Marathons in Alaska

January 20, 2018

Considering running a marathon in Alaska? There aren’t too many options, but there are some well-organized, scenic courses that will be unlike most marathons you have run!

I personally have run 3 of these marathons. They are each unique and offer different things depending upon what better suits you: more crowd support, scenic, more gravel roads (versus pavement), Boston-certified, and the list goes on. I’ve highlighted the marathons I’ve run and the pros and cons to each one as well as a few others that are a little more well-known. If you have any questions, be sure to leave a comment at the end.

Westchester Lagoon – Anchorage, Alaska

Anchorage Mayor’s Marathon

Date: June 23, 2018

Location: Anchorage, Alaska

Race options: marathon, marathon relay, half marathon, buddy half marathon, 5K, kid’s mile

My recap from when I ran the marathon.

The Anchorage Mayor’s Marathon (previously called the Mayor’s Midnight Sun Marathon) is held in June at the peak of daylight with nearly 20 hours of daylight in Anchorage during this time. Contrary to popular belief, the marathon is not held at midnight but starts at 7:30 a.m. This is a scenic course as you run on a gravel road (with larger rocks) for 8 miles and then into the foothills of the mountains. For these reasons, it is not a particularly fast course but the last 12 miles are a gradual downhill until the last half mile with one longer hill and one shorter steeper hill that leads you into the finish chute. With lows in the upper 40s and highs in the low 60s in June, you will likely not have to worry about the weather. This marathon is the most popular marathon in the state with about 700 people running it each year.

Pros:

  • Scenic course: mountain views, potential moose-spotting, run through the foothills of the mountains
  • Ideal temperature
  • Easy access to other Alaska adventures you might want to partake in before or after the marathon since Anchorage is centrally located.
  • Crowd support is decent for this race compared to other Alaskan races.

Cons:

  • not a particularly fast course

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Anchorage RunFest

Date: August 19. 2018

Location: Anchorage, Alaska

Race options: ultra (49K), marathon, marathon walk, marathon relay, half marathon, 5K, mile, kid’s 2K)

My recap from when I ran the marathon.

A marathon on paved pathways the entire way that takes you along the inlet ocean waters with views of the mountains and then into wooded areas along a creek. Two out-and-back portions allow spectators to see you often. The crowd support for this marathon is about the best you will get during a marathon in Alaska as the half marathon also runs the second out-and-back portion. I have done a race on this day 7 times and every year it has rained. Luckily it is a drizzly Pacific Northwest rain that a brimmed hat takes care of nicely. Likely you won’t have to worry about the temperature as it is almost always in the upper 40s/low-50s, so perfect for marathon racing. The course has some rolling hills throughout but nothing too taxing. This is the second most popular marathon in Anchorage with approximately 300 people running this race.

Pros:

  • Temperature
  • Crowd support (for Alaska)
  • Scenic: ocean, mountain, and forest views

Cons:

  • Two out-and-back portions, which could seem monotonous for some runners
  • Often drizzly, rainy weather

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Winning the RunFest Marathon (race series formerly called Big Wildlife Runs)

Kenai River Marathon

Date: last Sunday in September

Location: Kenai, Alaska

Race options: marathon, marathon relay, half marathon, 5K

My recap from when I ran the marathon.

The Kenai River Marathon is a small hometown marathon with just under 50 people running it in 2017.  The entire 26.2 miles is on paved trails, neighborhoods roads, and one stretch is along a busier highway. Race morning is often chilly with temps in the upper 30s. For the most part, the course is pretty flat with a few rolling hills around miles 16 and 17. There are some aid stations but don’t expect much crowd support beyond that. However, it is Boston-certified, as most Alaska races aren’t. One tip: study the course before you go as the course is marked with spray-painted orange paper plates on sticks, so it can be easy to miss a turn if you are in the zone.

Pros:

  • Boston certified
  • Pretty fall foliage
  • Fairly fast course

Cons:

  • Very little crowd support
  • Can be on the cold side

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This picture should give you a good idea of what the course is like: paved, lonely, but pretty.

AK Salmon Marathon

Date: July 14, 2018

Location: Cordova, Alaska (only accessible by plane or boat–no road access)

Other race options: marathon, half marathon, 5K

My recap from when I ran the half marathon.

