Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Salmon Runs - King Salmon Marathon and Humpy 5K

Our journey continues across the Prince William Sound on a beautiful Alaskan day aboard the FVF Chenega on the Alaskan Marine Highway. The Ferry ride was planned and paid for well in advance because we wanted to take our car as well.  It is not cheap getting to Cordova, whether flying or taking the ferry.  I would highly recommend the ferry for the views and serenity of it all.  

Traveling across the Sound

Cordova off in the distance

Our greeter - Mr. Sea Otter

Once in Cordova, we ventured to the Dragonfly Inn.  There are not many places to stay in Cordova and certainly no brand name hotels, which was fine with us.  This way, we got a little taste of down-home hospitality.  The Dragonfly Inn is basically two small apartments in the home of Betty York.  The room was perfect and would highly recommend it for other marathoners venturing to this race.  It had all the amenities required for a stay during a marathon and the grounds were pretty and comfortable.  Betty was very nice and happened to be one of the timers for the races.  Ironically enough, a mother/daughter marathon manics pair stayed next door to us.  Maniacs everywhere!  

I didn't have a lot of expectations for this marathon due to its size.  There were 29 of us in the marathon, the smallest field that I have ever run with of any distance, well except for 100 meters where you can only get 8 runners at one time on a track!  Cindy was also doing the Humpy 5K.  The runs are named after species of Salmon.

Cute sign

Downtown Cordova

We ventured down through this tiny town with a harbor that was filled with commercial fishing boats and some of the world's finest producers of quality salmon and associated products.  There were no brand names of anything anywhere - not gas, not fast food, not hotels, not anything except the likes of Copper River Seafood and its competitors.  We ventured to the community center to pick up our race packet and t-shirt.  The area at the community center is very small and it was a bit unorganized, but the two ladies did their best to move the runners of all events through packet-pickup.  The race shirt (although a male and female offering) was the same for all events.  I would suggest picking up the shirt as early as possible to get the size you want.  It was a cute design with a salmon on the back made to look like a running shoe and the words "Alaska Salmon Runs".  I wouldn't call it technical but it was a soft cotton.  



After getting our packets, we ventured out for a drive on the course.  The first few miles driving, which are the finishing miles of the race (as it is point-to-point) were on paved road and beautifully cut among the mountains with Eyak lake in the foreground.  For 12-13 miles the road becomes more desolate as it meanders through the copper river delta until the pavement disappears into gravel where we decided to turn around.  The airport, if you want to call it that, is at the half-way point of the marathon.  I never saw a plane flying in or out of it.  

All of the pictures below were taken from the course.

We drove back into town to find some pre-race grub.  This was much harder than expected.  There may have been more places than we found but there were two places listed on tripadvisor that I made note of before the trip.  I am not that picky on pre-race dinners.  If I can get pasta, I will have it but if not, I will try to eat something with some carbs and protein.  One of the places is called Baja Taco.  What appealed to me was that everything was served out of an non-running, old school bus.  It would be a classic Triple D episode if Guy would ever venture to this area.  It served as a perfect pre-race meal, eclectic for sure, but that is exactly what this race is.

Race Day

The DragonFy Inn is the closest to the finish line and the shuttle to the start.  With only 29 marathoners, only one shuttle was needed.  All runners at the other distances also needed to take the shuttle.  They time the start of each distance so that everyone is finishing around the same time.  Cindy took the shuttle for the 5K.  I was getting to the 23 mile marker when she was getting off the bus for her start.  All the marathoners were very friendly as we stood around chatting waiting on the bus.  There were 6 marathon maniacs.  The ride to the start was an adventure because the school bus didn't slow down on the gravel road so there were 13 miles of bumps and jostles getting to the start.   The delta looked even more beautiful the farther we got.  As most marathoners do on a bus, we talked about other marathons.  The start was on what appeared to be a little island, 26.2 miles away from Cordova.  One person was there to start us.  There were no porta-potties and the bumpy ride required one.  Although bushes were sparse, we found enough privacy to do our thing, men and women alike.  The starter looked at her watch, communicated with folks at the finish and said, "get ready, go!"  Off we went, all 29 of us.

Finally at the start - lunar landscape

Desolate but in a good way

Off we go

Miles are counted down, not up

Me and all of my friends

One of my favorite views on the course

Delta beauty

See I was there!

