Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Big Wild Life Runs - August 17, 2008 Anchorage, Alaska

Most people would be happy to spend their birthdays going out to dinner, maybe catching a show or staying out late partying with friends, however if you’re a 50 States Club marathoner, like me, the opportunity to run a marathon on your birthday is too good to pass up.
This year my birthday fell on a Sunday, so I knew I’d have a variety of choices:, Helsinki, South Dakota, ET or Humpy’s in Anchorage. I chose Humpy’s as it was also a 50 State Club reunion run; I’d have plenty of company to celebrate with. This was the second time I’ve ran a marathon on my birthday, the first was Silver State in Reno a few years ago and my second time to Alaska for Humpy’s.
I’m sure you’re thinking “What kind of name is Humpy’s for a marathon?” Humpy’s, as well as being a type of salmon, is also the name of a popular downtown bar/restaurant-Humpy’s Great Alaskan Ale House. They have been a sponsor of the race for many years, however this year the marathon and accompanying races have become so popular that they’ve changed the name of the event to “Big Wild Life Runs”, which is also the catch phrase for the advertising promotion for the city and added additional sponsors for each of the individual runs-the Skinny Raven Half and the Snow City CafĂ© 5K.
I left for Anchorage on the Friday before the marathon via a nonstop UsAirways flight from Las Vegas. If you ever plan a trip to Alaska-book early! Fares are always high, so this is a good time to redeem your frequent flyer points. Booking early also applies to hotels and car rentals. Summer is high season in Alaska, and it’s a short season at that, rates are at a premium. I saved about $100 per night by making reservations 6 months in advance. Car rentals are another story. I didn’t need to rent however I heard from others in our group that they were high. $70 per day was about the average.
If you stay downtown you really won’t need a car the entire time, it may be more economical to only rent it for a day at a time is you plan to drive to sightsee.
My friend Kathy from New York, had arrived the day before, so once I arrived we decided to explore the city before heading out to dinner. As Anchorage is so far north, this time of year, sunset is not until 10pm, which leaves you plenty of daylight for shopping or sightseeing.
For dinner that evening we decided on the Glacier Brewery. This was definitely a popular choice-there was a 2 hour wait for a table! Unfortunately, due to the number of tourist in Anchorage during the summer, this is the norm at all of the downtown restaurants! We did find a “shortcut” to getting a table. If you’re willing to sit in the bar area, you simply sit down when a table leaves—we were able to reduce our waiting time from 2 hours to about 30 seconds!
Saturday was an easy day. We went to the 50 States Club meeting. There were about 50 runners from all over the country. The race director spoke and one of the city officials thanked us for choosing their race for our reunion. Afterward we went to packet pick up at the Convention Center. A nice perk that came with having Humpy’s for a sponsor, was the pasta lunch included with your entry. It turned out to be a beautiful day, so we were able to sit outside on the restaurant’s patio and enjoyed 5 hot pasta dishes and a variety of cold pastas. Everyone was agreed that carbo-loading lunch worked out better for them than the usual pasta dinner the evening before running.
The rest of the afternoon we spent at the Anchorage Market, where you can buy almost anything. The food court offers some very unusual foods-everything from Alaskan-style funnel cake to caribou sausages and salmon quesadillas!
Sunday morning-my birthday and Marathon Day! No need for the usual super early wake- up call, this marathon starting time was a reasonable 9am. In fact, each of the races-half marathon, 5K, Kid’s Fun Run and Marathon Walk, had a separate starting time. The marathon had a 6 hour cut off, for those who needing more time the Walk began at 8am, followed the same course and offered a 7 hour time limit.
One of my big concerns was going into this marathon was the weather. On my Alaska trip 3 years ago, it rained every other day, including the day of the marathon. This time we had perfect marathon weather-overcast with temps in 50s. Ideal for someone coming from Las Vegas and 100 degree plus temps!
The race starts and finishes in the same place, making it an easy walk from any of the downtown hotels and just a few minutes by car if you opt to stay outside of the city.
The course itself is run on the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, a bike path paved in asphalt. It takes you from downtown out past the airport, turns around and brings you back on the same trail then connects to the Lainie Fleischer Chester Creek Trail to a second turnaround. Then continues back to downtown and ends in front of Humpy’s. I wouldn’t say the course is completely flat however there are no significant hills; the few hills you encounter are rolling with the greatest climb in elevation being just 75 feet.
This year there were 284 finishers in the marathon; not a huge field by any means, however with the out and back course design you were never running by yourself. You’ll notice another interesting feature of the course at mile 6 as you pass by Anchorage International Airport. At this busy airport, takeoffs and landings are just minutes apart. Chances are a jumbo jet will be “buzzing” over head, close enough for you to make out what airline it is.
Of course, there is also the opportunity to see some wild life up close and personal on the course.
The first time I ran here I saw a mother moose with her calf only about 10 feet off the path. This year the wildest creature I saw was a black Labrador running “off leash”! Kathy’s closest encounter was a warning of a porcupine on the course. She had seen a bear crossing the road on her first day in Alaska. Luckily she was in the safety of her car for that sighting!
The winner of the Women’s Marathon was Debbie Cropper, a local elite runner and a member of the 50 States Club. In spite of a nagging iliotibial band injury she defended her 2007 win with a finish time within 1 second of her previous year’s time-3:14:05.
Not only did Debbie run fast, she organized the marathon volunteers, worked at packet pick up, housed several 50 Staters and threw a party for the club members at her home after the marathon. She even remembered my birthday with a cake!
I would have to say if you like small, low key marathons Humpy’s is an ideal marathon. The race is actually presented as the Anchorage Running Club’s premier fundraising event, which means as fellow runners they pay attention to details. From numerous well stocked water and aid stations, to clearly marking the course and providing quality tech shirts in great colors with cool designs, they have set the standard.
The community support and volunteers are outstanding. You can run a big name race elsewhere but I doubt you’ll come away from it with the awesome experience you’ll have at Humpy’s.

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