All eyes are on the nation’s July 4 birthday, but the date also marks the anniversary of an Alaska tradition. Seward’s Mt. Marathon race, which takes place July 4 turns 100 years old this year. The race is a one of a kind, grueling, uphill run, and now it is the subject of a documentary film aimed at putting a face on the men and women who take the challenge.
The story has it that a bar bet started the Mt. Marathon race. A wager that a man could run to the top of the slippery mountain and back inside of an hour. He almost made it. The first organized race was held in 1915. Max Romey, the University of Western Washington filmmaker, and track and field athlete, thinks that the race is the ultimate challenge.
“In 2013 is kind of when this film started. I went down to Seward to check out this race called Mt. Marathon. So I get there the day before the race I head up the mountain, and it just blew my mind.”
That’s Romey, who along with co-producer Natalie Fedock filmed last year’s race, focusing on nine of the runners to find out what drives them to attack the mountain. The documentary, 3022 ft., was released last month [June] in Anchorage.
Romey, who’s lanky frame perfectly fits a runner’s profile, says the sport of running doesn’t have heroes, like basketball, football and even snowboarding do. He’s out to put his filmmaking skills on the line to show that runners are not as interested in celebrity as they are in pushing past their own boundaries.
“Without the fame and glory, why do people do this. And that’s exactly what this film kind of hits on. It doesn’t hit on the individual people or how they trained or the history of the race, or Alaska. It just sort of hits on the spirit of what drives runners to do this race or do any race.”
But Mt. Marathon is not just any race. It’s unique, even in Alaska. And Romey discovered during the process of filming, it attracts athletes who are racing, not so much to win, but really to conquer something inside themselves.
“To win this race, you have to dedicate your life to it. Basically. You have to be everything you can be on that day. And if you cross that finish line first, there is about two thousand people who will know what you went through. total. They are doing it, not because of the fame, not because of the glory, there is no prize money, and they are literally just doing this because they care about what it means to them, which I think is so special and really admirable and something that we want to capture, which I think we did.”
The runners in the film range from current men’s champ and record holder Eric Strabel, and women’s 2014 winner Holly Brooks to teenager Allie Ostrander, who is the first girl to win the junior co-ed Mt. Marathon contest.
“Mt.Marathon is definitely like the idealistic. tough Alaskan race. It’s just all up, and there are no breaks.”
“What’s really cool is what people bring to the mountain. That’s where the character, that’s what flavors this whole story, is like what is actually brought to this race by the people. And that is year’s of training, they do bring kind of their hopes and dreams and everything, but I think, mostly, they just bring their best. When you have a thousand people throwing everything they’ve got at a single rock, like all the stories behind that just turn into something really exciting.”
And it can be a heartbreaking contest. Last year, Olympic skier Brooks won by only two seconds, chased to the finish by mom of three Christy Marvin.
Romey says the female athletes who compete deserve every bit of respect given to the male competitors.
The race is just over three miles.. the first half straight up, but the descent is considered even more difficult.
“I’ve heard it being compared to jumping out of a bus at forty miles an hour.”
So, who would do that? Runners, who Romey says range on a scale from one to crazy. But on a more serious level, the race’s tough course is a measure of personal strength.
“I kind of hope that, what this movie does, is that people don’t hold people in this movie above themselves. I hope that people see the stores in this movie and then internalize that. And are able to say, like, ‘yeah, she did it, and she did it because she believed in herself. And she did it, she had it really hard, but she kind of kept on pushing and she made it happen. And I’m kind of hoping that people see that, and are inspired by that. And that’s my real goal, not to make stars out of this, but to kind of take their strength and pass it on to other people.”
That special strength, that drive to go further, is something that champ Holly Brooks recognizes in herself…
“It isn’t always just about beating other people, but it’s about finding excellence in myself, and that’s kind of the challenge that Mt. Marathon puts in front of you, in the form of a 3, 000-foot bloody, dirty, gritty mountain. ”
This year’s Mount Marathon race promises to be more exciting than ever, with two international running stars competing. Spain’s Kilian Jornet will be in the men’s race and his girlfriend Emelie Forsberg, from Sweden will line up with the women.