SEWARD -- One of Alaska's most venerated sports records took a tumble on a chilly Thursday afternoon when former University of Alaska skier Eric Strabel shattered a 32-year-old record to win the Mount Marathon race here.
Using a late burst of speed, Strabel finished in 42 minutes, 55 seconds for his second championship, toppling the 1981 record of Olympic skier Bill Spencer. Spencer's 43:21 time was rarely challenged for more than three decades.
Then in one memorable afternoon, two men broke it -- with runner-up Rickey Gates, the first racer to the turnaround point, finishing in 43:05.
Strabel also won the 2011 race in 44:40. He is currently a cross-country skiing coach at Alaska Pacific University.
Earlier in the day, rookie Christy Marvin demolished the women’s field that was missing Olympians who sometimes dominate.
Alone on the paved streets approaching the finish line, Marvin clocked a time of 53 minutes, 21 seconds. Alison Barnwell was second in 55:12, with Ann Spencer finishing third in 56:18.
Marvin emerged from the woods alone and finished strong, winning by nearly two minutes. Marvin, 32, is no mountain running novice, however. She’s won the Matanuska Peak Challenge and captured the uphill-only Robert Spurr Memorial Hill Climb up Bird Ridge a couple of weeks ago, setting her up as a Mount Marathon favorite.
Due to concerns about runners’ safety, the steep-and-slippery Waterfall section of the race course was closed. That meant descending runners were hidden in the brush until they popped out at the bottom of the 3,022-foot route up the mountain and headed to the finish line on city streets.
By then, she had conquered Mount Marathon on a day that ping-ponged between rain and clearing. As she descended and expanded the gap between her and a chase group, Marvin passed a conga line of women still working their way uphill.
While the temperature on Resurrection Bay was in the low 50s Thursday, the top of Mount Marathon was chillier. "That's the coldest I've ever been," said 69-year-old Sandy Johnson of Anchorage after finishing. Race officials handed out blankets at the top to racers who wanted to warm up before starting the descent.
With Olympic cross-country skiers Kikkan Randall and Holly Brooks of Anchorage both sitting out this year’s race, the field was wide open. Brooks won last year in 51:53 and Randall took the 2011 race.
In the juniors race, Lyon Kopsack, 17, of Palmer, moved up from second place last year to first, winning in 27 minutes, 3 seconds – nearly a minute faster than his time 12 months ago. Michael Marshall and Paul Butera were more than three minutes behind. Kopsack can lean on his father Lance and uncle Braun for advice. Both are top-10 finishers in the race and have run Mount Marathon more than 30 times.
And Ali Ostrander, 16, of Soldotna, nailed down her fifth consecutive Mount Marathon junior girls title with a 31:40 clocking, cutting her 2012 record for the 15-17 age group by 70 seconds. Ostrander holds the junior girls record of 30:32, set as a 14-year-old. Ostrander led second-place finisher Alyson Kopsack, Lyon’s sister, by some six minutes.
Contact Mike Campbell at mike(at)alaskadispatch.com