Ostrander aims for one last junior win
The 87th running of the Mount Marathon Race is sure to be full of stories afterward. Just watch the faces of happily filthy racers at the finish line, and you can see that memories are being made, goals fulfilled. The 3.1-mile grueling mountain race that was born of a bet in a bar has changed over the years, but one thing remains the same: These stories are what keep the race so interesting.
One such tale comes from Kenai, where a petite runner who started her racing career chasing her big sister around is now making headlines not just in Seward but across the nation.
As Kenai Central High School runner Allie Ostrander prepares for this, her last Junior Mount Marathon Race, she is hoping to leave her mark. She wants to set a new course record – to replace the one she set back in 2011, when she was just 14 years old.
But no matter how the soon-to-be high school senior does this year, it’s clear that her mark on the near 90-year-old race has already been stamped with some impressive feats.
She’s won the race a record five times in a row, and if you do the math, that means she was just a 12-year-old at her first victory. At 14, she set the course record of 30 minutes, 32 seconds, and this year hopes to break the 30-minute barrier. She joins an elite group of former junior runners, including four-time champions Emily Ransom and three-time champions Aubrey Smith, Kikkan Randall and Denali Foldager. And during last year’s race, she was sixth overall, beating the majority of boys in the race.
“Last year’s race was hard,” said Ostrander, who next year will age into the adult race. “The trail was really slippery, and I started sliding back at one point, so you’re putting so much effort into it and not making as much progress.”
Still, Ostrander’s progress put her on Fourth Street before her competitors once again. As she descended the road toward the 2013 finish, she was muddied and wet, maybe even sporting a few scrapes and bruises. But she was once again princess of the half-mountain race.
Racing success is nothing new to the longtime runner, who has steadily improved from recreational athlete to nationally recognized competitor. She’s a state cross-country champion and as of press time held the No. 1 track and field spots in Alaska for the 800 meters (2:14), 1600 meters (4:54.60) and 3200 meters (10:03.66)
“I’ve always been active even when I wasn’t running and was playing soccer or basketball or something,” Ostrander said. “I just got used to it. During the summer we’ll go hike Mount Marathon and Skyline (a trail outside of Sterling in the Kenai Mountains), and running in the summer just to stay in shape.”
Ostrander credits her running success to her family – older sister Taylor also is a competitive runner now in college, and her mother is Kenai’s cross-country coach – and her teammates in both track and field and cross-country, who push her year-round.
In April, Ostrander traveled to the Arcadia Invitational national track and field championships in California and battled for an impressive second-place finish in the 3200-meter race. Her time in the race – 10:03.66 ranked her fourth in the nation as of mid-May, and in Alaska would rank her in the Top 10 among boys.
Mount Marathon, she is sure, helps give her perspective when racing those events, reminding her that while running on a flat track is hard, at least it’s not vertical.
“It’s so unlike any other race that I’ve ever done, it’s just such a challenge,” she said. “I usually don’t talk about Mount Marathon to people unless they ask because … I don’t think people would understand the difficulty of it.”
Paul Ostrander, Allie’s father, said his daughters’ love of running has evolved over the years, and he is proud of both of them. Allie, soft-spoken and always smiling, is focused and relaxed when running. While the work she does is clearly difficult, she makes it look effortless, carrying herself gracefully.
“I don’t know if it’s innate or what it is, but from a very young age, she’s been very much humble,” Paul Ostrander said. “That’s the way that she is; she just loves to do well but has never been the type of kid who has obsessed over it.”
To prepare for her record-breaking attempt, Ostrander said she plans to do what she has always done – work on hills, either from the local Tsalteshi ski trails near her home or with weekly, or twice weekly, drives to Seward for training runs. She’ll mix up her training with some speedwork and tempo runs, and always tries to get in a once-a-week long run.
“In Mount Marathon, I just want to go out there and run my hardest and I really hope to break 30,” she said. “I was 14 when I (set the record) and I have gotten a lot faster since then. I’ll just try my best.”
While Mount Marathon is her immediate goal, this 17-year-old running prodigy has far more on her agenda. Already, Division 1 schools are courting her, and she knows she will be running in college, although she’s not quite ready to reveal just where that will be.
“I do have some ideas but nothing is set in stone by any means,” she said. “I’m looking around and figuring it out.”