Ruckus afoot about Marathon Race changes
LOG file photo
Mount Marathon Womens Race competitors make their way down the course.
Seward’s 85th Mount Marathon Race takes place July 4, snow, rain or shine. Thousands of fans, and several hundred runners of all ages are expected to descend on Seward for the event. The race rules have changed somewhat, however, and will change even more in 2013, which has some in the local running community concerned, and signing petitions placed around town.
Beginning this year, the number of racers in the mens and womens divisions has increased to 375 per race, running in two waves, said Cindy Clock, the Seward Chamber of Commerce’s executive director. That’s 25 more than the normal limit of 350 for each race. Also, there will be a 10-minute break between the two waves of runners in order to help prevent the cliff-side logjams where the fastest runners in the second race try to overtake those at the end of the first wave as they begin to head up the mountain.
In addition, the race will be timed this year, and only the top 225 finishers of each race this year will be afforded priority status next year, meaning that they can automatically enter the race as a priority runner. The only exception are those runners who will have achieved veteran status (having finished the Mount Marathon Race for 10 years), former race winners, or the top 10 finishers in each age category. Also, priority runners will in the future be allowed to skip, or opt out without cause for a year, and will still be allowed to return the next year, without losing his or her priority status.
The race committee’s goal is to allow more runners into the race through its lottery system. The problem is that the race has been so popular that once in, few runners ever drop out, which has made it near impossible for new runners to get into the race, unless they can buy their way in at the July 3 auction. Last year things were so tight that the committee had to open 20 additional lottery slots in the men’s race because there were none available, although 380 men had applied. In the women’s race, 270 runners competed for just 18 available lottery slots.
Meanwhile, the bids taken the night before the race as a fundraising tool for future races, climbed to almost absurdly high amounts, with one runner paying a record $1,600 to get into the men’s race. The total amount bid that night was more than $30,000. Race committee members say it was never their intention to raise funds in this way, or through non-refundable lottery tickets, in fact they find it embarrassing the very idea that people might think so.
The critics, principally consisting of local residents and runners, at least 55 of whom have signed the petition, say the new race rules, especially cutting priority runner status off at the fastest 225, will make the race too elite, favoring the fastest, professional runners over those who race each year for personal reasons. These could be the runners trying to prove to themselves they can still do it despite increasing age or recovering from injury or illness, or the local mother running on behalf of her son who loved Mount Marathon, but who died while deployed in a war overseas. Those are the folks who inspire people to come out and cheer the most, they say. According to last year’s race finishing times, the qualifying time for the men’s race would be shortened by 1 hour and 44 minutes, and the women’s race by 1 hour 12 minutes, the petition states.
Those who lose their priority status can always try to return to the race through the lottery system along with everyone else, said Clock. With more openings available in the lottery, their chances are better. Also, the majority of the older men and women, those from the 60 and 70 year old age categories whom everyone loves to cheer for, will still be automatically in the race as the top ten in each age class maintains their priority status, and there’s not that many of them. The same applies to the junior race, which is easier to get into by lottery she said. The new race rules are not set in stone, however, Clock added. The Mount Marathon Race Committee will evaluate how well the new rules work over the next few years, and may make changes accordingly.