Wednesday, July 27, 2016

State #30 Her Tern Half Marathon, Anchorage, AK, July 17, 2016, Part 2

Alaska, Day Two

We took some of Captain John’s suggestions for our second day in Alaska. After sleeping in, we headed to Girdwood to the Alyeska ski resort there to take the mountain tram up to the top of the mountain to take in the views.
Top of the trail and ski hill. Cloudy & desolate but still beautiful.
Unfortunately, the day wasn’t as sunny and clear as the previous day, but we still enjoyed the ride up and the views we were able to see. Up at the top, we decided to take a short hike to the top of the Mighty Might trail which topped out at about 2600 feet or so. It wasn’t an easy hike, but it was rewarding. 

Top of the trail.
Flowers on the mountaintop.
View looking down.
We reached the top of the trail area and found snow, alpine flowers and a waterfall. It was desolate and beautiful at the same time. We could see through the clouds down to the highway and water/mountains beyond. I can’t imagine what the views must be like on a clear day. Just sublime, I imagine. 
View looking up as we hiked down.
After our hike, we took the tram down the mountain and headed to a nearby gold panning creek. We heard the demonstration of how to pan for gold and then made our way down to the creek. Holy lots of work for not much gain, Batman! I sure hope the prospectors didn’t have to sift through all this muck for tiny flakes of gold! We found a few minute flecks of gold before being driven away by the black flies and lack of striking it rich.
Panning for gold.
There's gold in them thar hills! (Is there?) We didn't find it!
We decided to grab lunch at a place nearby called Chair 5, a family-friendly pub-style place. Not fancy, but perfect for the time and location. I ordered a salad topped with Alaskan Halibut. The fish was slightly over-cooked, but the house jalapeƱo dressing was fabulous. I topped it off with local beer. Yum!
Kites flying in Anchorage park near bib pick up.
Once back in Anchorage, Craig took the girls swimming while I picked up my race bib. The race expo was just around the corner from our hotel in the street between the Her Tern boutique and the Skinny Raven running store. The woman who gave me my number remarked that I was from Connecticut and asked if I came all the way to Alaska just to run the race. I told her yes, but that my family came along for an Alaskan vacation. We chatted a bit about the race route, possible wildlife viewing along the trail, and the start location. It was helpful to chat with her. I then perused the two shops there at the expo, but I didn’t find anything I absolutely needed to have. 
Race shirt and bib number.
I met Craig and the girls at the pool and watched them swim, and after showers, we headed out to dinner at Campobello Bistro, an Italian restaurant in Anchorage. Our dinner was delicious, featuring hand-made pasta and a delicious dijon-balsamic dressed salad with blue cheese crumbles and sliced almonds. Yum. We hit Walmart on the way back to our hotel for my last-minute race necessities, and then it was pretty much lights out for our clan until race morning.

