Sunday, July 27, 2014

Salmon Runs - Anchorage to Whittier

In Cordova Alaska, "Salmon Runs" in the Copper River Delta means two things: 1) The official time of year when the Salmon, which have migrated from the ocean, swim to the upper reaches of rivers , typically where they were born, and spawn on a gravel bed and 2) the annual Salmon Runs running festival.  You can probably guess which one I participated in!

"After spawning, all Pacific Salmon and most Atlantic salmon die. Most salmon are anadromous, a term which comes from the Greek anadromos, meaning "running upward." Anadromous fish grow up mostly in the saltwater in oceans. When they have matured they migrate or "run up" freshwater rivers to spawn in what is called the salmon run. Prior to the run up the river, the salmon undergo profound physiological changes. Fish swim by contracting longitudinal red muscle and obliquely oriented white muscles. Red muscles are used for sustained activity, such as ocean migrations. White muscles are used for bursts of activity, such as bursts of speed or jumping. As the salmon comes to end of its ocean migration and enters the estuary of its natal river, its energy metabolism is faced with major challenges: one is, it must supply energy suitable for swimming the river rapids. Salmon start the run in peak condition, the culmination of years of development in the ocean. They need high swimming and leaping abilities to battle the rapids and other obstacles the river may present. All their energy goes into the physical rigors of the journey. The run up the river can be exhausting, sometimes requiring the salmon to battle hundreds of miles upstream against strong currents and rapids.
The Copper River or is a 300-mile river in south-central Alaska in the United States. It drains a large region of the Wrangell Mountains and Chugach Mountains into the Gulf of Alaska. It is known for its extensive delta ecosystem, as well as for its prolific runs of wild salmon, which are among the most highly prized stocks in the world. It is the tenth largest river in the United States, as ranked by average discharge volume at its mouth. The river's famous salmon runs arise from the use of the river watershed by over 2 million salmon each year for spawning. The extensive runs result in many unique varieties. The river's commercial salmon season is short: chinook (king) salmon are available mid-May to mid-June, sockeye (red) salmon mid-May to mid-August, and coho (silver) salmon. The Copper River Delta, which extends for 700,000 acres is considered to be the largest contiguous wetlands along the Pacific coast of North America."

I found the King Salmon marathon in Cordova when the date for the Jackson Hole, Wyoming marathon was changed to labor day weekend.  For the last two years, I had planned on running the Big Wildlife Runs marathon in Anchorage, but life got in the way and had to postpone until this year.  After a few searches I found this obscure, tiny marathon in a remote fishing village in Cordova.  Getting to Cordova both for Salmon and humans is no small feat but it is wildly beautiful and adventurous. 

On the approach into Anchorage, we were told that we could see Mt. McKinley off in the distance.  We could but barely.  This is not Denali but shows some of the snow caps upon approach.
It was a beautiful day and one of our best weather days.  After flying into Anchorage through Chicago, our first stop was at Humpy's Great Alaskan Alehouse, an iconic bar and seafood house that used to be the title sponsor of one of the Anchorage marathons.

The two most famous fish in Alaska were on the menu so we decided to start our Alaskan adventure with Salmon chowder and Halibut tacos.  A pint of Alaskan Amber was also just what was needed after the long flight from NC.  Yum!  Since we needed to take a Ferry to Cordova from Whittier, we decided to stay in the small fishing village (pop. 177) overnight.  Actually, it wasn't a choice since the only Ferry to go to Cordova was at noon.  The only way to get to Cordova is by Ferry or small plane although the airport is just a landing strip.  We figured that the 3 hour Ferry across the Prince William Sound would be the most scenic and serene.  We were right!

