PALMER -- After nearly knocking off Nancy Pease's long-standing women's record in the Crow Pass Crossing backcountry marathon a week ago, Christy Marvin's legs didn't feel particularly springy Saturday morning.
Yet, the superior fitness Marvin honed in the last year nonetheless delivered her a record performance in the annual Matanuska Peak Challenge, a 14-mile mountain race that requires runners to ascend about 9,000 feet and descend an equal amount.
Marvin, 33, clocked 3 hours, 31 minutes, 45 seconds, to shave 21 seconds off her 2013 race standard (3:32:06) and win Mat Peak for the third consecutive year. She joins Rachel James as a three-time women's champion in the race that has been run since 1989.
Marvin finished third overall.
John Collins, 37, won the men's race in a personal-best 3:24:47, slashing 2:34 off his previous fastest time.
The Mat Peak Challenge is daunting, and not just because of its length, extreme elevation changes and technical terrain. After runners summit Lazy Mountain at more than 3,700 feet elevation, they race down the backside and then up Matanuska Peak at 6,119 feet before retracing their path back to the start-finish line. Racers can subject themselves to heat exhaustion on a blistering day and flirt with hypothermia and on a rainy, windy day atop Mat Peak.
Saturday's sunny conditions were demanding, but some breezes in exposed areas of the course furnished most racers a respite. The heat wasn't as severe as in 2002, when women's champion Nina Kemppel, a four-time Olympic nordic skier, conducted her postrace interview in the fetal position and runner-up Nora Tobin said, "I was trying to figure out what was harder, this or childbirth?''
Marvin, who came 24 seconds shy of Pease's 1990 record (3:26:44) in her Crow Pass debut last week, said runner-up Briana Sullivan pushed her hard during the initial climb up Lazy Mountain.
"I thought, 'This could be a really long day, this could be bad,' " Marvin said.
But Marvin's strength and speed descending the back side of Lazy Mountain earned her a gap, and she held off Sullivan, 30, who clocked 3:42:37. Sullivan posted the fourth-fastest personal record in women's race history.
"I think I'm just a little bit fitter than last year,'' Marvin said. "I never really pushed it like last week (at Crow Pass) and here last year.
"Crow Pass probably cost me five or six minutes today. My legs didn't have it in them to push as hard as I usually would.''
Collins, who underwent surgery on his right knee one year ago, trailed front-runner Evan Hone for more than half the race. He passed a faltering Hone, who said he went out hard from the beginning, as the pair climbed the back side of Lazy before making a final thigh-thumping decent on the front side of Lazy.
Collins said he paced himself smartly and was disciplined about staying hydrated and eating during the race. He called all that an early investment that generated dividends in the late stages of the race.
"I was trying to keep it on the edge of a total breakdown,'' Collins said. "If you do enough (races), you learn that sweet spot where you're dialed in. In a long race, you've got to look at the big picture and roll with it.''
Hone, 36, who finished eighth at Crow Pass last week, is back visiting his home state. He grew up in Eagle River and went to Bartlett High, and moved to the Los Angeles area four years ago. Since Crow Pass, Hone said, he has run two or three hours a day.
"I'm in Alaska, so I'm not going to sit on the couch,'' Hone said.
All that effort in the last week caught up to him, Hone said. He fell "probably eight times'' and finished with various scrapes in 3:26:37, still less than two minutes behind Collins.
"I blew up spectacularly today,'' Hone said with a laugh.
Though he enjoyed a personal-best time in the race, Collins was mindful his winning time was one of the slowest in race history. Previous winners include stalwarts like Collins' friend Barney Griffith, race record-holder Eric Strabel, Harlow Robinson, Matias Saari, and the Kopsack brothers, Lance and Braun, who founded the race and remain race directors.
"I respect the times before me,'' Collins said. "There are a lot of talented guys who weren't here today.''
26th annual Matanuska Peak Challenge
Women's results – 1) Christy Marvin 3:31:45 (women's race record; previous record, Marvin, 3:32:06, 2013); 2) Briana Sullivan 3:42:37; 3) Krista Heeringe 4:25:23; 4) Trish Kopp 4:36:08; 5) Gyongyver Schilling 4:45:17; 6) Annie Connelly 4:48:07; 7) Jane Baldwin 4:49:53; 8) Ellyn Brown 4:56:48; 9) Shawn McTaggart 4:56:52; 10) Christine Bennett 4:58:52; 11) Shani Rinner 5:08:51; 12) Sadie Ulman 5:10:27; 13) Kim Riggs 5:13:24; 14) Tre-C Dumais 5:18:50; 15) Susan Casey 5:22:23; 16) Sheila Wilson 5:23:55; 17) Linda Rao 6:26:59.
Men's results – 1) John Collins 3:24:47; 2) Evan Hone 3:26:37; 3) Lance Kopsack 3:34:53; 4) Miles Knotek 3:37:57; 5) Brandyn Roth 3:39:54; 6) Michael Kelly 3:49:06; 7) Keegan Crow 3:56:56; 8) Joe Nyholm 4:05:40; 9) Nick Treinen 4:08:21; 10) Dane Ketner 4:11:12; 11) Steve Lee 4:16:22; 12) Mike Monterusso 4:18:18; 13) Todd Borke 4:18:22; 14) Mark Brady 4:20:09; 15) Steve Gilles 4:24:17; 16) Dorian Gross 4:28:28; 17) John Nayler 4:30:33; 18) Sean Ulman 4:35:09; 19) Dan Virgin 4:39:29; 20) Joseph Hunner 4:40:20; 21) Michael Westbrook 4:47:40; 22) Christopher Kirk 5:02:07; 23) Will Newberry 5:07:19; 24) Brandon Rinner 5:08:51; 25) John Clark 5:09:04; 26) Jonathan Kincaid 5:12:56; 27) Marcus Quinn 5:14:36; 28) Jessie Holmes 5:21:23; 29) Sean Casey 5:22:23; 30) Alex Youngmun 5:39:52; 31) Andy Rampp 5:41:07; 32) Wes Hoskins 5:42:55; 33) David Retherford 5:45:05; 34) Dane Crowley 6:13:13; 35) Sean Meyer 6:14:46; 36) Ed Lasselle 6:47:02; 37) Evan R. Steinhauser 7:06:38.