View to the West from Race Point. The true summit of Marathon Mountain is to the far right, partly out of the frame.
Race Point is situated directly above Seward, Alaska on the Kenai Peninsula. The names Mt. Marathon, Marathon Mountain, and Race Point are often used interchangeably to indicate the same mountain. Race Point (as designated on the USGS map) has two trails to the summit, which is really only a point on the ridge leading to the summit of Marathon Mountain (el. 4603 ft). From Race Point, this ridge to the true summit is a technical mountaineering climb. The mountain is probably best known for the annual namesake 4th of July footrace to the summit of Race Point.
Race Point is probably the most accessible and popular mountain hike on the Kenai Peninsula due to access directly from the city of Seward. This hike is free of snow much earlier than other trails and surrounding mountains. The hike provides spectacular panoramic views of Seward, the surrounding Kenai and Resurrection Mountains, and out Resurrection Bay into the Gulf of Alaska. Two trails head up to Race Point. One is the trail used in the 4th of July race and essentially goes straight up in the most direct route. The other trail starts in Seward. The two trailheads are close enough that a loop hike would be feasible.
Kenai MountainsForming the backbone of the Kenai Peninsula are the Kenai Mountains, which crest at the remote Mt. Truuli (el. 6612 ft). The mountains are rugged, heavily glaciated, and deeply inset with long fjords. The moutains are still geologically active, with the southeastern edge of the range slowly sliding underneath the crust of the Pacific Plate. This subduction was apparent in spring 1964 during an earthquake when the level of the coast dropped 6 feet into the Gulf of Alaska.
South of Seward and the Resurrection Valley, the entire mountainous interior of the Kenai Peninsula becomes much more inaccessible, and is capped by the massive (20 x 35 miles) Harding Icefield. The icefield is scattered with high, isolated nunataks and is the source of 32 glaciers, eight of which calve directly into the sea. Much of the southern peninsula is designated wilderness and is contained within Kenai Fjords National Park, Kechemak Bay State Park, and Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
Mount Marathon RaceThe Mt. Marathon Race is an unusual footrace to the top of Race Point and back down to Seward. The race began in 1915 when it was bet that the route could not be completed in less than an hour. The loser of the bet would have to provide drinks to all the spectators. That year the runner lost the bet, although the current record is 43:11. Obviously the event was a hit and became Seward's most popular tradition. Considering that Anchorage wasn't incorporated as a city until 1920, this tradition is old by Alaska standards.
Runners must climb one and a half miles up (with an elevation gain of nearly 3000 feet), and then descend the mountain at the same distance. The entire race is roughly 3 and a half miles long. The terrain is very rugged and steep, so it is not unusual to see runners wearing gloves to help themselves move faster up the mountain. Runners sliding down the mountain on their rear-ends is also a common occurrence. The view from the mountain overlooking the town of Seward and Resurrection Bay is absolutely gorgeous, but most competitors don't waste any time trying to soak in sightseeing; they just want to get to the finish line before everyone else. The race is the highlight of Seward's annual 4th of July celebration, and draws spectators from around the world to share in the excitement. Seward is a very picturesque seaside town offering plenty of outdoor activities, but on Independence Day... the only activity that matters is the Mountain Marathon. (Portions of this text were originally submitted by bi_guy_seward)