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Colorado runner chases down Alaska men to win gnarly Alyeska mountain race

  • Author: Beth Bragg
    | Sports
  • Updated: August 6, 2018
  • Published August 5, 2018

Runners make their way down the mountain Sunday during the Alyeska Cirque race. (Photo courtesy of Cirque Series)

Alaskans love to share their mountain races with the rest of the world, but they also love it when the locals outduel top runners from Outside.

Well, a runner from Outside won a mountain race in Alaska on Sunday, but never fear. He's thinking about moving to Girdwood.

Colorado's Ryan Phebus, a regular on the Cirque Series race circuit, passed two elite Alaska athletes in the final stretch to win the Alyeska Cirque, a gnarly race up and down the Girdwood ski slope.

Phebus, 28, had to overtake two of Alaska's best – Mount Marathon winner David Norris and Crow Pass winner Scott Patterson – to become the first Lower 48 runner this summer to win one of Alaska's mountain runs.

Jessica Yeaton of Anchorage grabbed an overwhelming women's victory, beating Patricia Franco of Colorado by more than five minutes.

Yeaton, the reigning Mount Marathon champion and an Olympic cross-country skier, placed 10th overall in a field of about 250 men and women.

Second-place Scott Patterson negotiates a rocky downhill section. (Photo courtesy Cirque Series)

The race is part of the nationwide Cirque Series, which bills itself as the "premiere mountain running series in the USA" — a claim that could also be used to describe the Alaska Mountain Running Grand Prix, a series that counts Mount Marathon and Alyeska Cirque among its seven races.

The Cirque Series consists of six races at U.S. alpine resorts, including three in Utah, one in Colorado and one in Idaho.

Phebus, who is from Basalt, Colorado, is the current men's leader in the Cirque Series. Sunday's race wass his first in Alaska, and he gave it high marks.

"Ten out of ten," he said.

"It really appeals to me because it's a steep race," he added. "There's some technicality in there, and a little bit of exposure at the top, and at the end it involves a little more athleticism than usual."

The race is nearly six miles long and goes up 3,900 feet and down 3,900 feet. Norris and Patterson led the charge up to the top of Max's Mountain, using the leg strength and lung power they've acquired as cross-country skiers.

"Those nordic guys – man, they're so fit," Phebus said. "I'm blown away by those guys."

And yet he managed to beat them at the end.

The race includes a downhill stretch in the trees, part of it so steep that ropes were installed to help runners stay on their feet. After that racers are on a road that leads to the finish line at the Sitzmark.

"Those guys went out real hard and I couldn't keep up with them," Phebus said. "I lost sight of them. I was ready to just hunker down and hold onto third place.

"It went down into the forest and all of a sudden I see Scott, and then I see David, and I was totally shocked. That pumped me up big time. I didn't pass them till we exited the forest and got back on the servicc road, and I hammered it from there."

A helicopter and a runner are dwarfed by their surroundings at the Alyeska Cirque race on Sunday, Aug. 5, 2018.

About a half-mile remained by then, he said – enough real estate to capture victory.

Phebus finished in 1 hour, 4 minutes, 35.8 seconds. Patterson was 23 seconds back in 1:04:58.0 and Norris placed third in 1:05:23.8.

Norris won last year's inaugural race in 1:07:56.

Yeaton's time of 1:17:50.1 was considerably faster than the 1:24:41 posted by last year's top woman. It put her comfortably ahead of Franco, who clocked 1:23:28.6. Najeeby Quinn, the defending champion, was third in 1:26:29.3.

Phebus is among several Outside runners lured to Alaska in recent years by races like Mount Marathon. After about a week in Alaska, he's thinking about moving here.

"I'm considering relocating to Girdwood with my girlfriend," he said. "We might try to come back in September. I'm eking out a living with prize money, and it's about time to get a day job."

See Sunday's complete results here.

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