Day Three: Race Day, July 17, 2016

I set my alarm for 6 am on race day, but woke up at 4:30 am to use the bathroom (for at least the 3rd time overnight!) and never really got back to sleep. Race jitters, I guess. I took my night-before purchased Starbucks bold coffee down to the lobby lounge to get it warmed up in the microwave, and while chatting with the woman working in the coffee lounge (where said microwaving was underway) a fuse blew. Clearly, it was my neurotic tendencies that caused the mishap, but it wasn’t very crowded down there, so not much harm done. 
While waiting for my coffee to get warmed up in another microwave, I met a woman and man who were both from Massachusetts (Cohasset and Northboro, respectively) and were on their way to tour Denali and then cruise Alaska. They recognized me as an east coaster by my Nantucket sweatshirt, and we got to chatting. They were really nice to talk to, and they were so interested in my running travels. I told them about my blog, and they both accessed it (or let others know about it) before the morning was up. I didn’t get their names, but thanks for reading and/or for following my adventures! It was great meeting you, and I hope your Alaskan travels are amazing!
The Her Tern Half Marathon didn’t start until 9 am, so I had some time to kill. I had one coffee, then another, stretched, ate a usual breakfast, bathroomed as many times as possible and gathered up the family for the walk to the start. They saw me off and headed out for breakfast, while I embarked on a 13 mile jaunt through Cutler Creek Park.
My view at the starting line.
My husband's view of the starting line up.
The race started at the furthest west strip of corridor park in Anchorage. We began with a loop around the park and into a residential area. At the end of that street, we entered the Cutler Creek Park which was the venue for the remainder of the race. 
And we're off....!
The park was a lovely stretch of green space spanning Anchorage along the creek, lined with most wooded surroundings. It was a largely shaded route, which was nice considering the warm sunny 70’s temps we had with us. It was a bit funny to hear all the warnings from race officials to remember to hydrate with the warm temps, especially considering that at home on the east coast the weather was a super hot and humid 95 degrees. Nonetheless, hydration is important with any prolonged exercise, so I heeded the warnings and made sure to grab liquid at each aid station. Although in my mind I couldn’t help thinking that the weather was pretty much picture perfect!
The race went well most of the way along. I caught up with the one male runner, “Greg” around mile 6 or so, and we chatted for a bit. He told me that his wife nominated him to be the one man on the course, and somehow he received the nod. The crowning moment for him was being able to begin the race with his daughter who was now somewhere in the front of the pack. He was a swell guy, providing encouragement to all the lady runners around him. Closer to the turn around point at mile 7, he passed me at a sprint and ended up handing out water at the aid station there. What a guy!
I liked the fact that the turnaround was at mile 7, as that meant that the return trip was a bit shorter. I have to say though, that always in races I can’t help but think of the philosophical words of Morrissey, “Why is the last mile the hardest mile? My throat was dry with the sun in my eyes…” In the case of this race, the sun was actually at my back on the return trip, so that was a relief, but as most race routes go, the last mile of the race also featured the largest uphill. Seriously, why is that always a thing???!!! (Those race directors are maniacal!) I did my best to get up that hill, but on the first bit I had to walk a few steps until it evened out. I started running again, and some angel of a man (who clearly was an experienced runner/trainer) helped me power up the last little bit. Thank you, angel-man! I approached the finish line spying a woman in front of me running with her young daughter, and suddenly I dug deep in to the last bit of resolve I had to outrun them. Success! it wasn’t pretty, but I did it. I finished in just about 2:04 something. In my blind sprint for the finish line, I didn’t even see my own family cheering for me, but they were there. Love you, guys! xoxo!
Approaching the finish line. 
Crossing the finish line.
My gang found me as I walked slowly past the finishing chute and into the shade to find a shake-out, stretching place. I was happy to see them, but at the same time, I felt pretty spent. I was hot, tired, sore, dehydrated, smelly and glad to be at the finish line. I grabbed some water and watermelon slices. They had tons of sweets available to the runners, but I wasn’t feeling up for that stuff. The finish line also featured a mimosa garden, but I just wanted to get stretched out and showered up. I figured, if anything, I’d grab food and some kind of drink at the airport after having some time to decompress. The finish line mimosa garden was very cute and festive though.
Now a word about the finisher's bracelet. Just like in most races, the bracelets were handed out just past the finish line. They were stored in small glass jars with cork stoppers, a nice presentation. The bracelets themselves are pretty cool, but very dainty and quite small. At first, I was worried it wouldn't fit me, but thankfully, it did. It features the initials of the marathon HTH and some colored, faceted beads. I wish I knew if the colors represented something (red, pink and gold). I couldn't help feel a little let down though. I am happy to have the bracelet, but for 50 states runners heading all the way to Alaska, I wish the "medal" was a bit more substantial. I'm interested in seeing how many other out of staters were there and what they thought, and I also wonder if any of the plus-sized runners felt let down too, if their bracelets were too small. I like the idea of the bracelet award, but I guess I just prefer finisher's medals.
Finisher's bracelet.
Once I walked a bit more and stretched, I felt better, but the crowning glory was the hot shower back at the hotel. Heaven. We rested for a bit before heading out to the airport. Viewing the race results online, my official chip finish time was 2:04:53 and 2:05:00 gun time. My initial pace was pretty good (8:47/mi), but I really slowed by the end (9:32/mi). I finished 160th overall out of 645 runners, and 34th of 128 in my age division. Not my greatest performance, but I will take it!
Our luggage loaded, off we went to the Anchorage airport. I wish we could have spent a couple of more days in Alaska. There is so much to see. Once at the airport, we had lunch complete with a bloody mary for me (hey, gotta replenish all that salt I lost on those 13.1 miles today, right?) before boarding our plane to Seattle. We were on to the next part of our vacation. Seattle with Uncle Dude and Aunt Lisa! State #30 was in the books, and although it wasn’t my fastest time, it was an accomplishment that felt half a world away. I hope we get back to Alaska someday. What a glorious state filled with incredible beauty.
Alaska card.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