There is one road, Seward Highway, Alaska Route 1 that could get us to Portage Glacier highway.  What the Pacific Coast Highway is to the west coast, the Seward highway is to this part of Alaska.  Granted it is not as long, but the views along the Turnagain Arm and Chugach mountains are amazing.  Crystal waters and high, some snow capped mountains.  We have so many pictures that it's difficult to choose which ones get posted here.  This blog might last for a few posts.  As runners, and humans in general, we all love the journey.  Just getting to a remote place 26.2 miles from Cordova, Alaska was a journey onto itself and any runner wanting this type of journey just to run 26.2 miles through the Copper River Delta has to take this journey first.  The road meanders along the Turnagain
Arm.  The railroad tracks are for freight and passenger trains from the Alaskan Railroad and basically

follow the road and the water cutting their way through the Chugach Mountains.  Turnagain Arm is one of two narrow branches of Cook Inlet of feeding into the Gulf of Alaska.  Turnagain Arm boasts the second highest tides in North America sometimes rising more than 40 feet.  I suspect we hit low tide which turns the beaches into a mud flat. 
 We stopped at Beluga Point hoping to see some Beluga Whales.  No such luck.  However, this little outcrop is beautiful in its own right.  As you can see from our approach, the rock formations and pines on Beluga Point present themselves as a post card of beauty.  We spent some time walking around the point and taking pictures.
 One of our first "together" pictures in Alaska on Beluga Point.  All we need here is a Whale breaching behind us.  Again, no such luck.  Although there is a lot of wildlife in Alaska, seeing it does come down to luck.  There are more caribou in Alaska than people but did we see a caribou? No, but we did see people!
The flower below is Fireweed and upon its arrival introduces summer and it is everywhere.

Farther down the highway was Portage Lake, home of Portage Glacier.  The mountain views were still phenomenal getting there.

 Here is a glacier tucked in the crevice of this mountain.  All seem to have a name - mountains and glaciers alike.  We didn't have a chance to take an up-close tour but we did see others on our Ferry trip across Prince William sound.

We needed to take Portage Glacier Highway to Whittier.  The only access to Whittier by car from this highway is through a  one-way tunnel.  When I say one-way, it is one way for cars going both ways and for trains going both ways.  This means that from 5 AM to 11 PM, cars going to Whittier, cars going to Anchorage, trains going to Whittier and trains going to Anchorage must alternate on set schedules generally on the hour or half hour.

 We missed our tunnel time so we had a few minutes to kill at Portage lake.  Check out this mini-iceberg.  The water is very cold obviously.  With the snow on the mountains, the clean, crisp lake and the iceberg, it makes for a great Alaskan picture.

It was actually quite chilly at the lake although a nice day in Alaska, the temperature was still 20-40 degrees cooler than NC.  Here we are cuddling!

The Video of the tunnel won't upload but if you would like to see more of the tunnel you can go to the website, Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel. So, we finally get through the tunnel and Whittier meets us on the other side.  A quaint fishing village of 177 and a beautiful place.  Check out the waterfall behind Cynthia.  Also, don't be fooled, there is no downtown or at least a downtown as we know it.

This is one of my favorite pictures of our Inn, the Inn at Whittier, how lovely sitting right on the water.  We've arrived!  Look for the next blog post, Whittier to Cordova.

Days 198-210: 40 miles, 2014: 1,034 miles

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

State 47

In just a few days I will be running a marathon in my 47th state - Alaska;  years in the making with a few false starts, I will run the Copper River Delta in Cordova.  To put this place in perspective here is the course drawn on a map of southern Alaska.  Cordova is in the Copper River Delta and has an amazing ecosystem.  The first half will be run on a gravel road and then onto the paved Copper River Highway.  Lakes, rivers, glaciers, mountains and potentially a moose and/or bear may be spotted along the way.  I read that bears ca run 30 mph so I am not likely going to outrun one.  Then they say, climb a tree.  Really?  Can you see a 54 year-old man climbing 10 feet up a tree?  I am not really sure I should even set a time goal since I will want to enjoy the beauty of the environment.  I will surpass 1,000 miles for the year on the run which has provided 1,000 meals at the Durham Rescue Mission.  Cindy is doing the 5K just two months after her second hip replacement.  She has been working hard and it will be a major achievement.  Afterwards is a nice Salmon BBQ dinner at the Salmon Festival along with some Salmon Jam with Beer Money and other bands.  The day will be 18 hours and some light visible for 21 hours.  We have a 3 hour ferry ride across Prince William Sound as well, potentially spotting a whale here and there.  State 47 will be an Alaskan state of mind and looking forward to the adventure!

