Mount Marathon

JOEL KRAHN photo

Races run downhill during a Mount Marathon race in Seward. 

The oldest mountain race in North America was canceled Sunday due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The Mount Marathon Race, which brings thousands of runners and spectators to Seward over the July 4 weekend, was officially canceled for 2020, marking the first time since World War II that there will not be a race.  

The race had previously been postponed, with the eight-member race committee considering an alternate date of Sept. 6. 

The 93rd Mount Marathon Race is now scheduled for July 4, 2021. 

“Not having Mount Marathon in 2020 is a great disappointment and a decision the committee took very seriously,” race director Matias Saari said. “The committee considered multiple scenarios for attempting to hold a race in 2020. However, it could not adequately mitigate risk and safely adhere to State of Alaska and CDC large community events pandemic guidelines for spectators, participants and volunteers.”

The committee considered, but rejected, conducting a scaled-back event that would have implemented wave starts with fewer runners, asked spectators to stay away, spread the men’s, women’s and junior races over three days, and eliminated popular elements such as the live auction and awards ceremony.

“The committee felt that a diluted event simply would not do the Mount Marathon Race justice. The heart of Mount Marathon has always included a mass start and thousands of cheering fans on the 4th of July,” Saari said.

Organizers conducted a survey of registered runners in late-May. Of 560 respondents, 38% said they would not participate in a race scheduled for Sept. 6, while 43% said they would and 19% were not sure. Primary reasons for staying away included safety and health concerns due to the pandemic, students returning to college, travel challenges, planned hunting trips and other schedule conflicts, and respecting the 4th of July race tradition.

“Nearly half the race roster saying they wouldn’t participate on Sept. 6 was very telling,” Saari said.

The entire roster for the 2020 race will be frozen and rolled over to 2021. Anyone planning to participate will be required to re-confirm their registration in March 2021. Since all have the opportunity to participate in 2021, no refunds for 2020 will be granted. Those who opted to use their one-time Skip-A-Year for 2020 will be added to the 2021 roster and retain their Skip-A-Year option.

A registration lottery will be held for junior racers in 2021 because 44 spots will open up from 17-year-olds aging in to the adult races. It is currently unknown whether a lottery for the men’s and women’s races will be possible.

The committee’s decision was unanimous and included the approval of Saari, the race director, and Jason Bickling, the director of the Seward Chamber of Commerce, which owns the event.

The Mount Marathon Race is the oldest mountain race in North America. Although held continuously since 1943, the race was not run between 1920 and 1924, from 1932 through 1938, and finally in 1942 as an indirect result of World War II.

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