State #30 Her Tern Half Marathon, Anchorage, AK, July 17, 2016, Part 1

Where do I even begin with this one? Alaska. Yes. Alaska.
Rental car license plate.
My husband and I pretty much figured that Alaska would be somewhere around the halfway mark of my 50x50 journey. Neither of us have ever traveled to Alaska before, so it was a no-brainer that this would be a family trip. Being Alaska, a summer half marathon was a must, of course, so summer vacation was on!
Looking for an Alaskan half marathon wasn’t difficult, but there also weren’t very many to choose from in our time frame. I saw the Summer Solstice Mayor’s Marathon in June, but I was a little apprehensive about that one since I wasn’t sure how many snow days we might have at school this year. I couldn’t plan a summer vacation that required me to blow off the last week of my job! We also planned to see our family in Seattle as part of the same summer trip, so playing off of their schedule, I found the Her Tern Half Marathon in Anchorage in mid-July. This is a women’s only half marathon (with the exception of one male runner!), and it was billed as a "boutique-y” race. The race is named after a women’s clothing boutique in Anchorage and is co-sponsored by the Skinny Raven running store. My only hesitation with this race was that I had to forego one of my half marathons musts. This race doesn’t give out finishers medals. Instead, in keeping with their boutique persona, they award runners an artisan, hand-crafted finisher’s bracelet. Ok. I guess I can go with that this time around. 
My husband, kids and I packed our bags and we were off on July 14th. The flights were easy, and surprisingly, it seemed to take less time to get to Anchorage than I thought it would. We were tired when we arrived at our hotel, as was to be expected, so we pretty much checked in and went to sleep.
View of Alaska from the plane. Photo credit to Lily Frost.
The next day, our first full day in Alaska, was truly magnificent. We looked in to taking a boat tour of some glaciers near Anchorage. I managed to find a pretty large glacier cruise that was about 2 hours from our hotel. My husband, wanting to research it more, discovered a smaller, more intimate option only one hour away, and set about booking it. Unfortunately, that cruise was already all booked up, but that company gave my husband the name of another possible small-scale glacier tour. 

Photos along the roadway from Anchorage to Whittier.
Enter Captain John Earle. My husband made contact with him, and so we were booked on his boat, the Tundra. He departs from a small marina town called Whittier. It is only about a one hour drive from Anchorage. A beautiful, one hour drive. All along the highway we saw gorgeous water and mountain views. We had to make it to a one-way tunnel by 8:30 am to get to Whittier, which we managed pretty easily. The tunnel was a sight to see. It looked like an ancient, underground chiseled subway tunnel. Not like those glitzy tunnels we are accustomed to seeing in the big cities back home. Captain John’s boat was docked at the first marina after the tunnel, so we met him there.
Entrance to the one-way tunnel.
View inside the tunnel to Whittier. 
Captain John, along with his first mate Kayla, were so welcoming and friendly and casual and fun. We were greeted with bagels, croissants, fruit, coffee and Pellegrino sodas. And the sights all around us were just breathtaking. Whittier is a tiny little town surrounded by gorgeous mountains, and water that leads in to the Prince William Sound. We managed to have a sunny, beautiful, clear day for our boat trip. It was just perfect. 
View of Whittier marina from the back of the Tundra.
Joining the crew....
We started our journey with Captain John and Kayla, learning much from them about Alaskan history, flora and fauna, local(ish) travel and activities and a crash course on the science all around us. The views were just incredible, with the sun glinting off of the glaciers creating lightness and highlighting that amazing glacial-blue hue that results from the immense pressure of the ice. Also around us were countless waterfalls cascading from the high mountaintops as the snow melted. Just spectacular!
One of the many exquisite glaciers we viewed along our boat trip.
We also learned from Captain John that he was originally from Glastonbury, CT! How funny to come nearly a continent away to meet someone from your own backyard. He told us that his grandfather was the person to establish the Earle land trust in the town. We decided we would have to make a special trip when home to do some hiking there in the protected land preserve. 
Captain John drove us around the sound to our first stop, which was to hoist up his shrimp traps. The girls got involved in this activity, helping to pull the line and bring the traps up to the boat. It was so fun to see the traps land on the back deck of the boat and to see all the jumping shrimp flipping around inside them. We marveled at how large they were! It was a terrific catch…four traps and lots of shrimp. We even got to hold them. Of course, we had to tell Captain John and Kayla about how we like to get lobsters at home and let the crawl around on our deck to see what they will do. We even like to pretend that they are our pets. Ha!

