weeks in the ICU before passing away on Christmas Eve. Needless to say, December was a very difficult month for me and my family, and I ran very little.

Around the first week of January, my wife kept telling me that I needed to “get my mojo back” and get back into running more regularly. So as a late Christmas present, she signed me for a 13 week running group put on by the local running store. The group meets twice a week – Thursday nights at The Dome for a track/speed workout, and a Saturday morning long run starting and ending at their store.

I’ll be honest, I was a little skeptical of the whole thing at first. I’ve never followed any sort of structured training program or done regular group runs like this. But I decided to go into it with an open mind and a smile on my face, and I’ve been very happy with the results. The track workouts have actually been a lot of fun. I’ve spent so much time focusing on longer races the past couple of years, that I have mostly neglected speed work, so it’s been fun doing some faster runs lately. So far the longest long run we’ve done has only been 75 minutes, but I’ve still really enjoyed the group atmosphere and camaraderie.

The past several weeks, I’ve been running 4-5 times per week. Last week was my birthday, and I even got out for a 34km “birthday run”, which was the farthest I’ve run in several months now. It’s all been feeling great, and at this point, I think I can safely say that I’ve got my mojo back!

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Running an Ultra on Minimal Training

The first weekend of January, I ran the Frosty Bottom 50 (full disclosure: it’s actually more like 44 miles, but I guess the Frosty Bottom 44 doesn’t have quite the same ring to it). For a number of reasons, let’s just say that I did not go into this race with the ideal amount of training. To my surprise, it didn’t go as horrible as I had expected. In fact, my time was almost exactly the same as last year. Maybe it is possible to run an ultra on minimal training!

Let me go back and explain what happened:

Back at the end of November, the weekend after Thanksgiving, I hurt my back. I pulled a muscle during the most dangerous of activities – having a snowball fight with my kids. This was the type of back pain I hadn’t experienced in years, when I used to weigh nearly 300 pounds. For the first 2 days, I was laid up in bed and it took everything I had just to stand up. Every day the pain got a little better, but my back was still very tight and sore. I was in no condition to be running. I had one appointment with a physical therapist, who showed me some stretches and strengthening exercises.

After about 10 days, I was feeling mostly back to normal – just in time to take a 10 day vacation to Hawaii! Before I hurt my back, I had already decided that this was going to be 100% a family vacation – I was completely unplugged from work, and I wasn’t going to sneak away for a run while my family played on the beach. Needless to say, we all had an amazing time, and I don’t regret one bit that I didn’t run a single step in Hawaii. My kids keep asking when we’re moving 🙂

We got back home in the wee hours of December 21, and I went for a run that afternoon – my first in exactly 3 weeks. I was only 2 weeks out from Frosty Bottom, and I was getting nervous. That first run was rough, and I didn’t have much time for things to turn around. During those 2 weeks, the quality of my runs gradually improved, but I still had my doubts. My last run that was over 2 hours had been the New York City Marathon back at the start of November.

Race day came and I was cautiously optimistic. My plan was to take it easy in the beginning and see how I felt. I figured worst case scenario, the course comes within about a mile of my house around mile 30, and I could just bail out at that point if things got really bad. Luckily, I started running with someone I knew fairly well from a running group I go out with sometimes on Monday nights. Chatting with him as we ran really helped pass the time, and kept my mind off of how tired my legs were already feeling.

We got to the halfway turnaround point in just under 4 hours, which I was pretty pleased with. This is where the race’s only aid station is located, which was pretty much limited to water, Gatorade, and a few cookies. I refilled the bladder in my hydration pack, mixed in some Tailwind, and we were back on the trail. As we started making our way back towards where we started that morning, the calf cramps started, and would continue to plague me the rest of the race. I had been drinking plenty, so I mostly chalked this up to my lack of recent training. My legs were feeling pretty dead as we reached 30 miles, and I was teased by the possibility of an easy out. I’ll be honest – I briefly considered this option pretty seriously. I wasn’t feeling great, but I decided that it wasn’t bad enough that I would feel good later about DNFing, so on I ran.

My friend was still running with me, if not slightly ahead, pulling me along. I had to take semi-regular walking breaks to stretch out my calves, but while I was running, I felt like I was able to keep up a pretty decent pace. I have no doubt my friend could have taken off and finished well ahead of me, but we ran together the whole race. As it was starting to get dark, we saw a beautiful combination sunset/moonrise over downtown Anchorage. It was a clear night with a nearly full moon, so we didn’t end up needing our headlamps until we were nearly at the finish.

Finally, we reached the final climb up the big hill at Kincaid Park, and then we were done. In true ultra fashion, there were just 2 people at the finish line to greet us and record our time. Granted, this is primarily a bike race, all of whom had finished hours earlier.

I ended up finishing in 8:30:51 – a whopping 20 seconds faster than last year’s time, on a slightly altered course that was about a mile longer. While it may not have been a particularly pretty finish, I discovered it’s definitely possible to run an ultra on minimal training.

I’m Back as an Altra Ambassador for 2015!

