Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Alaska Run for Women - Race Review

Miles:  5. 
Weather:  Sunny. 
Cause:  Breast Cancer Awareness.
Color:  Pink. 
T-shirt:  High quality.
Overall Satisfaction Rating:  Too much fun.

Anchorage’s Alaska Run for Women scored a big hit last weekend for its 20th year celebration.  Over 7,000 women, decked out in girly pink, showed up at the Sullivan Arena Saturday morning to participate in one of the raucous events --  the 1 mile, 5-mile timed, 5-mile untimed, and party waves.  There were pink shirts, pink tanks, pink shorts, pink tights, pink knee-high socks, pink hats, pink bandanas, pink tutus, and, yes, pink bras worn proudly over base layers.  Pink was on display elsewhere, too:  at the starting line, the masses of participants ran under an enormous pink inflatable arch and, near the corrals, Olympian, Kikkan Randall’s parked sponsor car was decorated in scrolling pink script and sported a pink car top carrier.  Best of all, the line of porta potties had been transformed from dismal standard-issue construction site toilets into wildly imaginative pink breast/breast-cancer themed shrines.  This was a women’s event through-and-through.

A whole new experience.  Photo by Saree Timmons.
The event is 20-years old and it showed.  The process for getting runners and walkers into the right place at the right time was fine-tuned.  A disembodied, feisty female MC barked commands and somehow, over the din of the crowd, deftly leveraged everyone into their corrals in time for their waves’ starting horn.  As with other large races these days, the ARFW utilized electronic chips which were distributed during bib pickup.  The chips are looped into the runners’ shoe laces and times are registered when the chip crosses the finish line.  I’ve worn chips on a number of occasions, but have never gotten results so quickly.  Just six hours after I crossed the finish line, I received an automated email containing my overall place, my finishing time, my average speed per mile, and a link to age group and overall standings.

The Route

Woodsy Chester Creek Trail. 
Photo by Saree Timmons.

The one mile event followed a wooded course from 16th street around the baseball and football fields and along Chester Creek.  The five-mile course took off down 16th, then turned right up a steep incline to E Street, a wide boulevard that was closed to traffic throughout the event.  E Street took runners all the way to the Coastal Trail’s trailhead on 2nd Avenue, where the course then turned south and followed the trail along scenic Cook Inlet.  The route veered onto the shady Chester Creek Trail and finally deposited runners into the Anchorage Football Stadium for a final 200 meter dash to the finish line.

Friends and family take on the AKRFW. 
Photo by Will Timmons.

Entertainment and Support
All along both the 1- and 5-mile courses, loud supporters cheered for friends and strangers, clapping and yelling encouragement.  In addition, along the 5-mile course, encampments of merrymakers played music, passed out water and Gatorade, and hooted “only three miles to go!” or “you’re almost there!”  I heard a folk ensemble at the far end of a Coastal Trail tunnel, a spirited Japanese drum corps percussing near the salty Inlet, and a Scottish Highlands bag pipe troupe wailing atop a grassy knoll -- all distracting runners from their own labored breathing, side stitches, and fatigued muscles.

The 2012 race drew the likes of Olympian cross-country skiers, Kikkan Randall and Holly Brooks, but also drew thousands more like my own friends-and-family delegation:  my  sister, Saree, my mother, Joy, our friend, Marygen, and me.  Like many of the women there, we were first time participants who set out under the sunny sky at our own pace with the goal of finishing in our own sweet time.  Surrounded by pulsing, noisy, laughing, pink women, we fit right in.

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