Anchorage footraces have come in plenty of sizes, shapes and colors lately -- especially colors -- and this weekend brings something both old and new.
The Mayor's Marathon and Half-Marathon, the city's oldest and biggest marathon, will celebrate its 40th year Saturday with a new finish line.
All four races -- the marathon, the half-marathon, the four-miler and the two-mile Youth Cup -- will end at the west end of the Delaney Park Strip.
The move was necessitated by construction happening around West High, the traditional finish line, but depending on how this weekend goes, the change may be permanent, race director Michael Friess said.
"I hope the park strip makes it a little better -- it's a little closer to downtown," he said. "We'll see how it runs this year, see how the overall feedback is.
"High school to high school is one thing, but high school to one of the main iconic venues of the city, something seems right about that."
The marathon starts at 8 a.m. at Bartlett. The rest of the races begin at 9 a.m. at the park strip.
With a field of 4,000 expected, the Mayor's will mark the third straight Saturday that a huge race takes over a portion of the city's streets or trails.
Two weeks ago, a field of about 8,000 girls and women raised money for breast cancer charities in the Alaska Run for Women; last week, a swarming crowd of 15,000 painted the town yellow, pink, orange and blue in the Color Run.
The Run for Women is a race and a fundraiser. While it has a definite competitive element, many are drawn to it because it's for a good cause -- more than half of those who participated chose to do the untimed events rather than the competitive, timed race.
The Color Run is all about the fun -- there was no clock at all, and runners went off in waves based not by their per-mile times but their arrival times at Sullivan Arena, where the event started and ended.
The Mayor's Marathon is mostly about serious running -- so much so that there is prize money, a rarity in Alaska races.
The men's and women's marathon winners will receive $1,000, with $500 awarded to second place and $250 for third place. In the half-marathon, first place will net $300, second gets $200 and third gets $100.
"When you start to put a little money in there it starts to get more inviting," Friess said. "I hope to get to the point with some sponsorships and funding to maybe make it five grand for the (marathon) win. I think that's what the race is deserving. With its tradition and heritage, it should be at that level."
The Mayor's is also offering prize money for course records. Breaking the marathon record is worth $5,000; the half-marathon mark is worth $1,000. If that sounds like easy money, check the record book first.
"Those records are pretty stiff," Friess said.
They include Chris Clark's 2:38:19 in the women's marathon, Michael Wisniewski's 2:22:29 in the men's marathon, Kristi (Klinnert) Waythomas' 1:18:41 in the women's half-marathon and Marko Cheseto's 1:07:57 in the men's half-marathon.
This year's course changes will be particularly noticeable for half-marathoners. Around the Mile 6 of the 13.1-mile race, after the compost facility near Point Woronzof, runners will veer into the woods to reach the coastal trail.
The cut-through will be short but wild, Friess said.
"It's gonna be a little Tuesday Night Races Series, a little Alaska hardy," he said. "It's a piece of airport property we got permission to cut through on, about a half-mile or three-quarters of a mile cutting through the woods.
"There's some uneven terrain, one steep downhill and you're moving around a bog. It's not like it's ankle-deep, but it brings a little Alaska into the event. It's not just, 'let's run on pavement the whole way.' ''
Half-marathoners will make up about half the field, with 1,899 registered prior to the final in-person registration opportunities Thursday and Friday.
Nearly 1,000 are entered in the marathon.
About 75 percent of the total entrants are from Alaska, Friess said. The rest are from Outside, including about 100 who are part of Team in Training, a nationwide program that raises money for leukemia.
Back in 2001, when UAA took over management of the Mayor's Marathon, the purple-clad Team in Training runners numbered 2,600.
"One of the things I like about what we've been doing with the event is it's not just a Team in Training-dominated event," Friess said. "It used to be the event was just dominated by that. Now their number is right around 100 and the race has been maintaining at about 4,000 (entries). Each year the Team in Training numbers go down and each year the organic growth goes up."
Reach Beth Bragg at email@example.com or 257-4335.
By BETH BRAGG