Will Norris remain king? Mt Marathon men’s Top 10 predictions

June 29, 2018

– By Matias Saari, Alaska Sports Blog Contributor

Picking the top-10 for the men’s race at Mount Marathon is a crapshoot as perhaps 20 guys are capable of achieving that result.

Standing out from the crowd are the course record holder, a couple of pros sponsored by Salomon, the “Gang of Four” mountain fanatics, a 40-something fan favorite and a pair of young guns.

1. David Norris, age 27 (PR 41:26)
An elite Nordic skier in Anchorage, Norris made Alaskans proud when he reclaimed the race record from Spanish star Kilian Jornet two years ago in his Mount Marathon debut.

He’s in excellent form now, having lowered his own record at the Bird Ridge Hill Climb on June 17 (after skiing 5 hours a day all week on the Eagle Glacier).

Norris won’t have APU teammate and defending MM champion Scott Patterson (out with a broken toe) helping push him up the hill, so unless someone like Max King hangs with him, Norris may need to self-motivate. And no one is betting against him.

For someone to join Norris on the climb, they’ll have a difficult task: in 2016, he ascended the mountain in an astounding 30:35, a full 51 seconds faster than the previous uphill record.

Sometimes APU skiers back off on the dangerous descent (to protect their skiing livelihood), but if Norris is challenged he may let it rip. This could set him up for a new course record, although the forecasted 70+ degree temperatures may slow runners down a bit. 

2. Max King, 38 (MM rookie)
He’ll race any distance, any surface. Max King of Bend, Oregon, is the most versatile runner in the country.

Twice he placed Top 20 at the US Olympic Marathon Trials (running 2:14 and 2:17). He took 6th in the steeplechase at the 2012 Trials. He won the Warrior Dash World Championship obstacle course race (and $30,000). More relevant for Mount Marathon, he’s placed exceptionally well representing Salomon in trail and mountain races across the globe in distances ranging from a Vertical Kilometer to 100 miles.

Most recently, King handily won the 26-kilometer Broken Arrow Sky Race in California on June 17.

These are all impressive accomplishments. But what can he do at Mount Marathon?

King arrived in Alaska a week before race day, giving him plenty of time to recon the mountain (he joined Erik Johnson for a lap on Thursday, then called the course “intimidating as hell” on Facebook).

King’s road speed will get him to the mountain’s base in the lead group, if not off the front. Being a light guy with a huge engine and trail-runner strength, a strong climb is expected.

But his technical mountain descending ability is unknown, and that’s what will determine whether he can chase down Norris or hold off his pursuers.

3. Lars Arneson, 28 (PR 58:14)
Top 3 might be a stretch for a guy who’s only raced MM once (taking 45th a decade ago at age 18). But Arneson is on the rise, having earned a coveted bib by winning Mat Peak last August and scoring a victory at Knoya Ridge this May.

Tall and lean, Arneson is among the Gang of Four (joining Adam Jensen, Matt Shyrock and Peter Mamrol) who have been logging major vertical with plenty of hard workouts and intra-group competition in the mountains all season.

Arneson and Mamrol also smashed the 12-peak Front Range Linkup record by 4 hours in 18:10 not quite a year ago.

However, 45 minutes of steep mountain racing is a different beast than 18 hours of backcountry scrambling, so we’ll see if Arneson can hold his race together at such a high intensity.

4. Matt Shryock, 32 (PR 44:44)
The Montana native and Anchorage nurse is due to excel after an exceptional debut in 2015 followed by placing outside the Top 10 the past two years.
He’s missed all four Grand Prix races so far this season so there’s no gauge of his racing fitness. But he has been putting in the work, and reportedly likes the heat, which will benefit him on Wednesday.

5. Adam Jensen, 37 (PR 45:21)
Another of the Gang of Four who has shown he’s capable of getting up and down quickly. Known more as a power climber than a runner, the Anchorage dentist put in a stellar runner-up result at Bird Ridge in 39:05. That bodes well for MM, though Bird is not always a good indicator of success on July 4. Jensen may benefit if he, Shryock and perhaps Arneson link up for the climb.

