International Mosquito Feast Marathon June 30 (Read 1739 times)

Break on through

    So... how did it go?  Was it a solo run? Will marathonguide.com be posting the results?

    "Not to touch the Earth, not to see the Sun, nothing left to do but run, run, run..."

    Bushrat Runner

      Yes, the International Mosquito Feast Marathon is in the books with three participants. Or two if you don't count my dog. But I am the race director, so I get to decide, and he counts. 


      A painfully long write-up will appear in the next few days, I just started drafting it...

      Bushrat Runner

        Cross post from Master's forum...


        A week ago I was very unsure the International Mosquito Feast Marathon was going to come to pass. The prime instigator, who also constituded half of the executive committee, had failed to get in much training. We were running together in Wasilla, and after mornings of 5, 6, and 5 miles, then an afternoon of 8 miles, it was clear that those distances on consecutive days had pushed the limits of my brother Forry's training.


        But I also figured that if he would be willing to do scheduled walk breaks they might also indicate that he could do it. So I suggested that approach, and he eventually decided he might be able to do it. We thought about doing a couple miles at a time, but eventually decided that a better plan would be short cycles, so we opted for 3 minute runs followed by 3 minute walks. That was the plan.


        We discussed the race a number of times, but in general there was a distinct lack of media attention and relatively little interest from other runners. Marathonguide never responded at all to our attempts to get the race listed on their calendar. But at least our combined families would be available to provide the roving support wagon we knew we would need...


        Then, on the day before the race, the wives were overheard discussing the next day's fishing adventure. In Alaska subsistence fishing is legal with its own set of regulations, and many of the visitors like to watch us Alaskans put up fish. So in fact, the families were going to be pretty much occupied fishing while we were pretty much occupied running. Our enthusiasm was being tested by a lack of participants, a lack of support, and a lack of training. But we weren't smart enough to be dissuaded. I begged, pleaded, and eventually just plain out bribed my son to provide the all-important roving support function by letting him drive the ATV for hours while we ran. I suspect he might have been happy to avoid fishing duties, so perhaps it was avoidance of unpleasant tasks that brought him onto the team.


        The final member of the team was the third participant. We needed to have at least one other racer for us to measure ourselves against, so we invited our dog, Choco, a standard poodle. This wasn't going to be his first marathon either. The scene was set. The drama was built. And we were in for it whether we were ready or not.


        We realized in discussion that we might have left out an important feature of this particular race in our prior descriptions of the impending event. People are often concerned about whether a race is a Boston qualifier. But this race works a little differently. The Boston Marathon can qualify you for this race.


        We prepared our aid wagon with a bag of small energy bars from the pantry of my brother's family, apparently brought all the way just for this purpose, and some full size Clif Bars that were purchased in Anchorage the week before. We added some bottles of Gatorade, a bottle of water, and some bags of beef jerky to round out the food suppy. Then, we added headnets, bug spray, bandaids, body glide, and fueled up the ATV so it wouldn't run out. At that point, it seemed like we were ready.


        The gun went off promptly at 8 am Saturday morning. Luckily, our race was being managed by Garmin time, as our gun time was pretty poor. While the imaginary masses streamed away from the starting line, we were still working on getting out the door to the starting line. The aid station driver was pretty sound asleep still, I was trying to use a cup of coffee to manufacture some enthusiasm, and my brother was laughing at me for being late despite the minor detail that he was still in pajamas. The dog was completely ready, however. Sometime around the crack of 9 am we launched from the starting line, a chip lag of nearly an hour, but who cares? We were off.


        Start line



        They're offAccuweather was forecasting that the weather would warm up and the sun would start poking out at around 1 pm, but it was cloudy, cool, and lightly drizzly at the start. I had looked at the current conditions, thought about my comfort level, worried about overdressing since I usually race in shorts and tee in weather like this...then realized I was on the wrong mental track. This wasn't going to be a race effort, for one. And furthermore, I was accompanied by the roving aid station...I could change anytime I wanted to...so I put on enough that I could walk comfortably in the 42 degree weather. Forry had looked at me, walked outside, went back in and put on a long sleeve shirt. So we were off and we were comfortably cool as we started out, but not cold.


