2024 Mount Marathon Race – WOMEN’S Preview

Fierce and Friendly Defines Women’s Race 

(Originally published in the MMR Guide; Updated July 2)

By Matias Saari
MMR Race Director

Can the Palmer power trio sweep again?

Christy Marvin, Meg Inokuma and Denali Strabel pulled off a 1-2-3 finish in 2023, but a repeat of that performance from the little town in the MatSu Valley seems unlikely given the strong competition and an injury to last year’s champion.

Last year, Marvin overtook Meg Inokuma on Jefferson Street for her third win and 10th Top 3 finish in 10 attempts. At 42, she also became the second-oldest women’s champion, denying the 43-year-old Inokuma of that honor. Strabel, 34, a Seward native and new Palmer resident, placed an emotional third.

But this year may be different. In early June, Strabel was confident in her fitness after a runner-up performance at the Turnagain Arm Trail Run and Inokuma was coming off a strong ascent at the Government Peak Climb. But Marvin was sidelined with plantar fasciitis (a foot injury) and two types of tendonitis.

“I do plan to race MMR even if I have to take the week before and after off,” Marvin texted June 6 while camping in Seward. “I’ve been doing a lot of biking, some slower hiking, and a few other random cross training options.” (UPDATE: Marvin confirmed on June 30 that she intends to race, but added that she did almost no running in June).

Marvin, who trained regularly with Strabel this winter, thrives on the female camaraderie so evident in mountain running these days.

“I’m beyond excited to be a part of a group of ladies who are chasing records and breaking down barriers in women’s mountain running. We can do great things alone, but incredible things together,” Marvin said.

Top 5 in 2023. From left, Sophiew Wright, Denali Strabel, Meg Inokuma, Klaire Rhodes and Christy Marvin. Photo by Matias Saari

Strabel echoed the “stronger together” sentiment.

“It is an honor to be part of the group building this example of loving and supporting other women. It’s magical to bring women along with you and generate this sisterhood in the mountains,” Strabel said. “I also don’t limit this supporting mindset to the ‘top’ women. I want to create a space where everyone feels supported.”

A three-time winner of the junior race at Mount Marathon, Strabel has seven Top-5 finishes in the women’s race but has yet to join her mother, Patti Foldager, on the winners’ list. Holder of the women’s downhill record, Strabel believes she can improve on her personal best of 52 minutes and would no doubt be in the mix if she accomplishes that.

Meanwhile, Inokuma says she simply enjoys spending time in the mountains. She doesn’t train specifically for races and rarely wears a watch in competition. Although she was first to the top of Mount Marathon last year and nearly held off Marvin, she’s not driven to try to win races. “As long as I push myself as much as I can, that’s my personal win,” she said.

There is no shortage of other contenders.

Two-time champion Hannah Lafleur of Seward missed last year’s race due to pregnancy and is now racing again while mother to an 8-month old daughter.

Klaire Rhodes crests Race Point in inclement weather in 2023.

Klaire Rhodes was fourth a year ago shortly after competing at the World Mountain and Trail Running Championships in Austria; she has been racing throughout the U.S. in recent years and claimed the Knoya Ridge Run in Anchorage on June 6.

Eagle River newcomers Shauna Severson and Campbell Peterson could make waves along with Rosie Fordham, a standout skier and runner at the University of Alaska Fairbanks who hails from Australia.

Speaking of the land Down Under, Jessica Yeaton — the 2018 Mount Marathon champion — twice represented Australia at the Winter Olympics in Nordic skiing. She graduated high school in Anchorage and now works as a physical therapist in Steamboat Springs, Colo. Unfortunately, her participation in Mount Marathon is doubtful due to serious injuries sustained in a snowmachining accident in early April.

“I wasn’t able to train or work for about six weeks,” Yeaton said, adding that she’ll only race, despite lacking peak fitness, if she’s fully confident that won’t cause a setback in her recovery. (UPDATE: Yeaton confirmed on June 30 that she will NOT be racing).

Also signed up yet again are Patti Foldager of Hope and Ellyn Brown of Anchorage. They were the first women to complete 40 races in 2023 and that accomplishment will be recognized at this year’s awards ceremony. They will also be the honorary starters of the women’s race and fire the start pistol for Wave 1.

“My mother has always been a pioneer in my eyes. She won the first women’s only race in 1985,” Denali Strabel said about Foldager. “(She) has always shown me what patience and determination can produce. I’m honored to run alongside her.”

Also worthy of celebration is Tali Novakovich, who will be the youngest possible age to participate in the women’s race: her 18th birthday is on the Fourth of July.

The 2024 races also marks the launching of a non-binary division. Zoe Dohring of Anchorage and Madi Sudweeks of Utah will participate among women while Heath McTee of Texas will race with the men. The non-binary entrants will have their own results and receive the same awards as the men’s and women’s divisions.