Can you imagine running down a 3,000 foot mountain in 12 minutes? Yeah, neither can we. But believe it or not, it’s actually a thing in Seward, Alaska. Like, a big thing. To call it a running event is hardly even accurate – it’s not so much running as it is sliding down sharp, loose shale and losing chunks of precious skin.
It’s called the Mount Marathon Race, and it’s been happening every year in Seward since before 1915 and is believed to be the second oldest race in American history (historians aren’t exactly sure when the start year was but believe it was as far back as 1908, though the first organized race was in 1915). Legend has it that it started out as a bet at the bar. The guy (again, no one is really sure who that guy was) ran up Mount Marathon and back down again in an hour and twenty minutes. Word spread, and soon every deckhand on every arriving ship wanted to have a go at beating the time.
These days, the race begins in downtown Seward, on the corner of Fourth and Adams, nearly right outside the doors of the Sauerdough Lodge and Sea Bean Café, and ends one block south at Fourth and Washington, after running up and down the mountain, of course. The total race distance is 3.1 miles and top racers can reach the summit in 30-40 minutes, with their downtime clocking in at an unbelievable 10-15 minutes (the 2017 winner did it in about 12 minutes). A common sight at the finish line is bloodied and muddied runners. Outside Magazine recently proclaimed that the Mount Marathon Race is the “toughest 5K in the world”. And we believe them, so we’ll stick to watching from the finish line.
The vertical gain of the course is 2,675 feet and the elevation gain is 3,022 feet. Entrants are limited to 350 men and 350 women. The first time women were allowed to race was in 1985.
Veterans of the race are an automatic shoo-in, though it’s a bit more difficult for hungry newcomers. The first step is entering the lottery, held each April. If that doesn’t work out, they can purchase raffle tickets for $10 each. Their last option is the auction – 10 men’s and 10 women’s spots are bid on. The 2017 highest bid was a staggering $3,500, with proceeds going to the Seward Chamber of Commerce to cover the cost of organizing the race.
Mount Marathon Race has no fixed course. It simply requires that runners begin at the starting line, circle around a big boulder 3,000 feet up the mountain, and end at the finish line. Other than that, it’s a free-for-all with varying routes filled with varying levels of danger. Most runners take a tumble more than once, slicing open their bodies on the loose shale. Bear attacks are also a threat, along with falling boulders, cliffs, and the potential of becoming lost on the mountain. Basically, Mount Marathon Race is a gnarly, brutal, yet iconic part of Alaskan history that holds much glory, and people want to be a part of it. All estimated 30,000 people who visit Seward over Fourth of July.
So, I suppose the moral of this story is if you want to visit Seward during Mount Marathon and see the spectacle with your own eyes, you should really book your accommodation now. It gets crazy around here in early July.
Also, the Seward Chamber of Commerce is now accepting submissions for the 2018 Mount Marathon Race logo. Visit their website here for more details: http://www.seward.com/
Blog by Liberty Elias Miller. Visit her website here: https://www.libertyeliasmiller.com/