SEWARD — Myriad difficulties conspired against Christy Marvin when she made her debut on Mount Marathon, the 3,022-foot slab of pain that doubles as the torture rack of Alaska’s most prestigious mountain run.
She battled bronchitis in the two weeks approaching the annual Fourth of July race up and down agony-inducing slopes that average 38 degrees. And none of her training forays on the mountain were in the wet, slippery conditions that prevailed in the 86th running of the storied competition.
Just before the race, Marvin discovered that many of the knobbed treads on one of her trail shoes were hanging loosely, attached by only thin slivers of rubber. Her husband, Ben, made a quick trip to the store for Super Glue – alas, the mountain made quick work of the repair job.
Then, going up Mount Marathon in cool temperatures and a chilling wind, the left side of Marvin’s body momentarily went numb. Also, her right groin acted as if it might become a problem.
Yet early Thursday afternoon, the 32-year-old mother of three boys laughed it all off — mirth comes easier to a champion.
Marvin won the women’s title, leading wire-to-wire and clocking 53 minutes, 20 seconds to become the first rookie to triumph in a Mount Marathon debut since Toby Schwoerer won the men’s race in 2004.
“If having kids and a family teaches you anything, it’s to roll with the punches and don’t let little things bother you,’’ Marvin said as she walked up Fifth Avenue afterward to stave off potential cramping.
After winning three mountain races leading up to Mount Marathon — many racers call it the Super Bowl of Alaska mountain running, in part because thousands of spectators are drawn to it — Marvin entered as the favorite. That status was enhanced when Olympic skiers Holly Brooks and Kikkan Randall, the past two race champions, skipped the potentially dangerous race, and its harrowing downhill, because injury would compromise their training for the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia.
From the outset Thursday, Marvin, the former Glennallen high school running star who now calls Palmer home, conquered the field, and the mountain that overlooks Resurrection Bay.
“She was just powering up that thing,’’ marveled runner-up Allison Barnwell.
Barnwell, 21, of Seward, finished second in 55:11, just three seconds off her personal best and, given conditions, a sturdier performance than her 55:08 that earned her fourth place last year.
Marvin’s wasn’t the only marvelous debut. Anchorage’s Ann Spencer, 18 and a former junior racer making her first appearance in the senior field, delivered a remarkable race that earned her third place in 56:18. As Spencer ran down Fourth Avenue to the finish line, she was all smiles. She veered right to trade high-fives with spectators lined three- and four-deep behind barriers, then veered to her left to high-five fans located on that side of the street, and hardly looked worse for wear after her journey of about 3.5 miles.
“I was so excited,’’ Spencer said. “It gave me more energy.’’
Lauren Fritz, 25, of Eagle River, who was coming off a runner-up finish last year but plagued by a calf injury this season, earned fourth place in 57:57 and rounded out the four women who finished in less than one hour.
Also, Ellyn Brown of Anchorage, 60 and a former 50-59 age-group record holder, seized a new standard. Her 1:08:55 was good enough for 33rd place and obliterated Elaine Nelson’s previous 60-69 age-group record (1:19:36) by more than 10 minutes.
Given the challenges that confronted Marvin, she said she prayed before the race and, during it, several times thought of Philippians 3:13 — forgetting the past and looking forward. Her mantra came in handy when she took a couple of incorrect routes on the descent and had to quickly backtrack.
In a race that rewards course knowledge and experience, having a Mount Marathon under her belt should serve Marvin well in the future, particularly when Randall and Brooks are back in the fold. As it was, Marvin’s 53:20 marked the 17th-fastest time in women’s race history.
“I’ve got a year of experience,’’ Marvin said. “I’ll learn from it, and when the big dogs come back, I’ll be ready. I’m excited for future years, to knock some time off and run a fast one.’’
Barnwell, the girls junior champion in 2008 whose runner-up finish Thursday marked her best senior placing, said she was so cold in the early going on the mountain she half-considered asking a spectator for a coat.
“It was so cold up there, it really was,’’ Barnwell said. “I started thinking, ‘If I’m this cold, maybe I should go faster.’
“I’m very happy with (55:11). I would have been happy with anything under an hour in these conditions.’’
Fritz, a nordic skier, said the cold didn’t really bother her so much as making sure she was careful with the calf injury she has been negotiating.
“When I go really hard, it gets really tight, so it’s hard to get a good push-off,’’ Fritz said.
As for Ann Spencer, nothing seemed to bother her Thursday. She blew away her modest goals — a top 15 finish and a time under 1:05.
If Spencer’s surname sounds familiar, she comes from strong athletic stock. Her father, Bill, is a former Olympic nordic skier and a Mount Marathon legend — he won the men’s race a record eight times, his men’s 1981 course record (43:21) stood until Eric Strabel shattered it Thursday and his junior record (24:30) dates back 40 years to 1973. Ann’s mother, Wendy, is a former member of the U.S. Ski Team.
“Ann killed it — she’s a Spencer,’’ Fritz said.
Ann Spencer said she found herself over-trained in her skiing workouts and backed off considerably in the last couple weeks. That left her refreshed Thursday, when she realized she was doing well because she stuck with the 50-59 age-group record-holder and eventual seventh-place finisher on the climb.
“I knew I was doing decent because I was with Sheryl Loan, and she’s bad-ass,’’ Spencer said.
Like Marvin and Barnwell, Spencer was ecstatic over her result.
“I’m thrilled,’’ she said.
Find Doyle Woody’s blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Women's Mount Marathon race results
Anchorage Daily News / adn.com