by Greg Lincoln
This year is the first year in 17 years that I am able to spend the 4th of July in Bethel. Usually on this day I am making my way up Mount Marathon in Seward while Kelly and the kids anxiously wait for me at the finish line.
The race begins on 4th Avenue downtown. The sides of the road are usually packed with crowds and crowds of fairgoers, many who are visitors. Food vendors are everywhere selling hot dogs of all varieties, ice cream, fried halibut with corn fritters with honey butter, homemade pies of all kinds, and the favorite ahi poke. There’s also kettle corn, corn on the cob, and cotton candy.
Everyone cheers while the runners start their race. Usually a well-known and beloved politician will get everyone going with the starting gun.
After running up 4th Avenue, we make a left turn onto Jefferson where we jog until we hit the base of the mountain. Here we can choose to take the left route, which is a trail through the rooty underbrush or to the right which leads to the cliff. The cliff is a bit more technical, you will need to find footholds and handholds as you pull yourself up. This way may be quicker, but sometimes you have to wait your turn.
For me I favor going straight up the middle through the rocky area.
After this there is a dirt trail, very rooty at the beginning through the leafy foliage which can be very hot and stifling. Some of the plants have thorns. If the day is wet and rainy, it can be slippery. There are also millions and trillions of biting bugs.
The next part of the trail is when you come out of the trees. Here you can get a nice view of Seward but if you are afraid of heights it can give you vertigo. Just thinking about it makes me dizzy. The air feels great after running through the bushes.
Next is the rocky, shaley part of the trail which they call scree. It is mostly loose rock. At this point you can take whichever trail you like to the turnaround. The marker for the halfway point for the adult race is a huge rock that you run around as race officials make note of your amazing accomplishment thus far. This area has some treacherously steep areas.
Sometimes there is a snowfield at the top that you can chose to slide down on. There are grooves that you can slide through that were made by the countless others that have gone on before you. The scary part is not trusting your legs, which by now feel like jello.
Continuing on there is an area on the way down where there is a waterfall. In past years there sometimes would be snow and ice leftover from the last winter in this area. After this is the base which usually is packed with onlookers cheering you on and yelling out your number. From this point forward the roads are crowded with people, race spotters make sure everyone gives you space – thank you so much.
Everyone is usually covered with mud and scratches and there’s volunteers with hoses to help clean you up and a first aid station if you medical care.
This race is dangerous, even the greatest runners have fallen and gotten seriously injured. Sometimes they have to send a chopper to pick people up who cannot finish. Race officials make sure everyone knows the hazards. There’s even bears who live on the mountain.
Sometimes we will run into folks from our area which is great. It is quite the race after weeks and months of training, it sure pays off to finally cross the finish line and into the arms of your loved ones.
On race day I am a mix of nervous wreck and admiration/pride as we watch our kids go up while waiting for my turn. It is such a great time.
This year there was discussions of whether or not to postpone the race to Labor Day weekend in September. In the end, it was cancelled altogether due to, you guessed it, COVID-19. So we’ll see about next year. We wish you a Happy and Safe 4th of July!