Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Alaska for a week

I'll be home in Alaska during this time next week. It will be a quick eight day trip. For the ninth year in a row, I will be spending the 4th of July in Seward to compete in the annual Mount Marathon race. This will by my eighth year running the race, sixth as an adult.

Mount Marathon is about a three mile race, starting at sea level in downtown Seward. That might not sound too difficult until you learn that the race goes to the summit of Mount Marathon and back. Rumors say that the race dates back to 1908. A man was bet $100 in a bar that he could not climb to the summit and back in under an hour. It took the man 62 minutes. The race has been officially organized every 4th of July since 1925.

The first half mile is up the town streets to the base of the mountain. From there you climb 3,022 feet through woods and eventually into the open, loose rock until you reach the summit. There is not a specific route you must take. It's a free-for-all as the trails fork and competitors split in different directions. Once you reach the top, it's all downhill to the finish line. The downhill section is mostly loose scree until you hit the creek bed that funnels over little water falls and down to the final rock face. It's not uncommon for a snowfield or avalanche debris to remain on the mountain, which can sometimes work to your advantage. Average uphill speed is about 2 miles per hour; average downhill speed is about 12 miles per hour.

Competitors come out of the race covered in mud and blood. The last section before hitting the streets to the finish line is a large rock face at the bottom of a gully. This is the major view point for fans. Competitors literally hurl themselves down the cliffs as the crowd cheers. There are always numerous medical personnel and stretchers placed strategically at this location.

The race has a limit of 350 men and 350 women. It is very difficult to gain a slot in the race. The only real guarantee is by finishing the race the previous year. If you're new to the race, you must enter the lottery or participate in the auction, spots are bought for upwards of $1000.

Every year I tell myself I'm going to train for the race, but it never seems to happen as planned. One of these years I'd like to beat an hour. My best results yet was an hour and two seconds, which I'm both happy and disappointed with. In reality, for the time being, I'm just keeping my slot and trying to reach my goal of racing 10 years in the adult race. I've been injured in previous years and have become more cautious on the way down, knowing how dangerous the descent actually is.

Mount Marathon is something I look forward to every year. It's the one time of year that I know for sure I'll be in Alaska with my family and friends.

Check out the official Mount Marathon website.

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