Prince of Wales Island International Marathon
May 22, 2003
Race Report by Bob Dolphin
For weeks the opening words of "Off to Alaska" as sung by Johnny Horton years ago ran through my head. And then after a two hour flight on Alaska Airlines from Seattle, Washington, to Ketchikan, Alaska, on Thursday, May 22, 2003, we were there! We were in the state and on our way to Prince of Wales Island, the third largest island in the United States. I was accompanied by my wife Lenore who had never been in Alaska. She shared my anticipation. I had spent two weeks on Kodiak Island in 1948 for cold weather training with the U.S. Marine Corps, so I had some appreciation of the visual treats that awaited us.
The Ketchikan Airport is located on Gravine Island, so it was necessary to take a small ferry across the strait to the city. There we boarded a larger ferry for the three hour ride to Hollis, a small town on Prince of Wales Island. We became acquainted with other runners on this trip and enjoyed the unspoiled scenery of the nearby shores.
I looked for wildlife and saw gulls, cormorants, mergansers, sandpipers, bald eagles and crows. Whales and dolphins are in the area, but I didn't see any aquatic mammals that day. At the Hollis landing we boarded a van for the 30 mile drive to Craig, a seaport and the main town on the island (population 1,400). Craig is the race headquarters and finish area for the marathon.
Our drive to Craig took us on the marathon route. The course is point-to-point and starts west of Hollis at 250 feet elevation. It follows a two lane highway to finish at sea level at Craig. It rolls gently with only a few major hills. Most of the time it runs through the unsettled Tongass Natural Forest and only goes through one small town, Klawock, enroute to the finish.
Joe Henderson, west coast editor of Runners World Magazine and author of many books on running, had told us about the POW Marathon and encouraged us to participate. At his suggestion, we made our plans and were happy to be there with him as guests of one of the race directors, Dave Johnson, and
his wife Pauline.
Doug Rhodes, the other race director and principal of Craig High School, invited Joe and me to speak at a special assembly for his students the day before the race. Many of them planned to compete in the marathon, run on a 2, 4 or 8 person relay team, or work at aid stations. Their interest was
high, and they asked a lot of questions. We met Anjuli Haydu, a graduating senior and track star, and were pleased to answer her questions and give her encouragement for her first marathon the following day.
That evening, in conjunction with packet pickup, there was a spaghetti dinner at the new civic center at Craig. Joe was the guest speaker and offered many useful insights about marathoning from his many years of experience. Doug, a humorous emcee, led the audience through a ten question quiz about marathoning. It was a lot of fun!
On race day, Saturday, May 24, 2003, Dave drove us to the starting line. On the way we passed a number of early starting walkers on the course. Before 9:00 a.m. the marathoners and some relay runners lined up. There was a light rain, the air temperature was in the low 50's, and a light wind was at our backs. A trumpeter played the Kentucky Derby "call to the post," and Joe, the starter, fired a shotgun into the air.....a most unusual starting signal! Then, carrying a big, yellow plastic bone, he started out as the lead runner for the four person "Tired Dogs" relay team.
The lanes of the highway were wide, and so were the paved shoulders. Runners and oncoming, slow-moving traffic could easily avoid each other. The first four miles were downhill which made for easy runnning during the warmup period. In the fifth mile Joe caught up with me and pulled away. With
in a mile he was out of sight as he headed for the 7 Mile exchange station. Next came an undulating climb to 375 feet at the 7.5 mile mark, the highest point on the course. From then on, it was downhill to 10 Miles and "rolling" to the finish.
The route is scenic with snow-capped mountains in the distance and 17 mile long Klawock Lake to run by or near. The road goes through a coastal rain forest made up of western hemlock, western red cedar, Sitka spruce, some alders and an occasional paper birch. The small red elderberry trees were
common with cream-colored flowers. Skunk cabbage, dandelions, buttercups and violets all were yellow flowered. Salmonberry flowers were red-purple, and whole strawberries and broad-leafed marsh marigolds had white flowers.
Bald eagles and a great blue heron were near the lake while a red-headed, red-breasted sapsucker was my major sighting of the day. (We saw a pair of black-tailed deer the next day.) Credit for the best wildlife sighting during the marathon, however, went to Dave, Joe and Lenore as they viewed a
300-400 pound black bear cross the road in front of their van.
I enjoyed the run and talking with runners along the way. At 20 miles into the race, we came to the town of Klawock. From there, we ran near the coast (with sea views) to Craig and finished in a park. Joe cheered me on at the park entrance, and Lenore, as a finish line volunteer, welcomed me and collected by bib tag......as she had done for the many runners who had preceded me.
I finished with a 4:36:37 in 30th position of 44 finishers in the marathon. I retired to a warming tent and enjoyed the hot chocolate, cookies and fruit that were available. Later Dave gave me a ride to his home where a shower and fresh clothing were most welcome.
At the awards ceremony at the civic center later in the afternoon, there were snacks for all in attendance. All 100+ finishers of the marathon and relays were called up one at a time to be recognized and receive a special medallion on a long ribbon. Doug was the emcee, and Joe made the presentations.
The overall winner of the marathon was Aaron Prussian of Thorne Bay who ran a 2:59:38. Bill Elberson of Ketchikan led in the early miles and finished second with a 3:12:29. The next male runners to finish were Joe Schwarte of Eugene, OR (3:30:04), Michael Schwarte of Petersburg (3:38:00) and Steve Bainbridge of Fairbanks (3:38:33). Steve is the race director of the Equinox Marathon at Fairbanks.
Jane Lanford of Fairbanks was the first woman finisher, and fourth overall, in a time of 3:31:19. Anjuli Haydu, the high school senior, led the women for 23 miles but finished second, and fifth overall, with a 3:36:22. Rosemary Sheldon of Sitka was third, and eighth overall, with a 3:42:56. She preceded Alan Prosser of Anchorage who ran a 3:50:15 (ninth overall).
Lenore and I became acquainted with Alan, his brother Loren (4:09:25) and their mother Caroline on the ferry to the island. Interestingly, Loren had bib number ONE, Alan had number TWO and mine was number THREE, so there were "before" and "after" pictures taken of the three of us. At our 2002 YAKIMA RIVER CANYON MARATHON, Lisa Promenschenkel of Chicago crossed the finish line doing two cartwheels. We hope that Alan and Loren will come to our April 3, 2004, YRCM to finish with somersaults as they did in Craig.
On Sunday, Dave took Joe, Lenore and me to the ferry at Hollis. The three of us traveled together to Seattle where Joe went on to Eugene. We made all of our connections, and the trip went smoothly.
This is a MUST-DO race for anyone who wants a marathon adventure with a friendly goup of people. The local community is 100% supportive of the race directors and the committee in charge. They've helped make the marathon weekend into an eventful time with a quilt show, an art show and an amazing number of drawing prizes for the awards ceremony.
Fishing, hunting, touring by car, hiking, and running trails are just a few of the things to do for those who choose to stay for a few more days. We'll be "Off to Alaska" for the fifth annual Prince of Wales International Marathon on Memorial Day weekend of 2004!
Written by Bob Dolphin