Thomas slogs to win in Willow marathon

It was 60 degrees warmer than a year earlier, but the going was by no means easy Saturday in the second annual Willow Winter Solstice Marathon.

Running in fresh and falling snow, Anchorage’s Laron Thomas finished six minutes ahead of Anchorage’s Matias Saari, slogging to victory in 4 hours, 36 minutes, 6 seconds. Shawn McTaggart topped the women in 5:37:31.

Nearly 70 racers slogged 26.2 miles over lakes and swamps on snowmachine tracks that were coated with several inches of soft snow.

A year ago, about 30 runners braved minus-30 temperatures and crusty trails. This year, temperatures approached 30 degrees above and runners finished in times much slower than in the previous year. Thomas’s time was nearly a half-hour slower than the winning time in 2012.

In the half-marathon, Faris Hanhaz of Anchorage finished in 2:20:10, more than 13 minutes ahead second-place finisher Alex Heggen of Anchorage — but 22 minutes slower than last year’s winning time. Julie Dunston paced the women in 2:46:24.

And in the five-kilometer race, Anchorage’s Peter Christenson (29:05) edged Anchorage’a Justin Lucas (30:02) for the men’s title and Jennifer Floch took the women’s in 33:34.