        The first three minutes were underway, and looking down I was seeing a pace of sub-10:30 on the display of my timing device.


        “Dude, this is pretty fast, I don't know if this is a good idea.”


        “Yeah, but we are only running three minutes at a time, so we'll settle down quickly.”


        “I hope so, this is faster than you ran on any of our runs last week.”


        The dog looked at us like we were slow and mystifying every time we dropped to a walk, but he was trotting along happily. We didn't have the heart to tell him he was going to be DQ'ed. But the race rules clearly stated that you had to record your own time, and he had no watch on. Bummer for him. He didn't seem to care.


        We moved on, shrugging off the few mosquitoes that settled in. We were starting with little wind, and when I had checked the weather in the morning I was also looking to see what the wind situation would be. According to Accuweather, we were going to be looking at a light breeze 7 mph or so from the south. That would put it across our path for the most part, neither with nor against. That had the ancillary benefit of keeping us from having a tailwind, which would result in a dead air space right in front of our face, which could fill with bugs. That isn't very comfortable. So no tailwind was good. But the air we experienced when we went out was almost completely calm. Now completely calm means that there will be no shortage of bugs in the air. But at least they wouldn't be in our faces as long as we were running. But there we were, in the first few miles, and so far there weren't too many mosquitoes to be fed. So far.


        The first few miles we sorted out how far the aid station ATV was going to go ahead of us and settled into the 3 minute rhythm of our intervals. The run portion was pretty speedy, but the walk portion was pretty speedy as well, and we were feeling good. Nearing mile two, we arrived onto the Lake Camp Road, which is a gravel surface that we would be on for most of the day. We hadn't inspected the surface, so we were happily surprised to find that it hadn't been graded in the past few days. The traffic had left a relatively nice surface so we settled into the tire paths where the smoothest surfaces were. Around three miles, a large truck passed us, hauling gravel, so we knew we would be dealing with a number of trucks moving material for portions of the run.


        First big truck


        But right after the truck went by, a vehicle pulled up behind and it was my family. They had set the net, then come up the road to find us. They cheered us past, took some photos, then headed back down to deal with fish while we toiled along in semi-solitude.


        Forry and Choco


        Aid station wheels


        Cheerleading wagon


        I noted on our walk breaks that we were no longer walking 15 minute mile pace, but we were still feeling good and moving out as we reached 7 miles. But at that point, I realized that the bathroom visit that hadn't happened before we started was going to be an important part of my race experience...uh oh...


        As we hit mile 8 we were in the prime mosquito zone. Eight or ten years ago I was running with a friend out this same road. On that day, we had a good east wind, so we were running 10 miles into the wind to avoid mosquito inhalation. That day was sunny out, and we reached this same region of the road. The vegetation on either side of the road is eight or ten feet tall in that spot, and as we ran on that day we were gabbing and looking forward to reaching the end of the run. But at around the same moment, we both became conscious of the sun being somewhat obscured, and looked up to check the sky and see what sort of clouds were moving in.


        What we saw terrified us. There were no clouds in the sky. But over our heads, at around fifteen feet up, was a black cloud of bugs. We looked at each other and started considering our options...


        We had arranged for a friend to pick us up. We were within 20 minutes of reaching the end of the road, and at that point we would have to turn around. That didn't seem like a very good option, but we were having a hard time thinking of other ways to deal with the swarm that was awaiting us. As we considered the pickle we were finding ourselves in, our friend pulled past us from behind, and we started cheering, hooting and hollering. He pulled over, and asked if we wanted to be picked up right then?


        “No, we are just incredibly happy to see you right now...we'll see you in a couple miles!”


        In the present effort, we were in the same corridor of bugs, but when I took a moment to look up I was happy to see that there was not a black cloud above us. But we were moving a lot slower, both during the run and the walk portions, and there was a pretty good load of mosquitoes following us now. Well, that was the point after all. They needed to eat, so here we were. At least we weren't going to have to power through a complete wall of them.


