I was caught by surprise to see this race in the news. Clicking the link to Outsides website, I was reminded of something from long ago and as soon as I saw the photo ad the head of the article I remembered why, and it became clear why this race would never end up on my bucket list, even if I was an endurance athlete ( clearly not ) or had a bucket list. Want to know why?
Because I already ran it.
Until I read this article, the event, and much of the era in which it occurred, had been forced to the back of my mind by other adventures. But so much came rushing back, in scarring detail, that I thought I ought to write the memory down. Here's the story:
In 1979 Mike McKibben and I were riding bicycles through Alaska in anticipation of catching work when the Salmon Fishing Season started. It was a big adventure for us, and by late June we had already bathed in glacial run-off, rode up on a She-Grizzly with 2 cubs, startled several moose, and struggled to sleep in the open air under the midnight sun. We rolled into Seward on July 3rd, dirty, tired, broke, and 17 years old.
We parked our gear covered bikes in front of a bar to indulge in the cookout going on in the side yard, that seemed to have an enthusiastic crowd of patrons. We were very hungry, and the smell of grilling hotdogs and burgers compelled us.
"You Guys here for the race?' the barmaid asked. She offered us beer without batting an eye, so I know our beards were dirt -enhanced. By coincidence we had arrived at the sign-up party for the race, which was soon described to us as a free-for-all, no holds barred foot race between fishermen, loggers, miners, and all comers to the top of yonder mountain and back. First one to touch the sea again wins bragging rights, beer and a hand full of cash. Were we too broke (or too scared) to cough up the $5 entry fee to compete?
I looked up. The mountain slopes rose close to town and behind the roof of the bar, and kept going up as the green spruce and fir covered slope turned to grey shale and scree and then up even further dirty white snowfields reaching to the summit of Mount Marathon.
We hadn't planned for or anticipated ore even heard of a challenge like this, and it's likely that Mike and I looked at each other kind of dumbfounded.
"Finishers Eat Free."
I dont think she was able to finish the sentence before we barked an answer over the top of her.
I don't have any memories about the rest of that day or the following morning. We probably camped in the city park that night and got a good night sleep thanks to the "Shade" provided by the mountains that rise steeply around the little seaport of Seward. The next memory pops into my head bluntly.
I'm in a crowd of runners leaving the paved road about a half mile from the starting point to start the trail up Mount Marathon, but there is no trail. It goes road, ditch, cliff. Not a cliff like in a Wiley Coyote movie, but steep enough that runners ahead of me are using trees as hand and foot holds, steep enough that the rocks that the leaders high above kick loose keep tumbling through the body of racers behind them all the way back to the ditch. I've already lost sight of Mike.
There is no route, and racers spread out across the slope scrambling upwards, and I find myself using several rungs of branches on the small fir trees as hand and foot holds to gain altitude to rock firm enough to grab onto.
Its an overcast July 4th and probably in the 80's, most competitors started the race wearing shorts and t-shirts like Mike and I did. But a lot of competitors are wearing long pants and boots. I'm already sweaty and think they must be dumb.
Neither Mike nor I were particularly athletic, but our recent bicycling expedition might have improved our physical condition somewhat, but we were in no way trained for an undertaking like this.
Dispite the fever of competition, my already burning lungs and aching thighs give me no choice but to take it slow. Everyone is making rash decisions in the ascent and theres plenty of hands and fingers being stepped on as
. As i top the first cliffy section and enter the scree fields, my lungs are on fire and my legs hot and achey. As I approach the ice fields craning my neck to look up, I see that the number of racers ahead of me has thinned and diverged into several different routes up the slope. I choose a dirty slope along the icefield. Ive passed a few people, and it looks like I'm mid-pack. My lthighs are freaking out but I feel confidant that I can make it to the summit, but regulating my pace t
to be continued....
"If You Aint Bleeding, You Aint Trying."