When I planned my 2018 season I put three A goal races on the map: Zion 100 miler in April, Mount Marathon on July 4th and Bear 100 miler in September. Zion 100 was a HUGE learning experience, things that had gone wrong in previous races didn't, new things sprung up, and I fought through it all. I ended up on the other side of the finish line, not with the time or place I hoped for, but another buckle richer.
In mid June I had the unbelievable opportunity to summit Mt. Whitney! This was an incredible experience as well as an awesome training hike/run for the rest of my season. Unfortunately, on the way down from the summit I took that dreaded step and sprained my ankle something terrible. The first thing to go through my mind was "I'm out. I can't run Mount Marathon this year." I was crushed. I crumpled into a heap on the side of the trail, barely conscious of my running buddies' consoling words. Fast forward 2 weeks later to June 30th when I (and everyone around me agreed) convinced me not to run Mount Marathon. My ankle still hurt more than I could have imagined, it was swelled up like an egg and speckled with black and blue bruising. My heart sank as I made the decision not to run. I told myself it would be great- I'd go up there and support the rest of our team, especially Mike and Brian who were running their first Mount Marathon this year, I would pour my deep love for this event into their experiences. That would be more than enough. I love watching other people enjoy something I love so much.
On July 1 I landed in Anchorage. Every time that plane touches down in Alaska I feel like I'm coming home. My world is suddenly transformed, time stands still and I cannot keep the smile off my face. Today felt different. The smile was laced with a deep disappointment, frustration and sadness. The first person I saw from our crew was Brian, the second I saw him I told him I wasn't running this year., the words didn't seem real as they left my lips. He looked at me in disbelief "what do you mean you're not running?! Laurel! You have to, otherwise this is it! You're done...it's Mount Marathon!" He was referring to the fact that I had entered the lottery for 7 years before gaining entry last year. I placed well enough to earn a spot for this year's race, if I didn't take it, I would have to start that process all over again. I cringed at that thought. I knew that I had to find a way, the safest way possible, but find a way.
As soon as we arrived in Seward I immediately went to Advanced Physical Therapy, a fellow platinum sponsor of Mount Marathon. The gals there were unbelievably knowledgeable and helpful. They regularly treat athletes, olympic athletes, so I felt honored to say the least. Over the next few days they worked with my patiently, trying different taping patterns, working on mobility and assuring me that I would be able to run. Sure enough, race day dawned and after watching the gusty, thrilling running of the junior's and men's races (both Brian and Mike killed their first Mount Marathon, btw!), I found myself on the start line in wave 1. The race is split into 2 waves to avoid congestion on the mountain. I was a few rows back from the very front, knowing that my current situation meant my sprinting would not be on point. To my surprise, when the gun went off I found myself immediately weaving through the women in front of me and out towards the front pack. Shocking! Why was I sprinting so well? I made it to the mountain, climbed the roots trail and settled into the long, grueling grind that is the uphill of Mount Marathon.
To add to the fun, this year was extremely hot for Seward with temperatures hovering in the high 80s-90s. The vegetation on the lower mountain creates a nice rainforest-like tunnel to make it even hotter. I was struggling with the heat and pushing hard. Spectators lined the entire course armed with water, beer, gatorade, snow, anything to cool us off. I gladly accepted all of it and seriously don't know how I would have made it without them. Thank you! When I hit mid mountain we broke out of the vegetation and the breeze hit my face, this gave me a little boost and I turned it up a notch. I passed a few ladies and received the race's customary butt push as I went by. I smiled. "This is fun, right?!" As I finally rounded the flag at the top I realized I had beat last year's uphill time and I was stoked! "Now for the fun part," I thought to myself. Much to my dismay I could not have been more wrong, turns out a bum ankle and steep, technical downhill don't mix well. This year, there was a significant snow path near the top. I had a blast glissading this, enjoying the break that my legs got and trying to stay out of the icy channels created by the two previous races earlier that day. As soon as I hit the scree after the snow suddenly I knew it was not going to be pretty; it didn't hurt my ankle it just felt jarring and like I had zero spring in my step. I tried in vain to find a rhythm, I fell more times than I can count (I fell zero times on the downhill in 2017), every time I fell I laughed at myself, trying to keep the mood light, but inside, I was pissed! "This is my strength! I'm supposed to be good at this! What the heck happened to me?!"
Finally, I heard the roar of the crowds as I was nearing the chute and felt relieved, at least a change in surface might help?! I jumped immediately up and off victory rock and took off sprinting to the road. Last year I hit the road and almost crumpled to the ground from the force of such a hard surface, this year I was completely different. I was taken totally by surprise when I hit the road and felt great, it gave me a surge of energy and I took off. I saw a girl not far ahead of me and figured there was not way I'd catch anyone on the sprint, so I set to work reeling her in and planned to run just behind, to my surprise this felt easy and I passed her without thinking. Over the course of the next few minutes I reeled in 5 more women. I was still in disbelief but I was also focused on the task at hand, as I rounded the last corner and saw the straight away to the finish I knew I was nearing sprinting capacity, but I decided to see how far I could push it without passing out before the finish line. Somehow that calculation worked since the second I crossed it my eyes shut and I don't remember much for a bit. But, I'd done it. I finished Mount Marathon for the second year in a row, PR'd the uphill and placed 11 spots higher, once again earning my place in 2019's race. I fully intend to return and see what I can do with more experience, and most importantly, two healthy ankles! My ankle didn't seem any worse for the wear and although it is not 100% healed, it is better every day, and my last A race of the year is looking bright. I wouldn't trade my experience at Mount Marathon this year for anything.
Mount Marathon is not only arguably the toughest 5k around (5k long with 3,022ft of climbing up then down the same amount), but the nature of the course means you have to be able to nail many different running techniques to get it right. Uphill power, downhill strength and fast road speed all come into play. This year taught me that I have much more potential in the uphill strength and road speed than I ever fathomed. I can't wait to see what happens when I can harness my new found uphill and road speed strengths with my downhill skills (on a healthy ankle of course!), next year could be a breakthrough!
Thank you to Altra for sponsoring a truly incredible race, and making the perfect shoe and gear for this mountain, you help me live life with #ZeroLimits. Thank you to VFUEL for creating the "First True Endurance Gel," it is still the best. Hands down! Thank you to Lucky Slice for making clean, healthy pizza and salads, truly "All Killer, No Filler." Thank you Christopher Bean Coffee Co for roasting fresh delicious coffee, you help me live my passion and make it easy to love my coffee. And, I have to give a shout out to Squirrel's Nut Butter and Chris Thornley, you're just the best and I can't imagine life without you!
Altra King MT 1.5: (I would not run this mountain in any other shoe. I'm 2 for 2 with it). Perfect grip, drainage and security.
Altra Trail Gaiter: necessary for the scree!
Altra Women's Running Singlet 2.0: perfect for the hot weather, stays wet and keeps you cool when needed.
Altra Women's Performance Short Tight: did not ride up and protected me from the rocks, roots and snow.
VFUEL Endurance Gel: perfect pre-race boost!
Christopher Bean Coffee: perfect for the long wait on race day- the women's race started at 2pm!
Lucky Slice Pizza: this is my recovery food. Yum!
Squirrel's Nut Butter: (invaluable for toes and any area that chafes, think glissading...)
Stance Socks: blister free!
PC: Brikru Photography: https://www.facebook.com/pg/Brikru-Photography-1698632040205535/about/?ref=page_internal
Brad Benter: https://www.instagram.com/bradbenter/