Get ready for a very low-key race! With 25 people in the marathon in 2017, you will likely be running by yourself the entire 26.2 miles. BUT there is hardly a hill to be found on the course. I have not run the full marathon, but I did run the half marathon, which is the second half of the marathon. I have driven the first 13.1 miles, which is one gravel road in the middle of nowhere. Shortly after the start of the half marathon, the course turns into a paved road for the remainder of the race. The course is very flat as you are running through the Copper River Basin, but that also means you can nearly see the finish from the start of the half marathon. Okay, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but at one point, you can see several miles ahead, which is a little daunting during the race. Once again a very scenic course with views of mountains, waterways, beautiful vegetation, and possibly more animals along the course than people.  At the end of the race though, there are tables with homemade treats on them from the volunteers. (At least there was the year I ran.) Most of the people running the marathon are from out of state, trying to check Alaska off their marathon bucket list. Cordova is a great little fishing town that would give you a true sense of Alaska if you wanted to stay for a mini vacation afterwards.

Pros:

  • Virtually no hills
  • Most likely the cheapest marathon you will ever pay for! $50 gets you entry into this race
  • Very scenic

Cons:

  • Very, very small and very few spectators
  • Cordova is only accessible by boat or plane, so seeing other parts of Alaska may be difficult.
  • I didn’t see any indication this course is certified and thereby couldn’t qualify you for Boston.

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Hatcher’s Pass Marathon

Date: 1st Saturday in July

Location: Willow, Alaska

Race options: marathon, marathon relay

This is another very low-key race. I personally have never run this marathon, but the people who I know who have run this race have done the relay, so I think that’s a popular option. If you like steep climbs and running on gravel roads, this race is for you! Five thousand feet of elevation gain for the first 25 miles and then a very steep 1.5 decent to the finish. Likely you will be running more than 26.2 miles according to the website.

Pros:

  • Scenic
  • Ideal weather

Cons:

  • The course is more than 26.2 miles.
  • Not certified
  • 5000 feet of climbing for the first 25 miles, last 1.5 mile steep downhill

(Disclosure: this picture is not from the race)

Equinox Marathon

Date: September 15, 2018

Location: Fairbanks, Alaska

Race options: ultra (64K), marathon, marathon relay

I personally have never run this marathon, but I know people who have. The two biggest things I hear about this course are: hilly and beautiful. Don’t expect to PR, and if anything add about 20-30 minutes to your usual finish time. Almost the entire marathon is on trails and you go up and over one mountain twice. The Equinox Marathon is the second most popular marathon in the state with 510 finishers in 2017. The relay option is also popular.

Pros:

  • Gorgeous course in the fall foliage

Cons:

  • Not a PR friendly course–very hilly

 

Willow Winter Marathon

Date: middle of December

Location: Willow, Alaska

Other race options: marathon, half marathon, 5K

To be honest, I know very little about this race, but it occurs during the winter, so I thought it would be fun to highlight. This course is all on winter trails. I’m not sure why they don’t call this an ultra marathon as the website says you will be running more than 26.2 miles–and more likely 28 miles. There were very few people participate and to be exact there were only 22 people in 2014, which is the last time the results were posted on the website. This race could be an opportunity to cross off “run a marathon in the winter” from your bucket list.

Pros:

  • Very little competition

Cons:

  • It occurs in the winter and you’ll be running on snow and possibly ice.

These are marathons I know very little about and honestly hadn’t heard of them until I did a search for all of the marathons in Alaska. These would be much smaller marathons but once again with great views I imagine.

Prince of Wales Island Marathon – Craig, Alaska – May 26, 2018

Skagway Marathon – Skagway, Alaska – June 10, 2018

Frank Maier Marathon – Juneau, Alaska – July 28, 2018

Bearfest Marathon – Wrangell, Alaska – July 29, 2018

Run the Rock – Kodiak, Alaska – middle of October

2 Comments
    1. I’m pretty sure Equinox is the second largest marathon in Alaska. It had 510 finishers in the full marathon in 2017. I’ve run three (Equinox twice) marathons and one 50K in Alaska, and Equinox is definitely my favorite! When are you going to run it? 🙂

      1. No way! To be honest, I didn’t even look up the results! I will go and change that right now! I need a fast marathon first. 😉

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