Days 194-197: 11 miles, 2014: 994

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Better Than Average

I have always been mid-pack in everything that I do.  Except in high school track where I won some 100 meter and 200 meter conference championships and in football where I was an all-conference running back, most of the rest of my endeavors in sport, business and as a person has been mid-pack.  Of course, this is my assessment.  When I read the USA running stats today, it was nice to see that I am better than average in distance running.  I'm not built for distance running and I probably have more fast-twitch muscles than slow-twitch.  But, with work, perseverance and consistency, I have managed to hold my own for nearly 20 years.  This year I will be celebrating my 20th anniversary of my first marathon, although I have a gap between 1995 and 2001 due to an injury incurred playing softball, at a company outing no less.  I ripped up a hamstring pretty good and it took years for proper healing.  So, here I am 20 years after my first marathon and 21 after my first distance race ever (a 5K) still above average.  The USA running stats are pretty interesting reading. I love stats and these tell a good story about running in general and the health of the sport. I won't get into the debate about specialty events because I think that anything that makes people active is a good thing. Although 5K's have held onto the top spot for numbers of finishers, the half-marathon is the fastest growing event and for all events, in aggregate, women now comprise the majority of finishers. I won't regurgitate all the stats here and I need to analyze more closely anyway. But, what I did take notice of was that there were only 541,000 marathon finishers which sounds like a lot until compared to half-marathon finishers and the 8 million 5K finishers. These stats are for the USA only. As for times, I now plan to make it a goal that I continue to be better than average, meaning, running times at each distance better than the average. I have only run marathons this year, but now I have a barometer for performance. The other interesting omission, is that ultras (at least with the initial reading I have done) are not included as individual events. I beleive they are grouped into "other." Although I have enjoyed ultras, I certainly haven't found my place in them yet and I know that I can do better than I have. Anyway, a week from today, I will run marathon 79, state 47 in Alaska and hope to still perform better than average. With only 20 runners, it should be interesting.

Days 190-193: 18 miles, 2014: 983 miles

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Dam Good Run

Dam No. 5 Potomac River 1.jpg
Dam #5 Potomac River
No, I didn't misspell "dam".  But, the wording is appropriate either way.  There are two times of year (at least in the east) when you don't really know how well your training is going with regards to pace.  Summer and winter.  In the summer, especially in NC, the heat and humidity take their toll on the body.  Well, at least my body.  A few posts ago when we entered the 3 H's (Hazy, Hot and Humid) of summer (which was still in the spring) I decided to embrace the humidity.  I have done well with it but it doesn't make it any easier to run in.  I get out every day for whatever pace my body will accept.  It is sometimes not pretty and I start to worry that I'm not where I should be for my next marathon.  Believe me, I am not setting any land speed records anyway but I do want to run comfortably for 26.2 miles.  Some people will say that "running comfortably for 26.2 miles" is an oxymoron.  But I have had many long comfortable runs.  So, when a day presents itself like it did Saturday with cooler temperatures and low humidity in July, one mus take advantage of it.  I met up with my nephew Shawn at the C&O canal in Williamsport, MD.  He on his Trek bike and me in my Saucony running shoes.  The canal is tree covered and cool being by the river.  As we started, I wanted him to at least have to pedal but I also need to calibrate the weather to see if I could make the journey to Dam #5 and back thinking that it would be a 13.1 mile run, a half-marathon.  As we traveled north, the miles clicked by at an exceptional pace, at least for this 54 year-old.  When I first looked at my watch at about mile 3, it read 8:34.  I thought, "OK, that might be a little too fast for 13 miles, but lets go with it."  As I ran and Shawn pedaled, we caught-up on life and chatted the entire way to Dam #5.  Still amazingly, I could hold a conversation at that pace.  When we got to Dam #5 it was actually 7 miles from the start so the run back would give me a good 14 miler, easy math right?  I reached the dam in just a little over an hour. I took a short stretch break and admired the view and fury of the water rushing over the dam, fisherman perched on rocks just beyond  vying for their catch of the day.  Shawn snapped some photos and I am back at it.  I wanted to hold the pace back to the start (now the finish!) to finish a good half-marathon tempo run and go beyond 1 mile for good measure.  There was a rough patch at around mile 10 but I continued my journey until we spotted a fawn.  I took a 5 second look at this little fellow (maybe not a fellow) and finished as Shawn caught up from taking some pictures.  I hit the half-marathon point at 1:54 and finished 14 miles in 2:03 at an 8:49 pace.  It was such a good run and told me exactly where I am in training for King Salmon Marathon in Cordova, AK.  Today the temperature there is 53 degrees, showers and a dew pint of 51 degrees.  Here in NC, the temperature is 93 with a dew point in the high 60's low 70's.  I am looking forward to a good marathon.  Online, there are only 9 people registered but hopefully there are some paper entries.  Right now I will win my age group by simply showing up, running and finishing.  You can't judge your training very well in summer heat because everything feels so hard and downright sloggy.  When you do get a day to test yourself, do it and see what you've got.  It was a damn good run!

