Last-minute marathon a boon for Alaska runners during a summer with few footraces

In a summer when most of Alaska’s footraces were canceled because of COVID-19, 16 Alaskans qualified for the Boston Marathon last weekend in a race that was added to the running calendar because of COVID-19.

The Anchored Marathon was the brainchild of Ryan Cox and Julianne Dickerson, a pair of Anchorage runners who met the qualifying standards for the 2021 Boston Marathon before the pandemic began. They organized the race because they wanted to give other runners a chance to qualify.

The two came up with the idea after the annual Anchorage RunFest was canceled because of the novel coronavirus. The multi-race RunFest, which includes a certified Boston Marathon qualifier, is held in August but organizers pulled the plug back in April.

“We were on a run and I was getting really frustrated that RunFest got cancelled so early,” Cox said. “I knew of 15 or 20 people wanting to qualify for Boston, including some I was coaching. Having that opportunity taken away, it really hit me on a personal level.

“I said, ‘You know what? Let’s just do our own race.‘ ‘'

Dickerson was agreeable, and the two went to work to secure permits, insurance and course certification.

They set up a 26.2-mile course that started and ended at Goose Lake and was held mostly on the Chester Creek and Coastal trails, a deliberate move that limited traffic closures and the number of permits needed.

They scheduled their event — a marathon and a half-marathon — for Saturday, the same weekend the two-day RunFest would have started. Four weeks before the race date, they opened registration.

“Not much heads-up for a marathon at all,” Cox said.

That’s sort of what 34-year-old Samantha Simpson thought.

[The wind roars at Anchorage RunFest, and so do the women]

In the last year or two, she’s gotten fast enough to entertain thoughts of Boston and had hoped to qualify at a Labor Day marathon in Spokane. When she heard about the Anchored Marathon, she changed her plans and started tapering.

Now Simpson is making plans for Boston after running a huge personal-best that more than meets the qualifying standard for her age group.

“It was three weeks early for my training, but I thought, shoot, it’s right here in Anchorage. Let’s just give it a shot,” she said.

She said she was a bit nervous to accelerate her training plan, but she liked the idea of running on familiar trails.

The result was a personal-best time of 3 hours, 28 minutes, 23 seconds, which chopped 25 minutes off her previous best, a 3:53:38 recorded in 2017. She cut her per-mile pace by a full minute to easily meet the 2021 Boston standard of 3:35 for her age group.

Simpson credited her fast time to an 18-pound weight loss in the last 18 months, which in turn she credited to eating better. No strict diet, she said — just being mindful about nutrition. “I still drink beer and eat pizza,” she said.

Claiming wins in Saturday’s marathon were Corbyn Jahn and Grace Gannon, who both posted qualifying times for Boston. Jahn is veteran of America’s most famous race, but Gannon is a 21-year-old who had never run a marathon before.

The 16 qualifiers ranged in age from 61-year-old Scot Hines to 19-year-old Gabe Martin, another first-time marathoner.

Runners started in three waves to encourage social distancing on the trails. The marathon had 47 finishers and the half marathon had 33, small numbers by typical Anchorage standards -- last year’s RunFest boasted 246 marathoners and 632 half marathons -- but nothing about road racing has been typical during the summer of COVID-19.

“It was definitely great to see people and almost feel normal,” Cox said. “There were smiles all around. Even if they didn’t run as well as they wanted, you could definitely see the excitement.”

Simpson said she was excited to run a real race again, and thankful to the organizers who made it possible.

“I’m super grateful they put this together,” she said. “Everyone all over the place is missing live events.”

Anchored Marathon

Women’s marathon — 1. Grace Gannon, 3:12:12; 2. Mandy Vincent-Lang, 3:17:08; 3. Kendra Paskvan, 3:26:47; 4. Samantha Simpson, 3:28:23; 5. Ashlee Weller, 3:38:03; 6. Robyn Mertz, 3:43:33; 7. Shannon Perrins, 3:45:38; 8. Katie Conway, 3:48:03; 9. Lottie Barton, 3:53:36; 10. Viviana Mina, 4:04:16; 11. Petra Richards, 4:16:10; 12. Abbi Boucher, 4:29:09; 13. Laura Reynolds, 5:06:59; 14. Kirsten Rasmussen, 6:08:00.

Men’s marathon — 1. Corbyn Jahn, 2:43:34; 2. Derek Steele, 2:44:07; 3. Jacob Kirk, 2:44:26; 4. Gabe Martin, 2:48:56; 5. Danny Kane, 2:52:35; 6. Daniel Serventi, 2:53:15; 7. Wesley McQuillin, 2:58:20; 8. Tom Ritchie, 2:59:25; 9. James Miller, 3:06:10; 10. Kenny Regan, 3:06:56; 11. Jay Mullen, 3:07:25; 12. Samuel Thomas, 3:17:16; 13. Pyper Dixon, 3:23:39; 14. Scot Hines, 3:26:10; 15. Connor Priest, 3:26:21; 16. David Barron, 3:31:46; 17. Kevin Rosenkranz, 3:36:37; 18. Daniel Meehan, 3:43:10; 19. Samir Patil, 3:44:47; 20. Tony Covarrubias, 3:46:31; 21. Michael Shamblin,3:47:06; 22. Tal Erickson, 3:57:33; 23. Lucas Soden, 4:16:41; 24. Jonathan Walton, 4:20:28; 25. Shane Nez, 4:20:51; 26. Eric Lee, 4:29:50; 27. Ren Rangel, 4:40:00; 28. Zackery Wright, 4:54:51; 29. Gordon McAttee, 5:01:30; 30. Evan Romero, 5:05:38; 31. Marty Johan Lindeke, 5:07:00; 32. Matthew Coburn, 5:17:47; 33. Tom Cubit, 5:59:32.

Women’s half marathon — 1. Tsaina Mahlen, 1:35:51; 2. Becky Butler, 1:36:07; 3. Julie Johnson, 1:37:26; 4. Cydney Reynolds, 1:40:18; 5. Megan Neale, 1:41:22; 6. Denali Kemppel, 1:42:22; 7. Lauren Spinelli, 1:43:05; 8. Hannah Ingrim, 1:43:55; 9. Elizabeth Matthews, 1:44:35; 10. Clare Shea, 1:44:59; 11. Alysyn Thibault, 2:03:21; 12. Gly Larson, 2:09:19; 13. Grace Grande, 2:15:24; 14. Mari Rueter, 2:16:46; 15. Anna Bryant, 3:29:12.

Men’s half marathon — 1. Derek Gibson, 1:19:20; 2. Eric Vilce, 1:22:20; 3. John Mushett, 1:23:03; 4. Jacob Young, 1:24:18; 5. Bryson Powell, 1:32:01; 6. Brian Evans, 1:32:02; 7. Dan Myers, 1:32:27; 8. Jim McDonough, 1:34:45; 9. Logan Comer, 1:37:37; 10. Christian Botero, 1:40:47; 11. Chris Hines, 1:40:49; 12. Kevin Cuddy, 1:42:20; 13. Michael Roberto, 1:44:29; 14. Adam Josephson, 1:57:03; 15. Bruce Davison, 2:05:45; 16. Tucker Foster, 2:24:25; 17. Cole Verrett, 2:40:03; 18. Josue Aldana, 2:48:25.

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Beth Bragg

Beth Bragg wrote about sports and other topics for the ADN for more than 35 years, much of it as sports editor. She retired in October 2021. She's contributing coverage of Alaskans involved in the 2022 Winter Olympics.