Olympians, record-holders and even an Iditarod champion are part of the field for the 93rd edition of Mount Marathon, which returns Wednesday after taking last year off because of the pandemic.
The race is 3 miles of suffering, contested almost entirely on the steep, punishing mountain peak in the heart of Seward.
An extreme sport before anyone ever uttered the phase “extreme sport,” Mount Marathon is one of the highest-profile and most popular competitions in Alaska. Among this year’s entrants is five-time Iditarod winner Dallas Seavey of Talkeetna.
Bad news for Seavey: There’s hardly any snow left on Mount Marathon, whose race course tops out at 2,974 feet. And dogs aren’t allowed on the mountain or anywhere else along the race course.
But this is a race that favors skiers and runners over mushers anyway.
Race record-holder David Norris of Anchorage is the favorite in the men’s race.
Norris won in 2016 and 2018, setting the course record of 41 minutes, 26 seconds in 2016. One of the top cross-country skiers in the country, Norris showed his fitness last month with a record-shattering victory at Bird Ridge.
Among those expected to challenge him are Lars Arneson of Anchorage — who claimed wins earlier this year at the Government Peak Climb, the Turnagain Arm Trail Run and the Crazy Lazy — and Pyper Dixon of Seward. Arneson was third and Dixon fourth in the 2019 Mount Marathon.
Olympic skier Scott Patterson of Anchorage, the 2017 champ and one of Norris’ teammates in the Alaska Pacific University nordic program, isn’t expected to run, according to race officials. Also out is three-time champion and former record-holder Eric Strabel of Anchorage, who said he decided to step away from Mount Marathon more than a year ago.
New race sponsor Salomon is entering three men, including Dakota Jones of Bozeman, Montana, who is coming off a course-record victory in the recent Juneau Ridge Run. Jeffrey Stern of California and Darren Thomas of Nevada are Salomon’s other runners. They’re all race rookies.
Two other rookies are worth watching in the men’s race.
Sam Hendry of Canada was a national runner-up for the University of Utah at the 2020 NCAA ski championships. His teammates at Utah include Anchorage’s Luke Jager, a national runner-up at this year’s NCAA Championships who is also one of Wednesday’s top contenders.
Also new to the men’s race — but not to Mount Marathon — is Mikey Connelly of Eagle River.
Connelly won the 2018 junior race with a fast time and hoped to take aim at Bill Spencer’s venerated 1973 record of 24:30 the next year. Heavy smoke from nearby wildfires canceled the 2019 junior race, crushing Connelly’s dream.
“It was like I built a house and someone lit it on fire,” he said at the time.
Last month Connelly, 19, won the all-uphill Government Peak Climb and placed fifth at Bird Ridge.
The women’s race has a loaded field that includes 2019 champion Hannah Lafleur of Seward, two-time champion Christy Marvin of Palmer and two-time champion Holly Brooks of Anchorage, who is also a two-time Olympic skier.
Lafleur finished fourth at last month’s race at Bird Ridge — her first race since January 2020 — and Marvin won Government Peak but skipped Bird Ridge.
Brooks, the mother of 4-year-old twins, said she doesn’t expect to compete for a top spot. In 2019, as the mother of 2-year-old twins, she placed 10th.
“That was two years into the parenting fatigue and now it’s four years into the parenting fatigue and I’m finding gray hairs,” said Brooks, an Olympic skier in 2010 and 2014 and a Mount Marathon champ in 2012 and 2014.
Also entered is 2018 Olympic skier Rosie Frankowski of Anchorage, who in 2018 famously led the charge to the top of Mount Marathon only to be stymied by a big snow field on the descent. Others slid past on the snow as she took a slower, non-snowy route.
That was Frankowski’s Mount Marathon debut, and she finished seventh. A strong climber, she claimed second place last month at Bird Ridge, but the question for Wednesday is whether she will risk a daring downhill with the Winter Olympics coming up in February.
Two Salomon runners are entered — Taryn Hunt-Smith of Anchorage and Olivia Amber of California, both race rookies.
Kendall Kramer of Fairbanks is another rookie, at least in terms of the senior race. A member of the U.S. Ski Team, she won the junior race in 2018 and could be a factor.
“I’d love a top 10 this year,” she told Mount Marathon organizers. “And not to somersault down the mountain.”
Wednesday’s races are at 8:30 a.m. for the juniors, 11 a.m. for women and 3 p.m. for men.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Mikey Connelly didn’t race at Bird Ridge and that Frankowski finished second in 2018; Connelly placed fifth at Bird Ridge and Frankowski placed seventh in 2018. Additionally, an earlier version of the list of fastest men’s downhill times did not include Taylor Turney’s 2019 descent.