Mount Marathon Magic- By Athlete Ambassadors, Klaire Rhodes and Galen Hecht

The enchanting allure of Mount Marathon is undeniable- a perfect blend of athletic talent and tradition that brings the running community together every year on July 4th in Seward, Alaska.  Our athlete Ambassadors, Klaire Rhodes, Galen Hetch, and Taylor Turney laced up their shoes to take on the challenge, and what an unforgettable experience it turned out to be. Beyond the top placements and medals won, this race left a mark on each of them, uniting their trail running spirits with the essence of Mount Marathon. 

Amidst fierce competition and awe-inspiring athleticism, Klaire secured a 4th place finish in the women’s division, and Gelen with an impressive 14th place in the men’s division. Not to mention, Taylor Turney, came in 9th overall AND beat the downhill record! He made it from the top of the mountain, to the finishline, in just 9 minutes and 54 seconds! 

Continue reading to hear Klaire and Galen’s race day recaps! 

Klaire Rhodes- Mount Marathon Race Recap

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Perhaps the only race I ever consider set in stone in my race calendar, year after year, is Mount Marathon. This race is a special one to me and I often point to it as the beginning of my running career. In 2018, someone gave me the crazy idea to auction into the race the night before. The next day I smiled and high-fived my way through the race and finished knowing I was hooked on this mountain running thing for life. Since then, I’ve watched myself progress each year and become more competitive, but Mount Marathon never ceases to amaze and humble me with just how well it shows off the unique talent, grit, and passion of the Alaska running community. 

 

Coming off preparing for a race that took over 5 hours at World Champs in Austria, I wasn’t sure what to expect from myself this year. Wild course conditions intimidated me and made the race a bit more tactical than I was prepared for. In full transparency, I felt like I had a good shot of having a “dream day” for me but also knew there was an equally likely chance that I would be humbled by the mountain and the fierce competition that always shows up on July 4. On paper,
I didn’t have that “dream day”. In reality, what happened out there was everything crazy, wild, and joyful I’ve come to know and love about Mt Marathon. 

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The race starts and we’re charging up Jefferson Street full of adrenaline–finally we’re going! Hearing screams of “Let’s go Klaire!” through the trees–I don’t have the energy to look up and see who the words are coming from but I’m so happy to hear them. So much mud. I come out near the Junior race turnaround and see Christy, Meg, and Denali ahead of me. Shoot, I think. Denali and I are battling it out on the top half of the mountain but still swapping words of encouragement to each other in between breaths. Coming around the rock at the top laughing at Rian who is always timing for Skinny Raven and always says something ridiculous to me. Screaming “Go Sophie!” as I’m trying to find my descending legs but I see her cresting the top. Flying down the mountain knowing full well Denali might pass me with her downhill legs. She does. Dangit, I think, but out loud I say “GO Denali!”. Ouch! A fall in the gut. Need a second to get my breath back. More mud. Get through the cliffs without a scrape–yay! The road! The crowd! I smile, pick up the pace, even though at this point I knew my dream day was far gone. But I’m seeing friends again. I high five a young girl in the crowd as I pass. I love this, I think. Finally the finish in sight! The clock doesn’t say what I want it to but what I expect it too. Ah, that’s ok. Finish line hugs and we’re immediately swapping our race stories and then turn to watch more runners come in. More hugs! 

I’m well aware that I’m my own harshest critic, so for every disappointed thought I have about the day, I try to meet with a reminder of how far I’ve come since just a few years ago when I raced for the very first time. A lot of things have changed but I hope some things never do–I hope we all keep smiling and high-five-ing our way through Mt Marathon for many years to come. I certainly plan on it.

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Galen Hecht - Mount Marathon Race Recap

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The night before Mount Marathon, I got ready for bed in Seward, hoping for a good night of sleep. Like the past two years, before sleeping, I visualized the course. Up the cliffs, hang a left under the log, then go right towards B-Line… etc, etc. I rehearsed every moment in my head, what would a perfect race look like? More importantly, what would an imperfect race look like? How would I respond to my typical challenge, leg cramps, if they showed up? 

