Anchorage’s Lars Arneson finishes third in the men’s Mount Marathon Race on Monday, July 4, 2022, in Seward, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Anchorage’s Lars Arneson finishes third in the men’s Mount Marathon Race on Monday, July 4, 2022, in Seward, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Deal, Theisen set to take on Mount Marathon

Taylor Deal, a 2012 graduate of Kenai Central, has the Mount Marathon Race in Seward boiled down to its essence.

“I’m just excited to be back in it,” Deal said. “I love the Alaska running community.

“On the Fourth of July, there’s nothing more Alaskan than racing up and down a muddy mountain in Seward and staying in town to celebrate.”

The 95th running of the race of about five kilometers and 3,000 feet of vertical gain and drop is Tuesday, with the juniors race at 9 a.m., the women’s race at 11 a.m. and the men’s race at 2 p.m.

The race will be livestreamed on the “Mount Marathon Race” channel on YouTube.

Last year, the race had 271 women’s finishers, 293 men’s finishers and 245 junior finishers.

Most adults earn their way into the race by finishing in the top half of their age group or by earning a lottery slot.

A couple of Kenai Central grads — Deal and Jordan Theisen — got in through other routes.

Deal has done the women’s race four times and the junior race once. She last did the race in 2016. Her best finish came in 2014, when she ran 58 minutes, 17 seconds, to take sixth place.

Conor Deal, a former player for the Kenai River Brown Bears who has four junior finishes and 11 men’s finishes to his credit, provided the assist to get his wife back into the race.

“When I moved out of state, I was at peace with not being in the race, then I enjoyed spectating the last four years,” Taylor said. “I’ve thought about it on and off, then this year my husband, Conor, convinced me to put my name back in the lottery.”

When Taylor did not win the lottery, Conor was not done yet. Salomon gets bibs as a race sponsor and couldn’t find enough of its women’s sponsored athletes to fill the race.

When the company reached out to Conor, an ambassador for Salomon, for ideas on a bib recipient, he had just the person.

Because Taylor got a sponsor’s bib, a finish in the top half of her age group will not get her in next year’s race.

She will have to place in the top 10 to get a one-year exemption next year. Or she could win it, as her sister, Allie Ostrander, did in 2017, and be in the race for life.

Although the winners of the last five races are not racing this year — Hannah Lafleur twice, Allie McLaughlin, Jessica Yeaton and Ostrander — Taylor said even getting in the top 10 will be tough.

“I think it’s going to be a challenge, for sure,” she said. “The women’s race has gotten more and more competitive over the years.”

Matias Saari, race director, ticks off some names to watch in articles written in the race program.

Christy Marvin, 42, of Palmer won in 2013 and 2016, and is the last person to win the race entered in this year’s race.

Meg Inokuma, 43, of Palmer was fourth last season in her race debut. Inokuma lived on the central Kenai Peninsula in the summers of 2014 through 2016.

Ruby Lindquist, a 2018 graduate of Seward High School who was second in 2021, will not race.

Denali Strabel, a 2008 graduate of Seward, will run the women’s race for the 13th time. Strabel has eight top 10 finishes to her credit.

Other names mentioned by Saari are Anchorage native Klaire Rhodes, Salomon athlete Tabor Hemming of Colorado, Tsaina Mahlen, Sophie Wright and Utah’s Meghan Adair.

Deal said she is in good running shape. She won the Twilight 12K on June 2 in Anchorage and finished second to Olympic skier Rosie Brennan in the five-mile Alaska Run for Women in Anchorage on June 10.

The problem is Mount Marathon is not really a running race. Most of the event takes place on a mountain with an average steepness of 34 degrees.

After Deal didn’t get in via the lottery, she didn’t focus on training for mountains. Making matters tougher is that she’s currently living in Kenai.

She’s doing a three-month rotation to finish up a 27-month physician’s assistant program at the University of Washington, with her graduation date set for Aug. 18.

