It looks like I’ll be continuing my recent tradition of packing multiple race reports into a single post. With much of the rest of the country caught up in the so-called “polar vortex“, we’ve actually had pretty warm weather here in Alaska over the past month or so. With Rocky Raccoon 100 just over 2 weeks away, I’ve recently done 2 longer races as part of my final build-up in training for my 2nd 100 miler.
Willow Winter Solstice Marathon (December 21)
I ran this same race last year when it was -22F at the start, dropping to -30F during the race. This year, the weather was much warmer (mid-20’s), but instead we were greeted by about 5 inches of fresh snow.
I think I would have preferred it being -30…
Before the race with my cousin Sarah and her friend Kristine.
The race is run on snowmachine and dogsledding trails around the Willow area. The race organizers did their best to pack down the trail by having snowmachines out on the course before and during the race. Unfortunately it didn’t help much, and we were left to run through what was aptly described as “mashed potatoes”. I’ve never run through sand before, but others said this was very similar. All I know is that it was a tough slog. Every step was difficult, and even though I could tell I was working much harder than normal, my pace was quite slow.
I took it easy in the beginning and started out near the back of the pack. Around mile 9 or 10, I started catching up to some of the people who had started out too quickly. By the time I reached the turnaround at mile 14 (making this a 28 mile marathon!), I think I had passed 3 or 4 other runners. After turning around and heading back towards the finish, I managed to pass several others. At one point, I realized I was actually in 4th place (granted, there were only ??? runners total). However, it was me that had pushed too hard this time, and 3 runners passed me back before reaching the finish line in 5:51 – by far my slowest (and most difficult) marathon to date.
Exhausted and happy to be done!
Frosty Bottom 50 Miler (January 4)
2 weeks later, after having been well fed and rested over Christmas and New Years, I ran the Frosty Bottom 50 miler. This race was exactly 4 weeks out from Rocky Raccoon 100, so I figured it was perfect timing for one last long training run.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit that while this race is billed as a 50 miler, in reality it measured only about 43 miles on my Garmin. I knew this going in, as I had run the “25 mile” version of this race 2 years ago.
This is a multi-sport race, which is pretty common in Alaska winter races. This means that you can bike, ski or run in either of the 25 or 50 mile distances. The race is put on by a local bike shop, so it is largely a bike race. That, and this year all of the race proceeds went to a local biker who was badly injured last fall. There were 23 runners for the 25 miler, and 10 of us for the 50 miler.
The race starts at Kincaid Park, follows the Coastal Trail until it meets up with the Chester Creek Trail at Westchester Lagoon. It follows that trail until it meets up with the trails in Bicentennial Park, with the 25 mile race ending at Hilltop Ski area. The 50 milers loop around and go all the way back to Kincaid.
All smiles at the halfway point!
The first few miles of the race, the snow on the trail was very soft and punchy, and I was beginning to have flashbacks of the Willow marathon. Within 3-4 miles though, we reached more regularly used trail where the snow was better packed down, and it was much easier going from there. Through the first half of the race, I ended up running with someone probably 75% of the time, and the miles ticked by pretty quickly. Once I reached the turnaround point and there were only 10 of us left running the 50 miler, things quickly changed and I ran the whole way back to Kincaid without even seeing any of the other runners. When I finished in 8:31, there were just 2 guys with a clipboard recording times at the finish line. I had finished about 15 minutes after the previous runner, and I came to find out later that the closest person behind me was about an hour and a half back.
Overall I felt good during this race. There was a small aid station at the turnaround where I was able to refill my water, but otherwise it was essentially self-supported. I ate well all day, and never really had any issues with my stomach. That’s one of the main reasons I wanted to do one more long run like this before Rocky Raccoon, it was one more chance to practice my hydration and fueling strategies. With these long ultras, they are almost as much an eating and drinking competition as they are a running one. During a marathon, you can get by for 3-4 hours on a couple gels. But for these longer ultras, that type of a strategy simply won’t cut it (at least not for me). After the first couple of hours, I need to get some real food in me, and ideally aim for 200-300 calories an hour.
Final Prep for Rocky Raccoon
Rocky Raccoon is coming up fast on February 1, just over 2 weeks away. I did my last long training run this past weekend, and as they say “the hay is in the barn” in terms of my training. There’s not much I can do at this point to make myself any stronger or more ready for race day. My taper started this week, and from here until race day, it’s all about keeping my legs sharp, getting as much rest as I can, and not allowing myself to do anything stupid that will get me injured.
My goal for this race is to go sub-24. I ran 25:42 at Resurrection Pass, my first 100 miler last summer, and based on my training, the relatively flat course, and the fact that I won’t have to carry all my gear this time, I think this is a very attainable goal. Of course, we never know what surprises (good or bad) race day may bring, but I’m feeling confident heading into my taper.