Sunday, July 31, 2016

Race Report: 2016 Frank Maier Marathon

On July 30, I ran the Frank Maier Marathon in Juneau, AK.  This was the first time I’ve done this race.  I didn’t originally have any races scheduled between the University of Okoboji Marathon in mid-July and the Super Tunnel Marathon in mid-August.  I waited to see how my legs were doing before deciding if I wanted to add another race to fill that five week gap.

I eventually decided to add a race on the last weekend of July, but there weren’t any local races that weekend.  As I expanded my search, I mostly found rugged trail ultras that are beyond my current abilities.  There were only two marathons that appealed to me.  The first was the Frank Maier Marathon.  The other was the Idaho Falls Marathon.  I would either be doing my third Alaska marathon or my third Idaho marathon.

I was expecting the airfare for summer travel to Juneau to be too expensive, so I priced Idaho Falls first.  Excluding flight times that didn’t really work for me, it was actually more expensive to fly to Idaho Falls.

The airfare to Juneau was reasonable, but I had to adjust my travel days to get the best airfare.  Instead of flying home the day after the race, as I usually do, I stayed an extra day.  I had to pay for an extra day for my hotel and rental car, but that was offset by the savings in airfare.  I basically got a free sightseeing day in Alaska.

Hotels in downtown Juneau are expensive.  To save money, I stayed at the Super 8 near the airport.  It cost only half as much as the downtown hotels, but you get what you pay for.  There wasn’t any AC, so I needed to open the window to cool the room down.  With the window open, the highway noise was horrible.

Going into this race, my legs were well-rested.  I usually rest the day before a race.  That was Friday.  On Thursday, I did some strength training in the morning, and then I spent the rest of the day traveling.  That’s not unusual.  It’s how I often taper for a race.  What was unusual was that I also rested on Wednesday.  I was originally planning to run anywhere from six to ten miles, depending on how I felt.  After not sleeping well, having a stiff neck, and having dental work done in the morning, I wasn’t exciting about running.  Because of thunderstorms, I would’ve had to run on the treadmill for a second straight day.  When the Novocain wore off, and my tooth felt inflamed, I finally decided to skip my run that day, knowing it would mean three straight days off from running.

My legs were well-rested, but the rest of me wasn’t.  My flight didn’t arrive until 9:30 PM, so I didn’t get to bed until 11:00.  With the three hour time difference, it felt like 2 AM.  I slept for a few hours and then couldn’t get back to sleep.  I felt tired all day Friday, which isn’t a good sign.  I never sleep well the night before a race, and this one was no exception.

After breakfast on Friday, I drove to Douglas Island, which is where the race took place.   As I drove the course, it seemed fairly flat.  In fact, it’s pretty much non-stop rolling hills, they none of them are steep.  You don’t really notice this type of hill when you’re driving.  Next, I familiarized myself with downtown Juneau, which is just across Gastineau Channel.

After lunch, I drove to Mendenhall Glacier.  This is the most visited glacier in southeastern Alaska.  It’s also the most accessible.  You can park near the visitor center and get good views after just a view minutes of walking.

I wanted to hike to Nugget Falls, but the trail was closed because of high water.  I had to settle for this distant view.

Packet pickup was at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center.  It’s a small race, so packet pickup was only available from 5:00 to 6:00.  I got there when it started, so I could eat an early dinner in hopes of getting to bed early.

Going to bed early didn’t work out as I hoped.  With the window open, there was too much traffic noise.  I had to shut the window, but then the room got too warm.  I only managed to sleep for two hours.

The race started at 7:00, but there was an early start at 6:00 for people needing extra time.  There was also an unadvertised early early start at 5:00.  There were several runners doing another race in Wrangell, AK the next day.  They needed to finish in time to get to the airport to fly to their next race.  I felt like a slacker, only doing one race this weekend.  I’m not ready for doubles yet.

I was already awake, so I decided to get to the race early so I could visit with people who were doing the early start.  I knew quite a few of them.  This is a popular race among long-standing members of the 50 States Marathon Club.

The course was out-and-back.  We started at Savikko Park, which is next to Gastineau Channel.  Before the race, we saw a cruise ship navigating the channel.  We also had views of these waterfalls on the other side

From there, we ran alongside the channel to the north end of the island before turning around and coming back to Savikko Park.

