Monday I dropped Denver off at the Challenger Center for space camp and stopped by to see my cousin Ronna. They were going over to Seward to climb Mt. Marathon that afternoon since 3 of their kids are doing the July 4th race, and she invited me along. Never one to pass up an adventure, I ran to the store to buy a pair of shorts and a little after noon we were on our way, braving summer Alaska traffic for the 2 hour drive from Kenai to Seward.
Minutes after we headed up the trail, I mentally began shaking my head. Who would let their 9-year-old kid race up a cliff?? I was a bit nervous myself as I saw the "trail," and I couldn't imagine letting 300 kids at it, unsupervised, to run 3/4 mile up a not-quite-vertical-but pretty-darn-close-to-it slope covered with loose rocks and mud. Hm. Obviously I'm not truly Alaskan or tough enough. You see the picture to the left. What do you think?? As we continued up I got a little more comfortable with the trail. "Trail," singular, is an oxymoron. There is more like 2 or 3 or 4 or more trails one can take up, so it is constantly a multiple choice. Which one is best? All of them were overhung with Devil's Club, pushki and whatnot. Some were slicker than others from the rain over the weekend. All were steep.
Let me pause for a moment and fill you in. This "race" is up the 3000 foot (give or take), 1 1/2 mile (one way) Mt. Marathon every year on July 4. If you're under 18 you're considered a junior and only have to go halfway, which still gets you above treeline. The race starts in town and there's about 7-10 blocks of running uphill on pavement before getting to the base of the mountain and the trail. Each year 300 kids, 300 women and 300 men are allowed to race to the top to see which maniac is fastest at managing not to kill or maim themselves and still get to the top and back down. So many people want the honors to run this race that there is a lottery held each year. Applications must be in by March 31. If you've run the race the previous year, ever won the race, or raced it more than 10 times you are exempt from the lottery and can get in. What spots are left are up for grabs.
Well, it took us an hour of frequent stops to catch our breath, admire the view of Resurrection Bay and the Seward Harbor and attempt to ignore our burning calves to reach the half-way mark. We had to help 7-year-old Sonora and 9-year-old Darius up the cliff section, and they managed to not whine or complain too much. Then for the descent. Coming down is certainly faster than going up, but in some ways more nervewracking since the trail was loose scree, snow, and a creek. The "down" route follows a creek. The fastest way would probably be to plow right through the middle of the creek, though one would need to be cautious of slippery rocks. But then, I imagine that anyone who is serious about getting down fast doesn't care too much about falling on slippery rocks anyways. There was another little section of rock climbing that took a good 15 minutes to get the kids down, coaching them on every hand and foothold so they wouldn't go tumbling and take us out too. We walked through the creek part of the way as well.
People take this race very seriously. The parking lot just behind the Seward Hospital was full. There were old women in jogbras with not an ounce of spare flesh on them, parents interrogating their kids on how they did on their training run, and moms with kids in baby backpacks. Higher up people were practicing their descent technique. My cousin kept up a commentary much of the way up, coaching her 9-year-old on the right path to take, when to go fast, when to go slow, and more, since this will be his first time racing it. It all seemed a bit overwhelming. When we were done Ronna invited me to come and watch the race with them on July 4. I am curious and can't quite imagine it so we just might do it!