Willow’s the spot for the next great marathon

by • December 17, 2013 • trailmixComments (0)203

Richard Barnhart is covered in ice after last year’s inaugural Winter Solstice marathonhalf marathon, held at 30-below zero race. This year’s event includes a 5K as well, and is set for Dec. 21.  By Kate Kinas

Richard Barnhart is covered in ice after last year’s inaugural Winter Solstice marathonhalf marathon, held at 30-below zero race. This year’s event includes a 5K as well, and is set for Dec. 21. By Kate Kinas

          If you haven’t heard of the Willow Running Company yet, remember you heard it here first. Andrea Hambach and her husband, David Johnston, started their fledgling company just a year ago and are already putting on some super-cool races that athletes hungry for new events will devour.

An uphill-only marathon up the back side of Hatcher Pass? They offer it. A trail run along Red Shirt at the Nancy Lakes State Recreation Area? That one’s getting really popular. And how about a winter marathon along the historic Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Course? That’s on tap this month – 9 a.m., Dec. 21.

“We started years ago as the Willow Running Club, which we still have,” Johnston said, “but we wanted to try and do something toward just a little bit more serious runners, too. Our first race was the solstice race last year, and it was 30 below zero.

“This was, I think, everybody’s record coldest race they’d ever done. It made Runner’s World dot-com for the most extreme race of the month.”

This year, Johnston feels safe to predict that it will be nowhere near as cold, and he’s hoping the event will draw even more participants. Event distances include a 5K, half marathon and marathon distance (the marathon is actually more like 28 miles, he said, rather than the traditional 26.2 miles).

“We decided to add something (shorter) so everyone in the family could participate,” Johnston said. “If you want to do the half marathon and your 12-year-old wants to do the 5K, we’re going to start you all at the same time, so you can at least run the first mile and a half together.”

Half-marathoner Jen Shrage traverses the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race course as part of last year’s inaugural Willow Running company Winter Solstice marathon and half marathon. This year’s event includes a 5K as well, and is set for Dec. 21. By David Johnston Jr.

Half-marathoner Jen Shrage traverses the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race course as part of last year’s inaugural Willow Running company Winter Solstice marathon and half marathon. This year’s event includes a 5K as well, and is set for Dec. 21. By David Johnston Jr.

Johnston said he and Hambach would like to see the event grow into a weekend-long festival with guest speakers and other events, and they hope to add a 50-mile ultra distance race as well.

“We don’t quite have the resources yet, but we want to let this grow,” he said.

And growing it is. Some of the heavy-hitting running names in the state are starting to take notice of the races offered. Matias Saari, well-known mountain runner and repeat Equinox marathon winner, is signed up for the Willow marathon. He will definitely be the one to beat.

Registration for the races is available online – go to the company’s site at willowrunningcompany.com and sign up. Online registration is open until Dec. 18, and race-day signup is available.

And if you can’t make the Solstice Festival, be sure to check out the other popular races in their series: the Kesugi Ridge Traverse, No Canoe Loop 11-miler and the Hatcher Pass marathon, to name a few.

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