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5 Remaining Sub-3-hour States

5 Remaining Sub-3-hour States
The following are redos: WY, VT, ME, SD, NM

Saturday, June 22, 2019

50/50 - Anchorage Mayor's Marathon

My last frontier and the family photo finish I hoped for!
This goal of running a marathon in all 50 states has been 10 years in the making, all of my 30s, in which so many life events have occurred: a marriage to the most supportive and wonderful woman with whom the above 3 spirited kids were introduced, a career change from corporate-suited-lemming to stay-at-home dad, and moving to Libertyville, IL and building a running community by starting the Libertyville Running Club who participated in and encouraged me for 2/3s of these states.

Now what?

Retire? Take up cycling? Redo the 5 states that are not under 3 hours? You guessed it, I'll redo marathons in WY, ME, NM, SD, VT - and DC while I'm at it - to tidy this thing up and become the 8th known person to complete that feat... or 9th... or who cares?! This isn't a race against others; I just want to achieve what I set out to do as A Bear On The Run... what? I like bears and I like running. Alaska was the perfect place for my 50th state marathon!

1st place Masters bear! 
So yeah, I ran Alaska in under 3 hours: 2:56:01, 4th place overall, for my 45th state marathon in under 3 hours. Though I had planned this EVENT for this race for 3 and 1/2 years, I did almost none of the planning. We were bringing the whole family, including my parents, along with almost 50 people from LRC to run a course that had its challenges for an 18-day vacation. I was too nervous about the race so my wife took charge.

This trip began on Father's Day, 6 days before the race. Traveling with my kids on Father's Day was not the gift you think it could have been but by playing a zone defense on the 6 and 1/2 hour flight, we managed to arrive in Anchorage intact to enjoy dinner and beers at Humpy's Ale House.

We drove to Denali National Park the following morning for a rare glimpse of Denali Peak, a family hike, and the kids' 1st Junior Ranger program - an activity offered by our National Park Service at each park to promote exploration, learning, and protection of our parks to the next generation of conservationists.

An easy 2-mile family hike at Denali Visitor Center
"As a Junior Ranger, I promise..."
Tuesday, Melissa and I took a light aircraft expedition in search for bears along the Cook Inlet, landing on the beach in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, and boy did we find them! How's this for A Bear On The Run - Melissa walking with bears video link HERE? Before relieving my parents of the kids, we snuck in another brewery, Glacier Brewhouse, for some Alaskan King Crab because... we're in Alaska! Oddly, it's no less expensive here.

The plane! The plane!
Should we be turning our back on a field full of bears?
The next morning's drive to Girdwood was magnificent. The views along the coastal highway present one awe-inspiring scene after another for the 45-minute drive to the Alyeska Ski Resort where we rode the tramway to the mountain top for lunch. Once off the mountain, we left my parents and kids at a park and found Girdwood Brewing, one of the better breweries in Alaska so far.

The kids are like mountain goats, climb they did!
30 minutes of kid-free "play"
In LRC, we do a Wednesday night fun run from a different bar or brewery each week and with some of us already in Alaska, we did one from 49th State Brewery to preview the last few miles of the courses, including the nasty uphill finish that both the marathoners and half marathoners would experience.
Making room for that yak burger - not worth $25
Thursday was dedicated to the Hops On the Rail Tour with our compadres, the Bartuschs. This 11-hour tour began with breakfast (and conductor hats!) in a glass-domed railcar that left from Anchorage and traversed the vast wilderness of Alaska to deliver us to the town of Talkeetna - a registered National Historic Place whose mayor was a cat named Stubbs from 1997 until his death in 2017. From here, Bryan of Big Swig Tours picked the 4 of us up for a private tour of 4 breweries (Denali Brewing Co., Arkose BreweryBleeding Heart Brewery (favorite), Odd Man Rush Brewing) along the drive back into Anchorage.