Days 182-189: 33 miles, 2014: 965 miles

Monday, June 30, 2014


Except there is no time for a break.... Half the year is gone.  It seems like it just started and here I am half-way through my running adventure.  First and foremost, the meals provided to the Durham Rescue Mission has reached almost 1,000.  Secondly, I have as consistent in my running than I have ever been.  I also ran the best marathon time I have since 2011 and in the same weekend got to do a Diaper Dash with Bree. Its been a fun half-year and I'm looking forward to the next half-year with two new marathon states leaving two to go.  So here are the half-time stats:

  • 932 miles from January 1 - June 30
  • Ran 171 days out of 181, missing only 10 days of running
  • Averaged 5.45 miles per run
  • Averaged a 155.3 miles per month
  • High of 45 miles in a week and low of 18
  • High of 173 miles in a month and low of 131
  • Ran 4 marathons in 4 states (1 new state) (Best time: 4:12:37)
  • Donated 932 meals to Durham Rescue Mission
  • 2nd half marathons scheduled: Cordova, Alaska; Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Baltimore, MD; Indianapolis, IN; Spartenburg, SC (Ultra)
Every other sport has an off-season.  I don't, so tomorrow on July 1, I run again and again and again.

Days 175-181: 33 miles, 2014: 932 miles

Monday, June 23, 2014

Any Marathon Will Do

If you want to know the runner you really are, not the one you once were or imagine yourself becoming, run a marathon. Any marathon will do. - Joe Henderson, Marathon Training
In 78 marathons, I believe that I have found a new and different runner in each one. It is what makes the marathon so captivating, so mysterious.  I would also argue that you will get to know the person you really are as well.  Maybe this can relate to my previous blog post about the "point of know return."  Knowing the runner and knowing the person once adversity sets in.  There will always be adversity in a marathon.  You know it will come in the later miles and you pray it doesn't in the early miles.  Its not only adversity where we get to know ourselves.  What kind of runner are we when things are going perfectly?  What thoughts go through our mind?  How do we remain in that state as long as possible.  We also can't rely on the way we once were, especially as we age.  We must find the runner we are today and how to be the best runner we can be in the marathon at hand.  It goes with a quote from Bill Rodgers, "the marathon can humble you."  Basically, whatever you think of yourself, think again after you have run a marathon.  And, if it was easy the first time, congratulations, but it will be harder than it is is easy other times.  It will bring you down to Earth, yet keep you floating safely above because of the accomplishment.  The hardest marathons are also the most rewarding.  I also think purposely signing up for a hard marathon is more scary than running it.  Signing up weeks or month in advance lets that marathon weigh on your mind.  For me, Umstead and Bataan were like that this year.  But, any marathon will do because running 26.2 miles is unnatural, not supported by the human body and sometimes not the human mind.

