In Alaska, running reaches new heights – literally. The Alaska mountain-running community has been steadily growing since the early 1900s, when the first Mount Marathon challenge sent a handful of men racing up its slopes in an effort to beat the one-hour mark.
Today, mountain running is its own sport, and there are many opportunities during which to run higher and farther, elevation be damned. The Alaska Mountain Runners, a nonprofit group dedicated to promoting the sport and preserving the trails, offers a series of mountain races suitable for all abilities. For some, it’s an accomplishment just to reach the top. For others, the ultimate goal is to obliterate records, going faster every time.
The Alaska Mountain Runners Grand Prix race series is the highlight of the season. The Grand Prix point system complies with the World Mountain Running Association standards, with points being awarded to the first 20 men and women in each race. You must finish at least three races to be eligible, and up to four races are counted. If you’ve already scheduled to run all of them, the top four results will be used.
The six-race series kicked off with Kal’s Knoya Ridge Run in late May, and continues with races this month (Government Peak, June 1; and Bird Ridge, June 16). The three remaining races – Mount Marathon on July 1, Matanuska Peak Challenge on Aug. 3 and the Alyeska Classic Mountain Run on Aug. 17 – round out the gut-busting, thigh-burning series.
While it’s too late to enter some of the races – registration for Mount Marathon was closed months ago – there is still time to get in shape for some of the later-season runs. The Matanuska Peak Challenge is aptly named – at 14 miles out and back and with a 9,100 vertical gain, it’s long and difficult. There are no aid stations, so come prepared.
On Aug. 17, the Alyeska Classic Mountain Run kicks off with runners climbing the mountain as fast as they can. The 2.2 mile course never lets up.
If those races are not enough, there are plenty of other opportunities to run mountains. Kodiak, Fairbanks, Nome and Juneau are just some of the locations of challenging races across the state. The well-known Cross Pass Crossing, set for July 27, is just one of them. Fairbanks’ Sluice Box 100 – yes, at 100 miles long – is one of the most challenging. For details on any of these races, start at the Alaska Mountain Runners website, alaskamountainrunners.org.
The awards banquet for the Grand Prix is set for 6-8 p.m. Aug. 25 at Russian Jack Chalet. Age-group winners will be recognized at this potluck style event.
Alaska Mountain Runners Grand Prix Schedule
Kal’s Knoya Ridge Run: 8.5K, 4,300-feet vertical May 23 (already run, see alaskamountainrunners.org for details)
Government Peak Climb: 2.75 miles, 3,500-feet vertical, June 1 (www.signmeup.com)
Robert Spurr Memorial Hill Climb (Bird Ridge): 3 miles, 3,300-feet vertical, June 16 (registration closed, see alaskamountainrunners.org for details)
Mount Marathon: 3 miles, 3,022-foot elevation, July 4 (mmr.seward.com)
Matanuska Peak Challenge: 14 miles, 9,100-feet vertical, Aug. 3 (Braun Kopsack 746-5133 or Lance Kopsack 745-5966)
Alyeska Classic Mountain Run: 2.2 miles, 2,000-feet vertical, Aug. 17 (Brian Burnett 754-2536, email@example.com)