Spain's Kilian Jornet, who is widely considered the world's best mountain runner and last year zipped up Mount McKinley astonishingly fast, has announced he intends to run the storied Mount Marathon race in Seward this summer.
Mount Marathon officials on Wednesday confirmed Jornet, 27, submitted his application and will be placed in the lottery for a slot in the annual Fourth of July race up and down the 3,022-foot slab of pain. If Jornet does not gain a lottery spot, he will almost certainly be granted a special invitation based on his exceptional results in race around the world.
Jornet announced his intention to race Mount Marathon on his blog.
Jornet's mountain exploits are myriad, and marvelous.
He's a six-time Skyrunner World Series champion. He has won 100-mile races like the Hardrock in Colorado, where he last year slashed nearly 42 minutes off the course record in an event that features 68,000 feet of ascent and descent at altitude. He's also won the Western States Endurance Run 100-miler, the Ultra Trail du Mont-Blanc 100-plus mile race in Europe and the Pikes Peak Marathon in Colorado.
Last year, Jornet made the journey on Mount McKinley from the Kahiltna Base Camp at 7,300 feet to the summit at 20,237 feet and back in 11 hours, 40 minutes. He skied much of the descent. Still, his time was by far what is commonly called FKT -- fastest known time. Adventurers conduct such feats on the honor system. Jornet also holds FKTs on the Matterhorn and Mont-Blanc in the Alps, and on his blog said he will attempt at FKT on Mount Everest this spring.
And Jornet is no slouch at shorter races. Last year, he won the Mont-Blanc Vertical Kilometer race, in which racers gain 1,000 meters of elevation in less than four kilometers (roughly 2.5 miles).
Matias Saari of Anchorage, the 2009 Mount Marathon champion who finished runner-up last year in the roughly 3.5-mile race, said Jornet's appearance in the field would lend Mount Marathon even more cachet and give Alaskans a chance to test themselves against the best.
Mount Marathon has been raced 87 times since 1915 and is considered the biggest summer athletic event in Alaska -- its status as the Super Bowl of Alaska is not hyperbole. The small seaside town of Seward swarms with thousands of spectators on race day. And its champions are acknowledged as the king and queen of the mountain.
"I think it's great for the race, and all the top guys are going to measure themselves against arguably the best mountain runner in the world,'' Saari said. "I don't even know if you can say 'arguably' – it's pretty much hands-down.''
Defending champion Eric Strabel of the Anchorage, the three-time Mount Marathon winner and course record-holder who took down Bill Spencer's 32-year-old record in 2013, said the race would receive a boost from Jornet.
"It'll be a milestone for this race,'' Strabel told Van Williams of the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame Blog. "We have had national caliber mountain runners compete, but Kilian brings even a higher level above that.
"And there are probably millions of people all over that world that follow his endeavors, so many of them will find out what Mount Marathon is all about. Everything about the race could take on a new level.''
Mount Marathon features a thigh-pounding, lung-busting ascent followed by a harrowing descent on dirt, shale and scree. The fastest men cover the descent, from mountain peak to near sea-level back in town, so fast it is difficult to comprehend.
Strabel delivered a jaw-dropping descent in 2013, when he clocked an overall time of 42 minutes, 55 seconds, to shattered Spencer's 1981 record by 26 seconds. One minute Strabel began his descent, just a tiny figure when viewed through binoculars from town. Exactly 10 minutes later, he crossed the finish line.
Course knowledge is paramount on Mount Marathon, where the terrain annually changes because of erosion, avalanches, run-off, weather conditions and trail use. The most experienced racers know literally every step of the course, and particularly choreograph their descent.
Strabel has flexed his mettle against an Outsider before.
Rickey Gates of California, an accomplished mountain and trail runner, debuted at Mount Marathon in 2013 and was the first runner to the peak in 32:24. Strabel arrived on top third in 32:55, and chased down eventual runner-up Gates and eventual third-place finisher Wiley Mangelsdorf of Palmer on the descent. Gates' runner-up time of 43:04, nine seconds behind Strabel, also topped Spencer's previous record and stands as the second-fastest time in race history.
Strabel told the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame Blog he's excited to see what Jornet can do on Mount Marathon -- and how an Alaskan mountain champ compares.
"There's been a lot of speculation for many years of what an athlete like Kilian could do on the mountain,'' Strabel said. "Now we'll find out. I am really excited to test myself with him. I'm in the prime of my mountain running and my fitness is getting stronger by the day.
"I've probably had my best winter of training. I am on a good track for July Fourth.''
Jornet on his blog reported that shortly after Mount Marathon, he will defend his title at the Hardrock 100 in Colorado on July 10.
MOUNT MARATHON ENTRY DEADLINE: Midnight Tuesday (March 31) is the deadline to register for the 2015 Mount Marathon race. Everything prospective racers need to know is available at www.seward.com