SEWARD -- Trond Flagstad's legs felt fresh, practically springy, even as he powered up a mountain that averages a thigh-thumping 38-degree incline and occasionally reaches a pulverizing pitch of 60 degrees.
His breathing seemed to come easier than usual, too, despite the labor he asked of his body.
And his head was in a sweet spot -- with his wife, Lindsey, soon to deliver their second child, a race result didn't exactly sit at the peak of his priorities.
So, as he raced the 83rd edition of Mount Marathon on Sunday afternoon, everything was perfect.
"These are the days you long for,'' Flagstad said.
Flagstad, 40, delivered one of the strongest performances in race history on the 3,022-foot torture test, clocking 44 minutes, 40 seconds to earn his second men's victory and become one of just three men to break the 45-minute barrier more than once.
As he finished the final strides downtown after grinding up the mountain and rocketing down it, Flagstad raised his arms in triumph and grinned.
"Wow. I feel great," he said seconds after finishing. "Felt so good the whole way.''
Flagstad, whose 2008 victory in 44:03 marked the third-fastest performance in history, checked in Sunday with the ninth-fastest time in race history. He joined course record-holder (43:23) and eight-time champion Bill Spencer, and Jonathan Chaffee as the only men to dip under 45 minutes on multiple occasions. Spencer did it four times, and Flagstad, the UAA ski coach, matched Chaffee's two sub-45s.
Flagstad also bagged the 40-49 age-group record that previously belonged to six-time champion Brad Precosky (46:15) and added it to his 30-39 record from 2008.
"That was amazing," Lindsey Flagstad told her husband. "I don't know how you did that.''
Flagstad topped Eric Strabel, who clocked 45:42 to lop 1:10 of his previous best and finished second for the fourth time. Defending champion Matias Saari seized third in 46:10, a personal record by 32 seconds. And Brent Knight took fourth in 46:24 a year after collapsing while in the lead within sight of the finish line and landing in the hospital.
"I'm not in the ER right now," Knight said in the finishing area. "It's a good day."
Less than a week ago, Flagstad believed he probably wouldn't even race Sunday. At the uphill-only Bob Spurr Memorial Hill Climb on Bird Ridge two weeks ago, Flagstad finished third behind Strabel and Knight, and his time of 41:27 was well off his goal of a sub-40 performance. And with Lindsey's due date Wednesday, he figured he wouldn't even race Mount Marathon.
"I was kind of down after Bird Ridge, and knowing the baby was coming, I decided not to race,'' Flagstad said.
But a trip to Lindsey's doctor last week elicited a medical opinion that she likely would deliver late -- the couple's son Vebjorn arrived a week after Lindsey's due date -- so Lindsey encouraged Trond to run. Trond told his wife he would only run if she and Vebjorn accompanied him to Seward. If she didn't want to make the trip, he was cool with skipping the race.
Lindsey said she would make the trip. Still, Flagstad had only trained a couple times since Bird Ridge. But he put himself through a session of intervals last Wednesday on a ridge in Anchorage and was shocked by what his watch reported. Flagstad did three trips on a pitch that usually takes him about 10 minutes to climb and four to descend, and the results were his best ever.
"I just blew my old times out of the water," Flagstad said. "I said, 'Let's hope that lasts till Sunday.' ''
Once it did, both the experienced coach and athlete in Flagstad discovered even a masters-age guy still can learn secrets about sport.
"I know the recipe for 40-and-up -- R-E-S-T,'' he said with a laugh.
After running conservatively on the road to the base of the mountain, Flagstad hiked past eventual sixth-place finisher Andy Liebner, Saari and Knight.
When he moved past Knight, Flagstad felt good enough to push the pace.
"When it's up for grabs," he said, "you have to grab it.''
And no one could seize back the lead, especially from a man who is one of the fastest downhillers in the field.
Flagstad said it was almost surreal how the day -- from the moderate conditions to the snowfield still present near the top of the mountain -- matched his victory in 2008.
"Same weather, same snow, same result," he said.
And Lindsey figured maybe her husband was on to something with his modest training in the couple weeks leading to the race.
"Maybe you should pretend you're not going to run every year,'' she told her husband.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
By DOYLE WOODY email@example.com