A haze of wildfire smoke hangs around the slopes of Mount Marathon in Seward, Alaska, on July 1, 2019. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

A haze of wildfire smoke hangs around the slopes of Mount Marathon in Seward, Alaska, on July 1, 2019. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Wildfire smoke prompts Mount Marathon officials to issue unprecedented deferral option

It will be the first time all racers have the option of skipping the race and getting in next year.

Due to forecasted smoke from the Swan Lake wildfire, racers registered for the Mount Marathon Race on Thursday in Seward have the option of skipping this year’s contest up and down the 3,022-foot peak overlooking Seward and still keeping their spot in the 2020 race, race officials announced Tuesday.

There are a number of ways to earn a coveted bib in the race, which is capped at 1,000 racers — about 350 for the men, 350 for the women, and 150 each for junior girls and boys. The most common way for men and women to gain re-entry is to finish in the the top 225.

The 92nd running of the race, which began on July 4, 1915, will be the first time all racers have the option of skipping the race and getting in the next year.

According to a press release on the Mount Marathon website, race officials took this drastic step after reviewing weather forecasts, smoke advisories and health guidelines.

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has issued an air quality advisory for Southcentral through 4 p.m. Friday. Part of the advisory says areas downwind of wildfires will experience hazardous levels of smoke.

The National Weather Service forecasts widespread smoke and a high of 84 degrees in Seward on July 4.

Race officials said the opportunity to skip the race and still race next year extends to “lottery winners, priority racers, petitioners and special invites. Runners with ‘10-year status’ are already allowed to defer their entry without losing priority status. Runners who have already submitted medical or military deferrals for the 2019 race are not required to take additional action.”

Race officials are still deciding the status of the junior races, because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said children, teenagers, older adults and those who have heart or lung diseases are more likely to be affected by smoke.

The junior race is scheduled for 9 a.m., while the women start at 11 a.m. and the men start at 2 p.m.

“As always, runners must assume responsibility for their own safety and not expect assistance of any kind from race officials or spectators,” the release said.

Beyond the race, the forecast of smoke has a good chance of reducing the amount of people who usually flock to the town of just under 3,000 at the head of Resurrection Bay for a cherished Fourth of July tradition.

Heavy smoke also will make the race harder to organize.

“Volunteers are always critical to the success of Mount Marathon, but perhaps never more so than this year,” the release said.

Race officials said volunteers are needed more than ever, and on-mountain volunteers could face the arduous task of getting to their location despite heavy smoke. All volunteers will be offered N95 dust masks.

Race officials added that the option of skipping this year’s race will still stand even if air quality improves. Specifics of the deferral, including an online form, are available on the race website at mmr.seward.com.

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