Randall drops out of Mt. Marathon; Shine hopes to buy way in

Beth Bragg
Loren Holmes

Kikkan Randall is skipping this week's Mount Marathon because of the potential cost.

Jim Shine is itching to do it, perhaps no matter the cost.

Both had been expected to be top contenders Friday in Alaska's oldest and most famous footrace, a fraught-with-danger scramble up and down the 3,022-foot peak in Seward.

Randall, a four-time Olympic skier who won the 2011 race with the ninth fastest women's time in history, took herself out of contention.

"No Mount Marathon for me again this year," she said by email. "I am finally getting my achilles back to full strength and don't want to risk getting injured again."

The risk that concerns Shine is the blow his pocketbook might take. A first-year mountain runner who exploded onto the scene with a win at Bird Ridge and runnerup showing at Government Peak, Shine must outbid the competition at Thursday's pre-race auction if he hopes to get into the race.

Shine said he'll head to Seward the day before the race so he can bid on one of 10 men's bibs up for grabs. Mount Marathon caps participation at 350 men and 350 women and the field fills up fast when entries open in March, but organizers offer a last-chance avenue into the race with the auction, where prices are way higher than the usual $65 entry fee.

"No matter what happens, it'll be the most expensive race I've ever run," said Shine, who hopes his trip to Seward doesn't prove futile. "I don't know what to expect. I heard last year they (cost) between $300 and $900, and I've heard in the past they've gone as high as $2,000-plus. I'm kind of holding my breath and hoping for low end."

Shine, 37, hasn't decided how much he's willing to spend. But he is eager to get in. He's having a spectacular season and is on everybody's list of men's favorites.

"The race really is the Super Bowl of running in Alaska and it's such an exciting event it would be hard not to want to participation regardless of what the price is," he said.

Shine, who works as the special assistant to the Department of Natural Resources commissioner in Anchorage, said friends have suggested a variety of ways to raise money in advance of the auction, but he doesn't want to accept donations just so he can enter a race.

"I've had lot of people suggest hosting a barbecue fundraiser, and some have suggested they want to donate to help," he said. "One person actually gave me money. A fellow mountain runner. He hid it in the house and left before I found it."

Shine didn't enter Mount Marathon when entries opened in January because he wasn't a mountain runner then. A 1995 graduate of Juneau-Douglas High School, he competed in track and cross country at Western State College and is one of a handful of Alaskans to run 10,000 meters in less than 29 minutes. But he stopped running after college because of persistent injuries.

"I hadn't been running for a little over a decade, 12 years or so," he said. "I decided to start running again to get in shape. As I got in a little better shape I started thinking about competing again."

Shine's first race since his return to running was last year's Crow Pass Crossing. He discovered he liked trail running more than road racing, and he discovered that mountain running is a warm, welcoming community.

"Everybody is very open and friendly," he said. "Everybody has offered to show me the course at Bird Ridge and Mount Marathon. They're fiercely competitive but there's a real camaraderie and genuine level of support that's unique to the mountain running community."

At Government Peak, Shine placed second to Eric Strabel, who last year broke the long-standing, much-respected Mount Marathon record held by Bill Spencer since 1981. At Bird Ridge, he triumphed by beating a strong field that included Strabel and 2012 Mount Marathon champion Matt Novakovich.

Shine's victory at Bird Ridge will earn him an invitation to next year's Mount Marathon, but not this year's. Bird Ridge is part of the Grand Prix Series, and winning a Grand Prix race means an automatic invitation to the next year's Mount Marathon.

Shine said he wrote to the Mount Marathon race committee after Bird Ridge and request an invitation to this year's race based on his results so far this summer. The committee extends a limited number of special invitations each year, including to winners of the previous year's Grand Prix races, but it voted unanimously to deny Shine's request. Shine said he expected to be denied but figured it was worth asking anyway. So now it comes down to the Thursday night auction.

Randall, 31, is on the entry list, but her race bib will go unused. She is the country's premier nordic ski racer and her health is her meal ticket, so she has more reason than most to consider the potential perils of the race.

Randall said the U.S. Ski Team will hold a women's training camp at Eagle Glacier next week and she wants to be rested and healthy for that. She'll stay in Anchorage for the holiday.

"Looking forward to hearing about the battle with the other girls this year," she said. "Should be a good race."

Reach Beth Bragg at bbragg@adn.com or 257-4335.