Wickedly tough Valley races over the weekend tested, tortured runners

Alaska Dispatch News
STEPHEN NOWERS / Anchorage Daily News

Runners who like their racing steep, unpaved, unrelenting and unforgiving found a couple of Valley events right in their wheelhouse over the weekend.

The fourth annual Hatcher Pass Marathon tortured runners over the long haul and the inaugural Pioneer Ridge Climb dished out its considerable nastiness over a shorter haul.

Sam Tilly of Anchorage on Saturday topped a field of 40 solo racers and won the Hatcher Pass Marathon in record time, smashing his previous race standard, run in the inaugural 2011 event, by nearly 10 minutes. Tilly, 28, crossed in 2 hours, 51 minutes, 24 seconds.

Shawn McTaggart, who won the women’s event in 2012, conquered again. McTaggart, 37, of Palmer, clocked 4:09:21 – and promptly turned around the next day and worked out any leftover kinks by doing the grinding Pioneer Ridge Climb and finishing 56th among 71 runners.

The Hatcher Pass Marathon exceeds the usual rigors of a 26.2-miler. Not only is it slightly longer than the traditional marathon distance, but it requires runners to gain nearly 4,000 of elevation along the course. And the majority of the race – about 22 miles – is run on a road of dirt and gravel.

The Hatcher relay record fell too. Matias Saari, Jim McDonough and Allan Spangler finished in 2:45:41, lopping more than 15 minutes off the previous race record.

Among men, Brandyn Roth of Palmer finished second in the solo marathon in 3:31:12 and 2013 winner Shane Hargis of Eagle River took third in 3:32:00.

Terri Buck of Anchorage finished second among women in 4:13:22 and Michele Delange of Asheville, North Carolina, claimed third in 4:49:19.

That uphill-only Pioneer Ridge climb – the race finished on the ridge below the summit of Pioneer Peak -- punished runners with a 4.5-mile trek in which they gained 5,100 feet of elevation.

Brent Knight, always a strong racer at the annual Fourth of July race up and down 3,022-foot Mount Marathon in Seward, won the Pioneer Ridge Climb in 1:15:04, 2:56 ahead of age-group marvel Barney Griffith, 56, (1:17:50) and third-place finisher Jonathan Harvey (1:21:08), who edged 14-year-old Luke Jager (1:21:31).

Leslie Robbins won the women’s race, and finished 16th overall among 71 finishers, in 1:36:45. Jen Jolliff was runner-up (1:40:51) and Guerin Platte (1:46:49) finished third.

The Pioneer Ridge Climb billed itself as old-school – it wasn’t a fundraiser, finishers didn’t get T-shirts and timing was done manually. The entry fee was particularly of another time -- just $5.