Our one other tour buddy, Kurt, assimilated quick enough
We made it back in time for my oldest son, Mars's 1-mile kids race, his 2nd state; like father, like son! After running along side him for about a block, he stopped and said to me, "Dad, my legs are tired," so we began to walk for a moment... "Ok, I want to win!" he stated emphatically, and we began running again! He finished in 10:31, his PR.

Mars's second state 1-mile race!
I was planning to get all my brewery visits in and relax Friday before the Saturday race. After our group shakeout run on Friday (ok, and a flight of beers at Moose's Tooth), I did just that; Melissa took the kids to see Toy Story 4 while I napped and hit the sauna in our Airbnb.

Shakeout run - we're almost all here!
There was a time I thought this race, previously referred to as the Midnight Sun Marathon, was actually run at midnight... alas, I was wrong. LRC was in force for the marathon start at 7:30am.

Pledging to not screw this one up!
It was a bit warm for Anchorage, 70 - 80 degrees this week; they would experience record high temps in the 90s the following week. Couple that with the course elevation chart fresh in my mind and I decided to run with music, something I've only done once before (at Richmond Marathon) in 70 marathons. With 650 marathoners and a different start time and route for the half marathoners, I had a feeling I'd be alone - and I was from mile 3 to the finish - and could use the motivation from my 2009 iTunes catalog: Coheed & Cambria, The Hold Steady, Baroness, Off With Their Heads, Led Zeppelin... the same playlist I've been running to for years. You kids and your new music!

The reviews don't do this course justice, it's beautiful and full of variety. Beginning at a high school, the first few miles transition from road to bike path then to a gravel road that carves its way through the foothills along Chugach State Park, diverging onto approximately 2 miles of single track trail that led us to the highest point on the course. Those 15 miles were rolling and climbing before returning onto the asphalt for a fast downhill mile 16. The rest of the course is downhill to flat except for that sadistic climb in the last 3/4 mile that I had previously scoped out.

Those old Nike 4% shoes got me 7 sub-3-marathons out of 7 races and a PR!
I had an average 6:30-min/mile pace at mile 19. I saw my wife and Amy, gave them my finish estimate of 2:55 - 2:58, then dialed it back. I was feeling good and pretty confident early on that this race would be under 3 hours. The music helped, as did the crisp, clean air. The thrill of knowing all that it took for all of us to get here together inspired me to be successful, knowing I wouldn't have a chance to recreate this moment with these friends and family.

With 50 states now complete, I've compiled a short list of stats via a post to Strava, linked HERE.

Family finish photo
Shortly after finishing, the weather that was sunny and warm took a turn to shady and cool (go figure!) as we lined the finisher chute to cheer in all of our friends: PRs, 1st timers, and finishers of hard-fought half marathon and marathon races that flew thousands of miles to be in Alaska together. In LRC fashion, we celebrated with a brewery crawl all afternoon, hopping (get it?) from King Street Brewing Co., to Anchorage Brewing Co. (probably my favorite), to Turnagain Brewing (wait, this might be my favorite). It was a late night; the sun hardly sets this time of year. 11:30pm still looked early.

We started on the rooftop at King Street Brewing Co.
Post-race LRC gathering stop #2 at Anchorage Brewing
Stop # 3 - Turnagain, where details get a bit blurry
The next morning, we boarded the train to Seward, AK - trail marker mile 0 of the Iditarod National Historic Trail and home of Mount Marathon, a crazy 5km footrace up a 3,000ft mountain and back down (an average 36% grade!) that takes place on the 4th of July - yeah, I wanted to do this pretty bad but it's difficult to get an entry and it didn't align with our cruise plans. Someday!

Where the Iditarod Trail begins
Mt. Marathon towering over a cute church-turned-coffee shop
Anyway, the train parallels the coastal scenic highway to Girdwood described above, then continues for 3.5 more hours into the Chugach National Forest for views of glaciers and mountains while periodically being alerted of animal sightings and given historical context along the way by the train narrator.

