Dust off Mount Marathon record book

CommentMay 30, 2012 

PAUL SOUDERS / DAILY NEWS ARCHIVE 1991 Bill Spencer descends the lower half of Mount Marathon during the 1991 race in Seward.

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Since the popularity and hype surrounding the storied Mount Marathon race began exploding in the 1990s and 2000s, a number has been seared into the brains of runners, race officials, media and anyone with an abiding interest: 43:23.

Forty-three minutes, 23 seconds is how little it took Bill Spencer to win the men's division in the 1981 edition of the annual Fourth of July race up and down the 3,022-foot peak that towers over Seward and overlooks Resurrection Bay.

His race record has stood for three decades, and it is iconic.

It is also incorrect.

Thanks to the diligence of a graphic designer from Seward with a penchant for historical accuracy, we now know that Spencer's correct record time is 43:21.

Somehow, 43:23 crept into the official race program years ago -- probably a simple typo -- and has been repeated since in not just the program, but also about four trillion times in this newspaper. To our knowledge, no one ever questioned it until Carol Griswold, the graphic designer, last year was commissioned to make a couple of posters about the race. One poster will detail race records and the other will be filled with race facts and trivia. Both will be displayed outside the Seward Senior Citizens Center, which sits along the race route to and from the mountain.

When Griswold began researching Mount Marathon history last year, Spencer's name kept popping up, and so did 43:23. Then she was reading an edition of the Seward Phoenix Log newspaper that covered Spencer's 1981 record run and noticed his time was listed as 43:21.

"I thought, 'Oh, this time is different,' " Griswold said.

Further research confirmed the correct time as 43:21. The Daily News, in its edition of July 5, 1981, reported Spencer's time as 43:21, and the bonehead typing this has a copy in his files, and always, and wrongly, figured it was simply an unofficial time that was later amended.

Lori Draper of the Mount Marathon race committee said Spencer's record will be corrected, and she thanked Griswold for her historical accuracy.

"She's one of those people who is just a stickler, thank goodness,'' Draper said.

Spencer, informed that at his current age of 56 he has nonetheless trimmed two seconds off his record time, thinks this is a hoot.

"It's like a dream come true,'' he said with a laugh. "I'm getting faster and I didn't even have to race. I beat my own record! Woo-hoo!''

It gets better. More research by the race committee about Spencer's junior record time in 1973 revealed that it too was incorrect -- it has long been listed as 24:34 (junior runners go halfway up the mountain and back down). While junior record-keeping was particularly haphazard back in the 1960s through 1980s, it was discovered Spencer's record junior time was actually 24:30.4. Somewhere along the line, the zero got dropped from that number. Thus, Spencer's junior mark will now be 24:30.

Still, those are not the only records that may be amended.

Ephriam Kalmakoff has always been identified as the youngest winner of Mount Marathon at 14 in 1928. In Griswold's research, she came across an obituary for Kalmakoff, talked to Ralph Hatch, who won the men's race six times in the 40s and 50s, and found information about Kalmakoff from the Jesse Lee Home in Seward, which was a residential school for displaced children.

All of that indicated to Griswold that Kalmakoff was likely 16 when he won.

"That was very interesting,'' Griswold said. "It's not set in concrete by any means -- maybe he was 14. It's not as clear as the Bill Spencer typos.

"But that was a long time ago. Often, (Alaska Natives) didn't have any document of their age. Sometimes, it depended on when they were baptized and when the Roman Catholic priest came to town. A few key documents seem to be better sources (that Kalmakoff was 16). It's not 100 percent, more like 90 percent.''

Griswold down-played her discoveries -- it's all about the race, she said, not about her. And she loved talking to former race champions and other runners in the course of her research.

"It's kind of an honor to get to do this,'' she said. "It's kind of neat.''

Yet she has furnished the race and the Mount Marathon community with accuracy, and for that she deserves thanks and praise.

Without her, and without the research she also sparked from the race committee, no telling how long the incorrect record times for Spencer would have been mistakenly thought accurate. Now we know -- it's 43:21 for his senior record, 24:30 for his junior record.

So, Spencer has knocked two seconds off his senior standard and four seconds off his junior mark without even leaving his house.

The legend grows.

This column is the opinion of Daily News reporter Doyle Woody. Find his blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.

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