By Jenny Neyman
By 1:30 p.m. Sunday, the winner of the Kenai River Marathon had long since crossed the finish line. The crowd at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center had eaten hot dogs, cheered on the stragglers and mostly gone home. Aid stations and route markers along the 26.2-mile course between Kenai and Soldotna were being packed up in trucks and carted off.
About that time, four and a half hours after the race started, Gayle Forrest and McKibben Jackinsky, both of Homer, were anticipating having their fastest time yet.
The women were walking the marathon.
“We’re trying for four miles an hour, six and a half hours. We’re ahead of that pace now, with just six miles left to go,” Forrest said as they cruised up the Unity Trail on the Kenai Spur Highway, breezing past the now-closed Tesoro gas station.
“We’ve very excited to beat that,” Jackinsky said.
Lest anyone think walking is somehow undeserving of some serious exercise credit, consider the four-mile-an-hour pace. Stop to tie a shoe or adjust a jacket and these ladies will be disappearing into the distance. And they keep it up for the full 26.2 miles.
It’s not easy, and was even less so when they first started this endeavor two years ago.
“My daughter had planned on running the Portland Marathon and asked me to run it with her,” Jackinsky said. “I knew I couldn’t run it, but I wanted to try to support her some way.”
Jackinsky’s daughter, Emily Aley, lives in Portland. As it turned out, Forrest’s daughter, Gwen Forrest, from North Seattle, was planning on running the 2006 Portland Marathon, as well.
“So we decided to walk it as a way to support them,” Jackinsky said “… It was so rewarding to do that with them.”
They downloaded a training plan for marathon walkers and started training in the beginning of August.
“It was really interesting that first month. A six-mile would leave us just exhausted,” Forrest said. “Now we only have six miles to go.”
The Portland race was walker-friendly, with lots of support along the way. Cheering crowds lined the streets — with Forrest’s daughter, Gwen, among them after finishing her run, while Jackinsky’s daughter, Emily, ended up walking with her mom and Forrest after her training didn’t go as scheduled.
Bands were stationed every few miles. Special mats laid out along the course recorded each marathoner’s progress from the timing chip in their shoe and transmitted the information to friends and family members. Forrest got calls on her cell phone from well-wishers cheering them on from afar.
“We get lots of support from friends and from family for this, which means a lot. And I’m very mindful of that on those uphills,” Jackinsky said.
“It was exciting, it just kept us going,” Forrest said. “And, yes, we were dead afterward.”
At dinner later, the fatigue set in.
“You sat down and didn’t want to get up. You didn’t want to eat,” she said.
The Portland course was nothing compared to their next challenge, the 2007 Equinox Marathon in Fairbanks.
“It was really tough. There was a lot of elevation gain. It took us an hour longer,” Jackinsky said.
This summer, the Kenai River Marathon was the only one that fit into their busy schedules. Forrest said race organizers could easily expand the scope of the race if they promote it for walkers, since the course is relatively flat and walker-friendly. As it was, she and Jackinsky were the only marathon walkers.
“It’s such a small race, the competition is really with ourselves and to get to the goal that we set,” Jackinsky said.
It turned out to be a great day to spend six-plus hours outside, walking under clear blue skies and along a route flanked by aspen and birch trees in their full fall glory.
Being from Homer, the women are often rewarded with scenery when they walk.
“Living in the beautiful place we do, the sea otters we’ve almost stepped on, the moose we’ve almost run into, the incredible scenery — we’ve just had some incredible experiences,” Jackinsky said.
They plan to do another marathon next year.
“It’s a good goal to have in the winter, so we’d go snowshoeing or walking or skiing, to keep us going so we didn’t have to start from scratch like (2006),” Jackinsky said.
Having someone to walk with helps them stay active.
“Training with a partner keeps us motivated. ... It’s really easy to have an excuse for not walking,” Forrest said.
“It’s such a good thing to do, and the thing is, it’s doable,” Jackinsky said. “But it doesn’t mean it’s not a challenge.”