2024 Mount Marathon — JUNIORS’ Preview

(Originally published in 2024 MMR Guide; updated July 2)

Juniors: Boonstra and Marvin Seek to Defend Titles

By Matias Saari
MMR Race Director

Tania Boonstra’s recipe for success is to climb as fast as possible and then hold off her pursuers on the downhill.

It worked for the Kenai runner last year when she built a 2 ½-minute lead on the next-best climber (her sister Jayna) and then coasted to victory over Rose Conway of Anchorage. That flipped the script from 2022, when Conway won after chasing down Tania and Jayna Boonstra on the downhill.

“It was really awesome (to win) after being so close the year before,” Tania said about 2023. “I just really tried to push on the way up because I’m not as strong as the downhills. … (The downhill) is a little intimidating sometimes.”

After a successful high school track season, the 16-year-old took a couple weeks off and then participated in the Lynn Canal Training Camp in Juneau, which includes hiking, running, and other recreational activities.

With Jayna aging up to the women’s race this year, Tania will lose the comfort of sisterhood in the junior event.

“It’s fun to warm up with my sister,” she said. “But I’m excited for her to do the full course.”

Pint-sized 12-year old Wren Spangler took third last year and appears in good form again after placing eighth at the Government Peak up-and-down race on June 1 ahead of several women assigned to the adult first wave at Mount Marathon.

The top Seward junior is Olive Jordan, 14, who placed fourth last year after posting the fastest downhill split among 124 racers.

Hannah Bodkin of Eagle River (fifth last year) and Aubrey Virgin of Palmer (sixth last year) will also be pushing for the podium.

One potential advantage for Boonstra is that her father, Todd, is a three-time Olympian in Nordic skiing who won the Mount Marathon men’s race four times. Presumably Tania can glean a few training and racing tips from him.

Boys race challenger Vebjorn Flagstad is in a similar boat as Tania Boonstra: his Norwegian father, Trond, is a two-time MMR champion.

“My dad has helped me a lot with this race,” Flagstad said. “Last year I was able to use his routes to get up and down the cliff pretty fast and I’m hoping this year we will go out and do some of the workouts he did to train for Mount Marathon.”

Flagstad’s goal is to stay close to Coby Marvin, whose mom Christy has won Mount Marathon three times while father Ben has placed as high as fifth.

“It would be great to be able to hang with (Coby) for at least part of the race because last year I didn’t see him at all on the uphill section,” said Flagstad. “I definitely think if I have him in sight it would be a lot easier to keep with him rather than just chasing someone way ahead of me.”

In last year’s mudfest, Marvin built a lead of 1:41 over Flagstad on the climb to the halfway point and wound up winning by that exact margin.

In 2022, Marvin posted the second-fastest junior boys time in race history at 25 minutes, 27 seconds to become the first boy within a minute of Bill Spencer’s storied record of 24:30 from 1973. That’s believed to be Alaska’s longest-standing running record.

“It would be great to run fast and get close to Bill’s record again,” Marvin said. “I think it’s going to depend on conditions.”

This will be Marvin’s last chance to chase Spencer before he graduates to the men’s race in 2025. Spencer, 68, is entered again in the men’s race and plans to watch the junior event to see if this is the year his record finally falls.

Marvin said his training has changed this year for two reasons: he’s busier now after beginning work at AKtive Soles Performance Footwear on April 1, and he’s becoming addicted to whitewater kayaking.

“I try to go (kayaking) 3-4 times a week, preferably more,” Marvin said. “So I try to usually get a (running) workout in before I go kayaking.”

Other names to watch in the boys race include 15-year-old Raven Spangler of Palmer, the fastest downhiller in the field who placed fourth last year; talented skier Hatcher Menkens, who’s making his MMR debut; up-and-comer Corbin Wilson of Palmer; and Robbie Annett, a state champion track runner who will likely lead the race to the base of the mountain.

The junior field of up to 300 runners — boys and girls run together but are separated in the results — also features four quartets: the Rubeos from Wasilla, Shahas from Eagle River, Sensabaughs from Palmer, and Mehls from Eagle River all have four junior racers entered.