Altra Zero Drop

I was super excited to get the email the other day welcoming me back as an Altra Ambassador for 2015! Altras are the most comfortable running shoe I’ve ever worn, hands-down. I’ve been running in Altras for 3 years now. In that time, I’ve run 3 100 milers, 1 24 hour, several shorter ultras, and a handful of marathons, and I’ve never had any major foot issues during any of those races. Not a single lost toenail, and at most maybe 1 or 2 tiny blisters.

I couldn’t be happier with these shoes, and I’m excited to be part of such an awesome group of runners who want to help spread the Altra love. Some of my fellow ambassadors include:

Altra has also been building up quite an impressive list of elite sponsorships, most recently adding Ian Sharman, and also includes:

New York City Marathon Recap

Last week I traveled across the country to (finally) run the New York City Marathon. I had been trying my luck at the lottery for 4 years, and finally got in under the old “pity rule” that they stopped doing after this year.

I made a pretty quick trip out of this, since we already have a big family vacation to Hawaii planned in December. But I did still manage to cram in quite a bit of fun in just a few days, including a Broadway show (A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder), and a Giants football game. My wife has family out on Long Island, so we stayed out there mostly – except for the night before and after the race, we stayed at a hotel in the city.

We made our way to the expo on Friday. We must have hit it at a bad time, because the line just to get into the convention center wrapped around the block. Later, when we were leaving, there wasn’t a line at all. The expo was huge as you could imagine for a race of this size. The lines to but anything were ridiculously long, so we got in and out pretty quickly. I did get the chance to meet Ryan Hall though – and only waited in line about 5 minutes!

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I was also pleasantly surprised to discover that my story was featured in the official race program:

nyc-marathon-book

The few days leading up to the race, I kept watching the forecast for race morning. It kept showing clear and cold, which normally would be perfect, expect they were also forecasting 30mph winds! Well, the forecast held true, and we were greeted by some seriously strong winds. The biggest mistake I made was getting to the start area WAY too early. I was in the first wave, and so I thought I should be taking some of the earliest transportation possible. That meant I spent about 3 hours out the cold, shivering, waiting for the race to start.

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At least the view was nice

I had brought a throwaway sweatshirt to wear to the start, but it just wasn’t enough. I really should have worn some sweatpants as well. I saw some very interesting outfits that morning, but I’m sure they were all warmer than me.

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Using a blown over porta-potty as a wind break. Bonus points for the pink bath robe.

All the time spent shivering and trying to stay warm pretty much zapped all my energy. By the time we finally got started, I had an empty tank within the first 5 miles or so. I knew this wasn’t going to be my day, and so I quickly changed my race strategy to “how many high-fives can I get from cheering kids?” My unofficial tally: 1,327.

Even with how crappy and out of energy I felt, it was hard not to enjoy this race. There were over 50,000 runners, and I can’t even begin to guess how many spectators. There were people cheering, lined up along the entire course, sometimes several people deep. There were people handing out bananas, pretzels, Halloween candy, paper towels and Kleenex.

Finally, we entered Central Park and I knew the finish line was getting close. Even though I was moving slower than I had hoped, I managed to keep a pretty steady pace. I did very little actual walking, just a slower running pace than planned. I crossed the finish line in 4:12 and change, far slower than my PR, but considering how I felt, nothing to complain about.

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Mission accomplished!

Then began the long trek to get out of Central Park and back to my hotel. I had selected the no baggage option at the finish, so I got the “quick” exit, which still took probably 45 minutes just to get out of Central Park. When I finally got back to my hotel, I quickly showered and got dressed to head back out, because my day wasn’t over yet!

My mother-in-law was also doing the race, but she was walking and so was a good ways behind me still. I texted with her to figure out where she was, and hopped on the nearest subway to get as close as I could. I managed to catch up to her around mile 21, just after you cross a bridge back into Manhattan for the last time. She had been worried about it getting dark and there not being many people around anymore, so I promised I would come find her and walk the rest with her. Normally she walks a lot at home, but earlier this year she had torn her hamstring, so she hadn’t been walking as much as usual, and was worried about being able to finish the race.

There were actually still a good number of other people around her, though they definitely were starting to shut down the course. They had to walk on the sidewalks in some places, and not all the intersections were closed, so we even had to stop and wait a couple of times. As we got closer to Central Park, things got a little more lively. We could hear the distant sound of the finish line, so we knew they hadn’t packed all that up yet. She was complaining about feeling sore and tired, but I was surprised by how well she was still moving – we actually managed to pass a few people in the last couple of miles.

Finally, she crossed the finish line in 7:19 and was done! Though we still had to make the long trek back to our hotel again. Luckily, since there was a lot less activity going on at this point, some cops let us out a different exit and we managed to get out of Central Park much quicker than I had earlier.

While I didn’t have a great race, the overall experience was fantastic. Because of how difficult it is to get into through the lottery, it’s probably not very likely that I’ll ever run the New York City Marathon again, but it’s an experience I’ll never forget.

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