You couldn’t ask for better weather.  It was 53 degrees at the start and got up to about 58 by the time I finished.  It’s easier to dress properly when there’s so little variation in temperature.  We had light winds and cloudy skies, so direct sunlight also wasn’t a factor.  There was a slight chance of a passing shower, but that never materialized.

Aside from finishing, I had one other goal.  I wanted to break four hours if I could.  Alaska was one of three states where I’ve only broken four hours once.  The other two are Utah and Hawaii.  More than a year ago, I set my sights on completing my second 50sub4 circuit.  Because of injuries, I haven’t made any progress.

I wasn’t sure how lack of sleep would affect me.  It’s easy to shake off a poor night’s sleep, but I was already feeling tired on Friday.  I was worried I might feel sluggish.  You never really know until the race is underway.

My fitness level has been a moving target, so I don’t have a good sense of pace.  I wanted to start at a 9:00 pace, but I have trouble judging what that feels like.  Shortly after we started running, I felt like my breathing was labored.  It didn’t help that the first mile was mostly uphill.  I backed off a little, but I suspected I might still be running too fast.  I reached the first mile marker in 8:45, confirming my suspicion.  That’s too fast for an uphill mile.

Mile markers were painted in the street.  The first one was a “1” and a “25,” separated by a mile.  Presumably that meant we were at the one mile mark, and runners coming back would be at 25 miles.  That didn’t make sense to me.  Since we started and finished in the same place, the one mile mark should correspond to 25.2 (i.e. one mile to go).  Subsequent mile markers were 2/24, 3/23, 4/22, etc..

It wasn’t until after the race, while talking to other runners, that I learned why the mile markers seemed to be off.  The first one was actually 1.1 going out and 25.1 coming back.  Likewise, all of the mile markers were off by one tenth of a mile.  Bearing that in mind, my first mile was much too fast, but I didn’t know that yet.

By the time we finished the first mile, we were going downhill.  The next mile was all downhill.  I eased up a little, so I would pick up speed.  I was already going too fast.  Despite my intention to throttle back my effort, I ran the second mile in 8:16.

In the early miles, we were running through West Juneau.  Now and then we caught glimpses of downtown Juneau from across the channel.

Although we were always near the channel, there were times when we couldn’t see it.  Instead, tall pine trees towered over us on both sides.  Except for the start and finish, it felt like a wilderness race.

The next few miles had frequent undulations, making it hard to judge my pace.  I gradually settled down, running a little bit slower in each mile.  By my sixth mile, I was finally running the right pace.  Then I clicked off several miles that were all between 8:51 and 9:01.  After a fast start, my pace was now remarkably consistent, despite the hills.

Because I was going slower now, I was occasionally passed by a faster runner.  I had to be careful to let them go by.  I had to resist the temptation to stay with them.

As we reached the north end of the island, we got getter views of the channel and Fritz Cove.

There was an aid station at the 11/15 marker with a Ghostbusters theme.  They were playing the Ghostbusters theme, and three volunteers were dressed as Ghostbusters.  When one asked me if I wanted water or Gatorade, I said, “What, no slime?”

When I drove the course on Friday, I saw a large pullout on the right with a couple of port-o-potties.  The distance seemed about right, so I assumed it was the turnaround point.  As I got within sight of this same spot during the race, it was obvious that it was short of halfway.  The pullout was at the base of a hill that was steeper than anything we had run so far.  As I got closer, I saw runners continuing up the hill.  A runner coming back down told me the turnaround was at the top of the hill.

As I started up the hill, I couldn’t see the top.  This was the first hill that forced me to slow down noticeably.  It was also the first one that seemed to be wearing me down.

The “13” marker on the road was right at the turnaround.  I now know this was actually 13.1 miles.  My time for the first half was 1:54:40, but my time for the most recent mile was 9:22.  Up to this point, my slowest mile had been 9:01.

Coming back down the hill gave me a chance to recover.  I wasn’t trying to speed up, but my downhill mile was 8:40.  The next mile was one of the few flat miles of the race.  I was picking up my effort here.  I was worried my effort might not be sustainable, so I was disappointed to see my time.  I ran that mile in 9:20.

With 11.1 miles to go, I had a cushion of about six minutes.  Even if I couldn’t sustain nine minute miles, I might be able to break four hours.  At this point 9:30 was good enough.  I worried, however, that the previous mile might be the beginning of a trend.

The next two miles each had tough hills.  I challenged myself to run strong on the hills, so I wouldn’t slow down too much overall.  That was risky.  I haven’t been strong on hills in recent races, and I kept wondering if one of these hills might break me.  I was encouraged to run a 9:12 mile, followed by a 9:05 mile.  Now I had only 9.1 miles to go, and I still had a six minute cushion.

