Saturday, April 2, 2011

Lost Lake Run - Race Review

The Lost Lake Run, also known as the Breath of Life Run, is a fund raising benefit for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.  It's also a challenging trail run that attracts top Alaskan athletes and is a premier destination event worth planning a trip around.

The Lost Lake Run had been on my list of 'things to do' for fifteen years, ever since I moved to southcentral Alaska in the mid-1990s.  Friends and acquaintances had done it, but the race was at first intimidating to me and then, for many years it always seemed to conflict with something else on my calendar.  In 2010, I was determined to do the race at long last.  The newly published Alaska Runner's Calendar listed the race for August 21 and I marked the date.

The race is 16 miles long and travels from the Primrose Campground located on the shore of Kenai Lake, just off the Seward Highway, to a lush mountain bench, tops out at 2,100' elevation, then descends back to the highway. 

Though challenging, it's not a mountain run, per se.  It's nothing like Seward's other run - the greuling Mount Marathon Race - or Palmer's Matanuska Peak Challenge.  When the trail reaches the top of the bench, the race becomes enjoyable.  The bench offers gently rolling terrain with fun rock hopping mixed with beautifully cushioned surfaces.  The best part about this race is that the last four miles is all downhill.  Runners who haven't taken on a trail run should be careful on this section to not get overly confident.  Even on nice days, there are sections where streams create slick mud and protroduing rocks will trip those who aren't watching carefully.  I saw one woman take a bad tumble and hurt her knee trying to jump over a stream's stepping stones too fast for her abilities.  Also be aware of sharp branches reaching into the trail from the forest.

The route begins with a long nine mile uphill run (or power hike depending on your fitness level).  During the first three miles, the field of runners naturally separtes into groups.  In this run, even more than some I've entered, it's important to honestly lineup according to your intended finish time.  The trail narrows immediately to a single track and it's very tough to pass people, so if you're planning to walk this section, make sure to start toward the back of the pack.  There are sections of the trail that are muddy, rocky, and rooty, as one would expect in a trail race, so wear good solid trail running shoes that are well broken in.  The weather cooperated the day I ran, but Seward is on the coast, so be prepared for rain. 

This run offers participants scenic beauty and comraderie along the way.  The trail takes runners through a dense old growth temperate rainforest, where you run amongst towering Sitka spruce, devil's club, and blueberry bushes (the blueberries are ripe when the race takes place in August, tempting participants to stop for berry-breaks!).  The high benches are superb.  Once above treeline, runners are treated to spectacular views of the rugged Chugach peaks, brilliant blue alpine lakes, lush meadows of wildflowers and deep grasses, and clear streams - the best Alaska has to offer. 

The aid station midway is staffed with encouraging, friendly volunteers handing out cups of water and sports drinks.  Fellow runners offer words of enouragement as you pass them or they pass you.  And, every mile along the way, you are reminded of the real reason the race is being held:  each mile is marked with a photograph and name of someone in Alaska living with Cystic Fibrosis.

As mentioned earlier, one of the best parts about this race is that the last four miles are all downhill.  What a pleasure to cross the finish line in full stride to a cheering, throbbing crowd of spectators.  I've never been as tired as I was when I finished this race.  I didn't come close to nabbing first place in the women's division (this title was taken by 28-year-old cross-country skiing Olympian, Holly Brooks), but the thrill of completing this difficult course and the exhileration of racing through the Chugach were prizes enough.

Finish line festivities, Bear Creek Fire Station.

Bottom Line:  Highly Recommended
Suggestions:  Heed all the advise on the race website listed below.  Train.  Wear good shoes.  Prepare to get wet.
More InformationLost Lake Run, Seward, Alaska

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