You'll love trains after this trip!
Seward is a beautiful port city where we would embark on our cruise ship Monday, the following evening, for a 7-day cruise exploring Alaska's Glacier Bay and Inside Passage, finishing in Vancouver. With a day and a half to explore this small town, we took advantage by booking a shuttle tour that picked us up from the train depot.

First stop: Iditarod dog sled tour! What's more Alaskan than learning about the dogs that compete in this grueling 1,000-mile race from Anchorage to Nome in March from the family that is accustomed to winning?

Next stop: Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park - where the kids earned their 2nd Junior Ranger badge. This short hike brought us to an overlook where we took in the views of a glacier literally melting before us; that heatwave was here!

Exit Glacier hike with the little mountain goats
The peak of salmon run season is July but by late June, we were able to stop and see salmon beginning their trek up stream from the ocean to spawn and die; ah, the life cycle of salmon, what a life! Afterward, my kids discovered king crab and loved it. Great, they have expensive taste. Mostly, I think they just liked the shells they took and carried with them for 3 weeks which I finally threw out - so long, "Crabby!"

Kid took half my dinner!
Catch and release, ha! Notice the crab leg shells.
And finally, a 4-hour boat tour of Kenai Fjords National Park before boarding a cruise ship... out of Kenai Fjords National Park.

Spotting beluga whales
You come to Alaska to see wildlife and that you will see: bears, moose, eagles, salmon runs, sea lions, sea otters (the cutest!), puffins, whales; we found them all via train, plane, boat, and automobile! My takeaway from the overwhelming amount of animal encounters is that eagles are basically the pigeons of The North... THEY'RE EVERYWHERE!

And then there was the cruise. Look, you just had to be there! This was my favorite part of the trip and the most relaxing way to finish. If ever you go to Alaska, you MUST do the cruise. I'll just leave these pics to tell a bit of the story:

Kayaking at port stop #1: Glacier Bay
Some of the LRC group before a run around Hoonah, AK.

Erika and I jumping into Glacier Bay, post run video HERE.

Hubbard Glacier
Port stop #2 - panning for gold in Juneau
A run up Mt. Roberts Trail, Juneau
We have unlimited drinks but... Devil's Club Brewery, Juneau
Dancing, a LOT of dancing
More dancing
And my parents dancing when they didn't know we were watching video HERE.

Brothel tour with matching Alaska wolf shirts in Ketchikan
Beer mile on the cruise ship deck
We even convinced a couple to join in on the beer mile!

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Vermont Again! Marathon #69

Vermont, you elusive land of nectar, you! 
"I'm ready enough," I thought. Then came the storm delay, the humidity, the sun, the heat, the hills, the self-doubt... the excuses. This was my second swing-and-a-miss in The Green Mountain State; you're lucky you're pretty Vermont because this 3:04:41 won't be the last you see of me!

After The New Jersey Marathon, I was physically and emotionally wrecked. Sprinting down the homestretch to 40 years old, stressed from operating an all-consuming run club, and all of the sudden my hips hurt, then a strained calf muscle kept me from redoing South Dakota on 5/11. So, in the 4 weeks between NJ and this race, I rested. The mileage wasn't there but the pains were subsiding.

But enough about running, let's talk about why we're really here...

I flew into Burlington Friday morning and drove the 1.5 hours to Hill Farmstead Brewery intent to fill their noon to 5pm hours with beer, a book, good conversations, and the views from the remote farm on which this brewery is located. I met some great people from Los Angeles and this book on Chernobyl is fascinating, all-in-all, a rejuvenating visit.

Hill Farmstead's location is its true charm
Dinner and drinks at The Reservoir, next to the bed & breakfast we had in Waterbury, turned into hours of conversation with the locals. At the end of day 1, I had more adult interactions than I get as a stay-at-home dad in a week!

The following morning, I woke up to pillow talk with Laurie - yes, the same Laurie from NJ... she was saying something about all the pillows each of our beds had. What did you think I meant?! She arrived late, after I had passed out.

I forgot my toothbrush, I improvised
No trip to Vermont is complete without a stop at Ben & Jerry's and the highlight is the graveyard of retired flavors.

