The Great Alaskan Running Cruise
by Mary Jo Minarich – Run and Smile Blog
The Great Alaskan Running Cruise has been on my to-do list for the past 3 years. So to celebrate our anniversary we decided to join it in 2015. And I have to say it was worth every penny we spent. John Bingham and Coach Jenny Hadfield were fantastic hosts and made every runner/walker feel welcomed.
Each port had an adventure planned and we wanted to be a part of it. So the Hubs and I hopped on a plane and headed Anchorage.
We decided to stay the night before the cruise in Anchorage. John and Jenny planned a sweet 5K along with a post-race party. We met the group for the first time at the local running store. Everyone seemed so nice. There were about 90 runners with different abilities but it didn’t matter. We were all there for some fun runs! The 5K was a beautiful race. The mountain range was in our constant view throughout the run.
And the post-race party was on the roof-top of the Skinny Raven store. Beer and pizza taste wonderful while looking at the mountains.
The next morning we headed off to Seward. After a quick 2 hour bus-ride, we were looking at a gorgeous ship, The Radiance of the Seas. We embarked easily, had a delicious lunch and still had plenty of time to go explore Seward on our own. A bus took us into town where we enjoyed the quaint scene of a small Alaskan village.
That evening we enjoyed our first of many delicious dinners on the ship. Then we slept like a baby on our big, comfy bed with the hum of the ship under us. None of us had any trouble sleeping throughout this entire trip. That was because our days were packed with activities.
During our day at sea, John and Jenny put together a fun afternoon of games. There is nothing funnier than seeing a bunch of grown-ups racing with a spoonful of ice.
At the evening dinners, we rotated to different tables each night. That way we could talk to other runners throughout the week. The food was fantastic on our Royal Caribbean ship. So be sure to bring your appetite.
Our first big race for the Great Alaskan Running Cruise was the half-marathon in Juneau (You could choose to do a 5K if you didn’t want to run a half). It was an out-and-back course through some of the most beautiful scenery you will ever see. We ran right alongside the water with Mendenhall Glacier in the distance. There were also waterfalls and rock formations throughout the entire course.
This was another race where everyone encouraged each other on the course. I can honestly say, this was the first half-marathon that I DID NOT want to end.
After the race, we hopped on a bus and rode back to the ship where we cleaned up, grabbed some food and took the Blue Bus to Mendenhall Glacier. Once at the park, you can take an easy 1-mile walk to see the glacier. It felt great putting our feet in the water after the half-marathon. But we could only be in that glacier water for about a minute. It was FREEZING!
We enjoyed looking at the waterfalls, salmon swimming upstream and a porcupine in a tree. Then we headed back onto the Blue Bus. It ran every 30 minutes so we rode back into town and had to have a beverage at the famous Red Dog Saloon.
We listened to the funniest guy at the piano, drank a bunch of Alaskan beers and then got back on the ship to get ready for dinner. We were tired but very happy.
Our next port was Skagway! We all met and had a huge breakfast. This breakfast was supplied by the ship just for our group. I didn’t tell you this in Juneau, but we were eating a full breakfast before each run! I’m talking, tons of fruit, cereals, breads, eggs and meats. I can’t believe we were eating that much before all our running but it was great. There was definitely NO glycogen depletion here! I could get use to someone making me a monster breakfast 2 hours before every race.
Skagway was fun! This was the 4 Mile “Amazing Race.” We were given a map and told to take pictures at 8 different locations in a specific order. The group who finished first was the winner.
We took our last picture, high-fived John and Jenny and walked back to the ship. We hit the hot tub since everyone was in town. It felt fantastic to soak our muscles after all the running. We were lucky because the weather was so sunny and warm. I think I even came home with a slight sun tan from ALASKA!
We then cleaned up and had some lunch before heading back into town. We decided we wanted to try a little mountain hiking so we found a trail. Talk about a hard hike! This was the hardest hike I’ve ever done! But it was definitely worth it. We had some fantastic views.
After the hike we stopped at the Red Onion Saloon for some refreshments. Then we did a little shopping before heading back to the ship. That evening we hung with the GARC members. It was nice relaxing and talking about all our adventures that day.
Icy Strait Point
There was not a race planned in Icy Strait Point but Mila, our travel agent, arranged a couple of excursions for our group. You could go zip-lining or kayaking. We chose the kayak.
The kayak adventure was a lot of fun even though I was a little nervous about it. Swimming isn’t my strongest ability. But, they gave us a quick lesson, showed us how to use the kayak and made us feel very safe. We saw eagles, porpoises and whales in the distance.
After the kayaks we headed back to the ship and spent a couple of hours drinking coffee, eating cookies and watching the whales breach in the water. It was fun watching a whole deck of people cheering for the whales.
After another huge breakfast we got ready for our run in Ketchikan. Our last race was a 10K Trail Run through some of the most beautiful trails in the Tongass National Forest.
The race was sponsored by the local running club. They had everything set up for us including gear check, bathrooms and a race t-shirt. It’s has got to be the coolest shirt I own. A local artist named Ray Troll designed the shirt for this run club. I think almost everyone purchased the shirt.