After the shrimp catch, it was on to see the glaciers. On our way, we spied a seal and some sea birds called kittiwakes. Captain John told us the story of the Blackstone glacier, named after a man whose last name was Blackstone and who became lost traversing the glacier, never to be seen again. His brother, Willard, looked for him for years, but never found his body, only his pack. A nearby island is named Willard Island in his honor. We hung out at the Blackstone Glacier for a good bit of time, waiting to see chunks that might “calve” or fall off and in to the water. We also saw a sightseeing tour on jet-skis go by. Talk about up close and personal! We saw a few bits fall off of the Blackstone Glacier while we enjoyed some clam chowder prepared by Kayla. What a lovely treat while we braved the cool glacier air. 
View approaching Blackstone Glacier (on the right).
Another view of the area. 
Our panorama while enjoying clam chowder. Talk about lunch and a view!
Next up, we were off to enjoy the Beloit Glacier. This glacier is located next to the Blackstone Glacier, and as we approached, Captain John could tell that lots of calving occurred that day. There were lots of ice chunks in the water all around us, and he took Ella to fish for some 10.000 year old ice. She hauled it up with his help in a fishing net, and the ice promptly went in to our water pitcher to chill our drinks, and the clearest and prettiest chunk went in a bowl for Ella to show her sister. (Later in the day, Ella actually ate the ice and drank the melted water. She consumed something as old as the dinosaurs. How cool is that??!!). Kayla prepared us some terrific sandwiches for lunch. Talk about dinner and a view!
Beloit glacier to the left, Blackstone on the right.
Hanging out with glaciers. Not too shabby.
Capt. John and Ella scooping up ice chunks.
Clear, gorgeous 10,000 year old glacial ice.
We hung around the Beloit Glacier and spied some amazing ice chunks falling off of it. It was so amazing to see and hear. The cracking noises were very loud and the splash and resulting waves were cooler than fireworks! It was incredible to see! We couldn’t believe our amazing luck that we saw so many chunks tumble. 
Gorgeous blue color in the glaciers.
Glacier, waterfall and us.
Captain John told us all kinds of cool stories about how he hikes to the mountaintops in this area and then skis down them, and how he has camped out on the glaciers at night watching the Northern Lights. It must be truly unbelievable. We also had fun looking at his underwater sonar to tell what kind of depths and fish swimming below us. 
Heading back to Whittier and to reset the shrimp traps. Captain Lily at the helm.
As part of our return trip to the marina in Whittier, we witnessed the resetting of the shrimp traps. It was really so wonderful for our girls to have this experience. We do not get the opportunity to go out on fishing boats or ocean vessels ever, so for them to see were shrimp come from and how they are caught was so very cool. I think it is so important for kids to understand that food just doesn’t “happen” in the grocery store. There is a process for it, and many people are involved in it.
Kayla's garlic shrimp prepared on the boat. Caught that morning. Yum!
Now, just as if things couldn’t get any more amazing on our Tundra boat trip, Kayla cooked up the fresh shrimp caught earlier that morning for us to snack on as we returned to the marina. We also got to witness the amazing kittiwakes nesting on the cliffsides and shifting to and fro in wild squawking swells. It made us feel like we were in an episode of a National Geographic special. 
As we approached the marina, we were sad to see our unbelievable day end. Captain John and Kayla were such fabulous people, and we wished we could hang out with them again for another boat-touring day. Captain John echoed our sentiments, saying that we’d just have to make it an annual trip. How amazing that would be! And if we could ever do an overnight camp out via the Tundra, that would seriously be life-changing. 
Such a wonderful day for our family on the Tundra.
Captain John and the girls.
We said our last goodbyes before leaving for our return trip through the tunnel. We received some suggestions for activities for the next day from our hosts, and on the return trip to Anchorage, stopped in Girdwood to research some of them. We hit a store called the “Tourist Trap” filled with souvenirs from the area, and as Lily and I were in there browsing, who should walk in but Captain John and Kayla! Our only friends in all of Alaska! Such a small, huge state. John helped us navigate the activities for the next day, but unfortunately, his contacts from the sled dog farm were not working in the store that day, so he just gave us the brochure along with the map of Girdwood that had some other options on it. It was so fun to see them again, and we thanked them again for the wonderful day and suggestions for the next day before we departed for our hotel. 
I can’t say enough wonderful things about our experience on the Tundra. If you are planning to visit Anchorage, this is the way to do a glacier tour, as the larger boats are all owned by the cruise ships and are loaded down with cruise line passengers. You will absolutely enjoy the personal touch of the Tundra crew over the larger group setting of the cruise ship excursion boats! Definitely check them out!
We ended up having dinner that night at the Glacier Bay Brewing Co. in Anchorage, which was great. I had a delicious meal of rock fish prepared in a somewhat Southwestern style. It was super! After dinner, all tired from our day at sea, we crashed as a family and slept a hearty sleep. 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Back to business!