        Mosquito Feast


        Around a mile from the first turn-around, Forry noted that my back was covered with mosquitoes. When I stopped so he could take a photo, they all flew up and swarmed around my face, but as long as we were running and walking, they just covered my shoulders and back. So we kept moving.


        We had passed most of the popular yellowlegs roosting spots in the first few miles without any sign of yellowlegs. But now, as we neared the turn-around, we found some nesting pairs. First one, then another, then a third started squealing and wheeling, then turned in and bore down on us before pulling up and around to start the harassment again. We were thinking they should bother the ATV driver, since he was the only one of us with a helmet, but we all scooted past unscathed.


        Finally, we reached the turn-around, at which was a conveniently located comfort station...I know it made me more comfortable...


        On the way back out of there, we made it just back to the hall of mosquitoes in time to hit halfway, feeling strong and doing well. My father-in-law pulled up, carrying another carload of adoring fans just after we crossed the halfway mark. The adoring fans went out to see the river, and we kept on truckin'. After they passed us at mile 14 on their way home, we were in for the long, hard final miles with only our faithful aid station driver to help us out. Luckily, after a questionable first sleepy-headed few miles, he had settled into a cheerful disposition that was only occasionally soured when I reminded him to keep the ATV over to the right side of the road. But he was happy to help and he was all the help we had now. 



        sleepy head


        Lead runner


        Our walks had continued to get a little slower. As did our runs. Forry had shared some words of wisdom shortly after halfway...


        “So it feels great to be half done. But at this point, you have to realize, that if we had only signed up for the half, we'd be done now...”


        He would repeat that a number of times over the next few miles...and as we reached the junction to head out to the other turn-around it was even more on his mind. We needed another 2.5 miles out to make our total distance, and as we headed south to get another river view, we passed 16 miles, then 16.2...


        “The remaining distance now starts with a single digit!” Forry said.


        “It always starts to sound less daunting when the miles remaining drops under 10...”


        But somewhere around mile 18 the clouds came out. The ones on Forry's demeanor. I had been noticing during the walk phases that my feet were a bit sore. He apparently also had sore feet. And a sore groin. And sore legs. And maybe some other sore spots, I don't recall for sure. A certain grim trudgingness overtook us. I was not experiencing the pain he was, and was trying to ensure I just kept alongside so he wouldn't feel I was wishing he would speed up. I've been the slow guy a lot of times, but it is surprising how hard it is sometimes to drop our pace back. I was inching ahead during the runs, and during the walks as well. So I started consciously pulling back, trying to remember to hold behind his shoulder so he was leading.


        “I'm thinking that when we get back to the ATV would be a good finish line for me...”


        “You want to ride back?”


        “Absolutely! That doesn't mean I will, but I definitely want to...”


        At that point, I felt somewhat sure the dog and I would be finishing alone. But in the silent grimness of late-stage-marathon pain, Forry kept moving, occasionally managed a smile, and Choco and I kept moving with him. Somewhere around 22 miles, I noticed a little more sun in his disposition, and I allowed myself to hope he might make it.


        Forry noted that although the runs were hard now, the walks were almost harder. And the starts of each run segment were hardest of all, but after getting the rhythm again, it was almost sad to settle in for a walk phase. But when you aren't in shape, you have to do things you don't want to...so we kept taking walk breaks. When the miles remaining was fewer than 2, I handed my phone off to the aid station manager and asked him to snap some photos. He went ahead a ways, then would take photos of us as we came past. As we trudged up an incredibly small hill, one of the only ones left in the last miles, he leaped out and shouted...


        "Okay! Look heroic! Oh, never mind. I forgot that's not possible..."






