Mount Marathon Race, Seward Alaska
If you’ve heard anything about the eclectic seaside town that is Seward, Alaska, you probably
know all about the iconic Mount Marathon Race. If not, here’s a brief history: Legend has it that the very first Mount Marathon Race occurred somewhere in the early twentieth century, perhaps as early as 1908, though there are no official records to support that. As the story goes, two sourdoughs began to argue about whether a person could climb and descend Mount Marathon in less than an hour. A bet was made, and a race took place on the 4th of July: alas, the winning racer took an hour and two minutes to complete the agreed-upon course.
The Mount Marathon Race became an official and organized event in 1915, and celebrated its
centennial last year. It has continued to take place on the fourth of July each year, and is a
linchpin of the Seward’s Independence Day celebration. Over the years it has become incredibly
popular, to the point where participation has had to be capped in order to keep the course from
being overcrowded. Racers who haven’t guaranteed a spot by winning the race or participating
in a certain amount of races jockey for spots. They try to get in via a lottery system, and some
even bid in an auction the night before the race for any open slots still remaining. The auction is nearly as competitive as the race itself - slots for the men's race went for as much as $3000 in 2015, and are expected to rise even higher this year.
Certainly the quirky origin story about the Mount Marathon Race is attention-getting, and the
dissonance-inducing drama of watching world-class athletes battle their way up and down the
mountain alongside locals who have been participating for decades makes this race noteworthy,
but why else has it captured the hearts of people all around the world?
It’s A Family Affair
You can participate in the race no matter your age or gender. The adorably popular Mini
Marathon allows young kids to toddle or run a short distance to an early victory. There is also a
junior race that goes halfway up the mountain, in addition to the men’s and women’s races. Not
a runner? Join the crowd of enthusiastic spectators and supporters whose spirit bolsters the
energy of the race year in and year out.
This is also a race that is run by many generations of the same family, from the Foldagers (who
were featured prominently in 3022 ft., a captivating and visceral documentary of the 2014 race.
And then there’s beloved racer Rickey Gates who wrote an engaging piece about
following in the footsteps of his mother who ran Mount Marathon in 1969, her first and only race.
It’s A Predictor Of Ability
The junior race over the years has begun to be an indicator of not just who will perform well in
the adult race down the line, but who has true star potential. The outstanding example of this is Allie Ostrander.
Ostrander has a storied career on Mount Marathon. She won six consecutive girls junior races,
and in her final year racing in the junior event, she beat every girl and boy in the field. Last
year, in her first time competing in the women’s race, she came in second only to Emelie
Forsberg, an international champion in mountain and trail running. This year will be her first time
missing the Mount Marathon Race in years because, after a stellar debut year as an NCAA
runner, she’ll be competing at the U.S. Olympic Trials on July 7th, 2016.
For many years, for better or for worse, men and women athletes have largely competed solely
against members of their own gender. But this has begun to change. Shows like American Ninja
Warrior have featured female competitors facing off against obstacles with male competitors on
the same course. After an indomitable run by Kacy Catanzaro in 2014, the show has become
flooded with more and more female athletes many of whom are setting new records and beating
out some of the top men.
While it wouldn’t logistically work for the already crowded Mount Marathon Race to run men and
women at the same time, their separation from one another means very little. They run the
same course, and it’s a tough one, with steep inclines and rocky descents. It’s not just your
inherent athletic ability or access to training that come into play when you do the Mount
Marathon race: a lot of it comes down to how well you can both physically and psychologically
handle the unpredictable weather and perilous terrain. But race organizers have become aware
that having the women run first each year creates the perception that the women are just the
warm-up event for the men’s race. This year, for the first time, the women will run second, and
plans are to alternate that each year. In addition, both races will receive local live coverage this
The Mount Marathon Race is an indelible part of Seward’s history. If you’re in town, be sure to
join in the festivities. Not nearby, but want to check it out? The men’s race should be
livestreamed at 10:30am PST, followed by a stream of the women’s race at 2pm PST on the KTVA Anchorage news website. And of course, if you want to come see this legendary race in
person, book a suite at Summit View Lodge where you’ll be just minutes from the starting line.
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