I spotted a runner ahead of me who had passed me in the first half of the race.  I was starting to gain ground on him.  That gave me a new incentive to pick up my effort.  I wasn’t trying to compete with anyone, but it was one of those mental games you play to coax yourself into running harder.

I caught up to him going up a hill.  Then we started a long gradual downgrade, and I continued to run hard.  I ran that mile in 8:40.  With 7.1 miles to go, I still had a cushion of six minutes.  Now I was confident I would break four hours.  I might slow down, but I probably wouldn’t slow down that much.  I was almost to the point where a 10:00 pace would be fast enough.

There was also a half marathon.  During the next mile, I reached the half marathon turnaround.  Those runners started at 9:00, so many of them were just getting to the turnaround.  Suddenly I was surrounded by runners who were going just a bit faster than me.  I couldn’t keep up with them, but they still influenced my pace.  Trying to chase them was another mental game that kept me pushing as hard as I could.

With 6.1 miles to go, I just needed to average 10 minutes per mile.  I continued running nine minute miles, effectively adding to my cushion.  I knew it would get harder in the last three miles.  I remembered the long gradual hill that would top out just after 25.  I didn’t remember that there was a shorter but steeper hill first.

The first hill took something out of me, but I was able to recover.  I didn’t lose too much time.  Then I started the last hill.  Normally, I look forward to seeing mile markers.  The 24 marker was somewhat disheartening.  Although my pace for that mile was good, this last hill was already wearing me down, and I knew it was still more than a mile to the top.

Most of the hill was gradual, and I kept grinding out a good pace.  Sometimes it would kick up briefly, and I would have to fight harder.  When I reached 25 (actually 25.1), I was delighted to see I broke nine minutes on a mile that was entirely uphill.  Overall, my time was now 3:43 and change.  I had it, and it wouldn’t be close.

I still wasn’t to the top of the hill, but I could see the crest.  I knew from there it would be downhill all the way to the finish.  I worked the downhill as much as I could, and finished in 3:53:22.  I broke four hours by a wide margin.  I even took third in my age group.

In the first half of the race, I assumed I was running too fast.  I was, but not by that much.  In the second half of the race, I assumed I would blow up.  I didn’t.  I ran the second half four minutes slower than the first half, but it’s worth noting that I still broke two hours in the second half.  I was still running fast enough to break four hours, even on that last hill.

After the race, there was a picnic under the park pavilion.  They were grilling salmon, cheeseburgers and hot dogs.  How many races offer grilled salmon as a post-race snack?

Later in the day, there was a pizza social at Bullwinkle’s Pizza Parlor in Juneau.  Of course I had to do that.  I saw some familiar faces, and also got to know a few of the local runners.

After the race, I could barely walk.  After finally getting a good night’s sleep, I felt better.  By Sunday morning, I was walking normally again.  After doing some strength training exercises in the morning, I was ready to do some hiking.

Mount Roberts is a 3,918 foot peak that overlooks Juneau and Douglas Island.  There’s a hiking trail that goes to the top.  There’s also a tram that goes about halfway up the mountain.  I hiked about halfway up the trail, to reach the top of the tram.  It’s a strenuous hike, which took me about an hour and a half.  It was too cloudy to get good views of the surrounding peaks, but I saw a few waterfalls during my hike.

Here’s the view of the harbor from halfway up the mountain.

At the top of the tram, there’s a restaurant, gift shop, and nature center.  I had lunch at the restaurant.  The trail continues all the way to the top, but that section of the trail was temporarily closed.  That’s just as well.  The round trip hike would have taken at least three hours, and it’s unlikely I would have been able to see much through the clouds.

After lunch, I took the tram back down.  A one way tram ride costs $10, but I was able to ride for free by showing my receipt from the restaurant.

The tram station is right next to the cruise terminal.  Not surprisingly, that’s also near the touristy part of town.  While I was there, I spent a good part of the afternoon window shopping.

Tomorrow morning, I fly home.  Then I need to get back to training.  I’m encouraged by my strong run in this race, but I still need to shave off about 15 minutes to qualify for Boston.  My next two races will both be on downhill courses.  It’s time to really work on running downhill.


  1. So happy to see that your comeback is going well!

    1. I'm real happy with this result. It's the first time this year I've run strong in the late miles.