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Hungry for Good Stories? Try Some DIRT. - Page 4

(Not) A Runner's Story
The author follows in his mother's 1969 footsteps to run Alaska's renowned Mount Marathon

By Rickey Gates

Photo by Loren Holmes / AlaskaDispatch.com

In the summer of 1981, as Bill Spencer was absorbing the weight of his record-setting performance, several thousand miles away, Patricia was nursing her third of five children—me—who would pass that yellowed photograph on the wall every day for the better part of two decades.

I grew up a proud son knowing that my mom had come in second in a running race once. It didn’t matter too much to me that she didn’t win or that there were only two women in the race. What mattered showed in the photograph—she had given it everything.

As my appreciation for running and racing grew from a dirt-track mile in middle school to golf-course cross-country in high school to trail and mountain races across the country and beyond, the race that had always existed as a black-and-white photograph began to take on more form.

In 2008 I had been racing my way around the Alps, chasing meager purses that would allow me to keep traveling. British fell runners, chasing the same purses, would inquire longingly about Mount Marathon.

Anne Buckley, a top British fell runner, spent three weeks in Alaska back in 2003, with three friends, Brad, Barney and Birdman.

Brad Precosky, otherwise known as the Downhill Demon, had once run the 3,000 vertical feet from the top of the mountain to the finish line in 10 minutes to capture a win. He and Barney Griffith worked tirelessly, raising money and designing a course to bring the world’s best mountain runners to Alaska for the World Mountain Running Championships that year.

And then there was Birdman—the zany alter-ego of Brian Stoecker, best known for his race-day attire of a leather skirt, feather headdress and a race bib fastened securely to his nipple rings. Written in large, bold type across his chest was his mantra: “FOR THE INDOMITABLE.”

Anne talked of them like distant cousins, separated by an ocean.

I would come to realize that Alaskan mountain runners and British fell runners are more similar than different. Both tribes possess pockets of great talent. Both have agreed that their immediate surroundings provide them with ample inspiration. And both have agreed that a brew pub is a great place to stretch after a run.

When I returned from Europe that fall, my minor obsession with Mount Marathon began.

A quick Internet search provided me with static-y news reels of men, women and children scratching their way up the mountain, sliding down snowfields and jumping off cliffs. I strained to watch a woman tumbling like a rag doll over boulders and small cliffs before springing straight back up, hardly missing a stride. Then I’d watch it again.


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