Seward: Mount Marathon

Derek and I just got back from an absolutely wonderful trip around Alaska. I can’t put into words how grateful and thankful we are to get to have this time and the resources to go on this trip. I will be writing a bit on those travels in the coming days and weeks, but today I wanted to focus on one specific circumstance.

Seward, Alaska is easily our favorite town in this grand state, and so when we planned our summer travel, Seward was one of our first stops. We spent 3 days in Seward and one of those days we were able to observe Seward’s 4th of July festivities, which include a 5k race. It’s not just any race – it is a 5k that has a 3,022 foot elevation gain. The fastest time ever run was 41:26, which is insane. (For some perspective: the current world record for a 5k is 12:37. Which is nuts as well). The runners run up and down a mountain and it is hard. They finish bloody and muddy and exhausted. And it’s awesome. (Read more about it here).

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The Mount Marathon race includes a junior race, a women’s race, and a men’s race. One fun little activity that they hold is also a “mini-marathon”, where they put race bibs on little kids and let them run the first 200 or so meters of the start of the race and the crowd cheers wildly. It’s really adorable. They do the mini marathon about 10 minutes after the women’s race has begun.

The kids got out of the start fast and we cheered and clapped and then the noise died down. People started walking away or turning to each other and chatting as we expectantly waited for the top women to return from the top of Mount Marathon. But then a little flutter of noise began to erupt from the crowd and people started clapping and cheering again. I turned to Derek and asked what they were clapping for. He pointed back to the start line.

A little girl who couldn’t have been more than three or four was still participating in the mini marathon. She was wearing a Belle costume and was assisted in her run by a walker, her mother, and leg braces. Each step was clearly laborious to her. She was trying with all her might to do that mini marathon even though her peers had long finished.

The best part – the crowd went wild. We cheered and clapped and yelled encouragement. People cheered just as hard for her as they did for everyone else, even for the top finishers of the race. As I clapped I felt my throat get tight as I thought about the beauty of it all.

This moment encapsulated what I love about running, and about people. There are no tryouts and you can’t get cut from the team. Everyone can participate. You don’t have to be fast, but you can be, and that’s okay too. Running teaches us that we can do hard things and that when we do, we will have people cheering for us on the sidelines.

The runners really fought in the Mount Marathon race and it was incredibly beautiful to watch. I will write more later about watching the race because it was so much fun to see and to celebrate people running such a difficult race. I love watching the ends of races no matter the distance because I just think it’s a beautiful triumph. They showed immense courage and fortitude and it inspired me to no end.

But I have to say that I think the person who showed the most courage that day was a little girl in a Belle costume who conquered the mini marathon.

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Summer Solstice

Prior to moving to Alaska I have literally zero recollection of giving a hoot about Summer Solstice. One beautiful thing about Fairbanks is that the community celebrates Summer Solstice with gusto. I was so grateful Derek came back from Korea in time to participate in the events and that we got to share them together. Summer has always been my favorite season and I love discovering summer in Alaska together.

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Was this photo taken at midnight or the middle of the day? We may never know.

Here are some of the Summer Solstice activities we have been up to lately…

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Post Midnight Sun Run. This was 11:15 pm.
  1. The Midnight Sun Run. I am a sucker for any fun run and this was a 10k that started at 10 pm at night. There were over 3,000 runners signed up, which for Fairbanks is a pretty big deal. I am not sure how many states were represented, but the last I heard is that it was in the 40s. I saw people with shirts from all over the US, including Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, where I went to school (Go Fighting Illini!) The sun was out the entire time, and when we left to go get Taco Bell afterwards it was still completely light out.
  2. The Midnight Sun Festival. It was like Taste of Chicago for all you midwestern readers (mom and dad), except Alaskan, so weirder. There was food, ice cream, and tents selling everything you could imagine, including fidget spinners. I loved walking around on a crowded street with a lot of people, and also running into friends!
  3. Fishing. Prior to this past week my experiences with fishing were one time fishing Processed with VSCO with c1 presetoff the dock of my friend’s lake house in Wisconsin using hot dogs as bait. When my colleague from work reached out and invited me to go fishing, I was really looking forward to it. We went out on a lake near where Derek and I live and it was really enjoyable to me! I had a great time spending time with her and even cooked some of the rainbow trout we caught that night. I absolutely love getting to know people in Alaska and hearing their stories and hearing about life here beyond the military community, and I am really grateful to her for taking time to teach me about life here. People in Alaska have the absolute best stories. I swear NPR is missing out.

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While sometimes the constant light can get annoying, I am trying to soak it up all I can. I know we won’t live here forever and it’s really special getting to live in a place of such extremes, even if that does mean extreme light and extreme dark.

Solstice for me has been a time of connection. We have connected with other people and our community in unique ways, whether it be through fishing or a fun run. I am so thankful for the sun that brings people out of their homes and for opportunities to connect with local culture and enjoy the solstice.

A Love Letter to Derek’s Watch

While Derek was in Korea, it was often running I turned to when I felt lonely or sad or just existentially funky. When Derek left, aside from leaving a giant chasm in my heart (kidding, kind of) he also left his big clunky Garmin watch that he bought for runs with his team when he was in college.

The Garmin was on the counter right where he’d left it and it kept catching my eye. One day I decided to put it on. The watch was far too big for me and wobbled around on my wrist no matter how tight I strapped it, and sometimes held charge poorly. Nevertheless, I took it out for a test run.

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Behold, the Garmin itself.

I gained a strange sense of comfort running with his Garmin watch. It felt good to know that the watch sliding around on my skinny wrist had once sat securely on his, accompanying him and his track teammates or just him alone on many a run through the suburbs of Chicago. It made me feel connected to him, doing something he loved with the watch that had so faithfully kept track of his runs for so long.

The longer he was gone I started to find myself wearing the Garmin even when I wasn’t running, a tangible symbol of connection and closeness when he was so far away. And in a weird way it really helped. If I couldn’t be with Derek or talk to him very much, at least I could be doing something that he loved and holding something of his with me. I’d find myself subconsciously touching it, wiggling it around and thinking of him.

Military life brings with it many difficulties, including extended times separation and minimal communication. At times it is just plain hard, and I don’t want to paint the picture that just playing with Derek’s watch made it all hunky dory. But it did remind me of some truths I could hold onto when the hard stuff felt really hard.

So, dear Garmin watch, this one’s for you. Thank you for reminding me that Derek and I can be connected even when we are apart. During this absence a dear friend of mine encouraged me that God can still grow people together in marriage even when physical distance separates them. In its own strange little way, the Garmin reminded me of that. But now for now, he is home, and to quote an oft quoted Derek-ism, “all is well with the world”. I am so thankful.