6. Kenny Brewer, 26 (PR 46:13)
A young guy with wheels, Brewer placed 3rd in 2017. He’ll need to speed up considerably to hold that result this year.

The Chugiak native has been traveling in the Lower 48 a bit this season (therefore not training and racing in Alaska), which could cost him time at MM.

7. Rickey Gates, 37 (PR 42:56)
Rickey Gates only 7th, really?!

Where’s the respect for the guy who holds two of the Top 5 times in Mount Marathon history, climbed the mountain in 31:26 three years ago and helped put MM on the map with his Salomon-sponsored videos?

The Colorado native and Oakland, California, resident has taken a nearly two-year hiatus from racing (last summer he ran across the country for fun), and his result at the Broken Arrow Skyrace Vertical K on June 15 wasn’t encouraging: 12th place and 4:37 off the win against a field that arguably isn’t as deep as Mount Marathon’s.

Perhaps I’ve been duped by that result and Rickey can pull a rabbit out of the hat, but I’ll believe that when I see it.

8. Erik Johnson, 41 (PR 45:22)
The Seward Parks Service employee shocked many when he emerged from the cliff last year wearing board shorts and a big beard en route to a second-place finish. Fans shouldn’t have been surprised, however, as Johnson spends a lot of time on the mountain and now has three sub-45:30 results to show for it.

However, Johnson’s early season results have been hit or miss. The highlight was winning Government Peak, albeit against a so-so field.

9. Peter Mamrol, 25 (PR 48:02)
He completes the Gang of Four. Law of averages says at least one of these guys will lay an egg, but who that will be is anyone’s guess.

10. Lyon Kopsack, 22 (PR 45:39)
This member of the Kopsack clan of mountain goats has produced average results after an impressive 2016 season. He currently seems to be building fitness as evidenced by a decent run at Bird Ridge. A fearless descender, he’ll pass a few guys on the downhill and sneak into the Top 10. He also has a MM junior victory to his credit.

Top 10 Hopefuls Who If They Feel Slighted Should Prove Me Wrong:
– Luke Jager, 18 (Junior champion 2015-17; making senior race debut)
– Jacob Kirk, 26 (PR 49:21; owns 3rd fastest downhill in history of 10:12)
– Ben Marvin, 37 (PR 46:14)
– Matt Novakovich, 44 (PR 44:07, 2012 champion)
– Matias Saari, 47 (PR 44:53, 2009 champion, 10 Top 10s)
– Jim Shine, 41 (PR 43:11 in 2015)
– Derek Steele, 20 (PR 49:09)

Signed Up But Not Racing:
– Scott Patterson, broken toe (PR 44:30, 2017 champion, 2018 Olympian)
– Eric Strabel, stress fracture (PR 42:55, 3-time champion, 15 Top 10s)
– Lars Kjerengtroen, Utah (10th in 2017)
– Chad Trammell (16th in 2017)

Other Top 2017 Finishers Not Returning:
– Alexander Eckert, 4th
– Matthias Messner, 5th
– Allan Spangler, 15th

Guest Picks:
Clint McCool — Norris, King, Arneson, Johnson, Jensen, Gates, Shine, Novakovich, Jager, Brewer
Holly Brooks — Norris, King, Gates, Arneson, Shine, Jensen, Brewer, Johnson, Novakovich, Saari
Scott Patterson — Norris, King, Gates, Johnson, Brewer, Jager, Jensen, Arneson, Saari, Kirk
Harlow Robinson — Norris, Gates, Johnson, Arneson, Kopsack, Mamrol, King, Jensen, Steele, Saari
Allan Spangler — Norris, Mamrol, Arneson, Jensen, Johnson, Gates, King, Kopsack, Brewer, Jager
NOTE: A women’s Top 10 prediction article will run on Monday, July 2.