Mt. Marathon Attracts A Deep Field of Competitors This Year

This weekend marked a new era for the Mount Marathon race in Seward. Foreigners dominated Alaska’s favorite mountain run Saturday. And the top Alaskans say they are happy for the new level of competition.

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Emelie Forsberg celebrates her Mount Marathon record. Photo credit: Annie Feidt
Emelie Forsberg celebrates her Mount Marathon record. Photo credit: Annie Feidt

It was overcast– but not raining– as Holly Brooks drove into Seward Saturday morning to watch the race. The course snaking up to the top of the mountain was visible under a bank of high clouds. Brooks turned to her husband, Rob Whitney and made a prediction.

“I looked at Rob and was like, it’s a record day, I mean these conditions, it doesn’t get any better than this.”

The two time Mount Marathon winner had decided not to compete this year after a grueling winter of marathon ski racing in Europe and Russia. But Brooks- who initially said she wouldn’t even watch the race- couldn’t resist the chance to cheer on the Alaskans. So she was at the finish line when Sweden’s Emelie Forsberg obliterated the 25 year old women’s race record by more than 2.5 minutes.

“She made it look easy. I think everyone here cheered and then it just kind of went silent. Because people were either kind of flabbergasted and/or didn’t know who she is. But now they will.”

Forsberg looked as if she had just finished a polite tennis match instead of a grueling mountain race. She says she typically competes in ultra races that take hours to compete and aren’t as technical as Mount Marathon. And Forsberg says she didn’t know she had the record until the very end.

“I was surprised when I came to the finish line, I had no idea of the time, and I just felt so good the whole way, it’s a super nice race and I really like it.”

Soldotna’s 18 year old Allie Ostrander came in second in her rookie year in the women’s race. The high school running champion also beat the previous record, 50:30, set by Nancy Pease in 1990, by two seconds. Brooks marveled at Ostrander’s time.

“If someone else is going to come in from Sweden and take our record, at least we have an Alaskan who can duck under. She looked great and wow, what a rookie race for her, so it was incredible.”

A few hours later in the men’s race, Kilian Jornet of Spain shaved more than a minute off the record with a time of 41:48. Jornet said his calves were “exploding” on the way up, but he was able to save enough energy to open up a wide lead on the technical downhill. He says he loved the atmosphere of the race, with fans lining the course:

“It’s incredible. Just people all the way up in the mountain, it’s not many races where you have all these people all the way up to summit.”

The previous men’s record holder, Eric Strabel came in 4th Saturday, behind Ricky Gates, of Wisconsin and Jim Shine of Anchorage. Strabel says he’s excited to have a new level of international competition descend on Mount Marathon:

“I’m so lucky to have been in this race and to have those guys out in front to chase, it’s everything a competition should be.”

Strabel will have another shot catch Jornet. The Spaniard says he’ll return to defend his title in next year’s race. And as for Emelie Forsberg?

“Are you going to be back next year? Oh yes! I’m so happy for that, I’ve already made my race calendar for this.”

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Annie Feidt is the Editor and Producer of Alaska News Nightly, and is also a frequent contributor to the show. Her reporting has taken her searching for polar bears on the Chukchi Sea ice, out to remote checkpoints on the Iditarod Trail, and up on the Eklutna Glacier with scientists studying its retreat. Her stories have been heard nationally on NPR and Marketplace. Annie’s career in radio journalism began in 1998 at Minnesota Public Radio, where she produced the regional edition of All Things Considered. She moved to Anchorage in 2004 with her husband, intending to stay in the 49thstate just a few years. She has no plans to leave anytime soon. afeidt (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8443 | About Annie