R.I.P. luscious flavors of the past! 

The Alchemist Brewery has a cult following in the beer world with Heady Topper double IPA. They recently built a facility with a beautiful outdoor space to meet the demand of New England but after we had a few beers contemplating a round of disc golf from their patio, I felt it just isn't the same as having to follow their delivery truck schedule to head off a delivery at Warren Store like Melissa and I did in 2014 on this NH & ME double marathon trip - that's how crazy it was back when they were small and didn't have a taproom.

Calling it what it is
At the Trapp Family Lodge doing our Sound of Music pose
You know what's happening down the road this afternoon? Bernie Sanders's 1st Vermont rally of this election cycle! We thought about it...

The only thing missing from this trip was Michael, who was with us in NJ, so...
Now, back to running.

Our Hotel Vermont room is rustic chic and perfectly located close to the start line where we watched as a storm rolled in off Lake Champlain, delaying the start by 45 minutes. We were in for a warm, humid morning.

This race is a big deal for Burlington and the townsfolk do a great job of volunteering and supporting the runners. There were several homes with their own aid stations handing out Freeze Pops (I had a few), Vermont maple syrup (it's quite good as a gel substitute), and high fives from children. After conquering the rolling hills, peaking on a not-insignificant climb up Battery Hill to mile 16, the remainder of this course is fairly flat. However, I was drained and when my average pace per mile crept over 6:53 at mile 20, it was time to change the narrative.

Mile 24 - being happy with "failure"
This is my 1st race as a Master and new Boston-qualifying standard which I thought was 3:05 (turns out it's 3:10) - new goal for the day! I finished with enough time to shower, drink a beer, grab one of the hotel bikes to see Laurie at mile 25.5. She succeeded in breaking a habit of dropping to the half in her last couple of marathons and finished in 3:51. I was happy for her; we both made it a great race!

It was a fun weekend. Plenty of great conversation followed at one of my favorite VT breweries, Lawson's Finest Liquids. It was perfect weather to be outside: I took Laurie to Warren Store to grab dinner and wade in the nearby stream before heading back to Burlington's Foam Brewery and Burlington Bay Market for their Maple Creemee and a Lake Champlain sunset.

Getting artsy
Lake Champlain
See you soon, Vermont!

Sunday, April 28, 2019

49/50 - The New Jersey Marathon

Welcome to the Jersey Shore! 

New Jersey, The Garden State, lays claim to legends such as Jon Bon Jovi (I once played drums in a Bon Jovi cover band), Bruce Springsteen (you know him, you love him), and Les Paul (beautiful iconic guitars bear this musician and solid-body electric guitar and sound recording innovator's name). Oh, and Snooki from The Jersey Shore; we "met" Snooki this weekend but I'll get to that later...

Non-Jovi circa 2008 w/ Brandmeier playing live on his 97.9 Loop radio show 
The Gibson Les Paul guitar in all its beauty

It's also notable for landmarks including the George Washington Bridge that spans the Hudson River, Asbury Park - famous for its beach, boardwalk, the recently-demolished Palace Amusements indoor amusement park built in 1888, and the Paramount Theatre and Stone Pony - venerable music venues - along the Jersey shore.

Remnants of an old casino along the boardwalk in Asbury Park
Laurie, Michael, me, doing the obligatory touching of the ocean
Art over dilapidation on the Jersey Shore

New Jersey will be remembered as my 49th state marathon and 44th sub-3-hour state marathon for a goal that began at the 2009 Boston Marathon 10 years ago this month. Though I'll have a few states to redo for sub-3-hours, Alaska in June will be my 50th state marathon and culmination of an enjoyable, expensive, and hard-fought tour of the States. Visiting 250+ breweries along the way has helped ease the pain as much as it contributed to the expense.

Where it all began: Me and Melissa celebrating after the 2009 Boston Marathon - my 1st sub-3 

Michael, who has joined me on 10 of these state marathon trips (second in number of states only to my wife), Laurie, and I arrived in New Jersey on Friday morning. Michael loves Kevin Smith and I love taking pictures of Michael taking pictures of the things he loves.

