A lot of people come to Sitka for the scenery, the culture, and especially the fishing. Almost no one comes here just to run – but that may change. The current issue of the Canadian counterpart of Running Magazine has listed Sitka among nine international destinations not-to-be missed by travelers looking for both adventure and fitness.
Sitka has made this kind of list before: It’s been recognized as a cultural destination by National Geographic, and from time to time gets some press for its amazing location, which rolls together much of what Alaskans like about this state into one compact package.
But running? Really?
“One of the ideas I had with this piece was to give our readers a sense of the unsung running destination, places that they might not have heard of, or might not have considered, but are legitimate running holiday destinations.”
That’s Mihira Lakshman, the editor-in-chief of Canadian Running. Lakshman assigned the story to freelance writer Paola Loriggio, and left the rest to her.
“When she approached me with her ideas about what the destinations would be, and included Sitka I thought it would be a great fit. Runners are a different breed. We tend to explore that unexplored territory and enjoy it.”
Lorrigio generated a story with eight destinations besides Sitka that runners should put on their bucket lists. If my bucket ever gets big enough, I’ll certainly be on my way to Bergen, Norway; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Cape Breton, Nova Scotia; Flinders Island, Australia; Moab, Utah; Moshi, Tanzania; Picton, Ontario; and Seoul, South Korea.
In an email, Lorrigio explained that what caught her eye first about Sitka was the fact that the Great Alaskan Marathon Cruise called here. To learn more, she called up Christine Horan, who for the last eighteen years has organized Sitka’s Alpine Adventure Run.
Horan says Lorrigio asked her what would sell Sitka to runners.
“And the first thing out of my mouth was our amazing trail system that we have here. Along with the uniqueness of the town of Sitka, which I thought was an incredible fit.”
The Alpine Adventure Run began as an Eagle Scout project by Horan’s son in 1994, and has since evolved into one of Alaska’s premiere endurance events. The race is noteworthy for its climb from sea level to 2,100 feet – with most of that coming in the first mile and a half. The entire course is only a little over seven miles, but runners get two-and-a-half hours to complete it – more than enough time for a typical recreational runner to finish a half-marathon.
But, Horan says her racers wouldn’t really be called typical:
“A lot of our runners are not your traditional road runners. There are guys – or gals – out there who want to get in shape for the hunting season. So we get a wide variety of runners.”
A picture of one of this year’s top finishers, Stephen MacIntyre, a former Sitka High cross-country standout, accompanies the article in Canadian Running. It was taken by Don Kluting, the captain of Sitka’s Mountain Rescue team, whom Horan cites as a critical element of the success of the event.
With a blazing finish time of just over an hour, MacIntyre is probably not among those trying to shed a few pounds for hunting season.
Although a few hard-core runners from around Alaska come to Sitka just for the Alpine Adventure Race, it remains to be seen whether any of Canadian Running’s 150,000 monthly readers will be lured in by the town’s prominent placement with other world destinations.
Editor-in-chief Lakshman, says it’s really about giving his audience a way to think differently about their sport.
“We didn’t want to approach it by saying, Hey you want to go to New York? Well, go run through Central Park. Or go to London and do the London Marathon course. We wanted something that was a little bit off the beaten path, and would give our readers something that they hadn’t read before.”
Find links to the article in Canadian running at the Alpine Adventure Run’s Shutterfly page.