Seward stalwart Fred Moore may not reside in the public eye of the Alaska mountain running scene as those that have blazed to new records up and down the famed Mount Marathon trail, and he’s never been as fast as those names either.
But one thing he holds over them — over everyone, in fact — is how many times he’s returned to conquer the famous peak standing guard over the fishing town at the head of Resurrection Bay.
The 79-year-old Moore will attempt to complete his 50th Mount Marathon race Thursday in Seward, extending the all-time race record that he owns for consecutive races, which stretches back to his rookie year in 1970.
“I never did run as racing, until Mount Marathon,” Moore said of his early days. “And then it was even a couple of years before I started running. I just ran as much as I had to to get to the mountain and back.”
The Mount Marathon race is celebrating its 92nd year, dating back to the first competitive race up the mountain in 1915. The legend goes that the competition sprouted up as a bar bet between two old sourdoughs, who wagered that the 3,022-foot peak could not be climbed and descended in less than one hour, with the loser buying the house a round of drinks.
Ultimately, it was James Walters who made it to the finish line first, albeit two minutes over an hour, but the seeds were planted for what has become a globally sought-after event.
In his 50 years running, Moore has always finished the race to the applause of locals and visitors alike.
Fellow Seward runner Erik Johnson, who at age 42 has a pedestrian eight Mount Marathon’s under his belt but a high finish of second place in 2017, said the the culture and the people who understand the history of the event know what Moore is doing belongs up there among the iconic records of the race.
“People here want to celebrate the people that inspire them,” Johnson said in a recent interview. “They don’t want it to be just about (men’s record holder) David Norris and (Seward’s) Denali Strabel. They want it to be about people that show they’re special by either organizing events or doing events, or doing races 50 times.”
Longtime Seward resident Patti Foldager, a two-time women’s champion who trained often with Moore back in their heyday, said Moore’s longevity is setting the standard for the crowd that’s been competing for many years. According to the Mount Marathon website, only nine men and three women have complete 30 or more runnings of the race, and of that group only two have 40 more on their belt — Moore and Palmer runner Braun Kopsack.
Foldager has 36 races under her belt, going back to her rookie attempt in 1980, and husband Flip Foldager has 39 races.
“I think there’s going to be a group of guys that reach that point,” Foldager said. “There’s not many too far behind.”
In discussing his longevity that has kept him coming back year after year, Moore pulled a line from legendary New York Yankees Hall of Famer Yogi Berra, who was full of memorable quotes.
“If you don’t know where you’re going, you might end up somewhere else.”
Moore said Berra’s quote perfectly represents his journey to Seward as a young man and the lifetime he’s spent in the small town tucked away in the mountains.
“If you stop and think about it, who really does know where they’re going?” Moore asked. “You know where you’d like to go, but you do not know where you going, and there’s a pretty good chance you will end up somewhere else.”
Now retired, Moore spends much of his time writing — the story of his journey to Alaska can be found in “Seward Unleashed: Vol I and II” at the Seward Senior Center — and hunting. Working as a carpenter much of his life, Moore’s work skills helped lead him to the 49th state.
Moore joined a group of acquaintances heading up the Alcan Highway in June 1959 from his hometown of Jamestown, Pennsylvania. The quartet agreed to split gas and driving duties as they sought adventure and the potential for work in sawmills.
When no employment was found, the four turned back and headed home, but Moore abandoned the group in Edmonton, Alberta, after quarreling with the lead driver. The 19-year-old Moore hitchhiked with various rides to get back to Seward, where he picked up a position at the Bayview Sawmill. The Bayview eventually burned to the ground and Moore bounced between jobs in Seward, Whittier and Wasilla for several years, mostly working summers with the Alaska Forest Service and winters at the Hardwood Mill in Wasilla.
Eventually, Moore’s passion for seafaring and fishing led him to construct several boats and skiffs, including a 30-foot trimaran that he finished in 1970, leading him to quit the sawmill and set eyes on Mount Marathon.
“I had time on my hands, and I always liked getting out into the mountains,” he said. “I started climbing the mountain, thinking about the race, not sure if I was going to do it.
“On the fourth of July, it was good weather, I was feeling good, so I paid my dollar deposit on a bib to run the race, and I did it.”
Unlike the $65 entry fee required of all runners today, Moore said racers then got their dollar back when they turned in their cloth bib. Some runners in modern times will pay thousands of dollars to run the race. Every year, the night before the race, aspiring racers who have not gained entry into the event through the lottery have shown up in the Seward High gym to try their luck in the bib auction, which hocks 10 race bibs to those willing to lay down the cash.
Some years have seen men’s race bibs go for as much as $4,500.
Moore isn’t shocked to see the high price some are willing to pay. Instead, he says it’s just the natural progression of an event that has skyrocketed in popularity over the years, from an event only attempted by “crazy people,” to now a bucket-list item for passionate runners.
