SEWARD — The competition in the women’s race was fierce Wednesday at the 93rd edition of Mount Marathon. So was the camaraderie.
The town celebrated a 1-2 finish by Seward runners Hannah Lafleur and Ruby Lindquist, with Lafleur repeating as champion and Lindquist enjoying her best finish in three races.
Two-time champion Christy Marvin of Palmer was third and Rosie Frankowski of Anchorage was fourth, and at the finish line, all four women gathered to continue the lovefest that unfolded on the mountain.
Thank you, Lafleur said to Marvin, for spurring her up the route — which tops out at 2,974 feet — and providing encouragement as they chased Frankowski to the top.
“Christy started egging me on, so thanks for that,” Lafleur said.
Frankowski, a monster on the uphill, set a torrid pace to the summit just as she did in 2018. And just like that year, runners more adept at the steep, dangerous descent left Frankowski behind on the way down, with Lindquist leading the way, followed by Lafleur and Marvin.
Frankowski cheered them as they passed.
As Lindquist neared the bottom of the mountain, Lafleur claimed the lead just before the cliffs.
“I was thinking, ‘I have to gap as much as I can,’ and here she comes, and I said, ‘Go Hannah!’ " Lindquist said.
There’s a 19-year age range among the women — Lindquist is 21, Frankowski 29, Lafleur 32 and Marvin 40 — but just 82 seconds separated them at the finish line.
Lafleur won in 51 minutes, 24 seconds. Lindquist was second in 51:38, followed by Marvin in 52:21 and Frankowski in 52:56.
The race marked the return of Mount Marathon after last year’s cancellation due to the pandemic. It wasn’t held on the Fourth of July because of continuing COVID-19 concerns, but it still drew a decent crowd.
It wasn’t the usual madness — you could get both a cell signal and a parking spot in downtown, which is often impossible in Seward on the Fourth of July — and the crowd “was definitely smaller,” said Marvin.
But people lined the race course and hundreds gathered at the base of the mountain to watch and cheer the racers. Among the entries were five pro runners from Salomon, an outdoor gear company that became a race sponsor this year. Word is they were impressed by the turnout.
“There was a lot of energy, a lot of excitement,” Lafleur said. “It felt different, but everyone here was focused on the race. One of the Salomon women said at the start line, ‘I’ve never been to a race that has this energy before,’ and she’s a professional runner who’s raced all over.”
In the men’s race, World Cup cross-country skier David Norris showed that he’s not a one-note athlete — he also has an envious mountain running resume and a perfect batting average. Norris is 3-for-3 at Mount Marathon, winning his third title in his third appearance in the race.
Finishing second and third were Lower 48 runners Sam Hendry of Utah and Darren Thomas of Nevada. They both raved about the race and the crowd.
“Alaska doesn’t mess around,” Thomas said.
In the junior races, Ali Papillon went from age-class winner to overall winner by winning the boys race and Lucy Young of Anchorage made her Seward debut memorable with a win in the girls race.
In the women’s contest, Marvin posted her seventh top-three finish in seven races, and Lafleur and Frankowski both posted split times that rank among the best in recent history.
Lafleur zoomed down the mountain and to the Fourth Avenue finish line in 11:44, the fourth-fastest time since organizers began keeping track of splits. She was nearly a minute faster than anyone else coming down Wednesday.
Frankowski roared from the start line to the top of the mountain in 37:06, the third-fastest on record — and the exact time she posted in 2018.
She beat Lindquist to the top by about two minutes. She knew she wouldn’t hang on to the lead — Frankowski doesn’t attack downhills the way other top runners do — but she was thrilled by her descent, which was nearly four minutes faster than her rookie descent in 2018.
“I smiled from the top to the finish line, so much my face hurt,” she said. “I was able to hold people off way longer” than before.
Among the top four, Frankowski was by far the dirtiest at the finish line. A downpour started about 35 minutes into the race, soaking runners and muddying the trail, but only Frankowski finished with mud on her face, shoulders and arms.
There’s a reason for that, she said.
“Those girls just fly down, and I sit on my butt. I sit and slide, and they just jump,” Frankowski said.
Lafleur said she resisted the urge to chase Frankowski up the mountain, knowing it would blow up her race. Instead she stuck with Marvin on the uphill, knowing the veteran would set a fast but sane pace.
Lafleur was a stride or two ahead of Marvin and struggling a bit in the mud when Marvin offered to take the lead.
“I said, ‘You want me to pull a little? Let’s go catch Ruby,’ ” Marvin said.
Lindquist beat them to the summit by about 40 seconds, with just two seconds separating Marvin and Lafleur.
Lafleur caught Lindquist going down but never felt completely comfortable with her lead because she knows Lindquist is a fast road runner. Lindquist, who runs track at Black Hill State in South Dakota, recently ran 1,500 meters in a personal-best time of 4:34.
“I thought she was going to get me on the road,” Lafleur said. “She’s a competitive college runner and I was really holding on with every ounce I had left.”
For Lindquist, second place was a dream. “I thought I’d get 10th,” she said.
“I’m so stoked for Ruby,” Lafleur said.
They were all stoked for one another, which is why running in Alaska is so special, Marvin said.
“To me it’s all positive even though we’re all competing against each other,” she said. “To be able to work with your competition is very satisfying.”
She said she learned that attitude from 2011 Mount Marathon champion and 2018 Olympic gold-medal skier Kikkan Randall, whose sportsmanship is as contagious as it is well-known.
“She would say you’ve gotta keep it fun if you want to do it forever,” Marvin said. “You wanna make friends, not enemies.”