PALMER — Lyon Kopsack’s first-place finish July 4 in the junior division of the Mount Marathon Race was the result of countless hours of training, dedication and a passion for mountain running.
That he was the first of five Kopsacks cross the finish line of the fabled race — which starts and finishes in downtown Seward and climbs more than 3,000 feet in elevation up Mount Marathon — shows a genetic tie to some of the most well-known names in Last Frontier mountain running.
Lyon, a 17-year-old incoming senior at Colony High School, won the junior boys race with a time of 27 minutes, 3 seconds. Not far behind came:
• sister Alyson, 14, who won her age group and finished second overall in the girls junior division, in 38:22;
• sister Jocelyn, 16, who was third overall in the girls junior division, finishing in 38:39, just 17 seconds behind her sister;
• sister Brooklyn, 11, who also won her age group in the girls junior race;
• and father Lance, who carries the torch for a running clan that traces its roots in Alaska mountain running back more than 50 years.
In fact, this year’s Mount Marathon was Lance’s 30th. He finished 48th overall in the men’s division in a time of 56:42.
And while she didn’t show up in this year’s results — she was under the weather and couldn’t race — Judi Kopsack, the matriarch of this group of roadrunners, brings her own legacy to the family.
“I grew up on a mountain,” she said. “My dad is the namesake for the Bob Spurr Memorial Run.”
Growing up the daughter of a well-known running enthusiast was something Lance could relate to. That’s because his father, Dick Kopsack, raised he and older brother Braun to love the challenge and achievement the sport provides. In fact, Lyon’s recent Mount Marathon win isn’t the first for a Kopsack. Dick won the men’s race in 1960, and Lance came close once himself with a second-place finish.
“I used to train with her dad before I even met her,” Lance said about meeting Judi.
“Yes, he used to train with dad,” she said, adding that running was something that helped bring them together. “(Lance) was a real mountain goal, and I grew up doing the same stuff.”
Now the “mountain goat” and Judi work to incorporate the family’s love of running into their everyday lives.
“It’s just what we do as a family,” Lyon said. “Some families, every summer they’ll go on a cruise or something. Our summers are kind of split in half. We have pre-Mount Marathon and post-Mount Marathon. We may go out sometimes to hike Mat Peak, Government Peak. We’ve done that since we were young.”
Very young, it seems. Judi tells the story of how the kids would want to go with dad while he trained in the nearby mountains. They were too young to keep up, so he tied a rope around his waist and let it trail behind him for the kids to hold onto.
Now, Lance said he has to work his tail off to beat some of his kids to the top.
“Lyon’s much faster than I ever was already,” he said.
But not yet for Jocelyn, Alyson and Brooklyn.
“Every time we train, Alyson wants to race to the top,” he said. “She hasn’t beat me yet, but I’ve had to pass her on the last little bit.”
Now, Lyon is on the verge of breaking out on his own. Entering his final year of high school, he’s serious about his running and recognizes he has developed quite a competitive streak.
“Oh, yeah, I’m competitive, and it’s not just me,” Lyon said. “It gets competitive between the girls, I know. I’m kind of in the middle. They won’t tell each other, but they’ll come up to me and, like Alyson would say, ‘You know what? I just want to beat Jocelyn.’”
All of the girls say they enjoy being pushed by their older brother, and the younger girls like to chase the times of their older sister, Jocelyn. That’s a little more difficult for Brooklyn, who actually devotes much of her time to competitive gymnastics, training 16 hours a week for that.
But running with the family is also helpful for other sports, she said.
“Gymnastics is more of my focus right now,” Brooklyn said. “But running gives me more endurance for the floor exercise.”
All the Kopsack children exhibit a passion for their sport that comes from their father, they said. He never pushed them into it, but led by example. Lyon said Lance is the most dedicated, finding time to train during lunch breaks and after work.
As for Lance, he said Lyon passed him years ago and that his daughters are catching up fast — and he’s fine with that.
“I never really had any coaching,” he said. “I just always went out and ran as hard as I could. I’ve learned over the years.”
Lyon hopes to continue to run competitively past high school, and said it’s a drive that started early with his father. That’s because Lance has a standing offer of $20 the first time any of his children can beat him in a race.
And everything’s a race, Judi said. A trip up Lazy Mountain has the girls racing to the picnic table; Lance runs up and down the steep road that passes his house accepting challenges.
“The girls and I went up (Lazy Mountain) last night,” Judi said, “and the girls got their best time to the picnic table. I used to have faster times, but now they’re like, ‘I beat your time, mom!’”
“The turnaround for me getting competitive in mountain running was when I started to catch up to my dad,” Lyon added. “That’s because it gave me something to shoot for. That, and my dad has this thing that the first time you beat him in a race, he’ll give you $20.”
After finally beating his dad in one of their many road challenges several years ago, Judi said Lyon came rushing into the house looking for a race to enter. They found the Heart Run in Anchorage, a 5-K, and Lyon beat his father and won the $20.
As with any athletic endeavor, having six runners in the family can cause some interesting problems, like when they couldn’t find the right size shoes for Alyson before the Mount Marathon. A pair finally came in and she got them the day before the race.
And as for shoes, Judi said, “they really go through shoes fast.”
“Oh yes, we’ve spent a lot of money on shoes,” added Lance. “When they’re running track, there’s certain shoes for that, cross-country has shoes, then mountain running — we had to go through a whole fiasco to get shoes for them all (before Mount Marathon).”
For the rest of this summer, it’s more of the same, the Kopsacks said. More camping, hiking and enjoying family time —with some friendly competition along the way.
Contact Greg Johnson at 352-2269 or firstname.lastname@example.org.