The Alyeska Cirque Series mountain race returns to Girdwood on Sunday, and as was the case at Mount Marathon and Crow Pass earlier this summer, some Outside talent will try to give the Alaskans a run for the money.
Yes, money. The men's and women's winners of the pro division will take home $700, with $300 going to second place and $200 going to third place.
A total of $8,000 in cash and prizes will be awarded, including $3,200 worth of gear that will go to the top three men and women in both the expert and beginner divisions, according to the race website.
The race, limited to 300 runners, is a 5.9-mile tour of Mount Alyeska that includes nearly 4,000 feet of vertical climb. It begins at 10 a.m., and runners can sign up online or on the day of the race.
Among those entered are some of this summer's top Alaska runners.
Mount Marathon champions David Norris and Jessica Yeaton are both entered, as are Scott Patterson, the Crow Pass Crossing men's winner, and Denali Strabel, the women's runner-up at both Mount Marathon and Crow Pass.
Challenging the men will be Joe Grant of Colorado, who recently set a speed record in the Sawatch Mountains.
Grant recorded the fastest known time for an unsupported run of what is called Nolan's 14, a linkup of 14 peaks that are 14,000 feet or higher in the Colorado mountain range.
The point-to-point route covers 80 miles and features 44,000 feet of elevation gain. Grant completed the climb in 49 hours, 38 minutes — four hours faster than the previous record.
Grant said he'll run two races while in Alaska. On Saturday, he'll take on the Mat Peak Challenge in Palmer — a 14-mile out-and-back course with 9,100 feet of vertical gain.
"Gonna be fun (and hard)," Grant said via Twitter.
Patterson and Strabel are both coming off last Saturday's Crow Pass Crossing, a rugged 22-mile backcountry race. Patterson and Allan Spangler of Juneau finished in front of Zach Miller, a highly regarded trail runner from Colorado who placed third.
At Mount Marathon on July 4, Norris fended off Max King, an elite runner from Oregon, for his second victory in Alaska's most famous footrace. Norris and King ran the third and fourth fastest times in race history.
At the inaugural Alyeska Cirque last year, Norris beat Patterson by a little more than two minutes with a time of 1 hour, 7 minutes, 56 seconds.
Najeeby Quinn took the women's victory in 1:24:41, beating runner-up Marine Dusser by about five minutes. As of Tuesday, neither woman is signed up for this year's race. Hoping to give Yeaton, Strabel and the other Alaska women a challenge is Colorado trail runner Patricia Franco.
The race begins and ends at the Sitzmark Bar & Grill, which will be the scene of a post-race party.
The race is one of Alaska's shorter mountain runs, but it packs plenty of punch.
Runners head up Alyeska via the Tanaka cat road through the lower bowl to Silvertip and up to Teacup Bowl and across to the Headwall. They head back down via Max's Mountain trail, where the final part of the descent is a no-passing zone so steep that ropes have been installed to aid runners.
"I've never seen that in Alaska mountain running," Norris said after last year's race. "You were sort of belaying your way down."