The 2016 edition of Alaska’s famed Mt. Marathon race — the 89th running — will see a major change in scheduling for the first time in years.
Beginning next July 4 in Seward, the “Super Bowl of Mountain Running” will feature the men’s race prior to the women’s race. The men will start at 11 a.m. and the women at 2:30 p.m. Also, the junior race, which runs only halfway up the 3,022-foot peak and back, will start at 9 a.m., half an hour earlier than in past years.
Traditionally, the women’s race — which has been its own event since 1985 — has started at 11:15 a.m. while the men have taken off at 3 p.m. Due to the time of day, some have considered the men’s race as the “main event”. Last year, Anchorage television network KTVA broadcasted the men’s race live, but only showed highlights of the women’s event, and in the following days led to debate over equal coverage of the day’s events. With the men and women swapping spots every other year, it leaves both races with a chance to be featured in the prime time slot.
The Mount Marathon race committee explained on its website that, “the women’s competition is of equal value to the men’s. Alternating the start times each year will allow the women competitors to share in the main event status.”
Other factors that will help balance out the inequality include weather. On years that have seen sun and heat, the men have been at a disadvantage due to competing during the mid afternoon heat, instead of the cooler morning hours. On years that have seen clouds and rain, the women have been at a disadvantage due to slick, wet and muddy uphill trail conditions that have often dried out by the time the men hit the mountain. The women’s field has also typically helped to soften the downhill trail, consisting of loose shale, for the men’s race.
Additionally, the men’s field will no longer face the prospect each year of waiting for a mid afternoon start time to race, a reality that can rob competitive racers of fresh legs and leave them with additional nerves.
The first women entered the annual event — which traces its beginnings to a 1915 bar bet — in 1963, but it wasn’t until 22 years later that a separate female race was created.
Last year, both men’s and women’s course records fell in astonishing fashion as a pair of Outsiders captured victory. Spanish mountain runner Kilian Jornet won the men’s race with a record time of 41 minutes, 48 seconds, while Swedish racer Emelie Forsberg lopped off an incredible 2:42 from the previous mark to win the women’s race in 47:48. Soldotna runner and six-time junior girls winner Allie Ostrander finished second in her senior debut and also dipped under the previous women’s course record by two seconds with a time of 50:28.