Mt. Marathon: The Craziest 5k Ever Created

Hi everyone!  I survived the 4th of July in Seward and it was a blast!  As you saw in my post from Friday, the 4th of July is very different in Seward than it is in Philly.  Most notably, the fireworks are at 12:01 am on July 4th (really the night of July 3rd) and the main festivities are centered around the Mt. Marathon Race.



Mt. Marathon is the mountain on the left.  The race summit is the first “summit” on the right side of it that has the least amount of snow.

Mt. Marathon is a massive mountain that rises up over Seward.  And each 4th of July there are hundreds of people that run it.  It’s the craziest 5k ever created!  The race starts on the road but quickly goes up steep cliffs, muddy and steep trails, and finally up over loose shale with a 3,022 ft elevation gain – and then they have to run back down the incredibly steep grade before sprinting down 4th street to the finish.  It’s insane and makes no sense.  Yet every year the race is full, and it’s so difficult to get a spot that people will pay thousands of dollars to get in.  If you’ve been reading my blog, you might remember my post about hiking the “hiker’s trail” a few weeks ago and how much I struggled to get up the “easy” trail on the mountain.  This race is no joke, and people are injured and even die on this race course.  Yet it’s a long standing tradition in Seward, which started over 100 years ago when two drunk guys at a bar got into an argument over whether it was possible to run up and down the mountain in under 1 hour.  While the first racers weren’t able to do it, both the male and female winners can now in fact make it up and down the mountain in less than an hour.

IMG_1463The map of the mountain – the race trail is on the left

mm1A picture I found on Google that really shows the steepness of the trail!

As a runner, I feel that I should mention that I have no interest in running this race ever.  Not even an option for me over here!  But I was fascinated with the race and when I heard from my manager that they were looking for volunteers for packet pickup I jumped at the chance to get involved!  Packet pickup took place at the Seward High School.  When I got there I learned that I would be doing packet pickup for the juniors.  This age group is for boys and girls age 7-17, and they only go halfway up the mountain before turning around.  And let me tell you, some of these kids were so small!  I can’t imagine being that young and running up a mountain!  A few of them sounded nervous as they gave me their last name, and I could tell that they were first time runners.  The first timers had to watch a safety video and agree that they had run the course at least once before race day before getting their bibs.  This is because so many people are seriously injured on the race course and they don’t want any more injuries or fatalities.  I also got to sneak into the gym to watch a bit of the race bib auction for people who didn’t get in through the lottery – the most expensive bib went for over $2,000!  I loved working at packet pickup – each person I met was an incredible athlete doing something that I could never imagine doing, and it was awesome being able to talk to people about what it’s like to run the race.  Plus I got some sweet volunteer swag!


On the 4th of July, I had to work of course.   But my manager said that our office was a great place to watch the race since it’s right next to Mt. Marathon so I wasn’t totally bummed about being there.  Plus she said we could all take an extended lunch break, and I decided to use it at 3:00 pm to watch the men’s race!  One thing to note was how hot it was on the 4th.  It was probably almost 80 degrees and there is no shade on the mountain, so people were worried about how the heat was going to affect the runners.  The first race of the day was the Junior’s Race.  Just to remind you, these runners are both boys and girls age 7-17.  I am so sad that I missed this race because it had an amazing ending!  There is a 17 year old girl, Allison Ostrander, who has been breaking course records in the girls age groups since she started running it.  In a pre race interview she mentioned how she wanted to break 30 minutes in this year’s race.  Last year she was in 6th place.  This year, she was in second place until the very end of the race where she overcame the first place boy to completely win the race in 28:54!  A girl has never won the Junior’s Race so this is so exciting!  I think this 17 year old girl is my new hero!

After a busy morning at work, things died down just in time for us to watch the women’s race from the office!  It was a pretty funny scene – the boss was running around with excitement and burst in the room yelling “They’re coming down the mountain!  Kristen, get your binoculars!”.  We turned the live feed of the race on one of the computers and alternated between watching the teeny tiny racers come down the mountain through our binoculars and watching the coverage online.  I seriously can’t even explain how fast these girls were coming down the mountain.  It was literally a controlled fall and I can’t imagine ever running that fast in my life!  The finish was so close, but Holly Brooks beat out the second place finisher with only 2 seconds difference!  I got kind of emotional watching the finish because I couldn’t begin to imagine how hard it must have been to keep that lead and how proud she must feel!

By 3:00 it was time for my extended lunch break, so I headed downtown with some coworkers to watch the men’s finish!  It was cool watching it live on the computer, but it was much more fun being there in person!

20140707-183941.jpgPeople waiting for the first runner along 4th Ave

20140707-183957.jpgLooking towards the finish line

20140707-184030.jpgWaiting for the winner, plus a view of the race course on the mountain!

20140707-184039.jpgThe race course – you can see the dust kicked up from the people going downhill!

20140707-184017.jpgThe winner, Eric Strabel. coming down 4th in only 44:46!

