How Did You Celebrate the 4th? Alaskans do it Right with Mount Marathon

Maddy WendtJuly 7, 2010

For many of us, July 4th is a day to spend with friends and family, take in a parade, eat a lot of good food and maybe watch some stuff blow up, but in Alaska, Independence Day means one thing: Mount Marathon.  Sunday marked the 83rd annual running of the grueling competition in which runners climb almost 3,000 feet in elevation over 3.5 miles before turning around to run back down.

The race ends on Main Street in Seward, Alaska, where ten thousand screaming Alaskans line the streets, waiting to cheer the finishers.  Mount Marathon attracts hundreds of athletes every year, usually including several pre-eminent Nordic skiers, and this year was no exception.

Holly Brooks negotiates the treacherous descent. Photo: Holly Brooks

“I feel like it epitomizes Alaska in many ways.  Our state is full of tough individualists who like to work hard and don’t mind getting dirty.  That is exactly what the race is – incredibly hard, with an element of danger and risk,” said Holly Brooks, a member of the 2010 US Olympic cross-country skiing squad who finished in second place just behind seven-time champion Cedar Bourgeois.

“It’s an iconic Alaskan event,” agreed three-time Olympian Kikkan Randall, who finished third.  “In terms of atmosphere, it’s right up there with the Olympics and World Championships.”

Brooks not only avoided a repeat of last year’s mid-race trip to the emergency room but held the lead from the twelve minute mark until Bourgeois passed her with only two blocks left in the race.  She also set a personal best by 3:31, while Randall, a four-time Mount Marathon runner-up, set a PR by 2:35.

Hiking up the mountain early in the race Photo: Reese Hanneman

Both Randall and Brooks hope to take home the gold sometime in the future.  “It probably goes without saying that next year I would like to win,” said Brooks.  Randall, whose mother won the race in 1975 and whose aunt is a three-time champion, is less concerned about next year’s race, reporting, “My goal going forward is just to continue to improve my PR times and make it down the mountain safely.  I would love to win someday but at this point my goal is to give my best.”

The men’s podium was also graced with a strong Nordic skiing presence.  University of Alaska Anchorage ski coach Trond Flagstad took the title for the second time in three years and became one of only three men in history to finish in less than 45 minutes multiple times.

With his wife Lindsey due to deliver their second child sometime this week, Flagstad almost decided not to race, but he was happy with his decision at the finish line.  “I had one of those rare days when you don’t get tired. I felt I could just push as hard as I wanted and even wished the climb wouldn’t have ended so soon,” he told FasterSkier after adding a new 40-49 age-group record to the 30-39 record he set in 2008.

“Whether you are a runner trying to conquer the mountain or a spectator there to watch the carnage of the mud-covered and blood-crusted runners coming down on rubbery legs, it’s a nerve-wracking and exciting day,” said Randall. Mount Marathon is an essential Alaskan tradition, the perfect way to celebrate the country’s independence.  As Flagstad put it, “everyone finishing the races -winners down to last place- is hailed as a hero, a crazy person, a real Alaskan.”

Some leaders in the men's field Photo: Reese Hanneman

Complete results can be found here:

You can read about Reese Hanneman’s experience of the event on his blog:

Maddy Wendt

Maddy is on the Nordic ski team at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, where her majors are psychology, political science, skiing, and being an awesome JA.

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