Alaska | Beauty in Juneau

We like to wrap vacations around races, as it is the easiest way to kill two birds with one stone. Kaela and I had been wanting to go to Alaska for some time now and actually were able to make it work into our schedule. Alaska is a multiple leg flight from Columbus and with the sheer size combined with all we wanted to do, we knew it was going to be longer than just a weekend trip. With our bags packed and the mother in law watching the dog, Kaela and I headed to the Last Frontier.

Race: Juneau Marathon
Location: Juneau, AK
Date: July 28, 2018
Finishing Time: 4:38:10

Since having some issues at the end of Kettle I wanted to be smart about any running I did leading up to this race. I was mostly on par with being smart other than my birthday 50k (you know 31 miles for 31st) stopping to have some beers at 8 different breweries throughout the Columbus area. Maybe not the best idea, but hey. why not make it interesting. Heading into race week, my Achilles was feeling much better than at Kettle and my legs overall felt refreshed from the light mileage the few weeks leading up to it.

Other than all the mishaps with the Jackson marathon our travel has been pretty smooth when traveling for races (obviously a little foreshadowing here of some bumps). We arrived to the airport and once we got on the plane were made aware of bad weather heading into Detroit where we were set for our first connection. We sat on the runaway for a while, so long that Kaela  fell asleep and woke up thinking we had already landed when I had to let her know that we had not moved. Kaela called airlines to see if would be able to connect or if there was a later flight. They told us to go to gate once we arrived and if our plane was gone that they would be able to get us on standby on the next flight out.

Once we landed it was the fastest I have ever seen passengers deplane an aircraft. Everyone was trying to get to their connection so they quickly got their belongings and got off the plane. Kaela and I took off in a run to make it to the gate that our plane was scheduled out of. the departure board showed that it was delayed by a few minutes but we weren’t sure if we would make it. We made it to the gate just about 5 minutes too late as the doors had already closed.

We went to the desk as informed to ask to be placed on the stand by list. We had another connection that we had to make in Seattle so I was hoping there were no issues of not only getting out of Detroit but not missing the flight in Seattle as it was later in evening. The very helpful desk attendant apologized for the flight delay and instead of putting us on standby to wait until the flight, just went ahead and got us a seat on the plane. Ok, nerves settled just a little bit.

Kaela and I decided to just get an early dinner and beer while we waited for next flight because we would not have opportunity to eat in Seattle due to time, I mean, we were worried we would miss the flight.

Take off…
Land…
Speed walk/run to the gate…
We made it!

Well, we made it on the plane to get to Juneau and that was my big concern of the day. Spending that much time in airports with my thoughts is never a smart idea. It was a beautiful flight heading into Juneau just staring out the window at the expansive mountain ranges. As we approached Juneau, the plane dipped between the mountains and it felt like I was in the wild. Passing by Juneau on final descent it looked like a tiny city from the air with just a few streets outside of the port. We landed around 9:30pm local time which was about 1:30 am EST, which meant that it had been a very long day. We grabbed our rental car and made our way to the hotel.

We made our way down the one road in and out of the city (fun fact, Juneau is the only US capital that is not accessible by road) to our hotel that was just down the street from sketchy looking bars. We were both so exhausted that we just wanted to get in our room and sleep. Our room was a little smaller than our recent race trips but since it was only for a few nights it was going to be plenty.

GOODNIGHT!

I usually like to get a shakeout run the day before a race but because of the travel and the little sleep, I decided to skip out on it knowing that we would also be doing a little bit of walking throughout the day. We found a delicious local breakfast place called Sandpiper Café. This place was amazing with unique spins on breakfast classics that will have you feeling like you need to roll out the restaurant due to serving sizes.

After breakfast we stopped by the grocery for bagels and juice to be used as my primary nutrition for the rest of the day. Prices weren’t as crazy as everyone had said with Alaska not producing much other than oil, definitely felt like they were cheaper than in Hawaii. Made our way back to hotel to grab our gear for the day and went out to be tourists.

I’m not going to go deep into the details of the adventures of the day but we went on a whale watching and glacier tour, had some world famous fish tacos and even stopped by a local brewery. Crazy thing with breweries in Alaska. Due to laws, craft breweries are only allowed to serve 36 oz of beer to each person in a day and are not allowed to have live music, games or food. Apparently it is to make sure that business isn’t taken from those sketchy bars we had seen the night before. Makes no sense but hey that’s how it works I guess.

