With defending champion Holly Brooks and 2011 champion Kikkan Randall skipping Mount Marathon this year -- neither of the Olympic nordic skiers from Anchorage wants to risk injury with the 2014 Sochi Games looming -- a new women's champion will be crowned in that wickedly difficult race Thursday.
Christy Marvin's chances seem as strong as anyone's.
Marvin, 32, of Palmer, will make her debut in the 3.5-mile race up and down the 3,022-foot piece of intimidation that overlooks Resurrection Bay in Seward.
Her results in the mountains so far this season stamp her pedigree and make her a serious threat to seize the most prestigious mountain-running title in Alaska. Already, Marvin has won races on Knoya Ridge, Government Peak and Bird Ridge.
Still, those were uphill-only races, and Mount Marathon includes a harrowing, rocket-fast downhill that often separates the conqueror from the contenders.
Marvin said she considers herself a strong downhill runner and loved running down the scree on the upper half of Mount Marathon during a couple of scouting missions there.
"I think it's pretty much anyone's race, and I'd like to put myself in position to compete for the title,'' she said. "There are always variables on Mount Marathon, though.''
Course knowledge proves particularly helpful on a mountain that in spring and summer changes from week to week, and sometimes from day to day. Marvin concedes she is an "unseasoned Mount Marathon runner,'' but she has received valuable help from fellow Valley runner Braun Kopsack, who has raced Mount Marathon more years than Marvin has been alive.
Marvin was checking out Mount Marathon recently and discovering the myriad paths at the base of the mountain when she spotted Kopsack, who then shared his knowledge and gave advice.
"It was a godsend,'' Marvin said. "I told him, 'Am I ever glad to see you.' ''
Randall and Brooks, members of the U.S. Ski Team who train with the Alaska Pacific University Nordic Ski Center club, both love racing on Mount Marathon. But their principal sport is skiing, and they can't afford to take a chance in Seward this year.
Both have endured difficult experiences at Mount Marathon. Randall, a three-time Olympian, overheated in 2002, stopped on the downhill and took a break that removed her from contention.In 2009's terribly hot weather, Brooks nearly ran herself into unconsciousness and made a detour into the emergency room before gamely finishing.
"As much as I love Mount Marathon, it's a hair risky and it gives the legs quite a bit of trauma,'' Randall said. "It usually takes me a couple of weeks to recover from that.''
Brooks calls Mount Marathon her favorite race in Alaska. She holds it especially dear because her difficulties in 2009 prompted an epiphany that drove her to devote herself full-time to training for the 2010 Olympics, and she competed in the Games in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Brooks noted in an email that former champions have lifetime entry into Mount Marathon -- she and Randall have plenty of years left to race in Seward.
"In comparison, the Winter Olympics only come around once every four years and this is my opportunity to go after something special!'' Brooks wrote. "I wish everyone a fun, safe trip up and down the mountain, and I'll be there in spirit!''
Lauren Fritz of Eagle River, the 2012 runner-up who cut nearly five minutes off her personal best last year, is entered in Mount Marathon. In her three Mount Marathons, she has progressed from 10th place to fifth to second.
Laura Brosius of Fairbanks, third last year, is entered, but her friend Matias Saari, the 2009 men's winner, said Brosius told him she won't race Thursday. Seward's Allison Barnwell, the former junior girls champion who last year slashed nearly seven minutes off her personal best and finished fourth, is entered. Ditto for Rachel Dow and Denali Foldager, both of Seward, who finished fifth and sixth, respectively, last year.
Also entered is Sheryl Loan, 54, of Eagle River. Loan, one of the state's top cyclists, last year debuted with a seventh-place finish and shattered the 50-59 age-group record with her 59:23.
As for Marvin, who has never been in Seward on the Fourth of July and is in the rare position of being a rookie favored to contend for the title, she can't wait to race.
"I'm just going to go for it,'' she said. "I've been nervous for weeks. I've wasted so much energy on nerves for several weeks, so I'm ready to race it.''
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.