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It's race day on Mt. Marathon in Seward: Here are top contenders -- and possible spoilers

Beth Bragg

THE FAVORITES

Men

Eric Strabel, 32

The defending men's champion, Strabel turned in a jaw-dropping record run last year. His time of 42:55 included a 10-minute descent, which helped him eclipse Bill Spencer's long-standing record of 43:21 set in 1981. He owns two Mount Marathon victories (2011, 2013) and claimed wins earlier this summer in the Turnagain Arm Trail Run, Government Peak Climb and the Knoya Ridge Run. "If Strabel's first to the top, I don't see anyone hanging with him on the downhill," 2009 champion Matias Saari said.

Rickey Gates, 33

The San Francisco runner also broke Spencer's record last year, finishing second in 43:04 despite dislocating his shoulder when he fell at the bottom of the mountain after his descent. Gates has raced on all seven continents, owns records on a couple of them and is one of the country's premier mountain runners. He was the first man to the top of the mountain last year.

Matt Novakovich, 40

Novakovich is coming off a personal-best performance at Bird Ridge, where he placed second. A superb climber, he won the 2012 race in 44:07 but slipped to 11th place last year. "He's fitter than ever this year. He could be as fast as anyone to the top," Strabel said.

Women

Christy Marvin, 33

The defending women's champion, Marvin hasn't lost a mountain race since she started running them last summer. A former high school champion at Glennallen, she is known for her fiery competitiveness. "People make fun of my game face but I'm pretty much in a zone when I'm running," Marvin said.

Holly Brooks, 32

"This race has been pretty instrumental in my life," said Brooks, a two-time Olympic skier and 2012 Mount Marathon champ. She got engaged two days before the 2008 race and got married two weeks after the 2009 race, the year when severe dehydration sent her straight from the bottom of the mountain to the hospital, where in a moment of clarity she decided to become an Olympian. She owns the seventh- and eighth-fastest times in race history (51:53 in 2012, 51:58 in 2010)

Najeeby Quinn, 34

Quinn is a Mount Marathon rookie but a proven commodity in mountain running. She set the record in the Turnagain Arm Trail Run earlier this summer, placed second to Marvin in three other races and is healthier than she has been in years. "For me, just entering this race and getting to this starting line with my history of injuries is exciting," she said. "I'm looking forward to the gut section and the road and the beers afterwards."

THE SPOILERS

Men

Wylie Mangelsdorf, 22

The Palmer runner was part of a wickedly fast men's race last year, finishing third in 44:09, the seventh fastest time in history. "He sprained his ankle at Bird Ridge so he has not shown what his potential is, but there's no reason to think it's less than last year," Strabel said.

Matias Saari, 43

Saari won the 2009 race in 48:00 and set a PR last year by finishing fourth in 44:53. "Things would have to go right for me to win the thing," said Saari, who said his goal is to continue his streak of top-five finishes.

Jim Shine, 37

Provided he secures a race bib at Thursday night's auction, Shine is considered a favorite based on superb results this summer, his first as a mountain runner. He beat Strabel and Novakovich at the all-uphill Bird Ridge and was second at Government Peak. "Mount Marathon is really a veteran's race, and one of my big goals is, if I'm successful getting into the race, is to learn the mountain," Shine said.

Women

Denali Foldager, 24

Foldager is catching on to this mountain running thing, which is a funny thing to say about a person who all but grew up on Mount Marathon, the daughter of race regulars Flip and Patti Foldager of Seward. But until recently she did most of her running on pavement -- she was an all-conference runner at Cal State-Stanislaus. Now that she is done with college -- and now that she is engaged to Strabel -- Foldager has become a talented mountain runner. "She has really improved her downhill, and she's a maniac," Brooks said. "She literally grew up on the mountain. Her family is literally the race committee."

Allison Barnwell, 22

For the last two years, Barnwell has been the top finisher from Seward in the women's race, which is a very big for the town that hosts Alaska's biggest Fourth of July party. She was fourth last year and third in 2012, when she ran a personal-best time of 55:08.

Ann Spencer, 19

Spencer made a fabulous senior-division debut last year by placing third in 56:18, a time that allowed for her to exchange high-fives with spectators as she ran down Fourth Avenue to the finish line. Her bloodlines are impressive -- dad Bill is an Alaska mountain running legend whose records at Mount Marathon and Crow Pass stood for years and mom Wendy is former member of the U.S. Ski Team.

THE WILD CARDS

Lyon Kopsack

Kopsack, 18, is making his senior-division debut after winning last year's junior race. Born to conquer mountains -- dad Lance and uncle Braun are well-regarded, accomplished mountain runners -- Kopsack is particularly tough going downhill. "I hope I'm not with Lyon at the top of the mountain," Strabel said. "He's a beast on the downhill."

Tasha Folsom

Folsom has made a name for herself in Sitka as one of the top runners in the seven-mile Alpine Adventure Run, a grueling uphill race. She placed 16th last month at Bird Ridge, the first time many of competitors have raced against her. "She's a darkhorse," Quinn said. "She did Bird Ridge as a training thing."

THE KIDS

Allie Ostrander

Ostrander, who just finished her junior year of high school in Kenai, owns every junior-division age-group record for girls, with her best time coming in 2011 -- a girls course-record 30:32 in the race that goes halfway up the mountain and back. One of the best high school runners Alaska has ever seen, Ostrander broke long-standing records in the 3,200 meters and 1,600 meters at the state track meet earlier this year.

Michael Marshall

Marshall set the 12-14 age-group record in 2010 but he has yet to win the overall title, placing second last year and in the top five several times. With Miles Knotek and Lyon Kopsack having graduated to the senior ranks, this could be Marshall's time to triumph in the race for runners 17 and younger.

 


By BETH BRAGG
bbragg@adn.com
Contact Beth Bragg at bbragg@adn.com or on