PALMER — More than 180 racers of all ages finished the 13th annual Government Peak Climb on Saturday, running 3 miles and 3,500 feet of vertical gain in this uphill only race.
“Mountain running in Alaska has just been exploding… especially here in the Valley. We’ve got such a great area and availability of a lot of mountains,” Race director Mark Strabel said.
Strabel said that this is the second year they’ve live streamed race results. He said that the rain made tracking racers difficult. Racers and those on the trail said it was difficult to see in the conditions.
“It’s a guess where people are,” Strabel said.
The Government Peak Climb used to kick off the mountain running season but the new Crazy Lazy Mountain Race has taken that spot.
Strabel created this race 13 years ago as a fundraiser for the Colony High School ski and running teams. It just kept growing over the years. Now, mountain runners from across the state run in this race and it serves as a fundraiser for CHS and the Mat-Su Ski Club.
Strabel said this race is competitive but still low key. Numerous children of varying ages have competed in the race over the years. This year, was no exception with children as young as eight in the race.
“A lot of people want to come out here and give mountain running a try but it’s a difficult one. But, you know what, on a good day it’s one of the best views that you can get at a lot of mountain races,” Strabel said.
This race has become a tradition for many people, including families and groups of friends who line up the trail to root for their racers as they venture up the mountain then make their way back down. Strabel said it takes the average person about an hour to get up.
“We have a lot of returners. One racer, he tries to make a point to register every year and he’s done every single one. He always looks forward to it. That’s Evan Steinhauser,” Strabel said.
This race has brought many people together over the years, including multiple Olympic athletes present this year. It’s also helps create friendly rivalries like that of Erik Bjornsen and Scott Patterson, two U.S. Olympic cross country skiers who are currently training with the national team for the 2022 Olympics.
“People are having fun. It’s awesome, everyone getting out enjoying the mountains, being outside with a little bit of a competitive atmosphere too. It’s one of the best communities, low key,” Patterson said.
Patterson currently holds the men’s record at 42.29 with Bjornsen at a close second. The two had a “photo finish” in 2017. The two literally dove across the finish line, forever ingraining their friendly rivalry outside their ski team.
“That was a fun one,” Patterson said.
This year, Bjornsen took first place and Patterson came in third. Bjornsen competed in the 2014 and 2018 Winter Olympics. Patterson competed in the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Bjornsen said that they compete in world cups across Europe and train year round. He said they cross country ski at Government Peak a lot, only hiking it three or four times, including the two races. While Government Peak is a popular hiking spot, it’s the cross country skiers who seems to frequent it the most.
“This venue is one of the best in Alaska for cross country skiing for sure. In my opinion, it might be the best in Alaska, I think… The trails are very wide and it has good hills. It just flows really well,” Bjornsen said.
Patterson is obviously more intertwined with the skiing community but he does occasionally dabble in running events like this. He said while different breeds, the skiing and mountain running community cross over during events like this.
“I think the mountain running especially, it’s a close knit group. We showed up here today and everyone’s syked to see us. A nasty rainy day in the fog and everyone’s stoked to be racing,” Patterson said.
Rosie Frankowski broke the women’s record by over a minute this year at 49.17. She said that she was surprised that she broke the record and thought she was going slower than she really was.
“It was slippery,” Frankowski said.
Frankowski was also in the 2018 Winter Olympics as a cross country skier. She said this was her third time hiking Government Peak and the first tried the race six years ago. She lives in Anchorage and sees a lot of familiar faces at events like these, both from Anchorage and the Valley. She ran during Seward’s Mount Marathon race for the first time last year, first to the top and finished in the top 10. She said the Government Peak Climb is one of her favorite mountain races, mostly for the atmosphere.
“I love the community to be honest. They’re just fun people that are like chill but then, ‘gotta go run hard up a mountain. It’s a lot of the same people at the races… Some new faces for sure,” Frankowski said.
Frankowski is an active skier with the APU Nordic Ski Center Race, training all year round and racing in world cups. She said that when she’s at Government Peak, it’s usually because she’s skiing. She said that she enjoys Government Peak because it’s mostly uphill and she’s better at uphill both “on skis and foot.”
“We had ski races here last winter. The new trail system is incredible. I am so wanting Gov. Peak to host a U.S. Nationals ski race because the 5K race course, it’s such a good course,” Frankowski said.
Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Jacob Mann at firstname.lastname@example.org