Runners compete in smokiest Mount Marathon race ever

For the 92nd year, hundreds of athletes flocked to Seward, Alaska on July 4 to scramble up and down the 3,022 foot peak of Mount Marathon. The event takes place annually with a men’s, women’s, junior boy’s and junior girl’s race. However, due to this year’s weather conditions of unusually hot temperatures and wildfire smoke, the junior races were canceled as a precaution.

Despite the youth cancellation, adult racers from all over the state and country still raced up and down the mountain.

UAA student Annie Connelly participated in the event for the 13th time. This was her fourth time racing in the women’s race, after previously running nine times in the youth race.

“My youngest brother also races; it’s been a family thing for years. I was raised in the mountain running community and was excited to start racing when I hit the age. Mount Marathon holds a very special place in my heart though,” Connelly said. “I was pretty shy and reserved for a long time and didn’t have a lot of confidence, not in sports or social situations or school. But when I was 15, I decided to really go for it, and that resulted in a fifth-place finish in the junior girl’s race.”

It was after her top-10 finish when Connelly realized she could do really well in the running community. She explained that she runs the mountain until the point of collapsing.

“You develop an incredible connection to your body,” Connelly said.

Connelly wasn’t fazed at all by the poor conditions at this year’s competition.

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“This year’s race was interesting for sure. I love being on the mountain, but the road always bites me in the butt, so that’s frustrating. Not frustrating because I can’t do it, it’s frustrating because I know I can do better but didn’t do enough work on it. But the downhill was loads of fun,” Connelly said.

Connelly placed 11th, with a time of 1:01.16.

Anchorage local and University of Washington student Abby Jahn was only ten seconds ahead of Connelly, finishing in 1:01.06 at eighth place.

Similar to Connelly, Jahn has previously raced up and down the mountain a number of times.

“This was my eighth year running the women’s race. I have also run the junior race twice. I remember signing up as a high schooler because a few of my cross-country teammates also ran the race. It seemed like such a fun event,” Jahn said. “I wanted to get involved and I’m still here. Every year is different, the mountain, the weather and the people.”

However, Jahn struggled quite a bit this year with the heat and smoke. She explained that it was not her best effort or time. Despite that, she still enjoyed racing.

Third place finisher Julianne Dickerson, (54:03), found that training intensely in the heat during the weeks leading up to the race made it a lot easier to compete.

“Last year, I really struggled with the heat, but I think having a couple of hot training weeks leading up to the [race] this year really helped. Lots and lots and lots of hiking. I hike at least twice a week year-round. Training with others helps too, to stay motivated. I try to make training the way I socialize and connect with friends. It helps me really look forward to training,” Dickerson said.

However, Dickerson explained that there is much more to training than just getting out and doing it.

“The biggest thing is to stay consistent, be patient and progress gradually. That’s how you get long term results and avoid injuries. Your body is capable of adapting to a lot given adequate time,” Dickerson said. “It’s also important to support that training with good nutrition, hydration, sleep and mobility.”

Although this was only Dickerson’s fifth year racing, she had ample experience and knowledge on how to do well.

On the men’s side, fifth-place finisher Erik Johnson has the advantage of living near the mountain.

“I live in Seward, so I go up the mountain two to three times a week starting in mid-May. I do tempo and intervals on my trips up to try to build my ability to climb faster, then all the times descending the mountain make me a better descender based on familiarity,” Johnson said.

During the uphill, Johnson made it to the top at 13th, but by the time he got passed the descent, he had moved up to fifth, which he finished at.

In addition to running it on his own often, this is Johnson’s eighth time racing Mount Marathon, with six of his eight finishes being in the top-8.

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