Meet Mount Marathon racers David Norris and Allison Barnwell

Fairbanks skier David Norris is the men’s Mount Marathon record holder. Seward runner Allison Barnwell is chasing a top finish her hometown race. (Emily Russell/Alaska Public Media)

David Norris, Fairbanks, AK

download audio

David Norris was born and raised in Fairbanks, but has been living in Anchorage for five years, skiing professionally for Alaska Pacific University.

“In Fairbanks, mountain running wasn’t really a thing,” Norris explained. But, on a whim, he and his older brother put in for Mount Marathon twice when they were kids.

They didn’t get in, so Norris said the race fell off his radar. Then, when Norris was in high school he happened to camp in Seward during the Fourth of July. Finally, he saw what all the excitement around Mount Marathon was about.

In 2015, Norris watched the race live on television. That year some of the top mountain runners in the world made the trip to Seward, including elite Spanish runner Kílian Jornet, who  has taken home gold in more than 20 European and World Championship races.

Norris on a training run on Peak 3 in the Chugach Mountains. (Ophira Group photo courtesy of David Norris)

Jornet ran with ease across the Mount Marathon finish line in 2015 with a time of 41 minutes, 48 seconds, breaking Alaska runner Eric Strabel’s 2013 record by more than a minute.

“I was super impressed with all those guys,” Norris said, “and I was definitely wondering if I could keep up with them if I was racing.”

In 2016, he got his chance.

As a Mount Marathon rookie, Norris said he didn’t have his sights set on the record, “or even necessarily winning. I just wanted to get to the top as fast as I could.”

Because Norris is a professional cross-country skier, he knew he was strong on the uphill, but wanted to be cautious coming down. So he focused all of the effort on the uphill.

He managed to summit Mount Marathon a minute faster than Jornet, which Norris said took a lot of out him. “You get to the top and you’re ready to sit down, but you have to start running down the mountain,” he laughed.

It had been weeks since he had been on the top of Mount Marathon. “The snow melt had changed quite a bit, so I didn’t even know necessarily how to approach coming off the top.”

There was still a large snowfield on the side of the mountain, so, as a skier, Norris took advantage of his downhill skills.

“I just jumped on the snow and got down as fast as I could,” which made his legs feel like Jello.

He hit the pavement for the final stretch of the race, which was a shock to his body. “I really struggled to run there because your legs aren’t ready to turn over in that high speed gradual downhill running,” Norris explained.

“The mountain just pounds your legs and takes everything out of them.”

Norris got a boost of energy from the crowd lining the road. “People are sticking their hands out for high fives and cheering loud enough that you can’t hear yourself breathe or your feet hitting the ground.”

Crossing the finish line in 41 minutes, 26 seconds, Norris broke Jornet’s record by more than 20 seconds.

“If you ever want to feel like a hero, race [Mount Marathon],” Norris said. “Whether you’re in 1st or 50th, everyone is cheering and just having a good time.”

Norris heard from so many people who were thrilled to have an Alaskan hold the Mount Marathon record once again.

This year he’s aiming to break his own record– not the one to the finish line, but the one to the top of the mountain. After that, getting down the mountain safely is his main priority. If he ends up in first across the finish line, that will be just an added bonus.

Allison Barnwell, Seward, AK

download audio

Allison Barnwell grew up in Seward, so almost every Fourth of July during her childhood she saw her hometown swell with runners and tourists. She joined the cross-country running team in middle school, and raced as a junior in Mount Marathon four times.

Then, she graduated to the senior division and has raced in that for the past seven years.

For her, Mount Marathon is a family affair.

Her parents help out with the race and Barnwell and her two sisters compete almost every year. “There’s a lot of nerves in our house because there are a lot of runners in our house,” Barnwell said.

She knows the mountain like the back of her hand.

“The faster way to go is right up a cliff right in the beginning and then there are smaller cliffs on the way up.” She tries to stay with the lead pack of women, and since there’s no set route, she said going up is a good time to pass people.

Then, on the way down, she holds on and has fun.

“Running down the shale is actually surprisingly easy,” Barnwell said. “It kind of feels like your glissading or skiing, almost. You have this soft landing and you squish a little bit, so it’s really fun, I really love it.”

Friend Abby Jahn along with Allison Barnwell and her two sisters, MacKenzie Barnwell, Isabell Barnwell at 2017 Mount Marathon. (Photo courtesy of Allison Barnwell)

After the final, most exposed cliff, you hit the pavement, which according to Barnwell is not only a shock to the body, but to the mind.

“There’s people up on the mountain, but you’re kind of alone, so it’s always just a huge shock to look out and be like, ‘Oh my goodness. There’s a crowd five people deep cheering me on!'”

The first year Barnwell placed well in the race her mom was volunteering at the halfway mark on Mount Marathon.

“I came out of the trees in fourth place and I remember seeing my mom’s jaw drop and her eyes just got huge,” Barnwell said. “She hardly could yell because she was so excited.”

Barnwell is competitive and has been training for this race by running races in the Chugach Mountains, like Bird Ridge and Government Peak. Her goal is to finish Mount Marathon in the top ten, which she’s done every year since 2012.

Barnwell also said she tries to relax, have fun and enjoy time at home with her family.

“We have a great time. Typically there’s a few people camped out in our yard and an RV parked in our garage way and there’s just a ton of people everywhere,” she said.

“It just feels like a hometown race with a lot more excitement and a lot more people,” Barnwell laughed.

Emily Russell is the voice of Alaska morning news as Alaska Public Media’s Morning News Host and Producer.

Originally from the Adirondacks in upstate New York, Emily moved to Alaska in 2012. She skied her way through three winters in Fairbanks, earning her Master’s degree in Northern Studies from UAF.

Emily’s career in radio started in Nome in 2015, reporting for KNOM on everything from subsistence whale harvests to housing shortages in Native villages. She then worked for KCAW in Sitka, finally seeing what all the fuss with Southeast, Alaska was all about.

Back on the road system, Emily is looking forward to driving her Subaru around the region to hike, hunt, fish and pick as many berries as possible. When she’s not talking into the mic in the morning, Emily can be found reporting from the peaks above Anchorage to the rivers around Southcentral.

Previous articleNight Music: June 30, 2018
Next articleHawkins drops out of Republican primary for governor