Film location of Kevin Smith's Clerks
Kevin Smith's comic book store

Given New Jersey's contributions to music, it was fitting that the race expo was in the Paramount Theatre, featuring an oblivious punk rock DJ spinning old 45s while we drank espresso shots offered by Diadora - the Italian running shoe company staging a comeback in the States.

Afterward, we sampled through the beers at Carton Brewing in a loft space on relaxed couches to a punk rock soundtrack from my 1997 youth. New Jersey feels familiar, and I like it.

Between all the laughs, we found time to grab dinner at Sirena (that's Italian for "mermaid") Ristorante on the oceanfront with table-side views of a thunderstorm developing off the ocean. It was fancy, and we were not. We retreated to our hotel with warm cookies and HGTV's Property Brothers, Michael's favorite channel... Sorry, I didn't get a pic of him taking a pic of an episode.

Sandy Hook is a peninsula steeped in military history once serving as a test site for the Nike Missile. For us, it was the location for a windy Saturday morning shakeout run and near encounter with Gunnison Beach, a nude beach located on National Park Services land. Who says our National Parks are not beautiful?

No naked people but here's Laurie mounting a Nike Missile

Why do people love lighthouses? My brother used to paint lighthouses and collect trinkets of them as a joke in high school. I left Navesink Twin Lights lighthouse and museum, home to America's first Fresnel lens and site of the demonstration of the wireless telegraph, with an appreciation for lighthouses and their contribution to naval history.


Saturday continued to be low-key with a visit to one of New Jersey's 600+ stainless steel-clad 1950's diners, dinner at Pasta Volo after our encounter with Snooki... ok, it wasn't Snooki, but that didn't stop the look-a-like with newborn and husband from proclaiming to be her to an excited group of tourists that approached. Look, Snookie would NOT drive a Volvo! Besides, she's still pregnant and not due until next week according to her Instagram... we checked.

Sunday morning, 7:30am race time: we arrived at Monmoth Park horse racetrack at 6:30am. It was a bit cold and windy, Michael was shivering while I dragged us from porta-potty line to line. With 5 minutes to start time, we entered our corrals.

The New Jersey Marathon had a 2:55 and 3:00 pace group and according to my training since the Wrightsville Beach Marathon 7-weeks ago, I estimated a 6:40 - 6:45/per mile pace, something the 2:55 group would achieve. We started behind the 3:00 group which felt claustrophobic ( this race had close to 100 sub-3-hour marathoners in addition to starting with the half marathoners!), so I left Michael and moved up to the 2:55 group by mile 5.

Running alone sucks. By letting the 2:55 group set the pace, I was able to settle in and not work so hard. This strategy worked until mile 17 when I moved ahead of the group that had dwindled from about 20 to 6 runners. At mile 19, the course turns back to run along the shore, much of which is on the boardwalk, with a noticeable crosswind and my hips reminding me that 68 lifetime marathons is beginning to take its toll. I finished in 2:55:49, a 6:42 pace - nailed it!

4 and 4 for my 44th sub-3-hour state marathon

I stood at the finish line waiting in bated breath for Michael to finish in under 3 hours, and with 3 seconds to spare, he did! As if that wasn't enough of a close call, after showers at Laurie's sister's home, celebratory ice cream at New Brunswick's Thomas Sweet Ice Cream, we arrived at our flight's gate with about the same wiggle room... another squeaker!

2 days later at home...

Michael and I have a fascination with numerology. We spent much of the weekend searching and only once we stopped trying, did we see this: My 2:55:49 started from wave 2 and resulted in 55th overall finisher and 49th overall male for my 49th state. Crazy, right?

But here's my favorite numbers game of the weekend:

Number of Bon Jovi songs heard vs. Dunkin Donuts locations spotted (they're everywhere on the east coast) = 6 to 7.5*. Dunkin for the win!

*We gave half-a-point for a new Dunkin, mid-construction.