Ostrander is set for World Mountain Running Championships. So what exactly is mountain running?

Allie Ostrander, a 2015 graduate of Kenai Central and current cross-country runner at Boise State University, will represent the United States in the World Mountain Running Championships on Saturday in Snowdonia, North Wales.

Which begs the question: What exactly is mountain running?

When Alaskans think mountain running, they think of races like Mount Marathon, which is held every July 4 in Seward.

Paul Kirsch, the juniors’ team manager with the U.S. Mountain Running Team, wrote in an email that the course Ostrander will confront Saturday is definitely different than Mount Marathon.

Mount Marathon and the course in North Wales are similar in distance and that they start near sea level, but the similarities end there.

Ostrander’s race will consist of one lap on a 2.92-mile course. There is no set “course” up Mount Marathon. Runners can go up the mountain any way they choose. But the distance covered in the race is about 3.1 miles.

Big differences come in elevation change and characteristics of the trail.

Mount Marathon has an elevation change of 3,022 feet, while the North Wales course has an elevation change of 820 feet.

Kirsch wrote that Mount Marathon has extreme grades and very technical terrain that is absent on courses recognized by the International Association of Athletics Federations as mountain running courses.

A video preview of the North Wales course at wmrcwales.org shows a course consisting of pavement, a nice trail and some sections where runners will have to negotiate numerous rocks strewn about the trail.

But there is nothing like the cliffs at the base of Mount Marathon, where three points of contact with the mountain at all times is a must for all but the most agile of runners.

But that’s not to say that some lung-busting, heart-pounding climbing does not await the runners Saturday.

The North Wales course gains 721 feet in .658 miles, computing to 1,095 feet per mile.

Mike Crawford, of the Tsalteshi Trails Association, said the vaunted Bear Loop at the trails gains 180 feet in about .23 miles, computing to a rate of 782 feet per mile.

In other words, the gain at the beginning of the North Wales race is worse, about 182 feet of elevation gain worse, than laying three Bear uphills back to back to back.

But from there, the course is relatively flat for the next 1.2 miles before dropping 646 feet in the next .75 miles, a rate of 861 feet per mile.

No matter the course, Kirsch wrote Ostrander should be set up well to handle it.

“Allie is coming into Worlds with some unique skills — rare is it for someone to be so good at cross country and track and also be so good in mountain races at such a young age — often someone is a better strength runner than they are at leg turnover — Allie seems to have both,” Kirsch wrote. “This is a great asset to her as she goes into worlds.”

Ostrander firmly established her cross-country credentials by winning Nike Cross Nationals as a high school senior. Nike Cross Nationals is one of two major national races for high school runners.

The climbing credentials of Ostrander are similarly solid. She is a six-time girls champion in the Mount Marathon junior race, which goes halfway up the mountain.

This summer in her debut in the senior race, Ostrander ran 50 minutes, 28 seconds, to finish second to the 47:48 of Sweden’s Emelie Forsberg. Both runners broke the iconic 1990 record of 50:30 by Nancy Pease.

But Kirsch notes Ostrander will face some tough competition in the junior race Saturday. He wrote the event is like the Olympics of mountain running with 30 teams from around the world competing. The U.S. Mountain Running Team is officially sanctioned by USA Track and Field.

“… Allie is coming into this race really strong and I am optimistic about her chances,” Kirsch wrote.

Ostrander also must deal with the extensive travel to North Wales.

“I’ve never really traveled outside the country, so it will be interesting to see how I can adjust, but my mileage will be lower this week so it will give me more time to rest and recover from the time change,” Ostrander said in a released statement by Boise State. “I’ve also been talking to people about tips and ways to help out with the time change.”

The girls junior race will start at 2:15 a.m. ADT Saturday. While the junior women do one lap of the course, the junior men and senior women do two laps, and the senior men do three laps. The junior men’s race includes 2015 Kodiak graduate Levi Thomet, a three-time Class 4A state cross-country champion.

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