Strabel back to defend his record-breaking title
The first thing Eric Strabel asked after crossing the finish line in last year’s Mount Marathon was, “Is that clock right?”
Not only was the clock right on, but it also showed that Strabel was both the 2013 winner of the 86th running of Mount Marathon and the new course record-holder. His staggeringly fast time of 42 minutes, 55 seconds, set on a cloudy day amid some of the toughest competition yet, crushed that of longtime mountain runner Bill Spencer, whose 43:21 record, set in 1981, has withstood decades of challenge.
“He didn’t just win the race today,” said Bill Spencer of Strabel at the awards ceremony last year. “He broke a record that I held for quite a few years, probably before he was born.
“I’m pretty excited to see Eric take over this mantle for me.”
This year, Strabel, 32, returns to defend his title as fastest man on Marathon, and he is coming into the race looking strong and ready. He’s trying to focus on areas in which to get even stronger than last year, and already this year, the work is paying off.
Feeling like he needed to mix up his racing to not just focus on mountains, he is taking time to train on more gentle terrain. In April, he took third in the Alaska Heart Run with a time of 15 minutes, 50.2 seconds.
“I felt like I needed to be a more well-rounded runner,” he said. “That race showed me I can break 16 minutes. Last year I definitely would not have been able to do that.”
Strabel also is taking part in the annual Grand Prix mountain race series offered by Alaska Mountain Runners. The summer-long mountain races keep tabs on the state’s best runners, and by the time Mount Marathon rolls around, attentions turn to those who have done best during the series.
That was the case for women’s 2013 winner Christy Marvin, who last year as a rookie shattered the competition, crossing the finish line with almost two minutes to spare. But to mountain running enthusiasts, she was no fluke. Already, she had dominated on such races as the Government Peak Hill Climb, the Robert Spurr Memorial Climb up Bird Ridge and the Knoya Ridge Run. She continued her strong streak with a win at Mount Marathon and kept on winning mountain races after that, claiming first in both the Matanuska Peak Challenge and the Alyeska Mountain Run.
Marvin, too, is back to defend her title.
Strabel said his primary goal in the 2013 race was to simply win. Already, he knew what victory felt like – he won the 2011 race in 44 minutes, 40 seconds, but fell short in 2012, placing eigth to Anchorage runner Matt Novakovich. While he liked the idea of breaking the record, it was not the first of his goals.
“Throughout the preparation period of last year’s race, in my mind I did believe it was possible but my No. 1 goal was being prepared to win it,” he said. “If I was in position to get the record, then great, I would cross that bridge when I came to it.”
As it happened, Strabel said he was not sure what pace he was on; he was more concerned with battling for the lead with San Francisco mountain runner Rickey Gates, a lean, sideburned man with strong legs that gothim to the top of Marathon before anyone else. On the descent, Strabel caught him, but once off the mountain, Strabel’s road legs almost failed him.
“Rickey came right back to me and that was a real nail-biter, and I want to make sure I have a better chance this year,” he said of his diversified training plan.
At the home stretch, though, Strabel managed to find the gears he needed to outrace his Lower 48 competitor, keeping the race record in the hands of an Alaskan.
“I really wanted to make sure someone else got to the finish line before he did,” he said. That Gates is from out of state, “was more fuel for the fire.”