Holly Brooks understands the hazards of the acclaimed Mount Marathon. Having previously run the race six times the Olympian knew winning her second title wouldn’t be easy. Despite a brutal course, high temperatures, and challenging field of women Brooks was able to claim the 2014 Mount Marathon victory with a time of 52:49.
The 5 k race which tests participants with a 3,000 foot climb and decent on the slopes of Mount Marathon in Seward, Alaska is often referred to as the “Olympics of Alaska.” The race has claimed many causalities over the years ranging from severe injuries to the tragic and mysterious disappearance of Michael LeMatire from the course in 2012.
Mount Marathon is also one of the most esteemed races in the state. The annual Fourth of July competition draws roughly 35,000 to 45,000 spectators to the small town, demonstrating the popularity and the importance of the race.
“Mount Marathon is to Alaska what the Birkie is to Minnesota, only with the additional element of extreme danger,” Brooks wrote via email.
Brooks, who won the Mount Marathon in 2012, sat out last year’s race to focus on training for the 2014 Olympics. While the former U.S. Ski Team member has big plans for international marathon racing this year, she decided to enter the race in 2014 despite its physical costs.
Brooks was wary of the weather on race day as warm temperatures and intense sun greeted racers prior to the competition. It was a situation Brooks knew all too well. In 2009, the APU Skier was forced to drop out of the race due to extreme dehydration. According to Brooks, her recovery required four to five bags of IV fluid.
Not only did she have to worry about the heat, she also faced a strong women’s field including 2013 champion Christy Marvin who was hungry for a back-to-back win.
When the race began Brooks took an early lead, and by the top of the epic climb she was roughly two minutes ahead of the next competitor.
From there, however, it was all downhill.
As Brooks descended the peak she began to feel as if she had no control over her legs. She later joked to NPR that she felt like a “marionette running down a mountain.”
Coming into the finish, Brooks struggled to maintain her speed. In addition, Marvin had decimated Brooks’ two minute lead and was rapidly approaching the finish.
Fortunately for Brooks there wasn’t enough pavement for Marvin to catch her and she was able to claim the win by only two seconds.
“The home stretch down Fourth Avenue was possibly the longest two minutes of my life and the finish line couldn’t have come sooner. Had the race been 10 yards more she would have passed me as she was charging hard,” wrote Brooks. “She had a great kick and I was described looking like ‘a race walker that wasn’t racing.’”
Despite some embarrassment in regards to her condition in the finishing stretch of the race, Brooks was ecstatic to garner her second Mount Marathon win.
“I love to race and this is without a doubt, the biggest race in Alaska,” Brooks said. “It’s good for people to see skiers excelling in non-ski events and I think it adds to our legitimacy as the good, all-around, tough athletes that we are. I always told my kids when I was coaching that ‘skiers can do anything!’ I think that having a good result in Mt. Marathon proves that.”
After proving her strength and toughness, Brooks did what any skier would have done; she continued to train. With the start of the U.S. Ski Team Women’s Camp in Anchorage on July 7, Brooks is now in preparing for the winter.
However, even champions like Brooks have to take it easy sometimes.
“While I’m participating I’m having to moderate workouts,” Brooks said. “It’s kind of a bummer but since the race went well this year it is worth it, I’m hoping by next week’s trip to Eagle Glacier that I’ll be 100% and can ski all the workouts with the girls.”
In the men’s race, 2013 champion and APU coach, Eric Strabel, won the men’s race with a time of 44:46.
Results for the 2014 Mount Marathon can be found here.