I woke up 15 minutes before my alarm was supposed to go off, I was afraid I would oversleep....
Having laid out my race apparel the night before; it was just a quick shower, collect my belongings and out the door. My brother's house is only a mile from the start so the walk was perfect. I stopped for a coffee and got to the gym 45 minutes before race time. Everyone filed into the gym to listen to the race director's instructions.
This race is a runner's race. No hoopla, no fancy jet fly over. They usually use a howitzer from Ft. Wainwright to start the race but the soldiers are currently deployed in the desert so the Howitzer is otherwise being used. The race director said he would start the race at 8:00am on his watch with the firing of a starter pistol. That is exactly what happened. Before I knew it, I was running my first marathon.
They immediately run you up the "sledding hill" just to slap you in the face a little and let you know who's in charge. Crap, a minute and a half in and I am winded! After we got through the bottle neck of the sledding hill, everything opened up onto the streets of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Campus. Mile two took us into a set of running/hiking trails on campus with some pleasant rolling hills. I settled into a nice rythme and was clocking about a 11:30/12:00 minute pace for the first 5 miles. I was running with a group of people I figured I would spend the entire race with but ended up leaving them at mile six. I really enjoyed the first seven miles of this course. We were running through soft trails and I was really able to enjoy the leaves turning and all of the great colors.
That happy "pink cloud" feeling didn't last for too long as we approached mile 8 and the road to the Ester Dome. I knew this was coming and was prepared for the next hour and a half to be the most difficult part of the marathon; the most difficult run I had ever done. As we passed the 9 mile mark, we left Ester Dome Road and went back onto trails. Immediately greeted by steep hills, I walked up the steepest and ran when I could. I averaged 16 minute miles over the next few miles. although it was really tough, I was enjoying every minute of it. At about the 12 mile mark we came out of the woods and back onto Ester Dome Road, which now was a dirt road. Very steep hills! I was feeling very comfortable, no pain in my right knee, although there was pain in my left knee...kinda wierd.
I hit the top of the Dome and the half marathon mark at 2 hours and 52 minutes. I was happy with my time. Lol, I later found out that the winner (collecting his second victory) crossed the finish line one minute before I hit the half-mary mark! The next four miles were an out and back on top of the dome and they were the most upliftingly difficult miles. It was up and down, up and down VERY steep "chutes" as we were going out, others were coming back. Everyone was so friendly. Runners were saying, "Good Job", "Looking Good" There this sense of comraderie that I have never felt. I was running with a giant smile on my face and realized that I was living life!
Mile 17 brought about the beginning of the decent. "The Chute" was 1/3 mile drop in which we dropped about 500 feet in elevation. It was almost too steep to run, I was able to shuffle down while the others had to walk slowly. It was an intense rush. The next three miles were a more gradual decent through some really beautiful trails, I was able to shave some time hitting 10:30/11:00 minute pacing.
At about mile 20 it got really lonely.
The next closest runner was about 200 yards in front of me and 300 yards behind me. I was slowly reeling people in, only being passed by relay runners. From mile 2 to the finish line I think I was not passed by more than 10 full marathon runners. I am assuming I was holding a solid pace for the entire race. This loneliness lasted for four miles. I had too dig deep and I had interesting conversations with my HP. I also want to thank the Alaska State Patrol Officer who popped up in four different places over these four miles; he really helped me keep moving forward. The last time I saw him I told him, "If I see you when I get back to Georgia, I will be really worried." I saw him at the finish line, shook his hand and thanked him for helping me.
Last big hill at mile 25.5. Are you kidding me? That is just cruel! I crested the hill and opened it up as best I could for the remaining 3/4 mile. I had the finish line in sight and knew that I was going to become a marathoner.
After 5 hours, 40 minutes and 11 seconds, I achieved a life long goal. I ran a marathon. My brother was at the finish to greet me, and give me a card from Holly. Enlisting the help of so many (Cubbie, Holly and Timothy to name a few)I am so lucky to have been able to accomplish this goal.
One foot in front of the other, one step at a time...