[This article is the joint work of columnist Justin Mock, correspondent Mauri Pagliacci, and senior editor Meghan Hicks.]
In its 88th running, Seward, Alaska’s Mount Marathon Race is an icon of Alaskan mountain running. Taking place annually on the Fourth of July, the town of Seward fills with thousands of race fans cheering on the all-day festivities.
The race itself is just 5 kilometers in length, starts and finishes in downtown Seward, and involves and ascent and descent of 3,022-foot Mount Marathon, which looms over town. We’re going to say it how it is: this race course is nuts. The race starts by a quick sprint through Seward’s streets, basically at sea level. Next up comes a nearly straight-up ascent of a rocky, rooty, and slippery trail through Mount Marathon’s forested, lower flank. It’s mostly a scramble, hands included. When treeline breaks, the trail turns to just rock–a loose, thin layer of scree atop hard rock, slippery and steep enough that all four appendages are still required for good chunks of it, too–all the way to the summit. The descent route is different from the ascent route, and starts with bound-able scree. Soon the route funnels into a chute, a combination of scree, chossy rock exposures, and boulders, and it’s also unfortunately the place where a number of falling injuries take place each year. Caution, practice, and confidence are needed for a safe and fast chute descent. Once runners bottom out, it’s another zoom through Seward’s streets to the finish.
Eric Strabel set the men’s course record of 42:55 in 2013, and the women’s record is held by Nancy Pease who ran 50:30 in 1990.
The women’s race takes place on Saturday, July 4 at 11:15 a.m. Alaska Daylight Time (that’s 1:15 p.m. MDT in the U.S. and 9:15 p.m. CEST in Europe) and the men’s race is at 3 p.m. AKDT (that’s 5 p.m. MDT in the U.S. and Sunday, July 5 at 1:00 a.m. CEST in Europe).
iRunFar is covering the race on our Twitter feed. Join us!
2015 Mount Marathon Race Men’s Preview
Alaska’s Eric Strabel (pre-race interview) is the man to beat right now on Mount Marathon. He’s won the race three times, is the course-record holder, and has been in the men’s mix almost every year for at least the last decade. In 2013, he ran 42:55 for the course record and last year he won in 44:46. On June 21 of this year, Strabel was fourth at the Robert Spurr Memorial Hill Climb in Alaska, though. Earlier results show a second at the Government Peak Climb on June 6, and another fourth at the Kal’s Knoya Ridge Run on May 28, both in Alaska.
Each of those three races, all part of the Alaska Mountain Runners Grand Prix, was won by Alaska’s Jim Shine. He broke the record in two of the three. The 38-year-old, who once ran a sub-29 minute 10k and competed at Colorado’s Western State University, is surely looking for an improvement over last year’s fifth-place 47:12 at Mount Marathon, his debut at the race.
Alaska’s Matias Saari (pre-race interview), another long-time Mount Marathon pace pusher, will be in podium contention. For example, he was second last year (45:53), fourth in 2013 (44:53), third in 2012 (45:13), and fourth in 2011 (46:04). He’s also fresh off a second place at California’s famed Dipsea Race last month, proving his aerobic fitness is there. Experience counts on Mount Marathon, and Saari’s got that, too.
The Lower 48’s Rickey Gates (pre-race interview) should challenge the podium, as he did in 2013 and 2014, his first two times running the race. Quite miraculously, in his first time at the event in 2013, Gates finished second in 43:04. (He was also fourth in 46:49 last year.) In 2013, he and Eric Strabel pushed each other hard, with Strabel beating Gates to the line by 9 seconds via a faster descent of the chute. In the process of finishing just nine seconds back and also below the previous record which had stood for more than three decades, Rickey tripped, fell, dislocated his shoulder, and put it back in again. Hard to believe all this? Watch filmmaker Max Romney’s short film about Strabel and Gates’s 2013 duel, and additionally see how ‘holy smokes!’ this race is:
Last year’s sixth place (47:30), Wylie Mangelsdorf, is back, too. He was third in 2013 (44:09), which we believe was his debut at Mount Marathon. Mangelsdorf is a young Alaskan living in Colorado, and a recent graduate of a DIII college in Illinois where he competed in track and cross country. In addition to Saturday’s race, he’s also planning to compete in the U.S. Mountain Running Championships in Oregon in a couple weeks.
Also returning are last year’s seventh to 10th places, Benjamin Marvin, Allan Spangler, Tor Christopherson, and Ben Ward, all Alaska dwellers. This means that the full men’s 2014 top 10 is back.
Of course, as per all the hype of the last couple months, international multi-sport superstar Kilian Jornet (pre-race interview) is going to give the Mount Marathon Race a go. His aerobic and technical-running capacity exceeds almost everyone in mountain running right now. He’s arrived in Seward a couple days in advance to recon the course, but his course familiarity will not be close to his local competitors. Also, he’s not been running much either. He’s run a couple vertical Ks, including a seventh place at the Mont Blanc Vertical K last weekend and a win at La Verticale du Mole two weeks before that. His only other 2015 running race has been the Zegama Marathon in May, during which he fought through a stomach bug to a finish out of contention. Though there are a few question marks in the Kilian column, he will challenge for the win.
More Men to Watch [Update July 2: Added Elson, Knight, Johnson, and Kopsack; thanks to Matias Saari for noting these guys.]
