Alaska’s famed Mount Marathon race in Seward took a major step forward two years ago when Eric Strabel of Anchorage shattered the race’s 32-year-old course record.
The three-time champ believes the race will evolve even more this summer after world champion Kilian Jornet of Spain announced his plans to run Mount Marathon on July 4.
This is like Sidney Crosby signing with the Aces or Kentucky coming to the Shootout.
Jornet is the world’s undisputed king of the hill in trail running and his presence could take to new heights the level of competition and worldwide exposure.
“It’ll be a milestone for this race,” Strabel told me. “We have had national caliber mountain runners compete, but Kilian brings even a higher level above that. And there are probably millions of people all over the world that follow his endeavors, so many of them will find out what Mt. Marathon is. Everything about the race could take on a new level.”
In 2013, Strabel broke one of the state’s most renowned records when he posted a time of 42 minutes, 55 seconds to shatter Olympic skier Bill Spencer’s iconic mark of 43:21, which was rarely challenged since 1981.
Strabel won Mount Marathon last year by a whopping 67 seconds and was widely considered the favorite to repeat this year.
But now he will have some serious competition in Jornet, who wrote on Facebook yesterday that he was coming back to Alaska; this time to run Mount Marathon.
He was here last year to climb Denali – well, he didn’t climb Mount McKinley as much as he sprinted to the top and back, going up and back down the 20,236-foot peak in 11 hours, 48 minutes.
That’s five hours faster than anyone has ever done it. He holds similar ascent and decent records for the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc in the Alps.
“He can certainly take it up a notch,” Strabel said. “He’s one of the best in the world in the popular Vertical Kilometer races, which climb 1,000 meters on a direct course up a steep mountain, which is similar to Mount Marathon. And his descending skills, according to subjective accounts, are even better.
“But it’s still difficult to pinpoint just how he’ll do on Mount Marathon. We’ll just have to see what he does on race day.”
Strabel, of Colony High fame, won’t give up the No. 1 spot willingly. He has worked his entire life to be in this position, to win the race and to break Spencer’s cherished record. He grew up running Mount Marathon and has blood stains on the rock to prove it.
He takes great pride in representing Alaska. Remember the 2002 NCAA Ski Championships at Kincaid Park? That was when, as a sophomore, he challenged for the 20K freestyle national title and won a silver medal. His performance had the crowd buzzing with electricity like never seen.
It will be no different when the 33-year-old Strabel takes on an elite athlete like the 27-year-old Jornet, a six-time world champion. It could give Mount Marathon an Olympic feel.
“There’s been a lot of speculation for many years of what an athlete like Kilian could do on the mountain. Now we’ll find out,” Strabel said. “I am really excited to test myself with him.
“I’m in the prime of my mountain running and my fitness is getting stronger by the day. I’ve had probably my best winter of training. I am on a good track for July Fourth.”