Occurring annually on the 4th of July, and touted as the toughest 5 k on the planet, the 94th edition of the Mount Marathon race took place this past Monday in Seward, AK. Needless to say, the race is a storied tradition, beginning with its first “official” running in 1915. Over the years, participation has increased to such an extent that these days there are a number of complex ways for race entrants to register, including selection through a lottery system, petition for a race spot, or even buying a bib at a last-minute live auction.
There is no set course up the mountain itself. Racers start on city streets, at sea level, and run through town for half a mile before starting the climb and heading straight up the mountain. During the climb, athletes cover roughly 2,675 vertical feet of climbing in less than a mile (0.9 to be exact). Once they’ve crossed the timing mat around the false summit at Race Point, they turn around and descend that same steep slope via a slightly different route. A junior boys and girls race is also run, in which the participants only ascend partway up the mountain before turning around.
This steep and challenging course has seen a number of nordic skiers succeed, including current men’s record holder, David Norris (41:26). Norris has won the race all three times he entered and took the record from mountain master, Kílian Jornet (41:48). Four-time Olympian, Nina Kemppel, holds the record for most race wins at an impressive nine victories. And until this year, three-time Olympian, Todd Boonstra was the oldest victor at age 41. However, at the conclusion of the 2022 edition of Mount Marathon, that crown went to a new champion.
The men set off at 11 a.m. local time and Max King of Bend, Oregon, took this year’s victory in a time of 43:37. At the age of 42, he became the oldest winner in the race’s long history.
Behind King, APU skier Thomas O’Harra placed second in his Mount Marathon debut. “I really didn’t expect to do as well as I did,” shared O’Harra. “It’s such a strong field, even without David [Norris] racing this year.”
Just a few weeks before O’Harra took top spot in the Bird Ridge Hill Climb, so he had confidence heading into the uphill section of Mount Marathon. “I knew that I was in good shape for the climb at least, after Bird Ridge, so I figured that I could be in the top three to the top and then the downhill was a total unknown to me. I practiced it once, a week before the race, but I’ve never raced a downhill like that before so I had no idea what to expect.”
Plummeting down the scree slope, O’Harra said his main goal was to stay on his feet and not get hurt. “I was shocked that I was still in second coming off the mountain and suffered my way down the road to the finish, where I managed to sneak under 45 minutes, which was a kind of secondary, if-it-goes-well goal,” said O’Harra. “[It was a] super fun time though, the closest running race I’ve ever done to the Birkie, and I’m stoked to come back and race again next year!”
Canadian skier and current Ute (athlete at the University of Utah), Sam Hendry, finished second behind Norris in 2021. This year, Hendry placed 7th with a time of 47:39. Hendry shared that this year’s Mount Marathon “was a bit of a disappointment.” He continued, “I finished second last year and was really hoping for a strong result again. With some busy travel getting up to Alaska, I didn’t have the best preparation and my legs were just a little off.” Hendry raced both the Vertical Kilometer (VK) and 26 k at the Broken Arrow Skyrace mid-June and placed fourth in both, besting King by nearly a minute in the 26 k. Hendry said, “I had some good results there, and plan to add some more running competitions to the calendar for later in the summer. I really enjoy getting some competitions in during the summer and getting to feel stressed and nervous.”
New U.S. D-Team member and APU skier, Micheal Earnhart, finished his day in 15th (49:45). He wrote to FasterSkier, “I wasn’t stoked with my results by any means but I am happy that I’m at a point in my career where top-15 at Mount Marathon can be a bad day.” Earnhart was quick to praise his teammate’s success saying, “My main takeaway was how impressive it was to see my APU teammate, and race rookie, Thomas O’Harra get second place. Definitely a strong day for APU and skiers in general which is always fun to see.”
Fellow U.S. Ski Team athlete Luke Jager was shortly behind Earnhart in 18th.
With the men’s race concluded, the focus turned to the women, who started at 2 p.m. local time. (The men and women now race in the flagship afternoon slot in alternate years.) Breaking the seven-year-old women’s record, Allie McLaughlin of Colorado earned the victory in a time of 47:09. Previously held by Swedish runner, Emelie Forsberg, with a time of 47:48, McLaughlin created a margin of 39 seconds in her favor.
Rosie Frankowski, who finished 4th in 2021, and is perhaps one of the fastest climbers out there, came in sixth this year (53:19). Racing Mount Marathon for the first time, newly named U.S. Ski Team A-Team member, Novie McCabe placed 8th (56:27). About her race, McCabe shared, “Mount Marathon was crazy! So hard, but a very cool experience for sure. I’m pretty happy with it. I was nervous about the downhill and was honestly pretty happy with myself for just doing something a bit out of my comfort zone.”
Kendall Kramer of UAF finished just outside the top-ten in 11th position (57:12). Kramer finished 9th last year (56:50) and was the junior girl’s race champion in 2018 (34:05).
Full race results of all the Mount Marathon events can be found here.
In other racing news, U.S.A. Track and Field Mountain Running Championships (USATF) in Wilmington, NY at the beginning of June saw two 2022 Beijing Olympians competing. Sophia Laukli finished third in a time of 1:29:03., and Caitlin Patterson came in sixth (1:35:52.3). Results for that event can be found here.
The Loon Mountain Race hosted Vertical U.S. Mountain Championships on July 10th, which a number of nordic and biathlon athletes attended. Alex Lawson representing Craftsbury Green Racing Project finished third, and posted the second fastest time on the “Upper Walking Boss,” a 40% grade ski hill for a half-mile at the end of the race.
Jake Brown (also of CGRP) had the second fastest time on the “Upper Walking Boss” and finished 9th overall. Full results for the event can be found here.
The Cirque Series mountain race circuit kicks off this coming Saturday (July 16th) at Brighton, UT. With a schedule of six U.S. based races taking place over the next few months nordic ski fans should keep an eye out for familiar names near the top of the results sheet.
Growing up in Washington’s Methow Valley, Ella was immersed in skiing and the ski community from a young age. From early days bundled in the pulk, to learning to ski as soon as she could walk, to junior racing, a few seasons of collegiate racing, and then to coaching, she has experienced the ski world in many forms. Now, as a recent graduate from Dartmouth College, she finds herself living in France splitting her time between teaching English at a university in Lyon, avidly following ski racing (and now writing about it!) and adventuring in the outdoors as often as possible.