Days 172-174: 22 miles, 2014: 899 miles

Friday, June 20, 2014

Point of Know Return

If anyone is as old as I am and still listens to classic rock, you will know the song, Point of Know Return" by the rock group Kansas.  Interestingly, they use the word Know in the title instead of No.  Looking at the lyrics, the word "no" makes more sense.  Applying this to running the day I heard the song, to me, there is a point in a run where there is no looking back, the journey is steadily underway and you know that the finish is achievable and in sight.  Just now, I decided to do a little more "google" to see if anyone had analyzed the lyrics.  Behold, I found a blog that did just that.  The post is really well written and instead of me paraphrasing and messing it up, feel free to venture out to read it yourself in its entirety.  Actually, if you are into music, this looks like an excellent blog and well-written.  The analysis of this Kansas song is so good, I am going to quote a portion of it here.
Here’s where the album cover brings the meaning into focus. For generations, there was the false notion that once someone sailed past the horizon they sailed over the edge of the earth. Most Europeans incorrectly perceived that anyone who ventured to the vast unknown of the west never returned. Perhaps they didn’t want to return. The fact remains that the knowledge of what really was out there was never verified because of fear. Or in analogous terms, "How do you know that you do not like Brussels sprouts, unless you taste one?" 
When one ventures forward and gains knowledge through experience, there is no turning back. The point of “know return” is a point of “no return” to past ideas and experiences. It becomes similar to Kurt Lewin’s change theory. In the process of changing, we are constantly being challenged by our previously held perspectives and beliefs. Sometimes these challenges come from our friends and family who attempt to influence our path. These obstacles create great discomfort, as cognitive dissonance often accompanies change. Eventually, our mental anguish subsides as we cross that threshold of acceptance and sail over the imaginary edge of the earth.

Kansas places this perspective in form of an ocean voyage. Think of what the men aboard the Nina, the Pinta, the Santa Maria during Columbus’ first journey to the Americas must have thought. These crew members had lived with the understanding that the world was flat, that there were great sea monsters roaming the Atlantic, and that by sailing too far west would constitute certain death. It is highly probable that family attempted to persuade these mariners to remain safe at home.

It really required a paradigm shift for these men to make this initial voyage. Until they were able to set foot upon dry land, the fears continued. That distant land was the point of know return. Old myths were shattered and new perspectives created. They could not return to their previous viewpoint as they crossed the point of know/no return.
So, let's apply this to running, and specifically marathons.  There is a mystique to the marathon that it goes beyond our capability.  In essence, this is true.  Our body can only carry enough fuel to run approximately 20 miles and then we start to degrade, unless we fuel appropriately during the marathon.  When people think of doing their first marathon, to them, it is like running off the flat edge of the Earth, never to be heard from again.  If they decide not to run a marathon before they try, the fact remains (as stated above) that the knowledge of whether they could or not remains unknown or never verified because of fear.  It applies to all running. If you fear that you can't run 1 mile or 2 or 5 or a half-marathon, how will you know you can't if you don't try?  Venturing forward a little at a time give confidence with each step.  With each step more experience is gained.  Once you know you can run a quarter mile or a half mile and experience that effort, you automatically learn to run farther.  Your body adapts to knowing what is expected of it. Then, there is no turning back.  The mind and the body fuels themselves.  The body changes and the mind gains confidence through experience.  Your ideas about running change and your perception of you as a runner changes.  Then, there comes that time where the mental anguish subsides. The point of "know" return becomes the point of "no" return.  You have sailed free over the edge of the Earth and on to new adventures in running.  One mile is not enough, it needs to be 2 or 5 or 13, 26 31, 50, or 100.  Each milestone has its own threshold and anguish to a new point of know (no) return.  Each distance creates a great discomfort but breaking through that point is the journey to a new running life (and some argue to a new life altogether.)  The old life and old way of thinking is shattered.  Beliefs change with what is known and there is no going back.  It is the point of know/no return.

Thanks to the author of the blog mentioned here.  It allowed me to put the meaning of the song into running perspective.  Of course, others can have their own interpretation of the lyrics related to any of life's adventures.

Days 168-171: 18 miles: 2014: 877 miles