She said rotation is less intense than the beginning of the program, allowing her to get some time on Mount Marathon and mountains in the Cooper Landing area.

Whether it will be enough for a top 10 and to defeat her husband remains to be seen.

“There’s always a friendly competition between Conor and I,” Taylor said. “His down time is really impressive.

“I’ll see if I can challenge him on the way up. That may be my saving grace.”

Theisen, who graduated from Kenai Central in 2015, successfully petitioned the race committee to earn a bib based on athletic achievement.

After his prep career, Theisen went on to run at Black Hills State University in Spearfish, South Dakota. He’s currently nearing his third full year in the Army National Guard biathlon program in Vermont.

Despite growing up in Kenai and spending a lot of time playing in the mountains, Theisen has very little experience racing in mountains.

He said his family would go to Minnesota for the summers and that kept him from ever doing Mount Marathon.

“It was never in the books to do the race, but it’s always something I wanted to do,” he said. “For lack of a better term, I was desperate.

“I was ready to drop everything and show up if I got in, and it happened this year.”

In petitioning the race committee, Theisen relied on his work with the biathlon team and on a very fast climb of Mount Katahdin in Maine.

One of the few mountain running races Theisen did in Alaska was in 2019, when he was 12th overall in the Cirque Series Alyeska mountain race.

Like Deal, Theisen will have to get in the top 10 to earn a one-year exemption next year. He said that’s a tall order.

“My goal for race day is to acknowledge that mountain runners are absolute monsters,” Theisen said. “I’m going to put out the most honest, brutal effort possible and see what place it gets me.

“If I can do that, I’ll be super happy.”

Theisen and two teammates, who are not doing the race, arrived in the state Monday for camping and climbing mountains.

Monday night, Seward’s Erik Johnson gave Theisen a tour of Mount Marathon. Johnson has finished the men’s race 10 times and gone under 50 minutes every time.

Theisen said the two did the whole race course in 53 minutes, 9 seconds.

“I’m pretty happy,” Theisen said. “I wore a heart rate monitor, and I definitely have more to give according to heart rate.”

The course, particularly the downhill, got the attention of one of Theisen’s teammates.

“He told me, ‘I’m worried you might hurt yourself. That downhill is so sketchy,’” Theisen said. “I hear him loud and clear, but this is what I live for.

“I’m going to give it 100%. Racing is the pinnacle of my life.”

The race favorite is David Norris, who has won all three times he’s done the race, including setting the men’s record of 41:26 in 2016.

Norris, originally from Fairbanks, took a step back from competitive skiing last winter, but still won the American Birkebeiner — the largest ski race in North America — in February. In March, he was 22nd in the 50-kilometer classic race at the World Championships in Slovenia.

“I would never even dream of saying I’m going to go head to head with him,” Theisen said of Norris.

Lars Arneson, a 2009 graduate of Cook Inlet Academy, is a three-time champion of the Alaska Mountain Runners Grand Prix, but has never been able to come out on top of the special brew of talent Mount Marathon attracts from both Alaska and the Lower 48. Saari’s men’s preview mentions six accomplished runners from the Lower 48 who are descending on Seward for the race this year.

Arneson’s best finish is third, which he did in 2019 and last year.

Defending champ Max King of Oregon is not racing this year.

In the junior boys race, Coby Marvin, 16, of Palmer will take aim at Bill Spencer’s junior record of 24:30 set in 1973. In 2022, Marvin ran the second fastest junior time in history.

In the junior girls race, Jayna Boonstra, a recent graduate of Kenai Central, and Tania Boonstra, an incoming sophomore at Soldotna High, will try to dethrone Anchorage’s Rose Conway.

Conway won last year at 33:18, while Tania was at 33:40 and Jayna was at 34:47.

The Boonstras father, Todd, has four Mount Marathon men’s titles to his credit. The Boonstras sister, Riana, won the girls race in 2015.

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