The new rules for Mount Marathon take none of the risk out of the race. But they require runners to be better prepared for Fourth of July in Seward. That's a good idea.
The rules are the result of the disappearance of runner Michael LeMaitre on the mountain in the 2012 race. Despite exhaustive searches both public and private, no sign of Le Maitre has been found, and he is presumed dead. Blood, bruises and broken bones have been risks of the race from the beginning, but LeMaitre's was the first death.
In response, runners will now have to reach the halfway point up the mountain in one hour, or they'll be asked to turn back. In addition, all rookie runners will have to sign a statement that they have done the trail up and down the 3,022-foot mountain. On race day, any runner who withdraws after starting will be asked to let organizers at the finish know, so all are accounted for. And each race group will have a pair of trail sweeps.
The idea is simple. Race organizers have raised the fitness bar with the one-hour rule, and raised the prep bar by demanding that no one make race day their first trip on the mountain. Every racer will have an idea of what they're getting into -- or perhaps, with a second thought, what they decide not to get into. As runners and hikers testify, Mount Marathon is a beast.
The new rules don't soften a single sharp edge or ease any of the agony. They do increase the odds that the runners on the mountain will be a little better able to deal with them, and a little less likely to get into serious trouble.
In that sense, the rules are an epitaph for Michael LeMaitre, a man who seemed to appreciate the spirit of the race. As this race approaches, Alaskans send thoughts and prayers to his wife and family. The Fourth will be a hard day for them.
May racers remember LeMaitre, and all make it back to the finish.
BOTTOM LINE: New Mount Marathon rules make sense.