Mt. Marathon — maker of champions

Thursday, July 12, 2012 - 08:43

From the Summit: A special report by Frank E. Baker:

Anyone who runs the Seward Mt. Marathon Race in under two hours, or even finishes for that matter, is a champion in my book. I’ve never run the race, but I I’ve been tromping up and over and around the 3,022-foot mountain for nearly 60 years.

The best word to describe the overall race course is “punishing,” and this year the mountain lived up to its reputation, with light rains turning the uphill trail through the alder bushes into a slippery slog.

Despite some of the worst trail conditions imaginable, runners seemed alert and upbeat as they rounded the summit flag and began the steep, perilous descent. I handed one young runner a cup of water and as he thanked me he looked around for a moment and said, “wow, what a view!”

I saw some older race veterans too, such as Seward’s Fred Moore, who is in his 70s has run the race 42 times; and Anchorage doctor John Frost, who is in his 60s. Missing this year was 83-year-old Corky Corthell, who owns the 80-89 age class record. Corthell suffered a stroke this spring but reports he recovering and planning to run the race next year.

The woman leading the women’s charge to the summit and who would go on to win this year’s race for the first time, Holly Brooks, looked like she had just stepped out of her house to take a morning walk. She was definitely in her “zone” as she headed back down the mountain.

Eagle River’s Eric “Storm” Carl also looked amazingly fresh. Carl would go on to complete the race in 1 hour, five minutes. I also spotted other locals like Jennifer Frazier, Claire Connelly and Sherri Gould among almost 100 people from Eagle River and Chugiak (see above) in the race.

Every year I am in awe of every one of them. The slope of the climb — from 35 degrees to 60 degrees — is unrelenting. The shale and greywacke are as sharp as knives. The cliffs on the lower part of the descent, known as “The Chute,” are treacherous, especially when rain has made the rocks slippery.

Explaining why these hundreds of souls take on this challenge, year after year, is like trying to explain to someone why people attempt Denali or Everest.

When runners get to the summit at the race’s half-way point, even the veteran runners who have done it for many years, you can see the elation on their faces. The inner-pride and sense of accomplishment is palpable, even among those who know they won’t finish in under an hour — the essence of a barroom wager that started the race back in 1915.

Whether or not it’s a mixture of adrenalin and endorphins, by the time runners get to the half-way point and see the rock with the flag, they are super-charged. Most of them are fighting to catch their breath and their thighs are burning, and they all have one thing in common. They are stoked.

That’s part of the reason I like climbing up there to watch the race. I become energized by all the people who make the mountain their personal challenge. It is spiritually uplifting to be up close and personal with people who are discovering the champion in themselves.

And there is no doubt in my mind — after watching dozens and dozens of races — that they are ALL champions.


Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River.

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