The road to Mount Marathon

Fintan Nakada races down the mountain in the 2015 Mount Marathon. Photo credit: Todd List

Starting out over 100 years ago, the Mouth Marathon Race became an official organized event that challenged racers to climb a mile and a half up the mountain to get to the 3,022 foot summit and then get back down as fast as possible.

It wasn’t until 1985 that women were officially included as a category in the race, the first year that 54 women were able to compete and finish. The juniors category emerged in 1994.

In 2005, as the crowds and participation began to expand for the race, the “staggered start” was initiated for the adult races.

To get a glimpse into the what the actual race is like, seven-time race finisher Fintan Nakada shared his experience about the rigorous preparation it took to compete and prepare, as well as the extreme parts of the race.

“I’ve competed in the race for a long time. I began it starting out way back in sixth grade. and now, every year since then. I basically get an automatic spot in it when I compete every year,” Nakada said.

Despite Nakada getting an automatic spot every year, the majority of racers are put through a lottery process that is done months in advance to be able to compete.

Nakada is an active member of the Anchorage running and hiking community. He competed in cross country and track for the entire duration of his high school career. In addition, he competes in many road and trail races outside of his high school.

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Being a former distance member of The Alaska Running Academy, Nakada was well prepared for the rigorous mountain race every summer.

“[The race] takes a lot of preparation, although I ran cross country, did skiing and competed for track, I still spent my early summer training. Mental visualization is an important aspect of the race, but obviously also a lot of weight training and mountain running,” Nakada said.

Nakada grew up being an active hiker during the summer, but he always stepped it up a notch when Mount Marathon was approaching.

In order to train effectively and efficiently, Nakada spent most of his time training on mountains and trails in the Anchorage area such Little O’Malley up to Black Lake, Government Peak, Peak two and three behind Flattop and then, of course, Flattop itself.

When there is time to spare, Nakada would head to Seward and train on the mountain of the race.

“It’s important to know the course really well, you need to run on it several times to actually get a feel for what the race will be like. Also, it’s especially important to train on it when there’s bad conditions — you don’t know what it will be like on actual race day,” he said.

Even after months of training and preparing, Nakada said that as grueling and painful as the whole race is, it’s definitely worth it in the end. The satisfaction of completing, arguably, Alaska’s most difficult mountain race and racing for a personal record from the previous year made it an worthwhile experience.

“My favorite part of the race is near the end, when you start running down the face of the cliff and everyone can see you, it gets loud with cheering and clapping and gives you motivation to run the final stretch,” he said.

Despite having an exhilarating end to the race, the vast majority of it isn’t as easy. Nakada explained that the most difficult part is right after he reaches the top of the mountain, and when he turns around to come back down his legs are often so fatigued from the uphill that it’s a challenge to make it down.

This year, Nakada will not be competing, instead spending his time preparing for the Air Force Academy. However, the traditional Mount Marathon will still be held on Fourth of July in Seward.