We finished the day picking up my packet before heading to dinner at Hangar on the Wharf. Options were limited for pasta but I found the best looking place that also had pasta on the menu. We quickly found out that Juneau was definitely a cruise ship town. When boats were in port, the downtown was booming and when they weren’t it was a ghost town. In this case there were a few boats in for the weekend so the restaurant was a happening place.

After dinner I went through the normal get ready routine, focusing a little more on stretching and massaging muscles from hikes to get those legs loose before bed. I went over the course and talked with Kaela about possible viewing points, but being an out and back course down a single road, I knew she would be able to figure it out.

Breakfast in the morning was a little different than usual because of the small room but I tried my best to be quiet to eat while Kaela “slept”. With most of the planning happening the night before I really just sat back and listened to my playlist until it was time to leave for the start. The start was only about 15 minutes away, but I still wanted to get there about 45 minutes before race start to get prepped and loosen up a little bit prior to start.

On the way we saw people that had utilized the early start making their way past the bridge that connects Douglas Island with Juneau. The entire course was on the same road out and back on Douglas Island with the start taking place at the end of the road which happened to dead end at a park. As we went from the bridge to the start, I noticed a few rolling hills ending with a large downhill heading into the park. Maybe this is going to be a hillier course than originally anticipated, oh well!

After getting my shoes on, doing some quick dynamic stretches, taking the obligatory pre-race photo, it was time for a pre-race meeting. It was a very small field of runners for the marathon (the half marathon started an hour after) which made the meeting feel more like a huddle for a football team. I knew it was going to be a quiet run at spots but I was hoping to meet a few new people along the way. I gave Kaela a kiss and she headed down the street to get pictures of the start. From her pictures you can see the size of the field of runners.

Countdown and we were off

The weather was nice and cool with just the right amount of breeze to keep it comfortable. As usual people took off at the start down the straight away exiting the park, but knowing the long hill at the end, I held off to give myself some space. Powering up the hill we made our way out of the park and I quickly realized that the course would not be closed to traffic at all as a few cars were heading directly towards us. Luckily though it was not busy on the roads at that time in the morning.

With the small field, the group thinned out quickly after leaving the park into a few pockets of people. I met a lady that was on a few month vacation with her family that was wrapping up in Alaska. She was from Pennsylvania and had run Grandma’s Marathon in Minnesota about a month before continuing the trek to Alaska to complete her 42nd state. We chatted for a little bit before arriving at an aid station that was at the roundabout at the bridge that would take you back to Juneau. I grabbed a quick drink and kept pushing on.

My legs felt strong running in low 9 min/mile pace so I kept pushing through the uphills and letting gravity take over on the downhills. Due to little traffic on the road, Kaela was able to pull to the side of the road to take pictures. As I approached she had the camera looking up and she tried pointing out a bald eagle that was above my head but I wasn’t able to see it through the trees. The road was fairly straight with the rolling hills so I could notice the groups of people that were ahead of me. I started to pick off small groups of runners with each mile.

I started to make my way to two ladies that were holding pretty consistent to the pace I had been running and slowly joined into their conversation. One was from Texas and another from Tennessee but both were working through running the 50 states, which seemed be a trend with the participants in the race. We talked about races we had completed and compared states we had left for recommendations. Running is so great to be able to meet new people and even if just for a few hours have a new friend. Kaela was able to grab a really good photo of us heading down the road.

Before I knew it we were getting closer to the turnaround as we exited the tree lined road at about the 10 mile mark. We had some breathtaking views of the water and in the distance the snow capped mountain tops. I remember from the elevation chart from course that the turnaround was up a hill but I guess I forgot to check the scale of the chart. I was not expecting what came.

We had 2 miles of incline with the steepest portion being the last ½ mile climbing 100ft. It seemed to go on forever with the aid station at the turn not coming soon enough. Kaela was at the top cheering me up and was able to get a smile or two out of me once I made it to the top. Quick refill of my handheld and I was heading back down to the water. The downhill felt nice but it brought to light how beat up my legs really were. I went out way too hard and completed the first half in just over 2 hours and could feel the strain in my quads with each step downhill. I knew it was going to be a much longer second half of this race.

