-- Marathon Running Information, Coaching and Advice from Coach Joe English

Living vicariously through first-time runners; a journey to Alaska for Mayor’s Midnight Sun Marathon 2008

Sean Sullivan and Dave Brewer of TNT OregonI love what a marathon does to a person.

Take the 110 pound lady that was on the bus back to the airport with me after this weekend’s Mayor’s Midnight Sun Marathon in Anchorage. She was telling me that she was hungry and needed a snack. I reached into my bag and pulled out a small bunch of bananas, offering them to her, but thinking that she might pick one and hand the bunch back. I watched in awe as she scarfed down the whole bunch.

Another runner told me that she had been eating constantly since the race ended. She wondered aloud to me that it didn’t seem normal that she had eaten 4 muffins from the breakfast bar and was still hungry. Normal, I offered, doesn’t typically apply after a marathon.

I spent this weekend running and walking alongside the crowds at the Mayor’s Marathon race, which is becoming a favorite of mine on my yearly travel calendar. Most would expect that the scenery would be spectacular (it is), but there is something more that is special about this race. I think it is the level of transformation that’s going on here with the multitudes of first time runners in the event. There’s just something about flying to the furthest reaches of our country, to a land where the sun doesn’t really go down, that amplifies the impact of a race which turns people from normal beings into people who can snarf down three bananas and still be looking for more food.

I’ve grown to form a special fondness for the Mayor’s Midnight Sun Marathon. Not only is it the only race course on which I’ve seen both a bear and a moose, but the special excitement of visiting this spectacular place on the Summer Solstice makes it that much more appealing.

Mayor’s boasts an extremely high number of participants from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training Program (TNT), a program with which I have a had a long association. Team in Training is the largest of the charity fundraising organizations, which train runners and walkers for their first marathon experiences. This year the organization brought 1,100 people to this relatively small race.

A member of the race directing staff told me that TNT’s participation had started out small, with just 30 participants and had grown over the years to a peak of 2,900 in a single year. Saturday’s field was quite literally of sea of purple Team in Training jerseys.

From the start out at Bartlett High School, the course runs alongside a freeway for its first four miles. On this morning, cloudy skies showered the runners with a few rain drops during this first part of the course. After crossing over the freeway, the course turns toward Anchorage, running off-road for almost ten miles. A wide gravel military tank trail poses a somewhat difficult surface for the first seven or so of those miles, before closing down into a nice single-track section through the woods.

Runners on the trail at Mayor\'sBack-tracking against the runners on the trail, I would stop to take photos and was besieged by huge mosquitoes, described to me by one runner as being big enough to have “landing lights”. They didn’t seem to bother the runners, who were moving along through the woods, not giving them much of a target to land on. Every now and then we’d come across signs of wild animals, in the form of droppings that looked to be moose or maybe bear. Although I didn’t encounter any large animals on this day, other runners told me they saw a mother bear in a tree and two cubs scurrying around on the ground beneath her.

After emerging through the woods, the course cascaded down a series of hills and then joined bike path for nearly all of the last nine miles of the course. The path meandered along through wooded areas and through a university campus, before eventually running alongside a series of lakes in the last miles. Finally, just after mile 25, the course nearly runs right into the bay, but instead takes a sweeping left-hand turn and climbs dramatically onto a bluff for the finish at Anchorage High School.

So getting back to my original question of when does this great change happen – the part when the 110 pounder can take down a bunch of bananas without thinking about it. Some would say that it’s a specific location – like the 23rd mile when energy-levels are dwindling and hallucinations about inflicting pain on whomever talked them into running the race in the first place are filling their minds.

Bonnie of TNT Oregon

I say it is somewhere else. A place not so defined, but one that each of them travels through in their training and finally arrives at just at the point when they finally know they are going to finish what they’ve started. That may at the starting line, the finish-line or anywhere along the way, but at some point their goal of finishing their marathon moves from an abstract “what if” to a concrete “I did.” And with that comes a whole lot of change.

Mayor’s stands out to me as one of those events where I really see a lot of this change on display. Perhaps it is the rugged course and the remote location or perhaps it’s the people themselves that choose this particular race. But even for an experienced runner and marathon-running journalist like me, their spirit still rubs off on me and reminds of how great it is to finish a first marathon.

If you haven’t visited for Alaska, add Mayor’s to your schedule next year. You’ll be glad that you did.

Coach Joe English, Portland Oregon USA
Running Advice and News


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  1. 1. pinkcowgirl June 24th, 2008 at 3:29 pm

    GO TEAM!!!!!

    I’m a TNT Alum and I plan to do more with TNT in the future. Mayor’s is on my list!

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