Monday, July 2, 2007

Fear is good for Mount Marathon first-timers

2006: The men's field of Tuesday's Mount Marathon race heads up the rocks at the base of the mountain.
Mount Marathon organizers plan a safety meeting the night before the race in an attempt to prevent competitors from taking falls like William Andariase, 13, of Anchorage, endured last year. Said veteran runner Flip Foldager,
Race committee's show lets rookies know to err on the side of caution.
Published: July 1, 2007
About 8 Tuesday night, the lights will go down inside Seward High School and video viewing of human carnage from past Mount Marathon races will commence.
The assembled race rookies, who must attend the safety meeting to secure their race bibs for Wednesday's 80th edition of the race, will watch a short video that emphasizes the toll the mountain will take on unprepared or reckless runners. They'll see clips of runners suffering wicked face plants and others tumbling down the perilous cliff face at the bottom of the 3,022-foot mountain.
And then veteran racer Flip Foldager will do his part to freak out the newcomers.
"If you have not been on the mountain, if you haven't practiced it, if you don't know where you're going, you should not be here,'' Foldager told the rookies last year.
There's a Boy Scout lesson in the tough love: Be prepared.
With loose boulders, sharp shale, dangerous cliffs and assorted perils awaiting -- that's particularly true on the harrowing descent of a slab of pain that averages 38 degrees -- the uninitiated are vulnerable to unforgiving falls. And that's why Foldager, who is also a member of the race committee, aims to scare rookies straight.
"I'm fairly gruff about it,'' Foldager said last year. "I tell 'em, 'It's not a cakewalk.' That's my angle. I want people to be a little scared. If you're not scared, you're going to do something dumb.''
No one has ever died in a Mount Marathon race, but runners have suffered broken bones, brutal bruising and cuts that require stitches. This is a race that features an ambulance stationed at the base of the mountain and a medical tent at the finish line.
The safety meeting has been a race staple about a decade. In that time, the field has mushroomed to about 350 in both the men's and women's races, and 200 in the junior race. Packed fields on the narrow trails create traffic that make safety especially critical -- one runner's mistake may turn into another runner's mishap.
As KTUU Channel 2's Jason Moore, who helps conduct the safety meeting and produced the video with Foldager, told last year's rookies, "There are countless opportunities to injure yourself.''
The video shows various sections of the course. Former women's contender Kjerstin Lastufka negotiates those sections in a training primer. Weather conditions, clothing and gear options are also discussed.
The video ends with footage of the thousands of spectators who line Fourth Avenue downtown and cheer racers -- the elite, the middle-of-the-packers and the tail-enders -- to the finish.
"Keep in mind,'' Moore told the rookies last year, "if you come down on a stretcher, you'll miss that awesome experience.''
After the video Tuesday night, Foldager will address the rookies -- offering tips on how to avoid mishaps, how to keep small rocks out of shoes, how to wrap ankles and generally how to make the journey as safe and successful as possible. And he reminds junior racers that he will be at the base of the mountain for their race.
"All you have to do is call my name,'' Foldager told the juniors last year. "I'll come help you.''
As stern and serious as Foldager can be addressing the rookies, he said he doesn't recall spooking anyone so badly that they sprinted for the exits.
"I've had people come up and express doubts, but I don't remember anyone coming up and saying they're not going to run,'' Foldager said.
Another great race of Alaska. The foot race is held every July 4th up and down the 3,022 foot peak of Mount Marathon, overlooking the Kenai Peninsula in the city of Seward Alaska. The race is a climb and descend on Mt. Marathon. It's a mile and a half up and a mile and a half down, complete with cliffs, waterfalls, and a wonderful view. The first race was held in 1915 over a bet on who could climb the mountain the fastest. Claims were made that they could do it under an hour. Today the race is broken down into many different races. Mens, women's, juniors and teams. There is of 200 to 300 runners. Lottery drawing is used to pick participants. Participants come from all of the world to run in this race in Seward.
Sam has said several times it's on his list of things to do.

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