I finally feel like I'm getting back to business here. It has been too long that I've been inconsistent (or non-existent!) with blogging. Work made life very busy this past six months, which really is no excuse, but nonetheless, I got away from the blog. Additionally, my running became inconsistent as well. My husband's work travel schedule increased, and between my work day and running my kids around to their activities, I didn't always achieve my desired mileage per week. In 2015, I typically averaged 100 miles a month or so, and the past six months I didn't get near that more often that not. Certainly not where I wanted to be. Add to that the fact that I haven't been the world's most diligent Weight Watcher either, favoring quick, easy freezer-to- table options rather than home cooked healthy specialties, and my weight has inched up a bit. I'm working on all of these things now that summer is here and my job has ended.
View of my work space.
Somewhat typical day at work.
That being said, I had a terrific year at work! It was nice to head back in to the workplace after a 5 year hiatus raising my kids. I fell in with an amazing group of people at an intermediate school in Granby, CT. Everyone was so welcoming and helpful and willing to jump in to whatever project or activity was happening at school. It was an environment with great energy and positive morale which made it a pleasure to go to work each day. I also had an incredibly supportive principal, which is so crucial in a school setting. I was so lucky that this was my first experience with work after a prolonged time off. I will miss it, as my job was eliminated due to the closing of a school in the district. I have, however, offered to come back as a volunteer to help out...that's how much I enjoyed being there. Shout out to my Wells peeps!
Excellent co-workers!
In the meanwhile, I am able to get back to business with my running, dieting, family focus, sleep :), and healthy cooking. I managed to hit 102 miles for June, and I'm well on my way to hitting 100 for July as well. With my next half marathon around the corner (next weekend!), I'm in good standing. I've started going back to my favorite Thursday morning Weight Watchers meeting, and although I haven't lost much, I'm at least thinking more about healthy eating. 
Garden corn
Garden squash
My husband has also planted an amazing garden, and we've been enjoying all sorts of incredible greens in our salads this summer. That's been pretty wonderful. 
Red kale
Swiss chard
Beet greens
Romaine lettuce
I don't have to get up at 4:45 am each morning to fit in my running anymore, thus, extra sleep feels like a luxury. I get to hang out with my kids every day at their swimming lessons, golf lessons, piano lessons and other fun activities that come up. Life is good.
Golf lesson for the youngest 
Oldest paddle boarding with pals on July 4th. Fun!
My next race is the Her Tern Half Marathon in Anchorage, AK. Yes, Alaska! I can hardly believe it! This will be my 30th state half marathon, which I also cannot believe. 30! I was on the website for the race the other day, watching one of the videos they have posted there. The footage shows the women runners heading along a trail when suddenly moose are crossing the path! Oy! I am really in for a wild run this time! I may have to break my rule of never taking my phone out during a race to take pictures in the midst of this race. Even though I may not be at my ideal race weight, and I may not be running my fastest times right now, I'm really looking forward to the adventure. We are also hoping to have some fjords, puffins, glaciers, mountains, whales and hiking in our future there. It will be an outstanding trip, no doubt.
So, on I run. I have three more 5-mile runs to do before leaving. I can handle that. I do have to say though, that after adding in the P90X yoga and the 21-day fix Dirty 30 workouts last week, I've been hobbling around with sore legs and a sore back. Hopefully that all shakes out, and I'll be able to run strong. It's been slow-going the last few days out on my regular routes. But as I like to say, "Slow is better than No." Good thing my husband helped me secure a visit with my massage therapist this week. Amen to that! Next time I write, I'll be writing about the Anchorage adventure. Stay tuned!