Mount Marathon racers who rocket up the standings like Arianne Parisi has the last two years usually generate dramatic improvements through increased training and more time grinding through workouts in the mountains.
Parisi took a longer route to her reward -- namely, traditional road marathons.
After never finishing higher than 53rd among women in her first six Mount Marathons, Parisi (nee Massengale) in 2010 jumped all the way to 14th place. And last year, she climbed to sixth place.
Parisi, 28, credits her ascent to taking up the marathon.
A month before the 2010 Mount Marathon, the former East High cross-country runner, skier and soccer player finished the San Diego Rock 'n Roll Marathon in 3 hours, 34 minutes, 46 seconds. So when she hit Mount Marathon, she knew she was fit, though not necessarily mountain-running fit.
Yet her 14th-place finish in 1:02:56 at the 2010 Mount Marathon lopped a whopping 13:24 off her previous best in the race up and down the 3,022-foot peak in Seward. And her sixth-place finish last year in 1:00:13 -- that came less than three months after she ran the Boston Marathon in 3:22:40 -- lopped another 2:43 off her personal record for the annual Fourth of July race.
"I didn't necessarily think running marathons, all those miles on the road, could have such an impact on my Mount Marathon time, but it did,'' Parisi said in a telephone interview. "It did shock me that it cut my Mount Marathon time so much.''
Parisi last year likely would have cracked the one-hour barrier, but said she ran the perilous downhill carefully -- 56 seconds slower than in 2010 -- because she had her impending wedding on her mind.
"I had a great uphill, but a slower downhill,'' she said. "The factor was I was getting married in the fall and I wanted to have all my teeth.''
Parisi and her husband Andrew recently relocated to Seattle from Denver, and she'll be back to race Mount Marathon's 85th edition on Wednesday.
Parisi is a planning manager for Nordstrom. She said she often trains in her hilly neighborhood of Magnolia, which includes Discovery Park and its off-road trails. Racing keeps her active and engages her competitiveness.
"It's fun to have that kind of challenge,'' she said. "I really like running because it's about pushing yourself.''
Back when she was still Arianne Massengale, she was introduced to Mount Marathon by East High teammate Leah Besh in 2001, when they ran the junior race halfway up the mountain and back. Besh finished second -- she won junior titles in 2002 and 2003 -- and Arianne finished sixth.
"Leah dragged me up the mountain to halfway,'' Parisi said. "And then, like a shot, she was gone.''
These days, it's Parisi who is blazing the mountain. She's understandably proud of her improvement on Mount Marathon, where top finishers traditionally are assigned the bib number that reflects their finishing place from the previous year. That's why Parisi didn't take any chances this year and registered under her maiden name.
"I was so excited to get that No. 6,'' she said.
When Eric Strabel and Kikkan Randall last year generated their first Mount Marathon wins as adults -- Randall won three junior titles and Strabel won one -- it marked just the third time in the last 27 races that a first-time men's champion and first-time women's champion were crowned in the same year.
Before 2011, the last time there was both a first-time men's and women's champion came in 2004, when Cedar Bourgeois won the first of her seven consecutive titles and Toby Schwoerer clocked the second-fastest time in race history (43:39).
For the last time it happened before Bourgeois and Schwoerer, you have to go all the way back to 1984, when Sam Young won the first of his three consecutive men's titles (he tied with Bill Spencer in 1986) and women's race record-holder Nancy Pease (50:30 in 1990) won the first of her six crowns.
Both Strabel and Randall won last year in part because they blasted to the fastest downhill times of the day in their races.
Strabel needed just 10:25 to get from the top of the mountain to the finish line downtown. That was 56 seconds faster than anyone in the field and it allowed him to pass Mark Iverson and Brent Knight. It was also the fastest downhill time since Trond Flagstad blistered the descent in 10:18 in 2008 to win the first of his two titles.
In the last four years, Strabel and Flagstad have each twice posted the fastest downhill.
Randall last year zipped down the downhill in 12:56, 20 seconds faster than runner-up Holly Brooks, who led by one second at the top of the mountain. But it's worth noting that Brooks' downhill of 13:16 was 1:32 faster than the next-fastest descent in the field.
Granted, descent times vary from year to year based on conditions on the mountain and weather. Still, in 2010, Bourgeois blazed the downhill in 11:48 for her come-from-behind win over Brooks, who she beat by just 10 seconds. Only 10 men that year descended the mountain faster than Bourgeois.
Laura Brosius of Fairbanks, back for her second race at Mount Marathon, made a cracking debut on the mountain in 2010.
Brosius, 27, finished fourth that year, behind winner Bourgeois, runner-up Brooks and third-place finisher Randall.
But what was most impressive about Brosius' 2010 performance is that her time of 55:18 gave her the fastest women's debut in Mount Marathon history, according to research by 2009 men's champion Matias Saari, the former Fairbanks Daily News-Miner sportswriter.
Brooks' 2008 debut of 55:29 ranks second all-time among first-time women's participants and Pease's 56:04 in 1983 ranks third, according to Saari.
Meanwhile, Mark Iverson's third-place debut in 45:18 last year was the fastest men's debut since Schwoerer's lickety-split 43:39 in 2004. Iverson, 30, is entered in Wednesday's race.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
By DOYLE WOODY
Anchorage Daily News