Moore’s finished his first handful of races in over an hour, but eventually began training more seriously and lowered his time to 53:23 in 1976, which stands as his all-time personal best.
Throughout his time, Moore has held age group records in four separate divisions — the 40-49, the 50-59, the 60-69 and the 70-79 age groups, the last of which he currently holds. The first three age divisions have since been topped by others.
Moore, however, isn’t the oldest racer in history. That honor belongs to Anchorage’s Chad Resari, who will be 83 on race day this year. Resari’s first year running the event was 1964, but he has skipped years in between, helping to give Moore the longevity award.
Currently 83, Resari should this year break the age record, which was formerly held by Anchorage’s Corky Corthell, and should continue giving Moore a carrot to chase after.
Moore said he recalls the feat of consecutive races gaining attention in the 1990s, when he approached what many believed then to be 26 in a row by Ed Schuster, who began his streak in 1969.
Moore’s credits his best career finish of ninth, the only top-10 of his career, in 1987 to who was not racing that year.
“There was a lot of people in an ordinary year would’ve beat me,” he said. “But they weren’t in the race that year … I know (former champions) Sam Young and Bill Spencer were up on the top officiating, so there’s two.”
Another factor that helped Moore grab a top-10 spot was his local knowledge of the mountain, which has taken a particularly brutal beating from a nasty storm in fall of 1986, leading to flooding on the trail that reshaped the landscape.
“We knew the mountain, and others expected it to be different,” Moore said.
To add further legend to the story, Moore said he ran that year with a hernia, which he got taken care of later that fall.
Back in his faster days, Moore said he trained most often with two women who know the mountain well — Patti Foldager and Carmen Young. Foldager is a two-time women’s champion and Young is a four-time champ who ran the fifth-fastest time (currently) in women’s history in 1986 with a sizzling time of 50:54 — a time that still stands as the 30-39 age group record.
Moore said sharing information and tips with the two ladies never dominated the conversation, but pushing each other on during training runs made for a lifelong friendship.
“We all had our own way of doing things,” Moore said. “We’d just do the whole course together.”
Foldager said with the trio of training partners all finishing in about the same times, it provided good opportunity to test out the various routes on the mountain to see which one was fastest.
“He was a good teacher,” Foldager said. “I’m pretty bullheaded, I like to do things my way, and I think Fred was challenged by that. He would always tell me, ‘You’re never going to win the race on your toes’.
“When I’d start getting weak, he’d move ahead and I would think, ‘Oh, I gotta stay with Fred’.”
Foldager won the women’s race in 1985 — the first year the women ran separate from the men — and 1993, while Young racked women’s victories in 1982 and 1986 through ’88. Foldager couldn’t remember her first meeting with Moore, but said he has simply been a part of Seward’s culture seemingly forever.
“He’s just always been there,” Foldager said. “Living in Seward, almost everyone associated Fred with the mountain because he always did it.”
With 50 years of running the mountain, Moore has also seen a lot, including some of the race’s biggest moments. Moore said while the iconic marks that have stuck in everyone’s memory (like Bill Spencer’s 1981 record that stood for 32 years) are impressive, some of the most stirring performances have come in the junior division, which races halfway up the mountain and back. Bill Spencer’s 1973 junior race record of 24:30 has never been seriously threatened in 46 years since he set it. In the junior girls history, 2014 stands out as the most shocking performance, when Kenai runner Allie Ostrander’s defeated the entire field, including the boys.
Another tradition that Moore has carried throughout the years is running with hot pink shorts.
Moore said the use of his iconic pink shorts began with his wife’s suggestion when Moore ran the 1983 Equinox Marathon in Fairbanks. Phyllis Shoemaker wanted to be able to pick out her husband among the crowd of thousands running the race, and when she stopped her car along the race route, it would be obviously clear whether Fred was coming or going.
“I was talking to her just a couple days ago and she said that I picked out the shorts,” he said. “I don’t remember it that way.”
Moore said he adopted the bright pink shorts look for Mount Marathon in either 1984 or 1985. Since then, he’s gone through at least a dozen pairs of pink shorts.
“I try to stay clean,” he said. “I don’t want my pink shorts getting muddy.”
Shoemaker has run Mount Marathon 20 times herself, most recently in 2006, and has six top-10 finishes to her credit. Moore said his wife hasn’t raced in recent years after getting knee replacements.
While he often won’t be seen approaching the finish line muddied or bloodied, Moore said the final half mile or so to the end is a time to enjoy the atmosphere.
“I kind of go down the street like a baseball player that’s just hit an out-of-the-park home run,” he said. “Relish the crowd and don’t be looking tired at the end.
“I don’t want to get muddy, bloody or let anybody see me looking tired.”
At the end of the day, Moore said as long as Alaska embraces him, he’ll embrace it back.
“I’ve never cared much about competition,” he said. “But what I do care about is, when I do something, I like to do it well.”