Most of you are all probably familiar with the Mt. Marathon race in Seward, AK. If you’re a racer or read Runner’s World or any of the running websites, you’ve at least probably heard of it.
But if not, Mt. Marathon Race is about a 3.5 mile race up and down a mountain. And not just any mountain, a VERY steep one, and I now know from personal experience! You can check out the website here for more info. It’s actually quite an interesting event, and from talking to people, it’s on a lot of runner’s bucket lists. You do have to apply each year. Returning participants get in automatically I believe, but empty slots are raffled off to new applicants. Even though you pay a small price to get in the raffle, you are not guaranteed to race.
Now, I didn’t actually do the race this year, but I may be taking it OFF my bucket list!!! Hahaha! JK!! MAYBE! I was ironically in the town a couple days before the race. While visiting Alaska, we took a wonderful train ride to the coast of Resurrection Bay and stayed in the town of Seward. I had already heard of the race, and it was just coincidental timing that we were there right around that time.
My travel partner originally was worried about the crowds in Seward that weekend, but I was excited to see the race anticipation starting. It actually wasn’t crowded two days before the race, and we only saw a few people running around town to practice. The race itself took place on the 4th (like every year), but we left town on the 2nd. Though, before we left, we did try the trail ourselves – sans official race day excitement.
Let me tell you something…that race has got to be HARD! I give mad props and kudos to anyone who does complete that race!!
We tried the course for ourselves, walking from our hotel with all of our stuff because we had to check out. Luckily, all we had each was a backpack, but they were 10-15 pounds each, and yes, we did hike with them because we had no where to put them.
This was the steepest hike I have ever done, and I have lived in CO, one of the outdoorsy capitals of the nation, for almost all of my life! In the beginning, you pretty much scale up the mountain, quite close to rock climbing. After that, the rest of the way up is all toe work on the steep hill. We had to take breaks after few steps – how people actually run this whole time is beyond me! We were sweating like pigs as we made our way up; shedding layers the further up we climbed. As hard as it sounds, the hike itself if totally worth it – for the exercise and the VIEW! It’s fantastic!
As we got closer to the half point, or the junior race point, we stopped to take a break and talk to a local. The junior race point is only halfway to the adult race summit. The local man gave us advice for either going up the rest of the way or going down. If we were to have gone up, the path got EVEN STEEPER and turns into scree. However, there was a cloud coming over a nearby by peak and we did not want to get stuck up at the top with the possibility of a storm. So, we made our way down.
To go down, you don’t just follow the same path that you took to get up. No, the path down is all scree. So you don’t really hike down, you, let’s say, fall down. If you’re familiar with hiking techniques, especially from hiking fourteeners in Colorado, when you encounter really loose, slick gravel on a mountain you kinda just have to start walking down, as you put your weight backwards and if the ground below you starts to slide, you just slide with it. If you feel yourself loosing control, you let yourself fall backwards and sit down. In our case, having backpacks helped us on the way down because it forced us to lean back.
On Mt. Marathon, the way down is pretty much entirely loose gravel called the “chute.” Technically you can go the way you came up, but race course is actually down the chute. Under the rocks is sometimes hidden ice as we discovered. Definitely, DEFINITELY, going down is way more dangerous than going up. There’s also cliffs. Seriously. Cliffs you could fall off. If you get going too fast down the chute, you can misjudge a drop and fall onto painful rocks or into a freezing cold river.
Some suggestions if you DO want to attempt this race, from our experience just on a “casual” (if you can call it casual) hike: 1) Lighten your load. Don’t bring a back pack like us. We just had no where else to put them. 2) Dress light but warm. You want close to be light enough to wick away moisture from your tired, sweating body, but up at the top can get breezy and the weather is like CO weather on crack….Also, pants might be a good idea, to minimize gravel accumulation in your shoes and protect yourself from injuries. 3) Gloves – preferably with a thicker, firm palm side to project your hand from scrapes on the rocks. 4) Water, definitely need water. Since you kind want your hands free to help you climb/fall up and down the mountain, maybe a water belt would be fantastic for this. 5) The website does recommend helmets; so does the state law for motorcyclists…maybe if you’re clumsy, wear a helmet. I’ll leave that up to your discretion.
After we made our way to the bottom, we assessed the damage. Besides the damage to our pride by only making it to the Juniors point AND being passed by 12 year olds…we had only a few scratches. Mine was from a tree on the way up (luckily NOT from devils club – these are nasty plants, learn to identify them before you go hiking in Alaska). This year, I was following the race news closely, especially after hiking the trail myself. The winner of the men’s division ran it in 44 minutes and 7 seconds!!!! HOLY CRAP! It took us about 2 hours to go up to the JUNIORS point and back. I feel weak. The first woman finished in 51:53 and the junior (remember, they only go half way) finished in 43:50 for girls and 27:18 for boys.
All in all, it was definitely a lifetime experience i’ll never forget. However, I’m still undecided if I want to ever do the actual race. I feel like a pretty tough person in general, but man! That trail kicked my butt! Both of our butts! Seriously though, if any of you do decide to do it, train hard and train well. This is not a joking matter of a trail. It can be VERY dangerous if you do not prepare properly or read all the warnings. This year, three were taken to the hospital due to major injures, and one racer is still missing after the race.
Articles about this year’s race:
“Noyakovich and Brooks win Seward’s Mount Marathon trail race”
“Three Injured, One missing on Mt Marathon”
(Dear My Lovely Readers: This is only one day of my trip to Alaska, and since it was so close to the actual race itself, I wanted to posted it as soon as I could. While having a relaxing/do nothing day in Palmer, AK, I wrote this. I have so much more I want to share with your about Alaska and my race that’s tomorrow!! I will post more when I get back home from vacation.)