KODIAK — Born in 1977, the Pillar Mountain Run is one of the longest-running events at Crab Festival.
The punishing 9.1-mile race starts and finishes in downtown Kodiak. In between, runners endure a 1,270-foot climb up a mountain that overlooks the city. The terrain includes a gravel road going up Pillar and a narrow trail going down the mountain into Swampy Acres.
Since 85 runners tackled the mountain in 2014, the race has seen a steady decline in participants. Last year, only 27 runners competed. The low turnout has left City of Kodiak Parks and Recreation Director Corey Gronn scratching his head. The Pillar Run is one of three races that the Parks and Recreation Department organizes on the Sunday of Crab Fest.
“People know about it. It is a staple,” Gronn said. “People are aware of it, but because of how grueling the race can be, if people are not ready they are not going to do it regardless of how much advertising we do.”
The drop in runners coincides with the emergence of the Unofficial Crab Festival Half Marathon, which is organized by the Veterans Outreach and conducted on the same day as the Pillar Run. The half marathon had 22 runners last year.
Gronn noted that the half marathon is more enticing than a trip up a mountain for aging runners. Weather is also a factor.
“We would like to get 60 to 70 people running again,” he said. “If it is too nice, it is too hot and people will not run it and if it is too crappy, people will not run.”
If the turnout is low again this year, Gronn said he would consider moving the Pillar Run to another day, such as Saturday or Monday. What he doesn’t want to see is the race evaporate like the Chad Ogden Ultramarathon, a 43-mile race from Chiniak to Kodiak City that debuted at the 1970 Crab Festival. The race ended in 2006 because of lack of interest.
“We are not at that point,” Gronn said. “For us with the races, we are going to have to get creative with our awards in order to get a draw. We used to get people to come off-island as well. We don’t get many emails or calls from off-island folks.”
In 2014, Harlow Robinson, the creator of the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame, traveled from Anchorage to The Rock to compete in the Crab Festival Marathon — another Parks and Rec race — and the Pillar Mountain Run on the same day.
He won the marathon, which starts in Kalsin Bay, in 3 hours, 6 minutes, 51 seconds and finished fourth in his age group in the Pillar Run with a time of 1:18:00.
The record for the Pillar Run is 51:46, which was recorded by Alaska mountain runner Matias Saari in 2011. Kodiak’s Kristi Waythomas (Klinnert) owns the women’s record with a time of 57:29, set in 1987.
Gronn said the Sunday of Crab Festival is his department’s biggest race day of the year. Besides Pillar and the marathon, the parks and recreation department also stages the Pasaghsak-to-Kodiak Bike Ride, which debuted in 2010, and the Ididarock, which encompasses a mile swim in the Kodiak Community Swimming Pool, the bike ride and the Pillar run.
“A lot of communication,” said Gronn on what it takes to organize all three races on the same day. “We have a good staff — the same staff for the past three years.”
The marathon begins between Silver Beach and Kalsin Bay and the bike ride starts at the mouth of the Pasagshak River. Both races start at 9 a.m. The Pillar Mountain Run starts at the Harbormaster’s Office at 12:30 p.m.
Register for all the races at the Teen Center by 6 p.m. Saturday.
OTHER CITY EVENTS
Leading up to Sunday’s big races, the Parks and Recreation Department will have a slew of smaller athletic events for islanders to participate in.
The tennis tournament (starts Tuesday), the predicted mile (6 p.m. Thursday) and the youth foot races (2 p.m. Saturday) will take place at Baranof Park. The predicted mile was started in 1974 and is the longest-tenured Crab Festival sporting event.
The predicted mile swim (7:15 p.m. Thursday) will be at the community swimming pool, while the Teen Center hosts the chess (6 p.m. Friday) and the ping-pong (6 p.m. Saturday) tournaments.