Mount Marathon race returns, with rule changes

Jul 8, 2021

Lucy Young of Anchorage races downhill on the Mount Marathon trail during the juniors race on Wednesday, July 7, 2021 in Seward, Alaska. Young took first place in the juniors race.
Credit Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

The racers scrambling up Mt. Marathon don’t talk much. But every once in a while, they offer some comment of encouragement to another racer who looks like they’re struggling. The junior racers, some as young as 7, forge their way up through the thick mud on the trail toward a turnaround point, and it can be kind of defeating on the way up.

David Norris of Anchorage (left) leads the men's race up the foot of Mount Marathon during the race on Wednesday, July 7, 2021 in Seward, Alaska.
Credit Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

Selah Brueckner said she enjoyed it, but it was tough on the way up.

“It went good,” she said. “I felt really good this time, but it wasn’t my best time.”

Brueckner, of Seward, said she and her friends who ran with her trained together. It was different to run it in big groups after training with such a small group. She, her sister Tirzah Brueckner, Juniper Ingalls and Maren Bickling trained together last year, when the race was cancelled.

The girls all readily say they’ll race it again in the future, though they weren’t all sure why.

“I don’t know why, but yes,” Ingalls said.

“Just for the end, yes,” Selah Brueckner said.

“I don’t even know why I did it,” Tirzah Brueckner said. “Well, I do, but it’s so hard.”

The Mount Marathon Race took place in Seward on Wednesday. David Norris of Anchorage hung onto his championship title for the third year in a row, with a time of 43 minutes and 27 seconds. Sam Hendry of Salt Lake City came in second for the men, nearly two and a half minutes behind, with a time of 46 minutes. Darren Thomas of Reno, Nevada took third, with a time of 46 minutes and 9 seconds.

Hannah Lefleur of Seward offers an arm pump to the crowd waiting at the foot of Mount Marathon as she finishes her downhill run during the race on Wednesday, July 7, 2021 in Seward, Alaska. Lefleur took first place in the women's race.
Credit Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

For the women, Hannah Lefleur of Seward kept her first place title as well, with a finishing time of 51 minutes and 24 seconds, followed by Ruby Lindquist of Moose Pass with 51 minutes and 38 seconds and Christy Marvin of Palmer with 52 minutes and 21 seconds.

Ali Papillon of Talkeetna took first place for the junior boys, with a finishing time of 28 minutes and 16 seconds. Coby Marvin of Palmer took second place for the boys with 28 minutes and 39 seconds, but broke the age record for the 12–14 year-old bracket. Lucy Young of Anchorage took first for the girls with a finishing time of 33 minutes and 55 seconds, and Jayna Boonstra of Kenai took second with 36 minutes and 29 seconds.

The Mount Marathon Race Committee has been putting on the race for 93 years. The last time it was cancelled before 2020 was in 1942, in the middle of World War II. The race committee decided to cancel the 2020 race when Seward was in the middle of a COVID-19 outbreak and the state was still experiencing rising case counts. Matias Saari, the race director for this year’s event, says the race committee transferred over the roster from the 2020 race to 2021. They also offered racers the option to defer because the race was being held on a Wednesday rather than on a holiday.

“We had about 250 people defer where they could keep their spot for next year,” Saari said. “We’ll see what we can do about a lottery next year; all those people are coming back. Cancelling a race has about three or four years of ramifications, I’m afraid.”

The Mount Marathon Race is not only difficult to run—it’s extremely difficult to even register for. There are only about 1,000 slots for runners, and to get in, runners have to win a lottery. The exception up until this year has been for the first 225 finishers or those who have run it continuously for 10 years as an adult. That’s a pretty healthy chunk of people, so the lottery slots have been very limited for years.

Jacob Lestina of Eagle River (right, above) speeds up to pass Galen Hecht of Soldotna (left) on the final push downhill at the bottom of Mount Marathon during the men's race on Wednesday, July 7, 2021 in Seward, Alaska.
Credit Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

The Mount Marathon Race Committee decided to change that, effective this year. Starting in 2021, only racers who finished in the top 50 percent of their category will get priority registration next year. What’s more, new racers in 2021 won’t qualify for the 10-year priority status—they’ll have to keep finishing in the top 50 percent to keep it. Racers who already have that status will keep it, but the others who don’t finish in the top 50 percent will have to enter the lottery. That was disappointing for some racers, including some who had been racing for years.

As part of the new set of rules, though, they’re also increasing the number of adult spots from 350 to 375.

Saari said they also planned some COVID-19 mitigation, including having volunteers wear masks, even though the numbers are lower statewide.

“We really loosened what we were initially planning on doing based on improvements in the pandemic,” he said. “Originally we were going to have masks for racers before and after, and we were going to have smaller waves. We bumped up the size of the waves to 50 racers per wave instead of 25, so that’s one of our biggest mitigations.”

At the race Wednesday, crowds were thinner than when the race falls on the same day as the Fourth of July, but few people wore masks. The excitement was also obvious—a recollection of a pre-pandemic event, once that hadn’t been seen since 2020.

Click here for a full list of results from the 2021 race.

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