Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Happy July 4th...and possibly the most insane race I've ever done...

The other day, I saw a story describing how Allie Ostrander, fresh off her NCAA championship in the steeplechase, went back home to Alaska and destroyed the field in a local race.

And the memories came flooding back....

July 4th in Seward means the annual Mt Marathon race. It's not a marathon, more like a 5k, and a tradition spanning 90 years. It's been called the 'oldest, fastest, hardest, toughest...shortest' race in world.

Shortest? So what's the big deal?

Here's what: the course is just nuts. No other description makes sense.  3 miles on an out and back course, with three THOUSAND feet of elevation change. Meaning half the race is straight up.

The numbers are actually worse; the prime elevation gain happens over the course of a mile. Vertical rise of 2,675' in 0.9 miles. For comparison's sake, the final nasty push of the South Sister climb is 2.3 miles and 3000' of climbing. So, Mt Marathon is over twice as steep.

And it's a race, so you're less inclined to stop and enjoy the view while the masses leave you behind.

So why do I know this much?

Because I'm a proud alum!  Let me take you back to 1989...

I was a young, impressionable, bullet-proof Navy officer onboard the USS CALIFORNIA (CGN-36). Having reported a few months prior, I was designated the Reactor Electrical Division Officer (RE Div), responsible for leading the electricians who helped keep our two nuclear reactors humming (and intact).

Underway on nuclear power: I'm in this picture somewhere

In July of that fateful year, my ship made port in Seward for a few days of R&R. While walking downtown on the 4th, I heard about some crazy race that was happening that day, so I wandered to the starting line for the scoop. In talking with the race organizer, I found out he was offering free entry to any Navy personnel.


I've been underway for two months. Meaning, I'm not exactly in race shape. Far from it.  (Later that year, I was actually running laps on the main deck when the captain lit up the PA system with word that the SF earthquake just hit our home port. I remember stopping on the bow of the ship while he told us the news).

But back to Alaska, and an offer to enter this crazy race: Did I mention I'm bulletproof?

I'm in. Except one little problem...I'm nearly two miles from my running shoes; they are in the Junior Officer bunkhouse back on the ship. And I have an hour. And Uber doesn't exist yet.

Yep. Jog the two miles to the ship, get my shoes, jog the two miles back. About 15 minutes to spare.

 And how steep can the hill be, anyway?

Real steep. Insanely steep.  My ship was moored to the large pier on the left, above the small boat basin. The race started somewhere on the right side of the picture. Nice warmup, eh?

Then the race began. About a mile was through the city, then it headed up into the woods.

My goal quickly transitioned from "run hard" to "steady" to "I hope like hell I'm not on a gurney tonite." I believe I coughed up a burger and fries from a decade prior.

This race was not for the faint of heart or self-aware...fortunately, I was neither of these. Uphill was brutal, downhill was terrifying. I don't remember snow in 1989, just a lot of loose rock on the upper reaches. The fastest racers seemed to be taking a step every 15' on the way down.

From Lew Freedman's column in the Anchorage Daily News the next day: "This mountain has a personality disorder. It has a mean streak. It enjoys making people suffer...the wrong grip will slice open your hand as efficiently as a Veg-O-Matic."

No, I did not tell my mother of my holiday plans ahead of time.

Your not-so-atypical finisher who had some issues on the descent...

 As my fitness level quickly convinced me that I wouldn't be on the podium that day, I concentrated HARD on keeping my feet underneath me for that nasty descent. A few close calls and very wobbly legs, but no disasters like this guy...

Photo by Bill Roth/Anchorage Daily News

After what seemed like (and actually was) hours, I was back on flat ground. Shirt shredded, feet shredded, just a hot mess. The next two pictures are actual pictures, as in 'film.' 

Shirt in tatters, shoes destroyed. Just me, my shorts, and socks....

But all limbs still connected and intact. Call it a win. 

Great footage of this year's race. 

10 min documentary

Scratch one big one off the bucket list!

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