The jet airplane screamed overhead on takeoff as I made my way along the ski trail that passes the Anchorage airport runway during the Tour of Anchorage ski marathon. I was a well past the halfway point on the course that started at Russian Jack Park and then wound its way through the middle of the city. By now I was on the coast, heading around the outer edge of the city and well on my way to the finish line. But there was still a long grueling hill to go.
Earlier that morning a bus took us from our hotel to the start line for the 25 km race. The 40K and 50K skiers started at a different part of the city and left on an earlier bus. The temperature was 12 F (-11 C) according to the thermometer in the SUV that my wife Paula drove over to see me off. She was armed with video camera and cowbell. Paula had her own “tour of Anchorage” as she drove to the start and two of the four aid stations along the course to video tape my passing and cheer me on.
It was cold but I was dressed warmly with thermal underwear (and my padded sliding shorts, of course!) two shirts, ski pants and coat. I also wore two hats and Team in Training tattoos on my face. My heart rate / GPS monitor was also on me and I even remembered to press the start button at the beginning of the race to accurately record my time and distance.
By the end of the race my coat was unzipped to dissipate body heat and to display my race number–1972–which was pinned to my shirt underneath and to the Camelback pack on my back.
And off we went! I was in the sixth wave of stride skiers that left at 9:40am. Up a hill, past the parking lot and down the trail to the center of Anchorage; we were on our way. There were several teammates in my wave but I soon pulled out in front of them.
A few minutes later my heart rate monitor chimed. My heart rate went onto Zone 5 when it hit over 170 bpm – too high for so early in the race. Coach George’s admonitions to relax and go slow echoed in my head.
But I didn’t feel like I was pushing myself or that I was going too fast. The course was fairly level with a few low hills for some ups and downs. Skiing at sea level was definitely easier than in the Sierras at 7,000 feet! But I didn’t want to wear myself out in the first five kilometers.
It was so cold that soon after the start of the race, the mouthpiece on my Camelback froze after only a couple of sips. I was careful to blow the water back into the bladder after each drink but enough water trickled down to freeze and clog the hose. Luckily I had a sports drink bottle inside my warm coat that I was able to refill at several aid stations. Later I heard another teammate say she was able to thaw her Camelback mouthpiece by putting it inside her coat. I wish I had though of that!
My Clif bars also froze, or at least were extremely hard to chew. I had them in my right coat pocket and ate only one during the race. This was not a big problem since the Aid stations along the way had lots of orange slices, banana pieces and Fig Newtons.
At least my Gu packets in my left pocket stayed gooey and easy to eat. The packet directions say to eat one Gu packet 15 minutes before the race. I selected one with a double caffeine dose which seemed like a good idea for the start.
I had three goals in joining Team in Training to ski the Tour of Anchorage:
I am happy to say I accomplished them all! In fact I first saw part of a moose right after leaving the starting line. After a few minutes on the trail, I saw a few skiers stopped ahead of me. They started moving again as I approached and I got there just in time to see the tail end of a moose go off into the woods.
About 5 km later I saw a whole moose. I was approaching one of the short tunnels the trail goes through under several streets of Anchorage (snow is spread in the tunnels so we can ski through) when I saw several of my fellow marathon skiers banging their ski poles together to make noise. Skiers backed up as we watched the moose through the tunnel. He moved on but not before I snapped his photo you can see in my previous post.
All Alone on The Tour of Anchorage
For most of the race I was skiing alone and I concentrated on “throwing” my center of gravity up the trail, one leg at a time. Skate skiers were passing me all the time but none of my striding teammates caught up. Occasionally I would pass some other stride skiers and sometimes they would get ahead of me when I stopped for food or water at an aid station. Then I would pass them again. The funniest thing I saw were some young women skate skiers dressed in ski clothing and tutus. I felt underdressed.
It was terrific to see Paula along the trail. Hearing the cowbell and the encouragement from her was a real motivator. Even a few other spectators and passing skate skiers would shout Go Team. Very cool!
My heart rate alarm went off a few times especially when climbing a few hills. During training my average heart rate was around 154 bpm. The average during the race was 167 bpm. That’s the power of adrenaline and double caffeinated Gu. And I needed it on that last hill of the marathon. It was a slow and steady grind for several kilometers before the end of the course.
At the pasta dinner the night before the marathon, our team manager Julia described how she had trouble finishing a Century Bike ride a couple years ago. “It was mile 99 and I just bonked. But another teammate came up behind me and started reading the names of the honorees I had written on the back of my jersey. That gave me a second wind and the strength to finish the race.” Julia said.
I am happy to say that I only had to think of our honorees once during the marathon and it was on that last hill. It wasn’t very steep—just a long climb. When stride skiing, you can climb hills in the tracks by quickly moving each ski forward in the tracks. It’s like a combination of marching and jogging while wearing skis. On short distances it’s not too strenuous. But on a long gradual hill it is tiresome to say the least.
I finished 107th out of a field of 123 men and 19th out of 21 men in my age group (age 50 to 55). My official race time was 3:43:42.1 according to the timing chip I wore. The fastest time was 1:24:41.7 which I would like to have seen! Wow, that’s more than twice my speed on the course. The slowest time was 5 hours and 15 minutes for the men.
Teammate Lisa Minn finished 64th among the women with a time of 3:29:57.5 and about fifteen minutes faster than me. Lisa left the starting line two waves before me and I never caught up with her! She was second in her age group and won a medal at the award ceremony.
We were all proud of Lisa but winning these races is not that important to us Team in Training participants. We were all in the bottom half of the standings and usually at the very bottom. I certainly had no illusions of winning the race. To me the most important things were getting in shape and to actually get across the finish line alive (and seeing a moose).
A more serious competition amongst my teammates is being the top fundraiser on the team. At race day I was at number five. That means only four of my teammates have had more donations so I am close. I met my goals of finishing the race and seeing a moose. I even exceeded my original goal of raising $5,000 for LLS. Maybe I aimed too low? You can help me and our team go even further.
The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society is a good cause and 75% of your donation goes toward finding a cure. Make your contribution online until the end of March with this link: http://pages.teamintraining.org/sf/touranck09/smezak