The 350 women racing Mount Marathon today will experience something new to almost all of them.
They will pass seven-time and reigning champion Cedar Bourgeois on their way up the 3,022-foot mountain in Seward.
Bourgeois, 35, the Seward sensation who retired from her hometown race after winning a seventh straight title last year, will take in the action from a perch at the top of "The Roots," an area of trees on a trail to the right of the main trail that goes up the mountain's cliffs.
"It's my favorite spot, about two minutes into the mountain. I'll probably be there for all three races," she said.
If you're looking for her, keep in mind that a spot "two minutes into the mountain" for Bourgeois might be a couple more minutes away for mere mortals. Before last year's race, when she chased down Holly Brooks in the final 200 meters to win by 10 seconds, Bourgeois had won six straight titles by an average margin of 3 minutes, 48 seconds.
Bourgeois owns five of the top 11 women's times in the nation's third-oldest footrace, which will be run for the 84th time today. The 3.5-mile race is the most prestigious and popular of Alaska's many extreme sporting competitions, and Bourgeois is eager to experience it as a spectator.
"I'm gonna pop, I'm so excited about the day," she said last week.
Any withdrawal pains appear to be long gone. Bourgeois is busy raising 11-year-old son Zen, who is running today's junior race, and 10-year-old daughter Coral, and operating Nature's Nectars, a coffee shop she opened last year on Seward's small boat harbor.
"There were a few moments, I admit, this winter where I thought, 'Did I call it too soon? Should I have had a two-year (retirement) plan?' But not since springtime have I had that thought," she said.
Still, she hasn't completely ended her love affair with the mountain. Bourgeois spent the last several weeks sharing her race expertise with a group of Seward women and helping Zen get ready for his race.
"I'd be miserable without this new training group and without my son," she said. "It's impossible to quit cold turkey."
And apparently it's impossible for Seward to quit Bourgeois cold turkey.
"It's amazing. Some people stop in the store and say 'We're really going to miss you.' I can't believe that anyone would care. It touches my heart," Bourgeois said. "But a lot of people do say, 'We don't believe you (are retired).' ''
Maybe that's because they don't want to believe. The Resurrection Bay town of about 3,000 loves its Fourth of July celebration and adores any local runner who wins Mount Marathon, which routinely attracts the state's most elite runners.
The adoration is nice, but the pressure that comes with it can be burdensome. For the first time since her first win in 2004, Bourgeois enjoyed a stress-free May and June.
"Today I was riding my bike through downtown and I just thought, wow, I'm not having those nerves," she said. "The month of June is usually so weird for me. I'm just a more relaxed person in general, especially in June.
"It's really like a new life. As much as how wonderful as it was, it was time. And it's nice to know I made the right decision."
Reach Beth Bragg at email@example.com or 257-4335.
By BETH BRAGG