Kaela parked down at the bottom of the hill telling me to pick up the pace but I’m sure she could see on my face that may have used more energy than recommended for first half. As I passed by she took one of my favorite running photos that she has ever taken. We had an amazing view of Mendenhall Glacier across the water and the sights helped take mind off the soreness. It reminded me of Hawaii that even though was in a little bit of pain, the scenery made it more manageable. I made it to mile 15 before starting a run/walk mix.

I had seen a handful of people still heading out to the turn around which made me feel good that I wasn’t all the way in the back of the pack. I made the curve in the road and was back on the tree lined section of road that would eventually take me back to the park. The first part of this section had a long climb that I attacked the best I could with the condition of my legs. Kaela drove up beside me to give me some motivation before taking off to set up to take some more pictures.

I spent most of the last 10 miles of the race by myself, with a few instances of catching the lady from TN before she decided that she had more in the tank and took off. With every climb I kept focus to push through it knowing that gravity would again help me on the other side. I was moving at an ok pace in the 11’s and 12’s but felt like I was crawling when my mind compared it to the first half. Kaela was posted up every few miles to take pictures of me between her nature session she was enjoying. It was hard not to smile in the pictures when every few minutes bald eagles would just be flying overhead.

I could see Juneau getting larger between the trees to my left and I as approached the roundabout I knew I was just over 2 miles from the finish. The temperatures started to rise or maybe it just felt that way because the sun made its way out from behind the clouds and was shining so bright. Also due to the time of morning, traffic was picking up on the roads which made it more interesting running on the shoulder around parked cars on a tight road. There were some sections with sidewalks but my feet beating on that concrete was not ideal and I tried staying on the road as much as possible.

The last mile or so, I spotted a runner that I recognized from the early start group because of his “50 states completed” shirt. I put it in my head that I was going to finish before him. I picked up the pace heading into the park and used the steep downhill to jump start my move and held on to the pace as I made my way on the sidewalk with the finish line in sight. Kaela was set up about the same spot she was at the start and was cheering us in.

As I approached him, he must have heard my footsteps and started to pick up his pace. We were in a full out race with each other that brought out some cheers from those hanging out at the finish line. Now to be fair, he started an hour earlier than me so he had more time on his feet and he was at least double my age, but that didn’t stop me at all from kicking into 6th gear and beating him.

4:38:10

After I crossed the finish, I stumbled around as I waited for Kaela to walk up from where she was taking photos. The volunteers at the finish seemed a little preoccupied (again a small race thing and I was in the back half of finishers) so I had to go to a box and grab my own finishers medal. I made my way to the car to grab my clothes and slowly moved to the restroom to change. After I cleaned up I got my free salmon burger (delicious) before we made our way out of the park to relax for the afternoon before our evening flight to Anchorage. We stopped at Tracy’s Crab Shack (tourist trap— not recommended) and Alaskan Brewing for some beer before walking around Juneau along the water before the start of the actual vacation.

Overall the race was exactly what I hoped it would be. A small town setup with no real thrills but just natural beauty. I met a few cool people with interesting stories and had fun in my misery of going out too hard running. Reviewing my watch stats, it was over 2,000 change on the course which is definitely a lot different than the training runs that lead me up to that point. If you want a small race that brings you back to the beauty of running, I cannot recommend the Juneau marathon enough.

The rest of our Alaskan vacation was amazing from salmon fishing, dog sled riding on a glacier, hiking to see wildlife and just so much more! One highlight that I wanted to include in this post is the random encounter I had with Pete Kostelnick. He was running from Kenai, AK to Key West, FL (yes you read that right: Alaska to Florida running). We happened to see him on our way out to Kenai and then again a few days later when we were heading back to Anchorage to head home. I said out loud that maybe I should run with him and Kaela said “then do it!” We turned the car around and that’s exactly what I did. Turns out I was the first person to run with him on the journey.

Running has taken me all over the place and it is amazing the people that I met along the way, from people on the same journey as me running every state to others running over 5,000 miles because why not. Thanks for checking out my recap of the Juneau marathon.

Next stop is another back to back race weekend that had a lot of drama mixed in along the journey!

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