On Saturday, I ran in the Zombie 1/2 Marathon here in Anchorage, my second 1/2 Marathon so far (you can read the recap from my first one here). I’ve been really excited for this race, mostly because how could a zombie-themed race not be completely awesome?
Dressing up was highly encouraged (actually, I think the flyer said “run as a zombie or be eaten” 🙂 ), and I’d say there was probably a 50/50 mix of people who were dressed up and not. Most of those who were dressed up were zombies (of course), but I also saw Spiderman, Sponge Bob Squarepants, and even an Elvis. Zombie cheerleader was quite a popular choice as well 🙂
The 1/2 Marathon started at 10am, and the full Marathon and “Undead Ultra” 50k started at 8am at the other end of the course. Some of those runners had already reached the turnaround point at our start line before we began. The others we ended up passing going the other direction. I feel sorry for any of those runners, because all they would have seen was a massive wave of zombies running straight towards them!
The weather was about what I had expected. It was 27° when I first woke up Saturday morning, and warmed up to right around 30° by race time at 10am. I had been more worried about there being snow, because that definitely would have slowed me down. But luckily we didn’t have any yet, so the trails were dry and free from snow and ice – ideal conditions for a late-October race in Alaska.
The course itself was great. The first 4 miles are mostly through the woods, starting in midtown Anchorage, heading out toward the scenic Coastal Trail. This whole section is relatively flat and went by pretty quickly. Around mile 2, I noticed that I had been passed by someone wearing Vibram Five Fingers and dressed in a Dracula cape.
A bit later, around mile 3, as I passed a small group that appeared to be running together, I glanced over and realized that one of the people I was passing was my high school calculus teacher. Now, I actually really liked this teacher, so it wasn’t one of those “ha ha, it’s payback time now!” moments, but it did give me a reason to smile nonetheless.
Right about mile 4 is when we reached the Coastal Trail at Westchester Lagoon, along with the first of only 2 aid stations along the course. I took a quick drink of Gatorade, popped a few Shot Bloks, and was back on my way. The next 2 miles were still relatively flat and went by pretty quickly.
It was around mile 6 that we started seeing any hills of decent size. Coming up one of the hills, I noticed that I was getting ready to pass the guy wearing Five Fingers and a Dracula cape that had passed me earlier. Just as I was passing him, I glanced over and realized it was my cousin! I ran alongside him and talked for a minute or so, and asked him how he like his Five Fingers (he loves them). It was obvious that he was struggling on the hills, eventually saying “you better get on running, I’ll see you at the end,” so off I went.
Mile 8 brought the end of the hills (for the time being), and the 2nd (and last) aid station. This time I downed 2 Gatorades, pulled a Clif Shot from my pocket, and took a big gulp of that. It turns out I had just committed one of the cardinal sins of running – never eat or drink something during a race that you haven’t previously had in training. Now, I’ve had plenty of Clif Shots during other runs in the past, but I had never had this particular flavor – vanilla. It was so sickly sweet that it quickly made me a bit sick to my stomach. Luckily that only lasted a few minutes, but instead of testing my luck, I just shoved the rest of it in my pocket without trying another taste.
Miles 9 and 10 both brought moose sightings. Luckily they were both a good 20-30 feet off the trail, munching on some tree branches, so they didn’t slow us down at all. The last few miles after that were mostly a blur. My legs were starting to feel a bit fatigued, but nothing too bad. All in all I was feeling really good still. But I had heard some people talking before the race, and so I knew what to expect at the very end of the race – a long, slow climb to the finish line:
In reality, it was about a 200 foot climb in the last 3/4 miles of the course. My legs were definitely burning once I reached the top, but at that point I wasn’t thinking too much about it because there were lots of people shouting and cheering us on, and I spotted my family waving and cheering and taking pictures shortly before I crossed the finish line.
I crossed the finish line in 1:55:44, slashing just over 10 minutes off my previous 1/2 Marathon time! Obviously it was me and my legs that actually ran the race in that time, but I have to give a lot of credit to my newly-acquired Garmin Forerunner 305 for helping to keep me on pace. There were a number of times (especially closer to the end of the race), that I caught myself starting to slow down for no real reason at all. I think as soon as I started to feel tired, my body just sort of naturally shifted down a gear or two, even though I was perfectly capable of keeping up my pace. In the past, I probably wouldn’t have noticed, and just gradually ran slower and slower. Thanks to my Garmin, I was able to keep a pace of 8:30-8:40 minutes miles for almost the entire race.
I also want to give a shout-out to Rita’s husband, who said something to her during their first 1/2 Marathon together that really stuck with me and went through my head several times during this race. When she felt like they were running too fast, faster than she had trained for, faster than she thought she could keep up, he asked her “but what if you could?” I had the same sort of thoughts going through my head during this race, thinking that I was pushing myself too hard at times. What if I couldn’t keep up this pace? What if I get to mile 10 or 12, and just have nothing left in me? But every time I started thinking this way, I just went back to asking myself the same question:
“But what if I could?”