After Christy Marvin crammed 11 races into her scintillating 2016 season — Mount Marathon, the marathon-length Crow Pass Crossing and the Equinox Marathon were among her 10 conquests — she dialed down her ambitions significantly this summer.
Marvin's loaded schedule last year cut into family time, and she decided this spring, summer and fall would include more family fun — camping, backpacking, hunting, volunteering — with her husband, Ben, and their three young boys.
"The boys are getting older and I want them to have more opportunities to be in God's great creation," Marvin said recently.
As she spoke from her home in Palmer, the boys chased each other around the house with foam swords.
Their mom's likely got a fight on her hands on the Fourth of July, when she defends her Mount Marathon title against a stellar field in Seward and tries to become the first woman to win consecutive titles since Seward's Cedar Bourgeois racked seven straight wins, 2004-2010.
Tuesday's 90th edition of the march up Mount Marathon's relentless slope and the perilous plunge down it will include Soldotna's Allie Ostrander, the six-time junior champion who in her women's debut in 2015 merely clocked the second-fastest time in race history. Also in the field, for the first time, are three-time U.S. Mountain Running champion Morgan Arritola, and a wild card in Russian Varvara Shikanova.
"I know I'll have stiff competition," Marvin said. "But you never know how your body is going to perform on race day, and you never know how other people are going to perform."
Notables who will be absent Tuesday include two-time champion Holly Brooks and one-time champion Kikkan Randall. Brooks, a former Olympic nordic skier, is expecting twins — she'll work the women's race for KTVA Channel 11's live broadcast — and Randall, a four-time Olympic nordic skier, is at a U.S. Ski Team women's training camp in Washington state.
Also, Marine Dusser, the former UAA nordic skier and winner at the uphill-only Government Peak race who intended to make her Mount Marathon debut, is sidelined with an ankle injury.
Marvin, 36, last year clocked a personal-record 51 minutes, 2 seconds, the fifth-fastest in race history, to slash 1:49 off her previous best and trounce the field by more than two minutes.
Marvin said her reduced race schedule — just a few — has allowed her more training time and she feels fit. Still, with all the possible variables at Mount Marathon — weather conditions, uneven terrain and the danger of a harrowing descent — she knows handicapping the race isn't akin to predicting a track or road race.
"It's really one of those races where anything can happen," Marvin said. "Sometimes, the fittest and fastest runner isn't the one who wins on race day."
Ostrander, 20, missed last year's race because she was busy finishing eighth in the 5,000 meters at the U.S. Track and Field Olympic Trials. Her 2015 debut in the women's race at Mount Marathon astonished — she finished runner-up in 50:28 to eclipse six-time champion Nancy's Pease's 25-year-old record (50:30 in 1990). Sweden's Emelie Forsberg delivered a record 47:48 ahead of Ostrander.
Ostrander was so dominating in the junior race, which goes halfway up the mountain and back down into town, that she beat everyone in the mixed-gender field in her last race in the 17-and-under division in 2014.
She said her senior debut proved eye-opening.
"It was a wake-up call," Ostrander said. "I always thought the junior race was so hard, but after doing the adult race for the first time I realized (the junior race) could have been so much harder.
"I was surprised to beat Nancy Pease's time, but after watching Emelie, my time seemed less impressive. It was humbling, for sure."
Ostrander, who attends Boise State, last month as a red-shirt freshman won the NCAA Division I steeplechase crown and about 90 minutes later finished fourth in the 5,000 meters. She said she's trained on Mount Marathon a few times since returning home for the summer and has been soaking up advice on her downhill running from Conor Deal, her sister Taylor's boyfriend. Deal last year at Mount Marathon clocked the 26th-fast men's downhill and passed 22 runners in the second half of the race.
Marvin expects Ostrander to be particularly strong on the uphill. Ostrander's uphill time of 37:08 in 2015 is the second-fastest since reliable record-keeping began in 2006. Marvin's best time to the top is last year's 38:05, third-fastest since 2006. Ostrander in 2015 covered the downhill in 13:20 and Marvin's best downhill is 12:04 in 2014 when she finished second overall to Brooks by just two seconds.
"I think it's going to be interesting how it plays out," Ostrander said. "I'm definitely going to go out and go hard, and see what happens."