Mount Marathon in Seward introduces spectators to the town’s culture and community. On July 4 of every year, about 900 people take on the task of racing the 3,022 foot mountain.
On race day, the junior race started at 9:30 a.m. with 300 boys and girls between the ages of 7 and 17 run halfway up the mountain. Starting strong was Luke Jager, 17, who also won the race in 2015 and 2016. He kept his lead all the way to secure his third junior title in 29 minutes, 9 seconds. Molly Gellert, 17, also secured her second consecutive junior title in 32:53. Both are Anchorage locals, attending West Anchorage High School and are are national-class skiers for different clubs.
Another racer who caught great attention was Ali Papillon, 12, of Talkeetna. Papillon finished third in the junior race in exactly 30 minutes and was refereed to as the next Allie Ostrander due to his strong race and small build. Papillon belongs to a mountain running family of five. His parents, Dorrian Gross and Linda Rao, and brother, Bodhi Gross, all ran the race, too. Dorrian Gross described the great meaning of mountain racing in his family and the special energy at Mount Marathon as uniting.
“Certainly it is something we love to do together. It became a kind of family meditation,” Gross said.
Next up was the women’s first section at 11 a.m. followed by the second section at 11:05 a.m. Allie Ostrander of Soldotna, 20, walked away with the title in a time of 49:19. Ostrander added the win to her 2015 runner-up finish after having set out in 2016 due to her participation in the U.S. Olympic trials where she ran the 5000-meter, placing eighth. She beat second place finisher and former Olympic cross-country skier Morgan Arritola, 51:09, and third place finisher and two-time Mount Marathon champion Christy Marvin, 52:22.
Ostrander now owns the second-fastest time in race history and the fastest time an Alaskan has ever run. Only Swedish native Emilie Forsberg was faster in 2015 when she broke the record in a time of 47:48. It is that record that Ostrander now aims for. Ostrander, who is also a significant track runner, captured her first national title at the NCAA Division I championships in the 3K steeplechase this year.
Sadie Fox, Soldotna native and Nordic skier for UAA, produced a 17th place finish in the strong field to represent UAA athletics. After coming back from a double compartment syndrome surgery in her lower legs last year, Fox is happy to be able to race competitively again and uses mountain running to prepare for the next skiing season.
“I trained with APU this summer and that was the hardest training I have ever done,” Fox said.
Outside their official practice and competition seasons, NCAA institutions are not allowed to work with their athletes, which includes all summer. Still, Andrew Kastning, associate coach for Nordic skiing at UAA, supported his athletes from the sideline.
“Seeing Andrew leaning over the barrier yelling gave me a little boost of energy to finish the race,” Fox said.
The men’s race started at 2 p.m. followed by the second section at 2:05 p.m. Scott Patterson, 25 and member of APU’s Nordic ski program, won with a time of 44:30. Patterson, a Nordic skier with ambitions for the 2018 Olympics, represented pure joy and excitement when he raised his arms imitating an airplane, while running down the home stretch of the race. Erik Johnson of Seward secured a second place finish in 45:22 and Kenneth Brewer of Chugiak placed third in 46:56.
Connor Deal, Anchorage native and forward for UAA’s hockey team, finished 26th in the competitive race. For him, it is a family tradition as for so many other locals.
“It is not summer without running Mount Marathon. It is very addicting,” Deal said. “My mother put me in when I was 14 and I hated it while running, but I loved it after I finished. She runs it every year and my father stands halfway with water for us.”
Playing hockey for UAA this past season and training for an Ironman Triathlon this summer put him in good shape to tackle the mountain for the eleventh time, three times as a junior and eight times as an adult. He also trains with none other than his girlfriend’s younger sister, Allie Ostrander, the 2017 women’s champion. They spent some time on the mountain together this year.
“I came down a couple times with Allie. She gave me great advise on the uphill section and I could help her with the downhill,” Deal said.
For Chris Volk, former Mount Marathon participant and now spectator, has attended the race every year since 1986.
“It is a special event. Rain or shine, you have to be here,” Volk said.
For him as for many others, it is out of question if they will be back next year. For the 90th time now, Mount Marathon united friends and family for July 4.