Name of the race: Juneau Half Marathon
Where: Savviko Beach, Juneau, AK
Date: June 28, 2018
Time: 9:00 am
Distance: 13.1 miles
Terrain: Hilly with rolling hills
Entry fee: $35/$45 the day of
Swag: Technical t-shirt & free photos
Post-race Food: Bananas, apples, chips, fruit snacks, salmon burger, water & Gatorade
Performance: Overall: 15/159; Gender: 3/92; Age (40-49): 1/19
Weather: 61 degrees, 82% humidity, 6 mph wind (headwind on the way out, tailwind on the way back)
People run for different reasons. Some run for fun. Some for health. Some run for the challenge of improving themselves each day. Some do it for the community. I run because . . . I really really really love beating people.
I didn’t invent this concept, but I am an unabashed bottomfeeder. I like finding races with small slow field, so that I can increase my chances of getting an award. (It’s not about the award itself, because once the award gets home, I toss it into a huge pile of other medals, mostly participation, that Ben and I have received). I love bottomfeeding.
Ben wondered just how far I would go to bottom feed.
The answer is 2,859 miles, which is the distance between Brooklyn, NY and Juneau, AK as the crow flies.
Last week I was in Alaska, ostensibly for the annual two-week trip that I take with my parents. When my mother said they wanted to go to Alaska this year, the first thing I did was go to Running in the USA to see which half marathons were going on during the summer. Once I found the Juneau Half, I planned our trip around it.
In January, when I was thinking about what I wanted to accomplish running-wise this year, I decided that a 1:40 half would be one of my running goals. I was hoping to do it at the Run for the Red Half, but a less than ideal training cycle (full-time employment gets in the way of hobbies) and the very warm and humid conditions (65 degrees with 100% humidity) dashed hopes for that goal. I wasn’t crushed, because I was going to have the Juneau Half as my backup A race. Two more months of training and hopefully much better, milder weather would lead to desired results.
As with all the best-laid plans of mice and men, Juneau had other ideas. The course was hillier than I had expected. Originally the description of the course was flat with some rolling hills. I would describe it as hilly with rolling hills. While the forecast for race weather a week out promised a cooler 55 degrees, a mild warm spell appeared, so race day was warmer (61 degrees) and more humid (82%) than I would have liked. But the real problem was that two faster women showed up to the race.
Being that the field was small, I started up front. At the start, I saw a surge of people rushing ahead of me. I was surprised by the number of women ahead of me because the race director mailed out the list of all the participants and thanks to Athlinks, I knew the times of most of the women (I didn’t look up everyone). Most of those women were simply starting too fast, so within a half mile, I had passed all but one of them.
Around Mile 3, another woman passed me. At the time I wasn’t quite sure if there were two or three women ahead of me, but because it was an out-and-back course, I knew I could count the women running back to see where my place was.
The course was hilly. I would say there were about three fairly substantial hills throughout the course, with smaller rolling hills in between. Although Leah and I discussed pace before the race, I threw those plans out the window and ran by effort. There was a headwind on the way out. I wanted to draft off another runner, but there wasn’t anyone running at my pace. Instead I focus on chasing the group of runners who were about 30 secs ahead of me.
Of all the races I’ve done, this is probably the quietest half that I’ve done. The only spectators were the people staffing the aid stations and the few spectators who were out there cheering on their runners. I usually do small races, but Juneau took this to a whole new level.
As I approached the turnaround point, I counted the women running in the other direction. There were two women ahead of me. I could see where the woman in 4th place was and I knew she wasn’t going to threaten me for third. Based on how strongly and easily the two women ahead of me were running, I figured I was just holding on for third.
Running back was easier because now I had the wind at my back. I easily picked up another 10 seconds a mile without any additional effort. The group of runners that were ahead of me were breaking up, so I focused on picking off the runners one at a time. At Mile 9, I glanced at my Garmin to see my pace. I was startled to see a sub-7:40 pace. Instead of being alarmed and freaking out at the thought of how the heck I was going to hold onto that pace, I knew I could do it. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but I knew I could do it. This is a huge game changer in terms of my mental game in racing. While I was never the runner who psyched herself out at races and ran slower than my potential because I was too scared, in the past I did freak out over paces. The difference is that now I don’t freak out over the paces and I save my mental energy for running.
I was gradually gaining on the two women ahead of me. I got a little excited and wondered if there was an outside chance that I could catch them after all because they went out too fast in the beginning and were flaming out. This is the life of a bottom feeder. You root for the implosion of other runners so you can have a good race.
The woman in second place caught up to the first place woman. They ran together for about a half mile and then the woman in first kicked it and pulled away. At that point it was clear to the woman in second and me that she was going to win it all. Then the woman in 2nd place constantly looked back at me to see where I was. I knew that even if I could catch up to her (and frankly I couldn’t run any faster), that she was a stronger runner and would outkick me in toward the finish line. But even still, she couldn’t slack off the pace because I was running well and would catch up and pass her if she gave me a chance.
As she continuously looked over her shoulder, I thought to myself, “Yes, you’re going to get second place, but I’m going to make you work for it.” For three miles, I charged after her, not giving her the breathing room to feel safe. I finished about 20 seconds behind her in third place. The top three women finished within one minute of each other.
My mother was waiting for me at the finish line. She has never seen me run before, so it was special to share this race experience with her. My mother doesn’t have the best eyesight (something I inherited), but she said that she could tell that it was me long before she ever saw my face.
“As soon as I saw a form awkwardly running, I knew it could only be my daughter,” she said.
I protested, “I’m pretty fast. I beat almost everyone at the race.”
My mother shook her head in disbelief, “It’s amazing.”
Basically I think I rival Paula Radcliffe for the most awkward running form ever. Unlike Paula, however, I’m not going to be winning world majors or setting world records.
I was super impressed with how much we got for $35. There was a great salmon burger for us post-race. The design on the race shirt is nice with the name of the marathon and stars forming the Big Dipper. I would have loved to stick around after the race to talk to other runners, but we had to go because we needed to catch a flight to Gustavus in a few hours.
I loved my experience at this Alaskan race. If you’re looking to do a half in Alaska, I totally recommend the Juneau Half.