Watching the race in person was so exciting, but I was so glad I was just a spectator!  There seemed to be 3 types of finishers:  those who were running strong and looking great, those who were totally dying/bleeding/had broken bones and wanted that race to be over, and those who were having a blast and hamming it up with the crowd (one guy was doing cartwheels and high fiving people!).  Most people were sweaty and muddy, and some were bleeding or obviously had injuries.  Most guys were not wearing shirts but were wearing gloves to protect their hands when climbing the cliffs.  One guy was dressed as Gumby!  I watched the finishers for as long as I could before I had to go back to work.

After watching this race, I have so much respect for mountain runners.  That race looks impossible, yet so many people did it and finished with smiles on their faces.  While I may be a slow newbie trail runner, this race made me want to get into it more – just not the super vertical trail running in Seward!  If you want more info on the race check out the following links:

  • Race results if anyone is interested in creeping on the insanely awesome times that people ran the mountain!
  • Race photos that really show how tough it must be up on the top
  • The story of my new hero winning the Junior Race!  They interview the 2nd place finisher and his reaction is awesome!
  • An awesome recap of the women’s race and how it feels to run the race
  • The story of Matt Kenney , a runner who was nearly killed running this race 2 years ago but was able to finish the race this year!  Such an awesome read!
  • And finally, the most epic account of what Seward and Mt. Marathon is like from Runner’s World.  They also interview my favorite coffee barista, Cedar, who holds the record for most wins by a Seward resident (7!)

Would you ever run a race like this?  What is the craziest race held in your hometown?

31 thoughts on “Mt. Marathon: The Craziest 5k Ever Created

  1. Wow, so impressed! I am trying to go under 30:00, but in the flattest conditions, not a mountain! I would be too afraid to fall on a mountain race. Downhill… would be another story 🙂

    1. Omg yes to all of this. The winning girl can probably run a flat 5k in like 10 minutes. She’s an olympic skier FYI!

  2. Yikes, this race looks crazy! I don’t think I’d ever want to attempt anything like this myself, but it would be really cool to watch the race someday.

    1. It was so much fun to watch! I barely ever get to be a race spectator, and I loved the experience!

    1. Yeah, it was awesome just feeling like I was involved in some way. I was almost starstruck meeting some of the faster runners!

    1. Um did you read this post?!?! No! Haha on a serious note though, it’s nearly impossible to get into this race and I would feel terrible taking a spot because I would for sure be disqualified because there is a strict 2.5 hour time limit. I do want to hike the trail someday and hopefully do it in under 4 hours!

    1. It’s beautiful! But yes, I also feel that an ankle or two would suffer in this race so you won’t be seeing me in it 🙂

    1. Their stories were the best ones though. That girl is seriously my hero now, I talk about her all the time. It’s like WWJD is now WWAOD. And for the record, she would never skip her long run 🙂

    1. Whaaaaaat! Did you even read this? Seriously though, when you visit me up here we will hike this mountain and you can tell me if you still want to sign up 🙂 It’s a beautiful race though!

  3. I TOTALLY want to attempt this race. ha! I probably won’t be able to venture out that way though. Thanks for checking out my blog. My bestest friend lives in PA. 🙂 We are living in Sitka. I absolutely love it here. It’s definitely a change from the east coast in numerous ways. I love your blog design. I really need a blog makeover. ha! Perhaps I should work on that.

    I’ll definitely be keeping up with your blog as we both discover the awesomeness that is Alaska. I look forward to being in touch.

    1. Thanks for stopping by! I definitely want to visit Sitka someday, I’ll have to stalk your blog now. If you ever run a race in Anchorage let me know! I will not be joining you as you run Mt. Marathon though 🙂

    1. Yes, you should definitely visit Seward on July 4th so you can see it! And yes, people are crazy enough to do that!

  4. OMG – I saw the story of the man who went missing a few years ago and heard about this on the news. I thought from the title that you did it and I was going to bow down to you! I am pretty sure I would say never. I did run 7 miles up Mt Washington in New Hampshire last year despite living and training in Chicago! So I guess I can’t say never but probably not! No crazy races in my home town past or present that I can think of. Thanks for sharing this! (I did run the Midnight Sun marathon in 2007 and then hiked the Harding Ice Field the next day. That was hard!)

    1. That’s awesome that you hiked Harding Ice Field! That’s next on my list of things to hike! And yeah, there is no way I would do that race. It was hard writing a recap of a race I hadn’t run but I totally had to share it with you guys!

  5. UM YES I’m interested in being a creeper! I’m going to check that out next, but holy crap that mountain is INSANE! My jaw literally dropped at the picture of the view from up on the side of it. I hate to hear that people injure themselves, but I’m not at all surprised and the winner’s time is so crazy fast! What a cool experience to hang out and watch it happen!

  6. Yeah, it was a lot of fun! I had no desire to do it though. Just fear that someone was going to die in front of me.

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