Tamara handed me my race number.
“Can I have that one?” I ask, pointing to number 8031.
“Thirty one is kind of my lucky number,” I say, a little embarrassed, feeling the need to explain.
The truth is, I’m anxious, and I feel like I need all the luck I can get because I’m about to begin a half-marathon, a 13.1 mile race, and my prior two half-marathons had ended in major injuries to my back and joints.
For those two races, I’d been training, running distances that at least approached 13.1 miles. Coming into this race, though, my running had been zilch. In fact, I couldn’t even remember the last time I’d “gone for a run.”
This race would be an experiment.
Although I hadn’t actually been running, I had been training. Sort of. For the last few years, I’ve been hiking. I gravitate toward places with epic trails (Alaska, California Redwoods, etc.), so it’s become my custom to go on a long (often vigorous) hike once a week. I’ll usually do distances of 8 to 15 miles on these hikes, and this summer I’ve been hiking up some pretty steep places.
The experiment: Would all of this hiking translate into being in shape for a long-distance race?
The motivation: I love to run.
There’s something about running that calls to me, so when I saw the advertisement for this year’s race here in the Wrangell’s, I was tempted, as I always am. But I’d sworn off races like these — sure they call to me, but it’s always been like more like a Ulysses thing, a Siren Song that leads to utter disaster — but this year the call persisted, because I couldn’t help but wonder if all of my hiking might allow me to actually finish a 13.1 race.
At first I thought not. Running is different. It’s pretty hard on the joints and lower back, and at the end of the day, that’s what’s always got me. Running is running.
Then I remembered something my Uncle Larry (a life-long runner) told me several years back. He said that some marathon runners were able to finish the race with a combination of running and walking. They would follow very specific pattern: run for a certain amount of minutes, then walk for a specific amount of time.
The idea took root, and I thought it might just work.
I decided that for me, I’d start with 8 miles running and 2 miles walking. I could adjust as I went, running less or more, depending on how I felt.
It always felt more than a little embarrassing to stop and walk, so to appease my damaged ego/pride, I’d usually take long, hard looks at my watch while I was walking, so as to let everyone who was passing me know that, no, I wasn’t a slacker, I was intentionally walking, and, so, yeah, don’t judge me, man.
But it worked. I hit the half-way mark, then I was approaching the 10 mile mark, and I was feeling great, as evidenced by this picture:
I snapped pictures whenever I was on my 2-minute walk and they came out surprisingly clear, like this pic of Fireweed, taken while I was beginning the long home-stretch, downhill toward McCarthy:
In the homestretch, I started to feel sore joints during my 8 minute run periods, but the 2 minute walk was just enough of a break to loosen me up for the next run, and once the finish was in sight, I had the adrenaline to hit the gas and finish hard.
When I enter the town of McCarthy, people on the porch at the bar set down their drinks and cheer.
Here I am nearly at the end, a few pictures taken by my good friend Kris, manager of the Ma Johnson Hotel, snapped from the hotel shuttle as she was leaving to pick up guests:
At the end of the race I gulped the “Glacier Freeze” Gatorade, an intentional play on the fact that the McCarthy area sits in the shadows of glaciers. (In Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, 25% — or 5,000 sq. miles — of the Park is covered in glaciers):
My time was 2 hours 13 minutes, an average of just under 10 minutes per mile, not enough to win awards or accolades, but fast enough to get me to the finish line. More importantly, as of the writing of this post, I’ve experienced no major injuries — no back aches, no debilitating knee pain — there’s been no disasters, only the sense of accomplishment that comes from sore muscles. I finished the race and felt the exhilaration and runner’s high that comes after a long run, and that’s pretty much the reason I’ve always loved to run.
So, next up? A full marathon? Well, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.