This 10K course was gorgeous. Think of the most beautiful trail you ever ran on and then double the beauty. That was our 10K run in the Tongass National Forest. We did a couple loops through some super-dense forest and ended with a 1.5 mile loop around Ward Lake.
We ran in big woods, by mountains and next to streams. We had it all! John made sure that everyone knew we were in real woods and to be sure to never run alone. So runners stayed together and if you needed to slow down or speed up, there was always someone to run with on the course.
The winners of this race were the people who drew an Ace card from a deck of cards Mila was holding. At the finish, we received our medals from Jenny. I was never so excited to get this medal. We ran a total of 26.2 miles by the end of this cruise! After the race, they had a salmon bake just for us. We sat on the cool grass and enjoyed some local beer and delicious food right in front of Ward Lake.
We relaxed a while, then we hopped on a bus they provided and headed back to the ship to change and head out into Ketchikan. Now when I say we were traveling in buses it was not a “school bus” type of bus. They were tour buses with cushy seats, air conditioning and huge windows so you could look at all the beauty.
Once we were on the ship, we cleaned up and headed out into Ketchikan to do some sight-seeing. There are a lot of cute little shops, including the shop loaded with Ray Troll artwork. Everyone in town seemed to know Ray. They all recognized his artwork on our shirt. I believe we wore our medals all day that day. By now, our group was known on the ship as “THE RUNNERS.”
Day at Sea!
Our last day of the Great Alaskan Running Cruise started with a flexibility workout and Q & A Session with Coach Jenny Hadfield. She had us all standing up or on the floor doing exercises. We did a routine of stretches, push-ups, lunges, planks, bridges, crunches and fire hydrants. You know, all the exercises that we runners should be doing but don’t because we don’t have time.
Well she showed us what we can do in 20 minutes to help us be stronger runners. She even gave us some great handouts to take so we could do all the exercises and stretches at home.
After our workout we were all starving so we headed back to the buffet! Now when I say buffet I mean an entire room filled with all kinds of food. There is just no way to stay on a diet here. Thank goodness we run.
Our last day was a little rainy and cold. This was fine with us because we basically spent the day exploring more of the ship and sadly started to pack up.
Before dinner we had the GARC Award Ceremony and Farewell Reception. It was lovely. They provided appetizers and drinks during it. I even helped myself to 2 glasses of champagne. Jenny made a beautiful video of the entire week and more yellow hats were given out. It was a celebration of ALL abilities.
The day ended with another beautiful meal in the main dining room with all our new friends. Yes, more food…
After dinner we all met up at the lounge for one last drink together. Then the good-bye hugs started. Jenny and John talked to everyone before they left. They are truly great hosts.
In the morning we had our last BIG breakfast. Then after disembarking, we hauled our luggage to the WaterFront Sky Train Station. And for $4.00 each we got a ride to the airport.
We made a lot of memories and A BUNCH OF BRAND NEW FACEBOOK FRIENDS! My biggest suggestion for this cruise is to sign up for one of John and Jenny’s cruises. You will not regret it. The cruises are designed for all levels of runners or walkers and you will love it.
- Don’t get nervous with all the paperwork. It does look like a lot but it is manageable if you read it a little at a time. And if you ever have any questions, Mila is there to answer them. I liked talking to her through email.
- Keep all your emails in an email file. Mine was called “cruise.” It was easy to reference back to them when you had a question.
- If possible, try and stay in Anchorage a couple of extra days. I wish we did. I would have loved to rent a car and drive to the mountains for just a day. Or try some of the other restaurants in the town. That’s our plan next time!Pack a separate bag with just the overnight items, a jacket, running clothes and clothes you plan on wearing the next day. That way you don’t need to open up your big suitcases. We used our cute bags we got from Jenny and John.
- I highly recommend a small, drawstring backpack for in town. Especially if you are going hiking. I only had my purse and it kept hitting my legs while I was climbing.
- This may sound like a stupid helpful hint but be sure to bring a camera or phone to take a lot of pictures. You will get some spectacular sites throughout the entire week.
- Make a paper copy of any form you fill out and mail. That way you have it just in case it gets lost.
- Join the Facebook page that John and Jenny start for the group. It’s a private page where the runners can meet up, introduce themselves and ask questions. Many questions were answered by John, Jenny and Mila. Or by other runners who ran the cruise before. Yes, people come back to do this cruise again! That was a great sign that this was going to be a fun event.
- It was exciting to think about this vacation for almost a whole year. We counted down the days and really looked forward to this trip.
- John suggested the Marmot PreCip jacket for the cruise. I liked this jacket because it can get pretty windy on deck and it kept me nice and warm. Here we are re-acting the cheesy scene from Titanic in our jackets.
- If you plan on doing a water excursion you might want to pack a water-proof case for your phone or camera. I invested in the Lifeproof case and floaty and had it hanging around my neck during the whole kayaking adventure. It made my phone very handy.
- I did come home with a huge bag of souvenirs, a ton of laundry and 5 extra pounds! But that’s ok because all those desserts were well worth it.
- Sign up for one of John and Jenny’s cruises. You will not regret it. The cruises are designed for all levels of runners or walkers and you will love it.