The Klondike Road Relay is no cakewalk. This sentiment, I believe, has been established many times over. That being said, after getting through it for the first time last year, I was far more prepared for my second go-round this year (mentally, at least). Unlike the previous year, I knew exactly what I was in for this year — not that the knowledge helped me feel the least bit more prepared. But at least I knew.
On the ferry from Juneau to Skagway, my team kicked back in the solarium as we burrowed into our sleeping bags for the long, early morning ride. As soon as we arrived in Skagway my teammates and I disembarked and promptly headed for the Skagway Brewing Company. Once we were all assembled at a table, pitchers and pint glasses were dispersed as our captain laid out the race details.
Everyone sipped their beers as they listened (somewhat) attentively. Everyone but me. I was growing more anxious by the second. If you asked me to think back and repeat anything that was said at that table, all I would have been able to come up with is: “Blah blah blah running blah running blah blah Sarah is Leg 1. Whooooooo!”
That is literally all I’ve got.
I watched enviously as folks downed their beers and I heavily considered how much water was too much water before my run.
After paying for our food we all dispersed to take care of whatever errands each deemed necessary before start time. I effectively distracted myself from pre-race jitters for a short period by spending some of my hard-earned summer dollars on a vibrant blue rain jacket — which I then spent the rest of the weekend gushing over to anyone who would listen.
By the time my shopping high wore off though, I was changed and my start time was rapidly approaching. Our team donned matching purple tanks and T-shirts, complete with an adorable logo of a beer can running after, well, another beer can. We were The Roadies after all.
In true Klondike fashion, we pulled our vehicles into the local grocery store parking lot and adorned our faces, arms, shoulders and necks with gold and silver temporary tattoos. Necessary preparations complete, we handed out goodie bags. Each member of the team had been required to bring nine of an item to contribute to the bags. One by one we dropped our items in; gooey Clif Bar Shot Blocks, glow sticks, mini bottles of tequila, and so on. One team member even wrote a poem complete with 10 stanzas — one for each leg of the relay.
Shortly after, our team headed for the start line. As we rounded the corner and made our way down Main Street, I could see the shining black White Pass and Yukon Railroad train up ahead, billowing white steam just beyond the race tent. I think it was right around then that I felt my heart start to thud just an iota faster. As we arrived, the wave before me was released and I watched the pack thunder past the cheering crowd of spectators.
I checked in, took a selfie with our captain, and then my team dispersed into the masses. I stood there alongside my soon-to-be fellow runners, fumbling with my headphones and cursing my bib number, reflective arm band and anything else I wasn’t used to running with.
Not long after I finished meticulously adjusting my accessories, the train whistle blew, a foghorn sounded, and I took off like a rocket. Clearly races, and pacing in particular, are not my strong suit. Though I remember trying to regulate my feet, I shot to the very front; only to be passed by more than half the group shortly after we wound our way out of downtown Skagway.
Despite being painfully aware of how quickly I was falling behind others in my wave, I was equally pumped just to be surrounded by anyone at all. Memories of my dark, lonely Leg 5 the previous year flashed through my mind and I felt better about my present circumstances.
The flat section of town slowly gave way to the incline of the pass as I lumbered my way uphill. Every now and again I would remind myself to look up and appreciate being able to see anything at all, let alone the mountains and scenic pass. I rounded a corner and saw my teammates waiting for me, bottled water and cowbell at the ready.
Let me just take a moment here to acknowledge what is perhaps my favorite part of Leg 1 — everyone is awake! The chance that I’m stating an obvious fact here is very good, but it is nonetheless true. During my last two miles, my team met up with me one final time before the finish. Cowbell in hand, they hooted, hollered and dangled tiny bottles of alcohol in front of me. It was all the encouragement I needed to hoof it to the final stretch.
Coming up on my 1-kilometer-out warning, I thought to myself, unlike the year prior, “I know what a kilometer is!” Feeling exhausted but proud, I somehow picked up the pace and rounded my last corner. As the finish tent came into sight I had one final coherent thought: I can’t wait to do this again next year.