Sheryl Loan was stationed halfway up 3,022-foot Mount Marathon with her teenage daughter, Kinsey, last Fourth of July to watch the women's race up and down the seriously steep pitch when they fell into conversation with another spectator.
The man said he was there to cheer his wife, who was racing. Asked if he was entered in the men's race later that day, the man said no. He told the Loans he had applied for entry through the race lottery for seven years, but no luck.
And that prompted Sheryl Loan, the eight-time Tour of Anchorage cycling champion, to reconsider whether it was smart to keep putting off a race that intrigued her.
"I thought, 'Oh, my gosh, if I don't get in for that long...' '' recalled Loan, 53. "I did the math and thought, 'I'll be going up the hill in my walker.' ''
Loan had long been so serious about her cycling that she didn't want to flirt with injury on Mount Marathon, where runners descend an incline that averages 38 degrees and is rife with sketchy footing that can send leg-weary runners tumbling.
But that random conversation on the mountain last year changed Loan's thinking, and she's entered in Wednesday's 85th edition of the storied race.
"You can't get time back,'' she said.
Loan entered the lottery but was not selected. The Mount Marathon race committee granted her a special invitation after she applied for one based on her strong cycling. She got the idea to apply from Matt Novakovich, an elite cyclist who several years ago gained entry to Mount Marathon through a special invitation and has developed into a contender for the men's title.
Loan's performances in several mountain races this season indicate she could be among the top tier of racers.
Loan finished fourth among women in the uphill-only Kal's Knoya Ridge Run in May, then last month finished fifth at the uphill-only Government Peak and sixth at the uphill-only Robert Spurr Memorial Hill Climb on Bird Ridge.
At both Government Peak and Bird Ridge, Loan broke the 50-59 age-group records of Ellyn Brown, who is no slouch. Prior to this year, Loan's only previous mountain race came in 2010, when she finished third at the uphill-only Alyeska Classic Mountain Run.
Those results bode well for Loan at Mount Marathon, though it's worth noting that will be her first mountain event that requires her to race both up and down the mountain.
"I'm hoping to go under an hour and be in the top 10,'' Loan said. "The big wild card for me is the downhill.''
Five women finished the 2011 Mount Marathon in less than one hour and four others finished in less than 1:01:00.
Loan got some pointers recently from Novakovich and his wife, Tiffanie, who finished 19th last year. Loan's trip to the top of the mountain with Tiffanie marked the first time she has been to the summit.
Loan, who continues to be an elite cyclist, said mountain racing has introduced her to another segment of the athletic community, one that is generous to newcomers.
"It's been really fun,'' she said. "The mountain-running community is really quite awesome.''
Now, it's time for Loan to see what she can do on a race both up and down a mountain.
"I'll go as hard as I can and see what happens,'' she said.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
By DOYLE WOODY
Anchorage Daily News