This cinnamon bear takes off on a run after encountering a vehicle on the Klondike Highway. Runners and bikers are encouraged to be “bear aware” during the upcoming marathon and bike relay. Katie Emmets

First Skagway Marathon ready to run Saturday


In Skagway, the biggest threat to a runner’s health isn’t dehydration or leg cramps.
It’s bears.
But for participants in Saturday’s marathon, who will wind their way up and down hilly Dyea Road for 26 miles, bears come with the territory, adding some local flavor to Skagway’s first ever marathon.
The idea of a marathon in Skagway was born in 2009-10, when a group of traveling long-distance runners chose the town as the locale to run its latest scenic marathon.
“Every year they pick some exotic place to run a marathon, and last year they picked Skagway, and they asked me to ID a course for them,” said Buckwheat Donahue, Skagway’s tourism director.
Donahue measured and mapped out a course that stretches just more than 26 miles from the ferry staging area on Broadway across the Skagway River Pedestrian Bridge and over Dyea Road to the end of West Creek Road and back.
The race may have been low-key, but it inspired Donahue to organize a marathon open to the public in Skagway.
“Last year was just a private thing, but I used it as something to learn what I needed to do to have our own.”
Saturday’s main event will cover the same route, but will feature several aid stations and a half marathon whose midpoint is Nakhu Road on Dyea Point.
Duff’s Backcountry Outfitters will provide bibs and socks for all runners and prizes such as running shoes and medals for winners in both events. Kristin Wagner of Duff’s said she got companies like The North Face and Mountain Hardwear, whose products she carries in her store, to contribute prizes.
“I just called up all my reps and said, ‘We’ve got this awesome event going on, and we’re really excited and we really want to be part of it, and we want to be the people that are supporting it 100 percent,’” Wagner said.
Expecting a low turnout — only 11 half-marathoners and six full marathoners have signed up so far — Donahue made the inaugural race free. But races in Juneau and Whitehorse this weekend hurt Skagway’s chances of attracting a big out-of-town contingency.
To help runners train, the Skagway Recreation Center began offering marathon and half-marathon conditioning programs in March. Other participants, such as Radio Shack manager Andrew Miller, started grinding out the miles in February.
“If I would have looked at what I needed to do to train for it, I would have definitely said no to this,” said Miller, who is running the full marathon with his wife Mindy. “It’s gotten a lot of people like me who wouldn’t have probably kept exercising come summer keep exercising, and promote a little bit of health.”
Donahue said he hopes Skagway’s scenery will attract runners from other towns, and even cruise passengers, in the coming years. Of course, he must warn participants about the occasional bear, like the one Miller and his wife saw while training one night.
“They’re like, ‘We saw a bear an hour ago! We had to change our whole route!’ ” Wagner said. “Bears and all, they’ll keep running.”
Participants can register at Duff’s or the recreation center until 5 p.m. today.

UPDATE - With many people signing up on race day, the numbers jumped to 49 at the start of the event. Twelve of them ran the marathon. See Official Marathon Results and story in June 24 issue.

Cyclists await annual bike relay race
Six teams from Skagway signed up for big event on June 18

The Kluane Chilkat International Bike Relay is close to hitting its limit of 1,200 cyclists.
The deadline to register for the June 18 race is this Friday at midnight.
The 19th annual relay race will feature at least four teams from Skagway, said race co-coordinator Mike Kramer.
In the race, cyclists pedal 148 miles from Haines Junction in the Yukon to Haines, Alaska. Teams may have two, four or eight cyclists tackle the eight legs of the relay race.
Race organizers announced June 2 they would accept 10 more 8-person teams, bringing the maximum in that category to 95.
As of Wednesday, six Skagway teams were registered of 260 total teams. – MA