I knew that for the first 20 miles, the course was wide open, straight, and flat.  It was overcast and somewhat cool, well compared to North Caroline, cool.  It was a good day to run.  I started a bit too fast and ran just behind one of the other maniacs, actually the daughter maniac who was staying beside us at the DragonFly.  I knew I was probably too fast when my watch read 8:40 - 8:50 for the first few miles.  Once upon a time that would have been OK, but not now - maybe someday again.  This race is also cup-free and unmanned for the first half.  I decided not to take my hand-held but thinking back, I wish I would have.  I used the hydra-pouch provided in our race bag.  Speaking of which, our names were hand written in a calligraphy style print pinned to our bags.  The bag had about 5 salmon recipes, the hydra-pouch, a magnet and a couple other small things.  Being unmamed, you needed to stop to fill your pouch.  Stopping is not so much of a problem, but the jugs were not real conducive to getting liquid out of them, but I a manged.  I saw people for the first 10 miles, mostly the maniac girl and a few guys early on.  The guys were from Washington, brothers, the one running his first marathon.  He asked me to explain what a maniac was.  From miles 10-20 I saw no one in front of me and hardly anyone behind me.  I could not wait to get off the gravel/rocks after 13 miles.  I saw a person in a van monitoring her runner and I jokingly asked, "Am I winning?  I see no one in front of me!"  If you need a race that has people, either fans or even other runners, this is not the race for you.  If you need water stops every mile, this is not the race for you (there were only 6.)  If you need the glitz of bands and hyped-up marketing, this is not the race for you.  If you purely love running in remote beautiful places and can entertain yourself by the joy of putting one foot in front of the other for 26.2 miles, then this is the race for you! I thought that by the time I reached half-way, the half marathoners would be starting.  I got to the half in 1:58, which is more on pace but still a bit fast these days for a half in a marathon.  The half marathon bus passed me at about mile 14 and tooted.  When I got to mile 20, the 10K runners were just lining up.  Finally, some other runners.  I knew that Cindy would be starting the 5K just about when I arrived at mile 23.  Sure enough, the 5K runners just got off the bus and were walking to the starting line when I passed by.  There she is, decked out in my RUN DRM shirt, bright and eager to do the 5K.  I was so proud of her wanting to do this event after only 9 weeks recovering from her second hip replacement.  I didn't want her to run but only fast walk the event.  She had been doing that round our lake for weeks.  I knew that she wouldn't be able to help herself and that a few of those steps were going to be running steps.  After a quick kiss, I followed the road downhill past Eyak lake to the finish.  4:14:52, not bad after the journey from NC to AK and only 2 minutes off my last marathon in Cincinnati.  After crossing the finish line, I walked back out onto the course to find Cindy and get some pictures. She was farther than I expected and only had a half-mile to the finish.  Here she comes in 42:12:18 and 2nd in her age group and I am sure the only finisher with two bionic hips.  Now, that's inspiring!  

Cindy getting ready to start and me at mile 23

Half mile to go

Just around the corner into a strong wind

Finishing strong


Yay!!  These hips were made for me!

Us runners, we always have a smile at the end!

The medals are small, just like the race but the certificate is very nice.  Most marathons don't even bother anymore with certificates so it was a nice touch.  We walked back to the DragonFly and crashed.  

For dinner we had Harborside pizza, a place that looks like an overhauled trailer, but darn good wood-fired pizza.  We unfortunately didn't get to the Salmon meal but we did get our share of salmon and halibut in Alaska.

Cordova harbor

Harborside Pizza

The King Salmon Marathon isn't for everyone, especially people running as a bucket list item or as a social gathering.  But, if you want to experience something, make the journey.  It is well worth it!

Days 215-224: 39 miles, 2014: 1,084 miles

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Salmon Runs - Whittier

Whittier is tiny fishing village and harbor sitting on the Prince William Sound with a few restaurants serving the daily catch and donut shop that serves them up warm.  We could not get enough of the views in Whittier, the glacial blue waters matched by the green mountains rising up from the water.  Our hotel sat right on the water overlooking the harbor and mountains.  I could write all about the views but do never do justice to the beauty so we shall tell the story with some of Cynthia's pictures.  For those of you thinking this has nothing to do with running, this is the journey to get to the place to run 26.2 miles.

Whittier Harbor

Our hotel off in the distance

Contemplating the beauty of it all

Glacier high above Whittier with water fall
Whittier Harbor

Mountains with waterfalls

Prince William Sound at Whittier

Native walking her Reindeer

Amazing picture of two Bald Eagles looking at one another taken from our room at the Inn

Our Inn at Whittier with the glacial blue water
Contrast in color

Alaska Railroad bridge over glacial creek
Harbor and mountains

In memory of those lost at sea

Our Ferry to Cordova - Car and all
Take me to the river
And wash me down
Won't you cleanse my soul
Put my feet on the ground

Take me to river of love
Take me to the river of faith
Take me to the river of hope
take me to the river of joy
take me to the river of life

The next journey was getting from Whittier to Cordova and the Copper River Delta, a 3 hour 15 minute tour of Prince William Sound.

Days 211-214: 17 miles, 2014: 1,051 miles