 The morning of the race, I woke up to the steady patter of rain on the roof. I was excited to see everyone. In the relatively short time since moving to Alaska in 2020, mountain running and the community of mountain runners became the cornerstone of my life in Alaska. Mount Marathon is so much more than our biggest race, it’s a time to celebrate each other, to welcome new people and celebrate the fabled veterans of the sport, to create community by doing something so challenging and ridiculous that we’ll remember it for the rest of our lives.
In Italy, there is a festival in Ivrea where people run like maniacs through the streets throwing oranges at each other. In Seward, we run like maniacs through the street to throw ourselves down a muddy mountain. The history of the race runs deep after 95 editions, and the fact that it happens on Independence Day isn’t missed on anyone. America is a country founded on radical ideas, like democracy, and more than a few have called Mount Marathon ‘rad’. It’s the raddest race around, full of rad individuals who strive for the top, but help each other plenty along the way. Not a bad metaphor for our country wrapped up in 3000 ft of scree and asphalt. 
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 Back to the 2023 race. The juniors ripped through the streets first. I watched from the chute as they came down plastered in gray mud. Gritty young Alaskans. I went to congratulate Coby Marvin at the end of the race on his win, and he offered some sage advice for a 16 year old, “just relax on the lower mountain, it’s so muddy, the harder you try, the more you slip.” Then the women ran. An epic race unfolded with Meg Inokuma and Christy Marvin in a full mountain battle for the win. Two incredible athletes in their forties were holding the lead in a deep field of talented Mount Marathoners. Next came Denali Strabel and Klaire Rhodes, a Runner’s Edge teammate fresh off an amazing performance at the World Mountain and Trail Running Championships in Austria. 

At 2PM, it was time for the men’s race. Lined up, I looked around and saw a sea of familiar faces. So many of my friends were right there on the line. It’s an electric environment with lots of nerves and excitement. Then boom, the starting gun. We charged up the road and onto the mud greased cliffs. I had a small navigation issue on the lower mountain that resulted in a quick bushwhack to get on my line, but then it was steady climbing. On the upper mountain, I was with a strong train of guys, and we were moving well. The wind was blowing hard with a steady misting rain. It was cold, but the effort kept us warm.

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Right at the top of the descent, I cramped. I slipped in some muddy scree and my hamstring grabbed. This is a classic problem I’ve struggled with, and in my case there is not an easy solution. What to do in a race when you cramp? I’ve learned that it’s best to just breathe, relax, and continue, even if you’re forced to move slower. Usually the cramp goes away. So much of running and training is navigating the problems that arise. I kept moving and tried to relax through a few more cramp aftershocks. 
 
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I am a good climber, but not the strongest descender, and I was moving slower than normal due to the cramps. I knew it wouldn’t be long before the fast descenders behind me caught up for a pass. I was expecting one in particular, Taylor Turney, another Runner’s Edge teammate. Taylor is among the fastest descenders in Mount Marathon history. He passed me at the bottom of the scree in the gut going the Mount Marathon equivalent of mach 10, executing a baseball slide over the last bit of snow on the mountain before launching over a waterfall in front of me. I knew Taylor wanted to go under 10 minutes to set the descent record, but I didn’t think it was possible this year given the muddy conditions. 
 
I kept hammering to the limit of my cramping legs, through the roaring crowds in downtown Seward. After crossing the finish line, Taylor was right there and he told me in disbelief that he went 9:54. This achievement can’t be understated. 1.5 miles and just about 3,000 feet of descending a muddy mountain in 9 minutes and 54 seconds. We celebrated as a steady stream of finishers came across the line staggering, covered in mud and scrapes, and smiling ear to ear. Another year of Mount Marathon came to an end as stories from the mountain began pouring out. What a special race.

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