Day 19: July 4, 2016
The Fourth in the Forty-Ninth

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On Independence Day Deb and I again headed south on Seward Highway (AK-1) but this time we went well beyond Girdwood and Portage and followed the road to near its end point in the city of Seward. She drove and I snapped a few pictures including the popular RV driving into a mountain shot. This time the RV is leading a caravan and the mountain top is hidden by clouds.

I know this doesn't look anything like caber tossing but that's exactly what it made me think of. I've always assumed that caber tossing was started by some slightly inebriated Scotsmen challenging each other to throwing the heaviest and most unwieldy thing they could locate and this struck me as something started by a few somewhat impaired Alaskans deciding to race up and down the highest and steepest thing that they could find. As it turns out, my thoughts about the beginnings of the Mount Marathon Race are not so different from the legend. The legend says that two guys were talking in a bar when one claimed he could run to and from the top of the 3,022 foot mountain in less than an hour. Eventually someone, not necessarily the same someone who originally made the boast, tried it and failed. According to legend, that first attempt took an hour and twenty minutes which naturally became the time to beat. In 1915 it became an organized event and runners now routinely finish in well under an hour.

We reached the course just a few blocks from the starting line and a few seconds after the first wave of runners left it. Those runners were soon passing by. And runners continued to pass by for quite some time. The men's and women's events are limited to 400 runners. Runners under 18 have their own event which is limited to 200 entrants. Competitors come from all over the world and it's not just the young and reckless who enter. Men and claymation characters old enough to know better are part of the field.

It doesn't take long for runners to begin emerging from the trees on the lower mountainside and news helicopters move in to capture the action. Near the top it's clouds rather than trees that hide the runners. The silhouetted figures atop the mountain are probably all journalists and officials. The average speed going up is two MPH. Coming down it's twelve. That's no doubt one of the reasons that it is tougher to spot descending runners than those still climbing. Even in this enlargement of a section of the last photograph everyone appears to be headed upward except the fellow in the snow patch on the right.

These are the first three runners to pass a point just around the corner from the finish line and I'm guessing that they finished in this order. I know for a fact that the fellow in the first picture won. He's David Norris, a champion skier from Fairbanks who not only won the nearly vertical race on his first attempt but did it in record time. A record of 43:21 stood from 1981 to 2013 when it was broken by a 42:55 run. That record was bested just two years later when a Spaniard turned in a 41:48. Norris brought the title back to Alaska and claimed the record with a time of 41:26. The race distance is 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) but most of one of those kilometers is nearly straight up and the next one nearly straight down.

Of course while the leaders were finishing their runs, many others were still on the mountain and runners would be crossing the finish line for quite some time.

We walked on down to the end of the Seward Highway where I grabbed a couple pictures of Resurrection Bay.

One of the local churches holds a chicken bbq in conjunction with the race and we indulged. $12 gets you all of this.

A parade took place while we were eating but, even though we missed it, we got to see some of the floats as they wound their way through the streets and we walked to the car.

And that's the way they celebrate the 4th of July in Seward, Alaska.

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