        Looking heroic


        As we reached the final mile, Forry started a run segment that he didn't want to stop, so he just kept charging on. After six minutes, he had to have a break, but it was a short one. Then we kept on running. Then another short break and run on in...


        extended run


        Choco crossed the finish line in first, totally rude for a DQ'ed runner to do, but we love him so we let it pass. Forry and I crossed the line together, holding our Garmins out to measure the distance. We got it exactly right. His Garmin claimed we hit 26.2 miles right in front of our front door. Mine had already passed that mark a few yards before, but I ran to his finish line and counted it for mine as well.


        We immediately went for the high fives and went inside.


        high fives


        I scrambled up some home grown eggs, toasted some bread my wife made from wheat berries she ground herself in our kitchen, slathered on some strawberry rhubarb jam made by a friend, drank a lot of water, and went to start the post-race party. I woke up from the nap three hours later, and we went and started the grill to put some fresh fish on...


        I have another brother that runs. He is still in shock that we actually carried out this event. But he just sent me a text reminding me that his wife walks faster than our average pace on this run. We could take that a number of ways. I choose to congratulate her on her speedy walking...


        If anybody is interested in participating in next year's version of this adventure, let me know. Or for that matter if anybody is particularly NOT interested in participating, I'd be interested in hearing that as well.

          You are hysterically funny!  This would be a marathon that I would like to run but unfortunately travel from Fl to AK isn't quite in my budget right now.  You, your brother, and your family sound like you would be a blast to be around.  Congratulations on a well organized race (love that you bribed your son for aid support) and for all three of the participants deciding to avoid the sag wagons.

          an amazing likeness

            The dog did it barefoot....dog wins.



            I've done my best to live the right way. I get up every morning and go to work each day. (for now)

              Congratulation to all 3 of you especially on not taking that always enticing ride back on the ATV, and thanks for the pictures,  all Reports are 10 times better with pictures.

              Bushrat Runner

                A couple things I forgot to mention...


                You'll notice at the end the supposed sunshine that should have been peeking through for the final two hours is sort of missing. We thought about it and decided maybe we should change the name to Inaccuweather. Good thing we didn't dress for the end conditions that never materialized. 


                Second, while it is true that the lead runner ran heroically, rules are rules. Maybe his master will love him enough to attach a timing device next time. He runs around less now than he did before, but it is really a little psychologically damaging to finish a marathon with him, because he stops, looks around, realizes you aren't still running, and then decides it must be time to play. Brings sticks over for you to throw.


                "Really? A marathon isn't enough for you?" 


                I've never reached 26.2 miles and thought, "Wow, I wish that was further!" So, I've never run further. But Choco is an ultramarathoner. 


                Finally, the awards. Forry won the 42 and over division with an astounding performance, finishing in 6:00:12 with no competitors in sight. I won the 41 and under division, in the same time. Choco was DQ'ed, sadly. If it weren't for the race committee's rigid and unfeeling adherence to silly technical details, Choco would have won both the divisions, as he is over 42 in dog years and under 42 in calendar years...

                Break on through

                  Great report!  Way to perservere!   I have to say, though, you may have described the event too well.  I'm particularly interested in not running it...

                  "Not to touch the Earth, not to see the Sun, nothing left to do but run, run, run..."

                  Bushrat Runner

                    Great report!  Way to perservere!   I have to say, though, you may have described the event too well.  I'm particularly interested in not running it...


                    One of our relatives told us he wanted to come visit us..."when it's not cold and when there aren't any bugs..."


                    We told him we'd see him at his house in California...

                      Could become a classic event.




                        This sounded like such a blast!  I used to live in Eagle River and haven't been back up in years.  This so tempts me!!! 



                          This sounded like such a blast!  I used to live in Eagle River and haven't been back up in years.  This so tempts me!!! 


                          If you joined them, it might change the whole complexion of the race, not to mention the size.

                          Well at least someone here is making relevance to the subject. - S.J.


                             I would definately want a t-shirt and the "bling"!  Wink



                            If you joined them, it might change the whole complexion of the race, not to mention the size.

                            Bushrat Runner

                              If you show up, we'll have the shirts and medals for you...

                                Bravo!  One of the best race reports that I've read.  Expecting bigger and better things for next year....