- Nick Elson – Skimo beast who won last year’s Squamish 50 Mile
- Brent Knight – Mount Marathon PR of 44:58
- Erik Johnson – PR 45:28
- Lyon Kopsack
2015 Mount Marathon Race Women’s Preview
Two-time Mount Marathon Race winner, two-time Olympic skier, and defending champ Holly Brooks announced a couple weeks ago that she’s NOT starting the race after a big ski season that left her overly fatigued. This opens up the race to a new winner.
Alaska’s Christy Marvin is, thus, the fastest returner. She and Brooks had an amazing race with each other last year, with Marvin finishing second and just two seconds back in 52:51. Marvin was the 2013 champ in 53:20, her debut at Mount Marathon. Like Jim Shine in the men’s field, Christy won June 21st’s Robert Spurr Memorial Hill Climb without challenge and 1:20 faster than her win there last year, a tune-up for this race. Marvin has had success racing both the roads and the trails in her home state the last couple years.
Alaska’s Najeeby Quinn finished third at last year’s Mount Marathon Race in 56:17, what we think was her first running of it. She’s been all over the Alaskan trail running scene over the years, and we think she’s the same Najeeby Quinn who won the Imogene Pass Run in Colorado three times in the early 2000s. So far this year, like men’s contender Jim Shine, she won Alaska’s Kal’s Knoya Ridge Run and Government Peak Hill Climb in record times. She took third behind winner Marvin at the Robert Spurr Memorial Hill Climb.
Kikkan Randall, the “Kikkanimal,” is racing! She’s a four-time Olympic Nordic skier who competed in last winter’s Olympics, and she’s been all over the World Cup for Nordic skiing for basically her entire adult life. The Alaska dweller was also the 2011 Mount Marathon winner in 52:03. We know she’s run Mount Marathon a number of other times, at least in 2010 (third, 53:29), 2009 (second, 56:04), 2007 (second, 57:34), 2006 (second, 57:06), and 2005 (second, 57:08). Phew!
[Update July 1: It looks like Kikkan Randall isn’t racing to focus on her Nordic ski training.]
At Mount Marathon, there’s a junior race that’s very competitive, too. Alaska’s Allie Ostrander is a six-time winner of the girls’ junior race, including last year when she won the junior race outright, beating all the boys as well. Ostrander is a recent high school grad who ran a 9:59 3,200 meters earlier this year and who was the 2014 Nike Cross Nationals Champion. She’ll attend Boise State University next year, and has been okay-ed to compete in the Mount Marathon Race by her future coach.
We think that eight out of the women’s top 10 from last year are returning to this year’s race. Here’s the balance of last year’s women’s top 10 (plus one or two more) who are returning, all Alaska dwellers:
- 4th – 57:14 – Ann Spencer – She was also third in 2013 (56:15).
- 6th – 58:17 – Taylor Ostrander – She was also 17th in 2013 (1:04:13). She’s big sister to Allie Ostrander.
- 7th – 59:17 – Lauren Fritz – Lauren has a long history with Mount Marathon which includes a steady improvement over the years: fourth in 2013 (57:57), fifth in 2011 (59:34), 10th in 2010 (1:00:55), and seventh in 2008 (1:02:48).
- 8th – 59:41 – Aubrey Smith – She’s raced Mount Marathon many times, including eighth in 2013 (1:01:14), 12th in 2011 (1:02:29), third in 2009 (59:37), fourth in 2008 (58:57), and third in 2007 (59:41).
- 9th – 1:00:58 – Karol Fink – Another woman who has raced many times, including a ninth in 2011 (1:00:58), 15th in 2010 (1:03:09), seventh in 2009 (1:05:02), 11th in 2008 (1:04:28), 10th in 2006 (1:02:26), and 20th in 2005 (1:08:34).
- 10th – 1:02:13 – Rachel Dow – She’s additionally run to at least sixth in 2013 (1:01:05), fifth in 2012 (58:31), seventh in 2011 (1:00:22), fifth in 2010 (58:14), and fifth in 2009 (1:01:14).
- 13th – 1:03:40 – Tasha Folsom [Added July 2: Thanks to Matias Saari for the tip on Tasha.]
International trail running star Emelie Forsberg (pre-race interview) will give Mount Marathon her first shot. Like her life companion, Kilian Jornet, she’s arrived to Seward several days early to recce the course. Emelie is one of the best technical downhill runners in our sport right now, so if there’s any non-local who can push the Mount Marathon Race downhill, it’s probably her. Emelie is competing in all three divisions of the Skyrunner World Series this year, the Vertical K, SkyMarathon, and Ultra distances. She’s so far won the Transvulcania Ultramarathon and taken fourth at the Zegama Marathon just a week later, both races in May. She also won the La Verticale du Mole vertical K three weeks back.
[Editor’s Notes: We respect the difference that locals identify between living in Alaska and being from Alaska. We apologize that we don’t know every runner’s birth status, so our reference to runners being from Alaska means that we think they currently reside there. :-) Thanks for understanding! Thumbnail image of Eric Strabel courtesy of Eric Strabel. Thumbnail image of Christy Marvin: Alaska Dispatch News. Thumbnail image of Kikkan Randall courtesy of Kikkan Randall.]
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- Who will win the men’s and women’s races? Will the locals be able to fend off the talent and drive of Kilian Jornet and Emelie Forsberg?
- Who will round out the men’s and women’s podiums?
- Do you know about the particular fitness of any of the contenders, or is there someone who you think should be in this preview and who isn’t? Let us know!
- Have you run the Mount Marathon Race? Tell us about your experience, from the course itself to Seward’s race-day celebrations.