July 4 Marathon Madness

Happy Fourth of July all!

One of the stories we have running in this month’s Alaska Sporting Journal is something I don’t think I would even attempt: the Mount Marathon Race in Seward.

Fortunately, two of our intrepid ASJ contributors, Bixler McClure and Steve Meyer, have been among the brave souls who have done the race (McClure plans to be out there for today’s event). So we wanted to give you a little taste of what it’s like to charge up the mountain and make the even more dangerous run back down. Here’s a little of each runner’s story:

Bixler McClure (in white shirt) makes the long climb up Mount Marathon. (KRYSTIN BABLINSKAS)

Bixler McClure (in white shirt) makes the long climb up Mount Marathon. (KRYSTIN BABLINSKAS)

 

First up: Steve Meyer:

The starter pistol sounds, and, in cattle herd fashion, everyone starts running uphill for a half-mile to the base of the mountain. At that point, the contestants split off onto the numerous pathways up the mountain. No matter what path you choose, it’s steep! Your best strategy is to keep the head down as rocks dislodged from the runners ahead of you come bouncing down. Halfway up the course breaks out into the alpine. Not that you are in any condition or state of mind to enjoy it, but the view of Seward is magnificent.

If you’re a bit slow, runners that have already reached the top are flying past you on the descent, throwing shale and mud in every direction. The water crew waits at the top with a much-needed drink as you turn around and begin the “controlled” freefall down the slopes into the “chute” at the base of the mountain. Spectators flock to the spot cheer and sometimes witness some spectacular falls. Dripping blood from various parts of the body is normal, and there are EMS staff members standing by to patch you up or get you to the ER if necessary.

Running back down the mountain is even more treacherous than getting up it. (KRYSTIN BABLINSKAS)
Running back down the mountain is even more treacherous than getting up it. (KRYSTIN BABLINSKAS)

And here’s some of Bix’s take on this unique way to celebrate our country’s birthday:

So with all the dangers and risks, why do I run it? Sometimes I ask myself that during my training, when the midday sun beats down on me among the stifling heat in the alders. My mother, Sue, ran the race starting in the 1970s and finished pretty well. A boulder hit her in the back one race and broke her collarbone, but she finished the race anyway. There is the historical aspect of being a fifth-generation Sewardite, but there is also the freedom of knowing that this race is one of the last wild races left. Lately, the race board has been marking routes to avoid particularly bad injuries, but with each training run and each race, I still find myself bruised and sore from rocks and minor falls.

Training for the race usually begins as soon as you can get to the top, which is usually as soon as the snow recedes a bit in April. Even with an active lifestyle and running daily, I find that nothing can actually prepare you better for running “The Mountain” than actually doing it. The first couple of trips up every year are brutal, and I find myself wondering if I will ever be able to get to the top as quickly as I did the previous summer. 

You can read the rest of their stories in this month’s issue. But if you’re like me and spending this holiday leisurely walking the dog and watching the World Cup and baseball, think of the hard work the men, women and youngsters will have done pushing their bodies to the limits in this endurance race for the brave and hearty.

Enjoy your holiday!

Approaching the finish line! (KRYSTIN BABLINSKAS)
Approaching the finish line! (KRYSTIN BABLINSKAS)

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