There are plenty of runners amongst the ranks at DOWL, but few can say they’ve competed in one of the country’s oldest, most grueling mountain races.
Willie Stoll, PLS, CFedS, leads the company’s survey practice from our Anchorage office, just a two-hour drive from the city of Seward, where the Mount Marathon race sends hundreds of runners up and back down a mile-and-a-half, rocky mountainside trail on the shores of Alaska’s Resurrection Bay every Fourth of July.
While Willie may have an unfair advantage over some of the other runners at DOWL just because he lives closer, it takes a lot more than proximity to get in on – and survive – this race.
There is a lottery, and a few spots are auctioned off each year, going for upward of $1,000, but racers typically must be in the top 50 percent of finishers the previous year or completed the race at least 10 times in order to get priority registration. Willie has run the race 12 times since 2005, with his best finish being 15th, and has beaten the 50-minute mark four times (the median time is one hour, nine minutes).
“Mountain running has been a big part of my life,” he said. “This race is one of my favorites.”
That’s why, when it came time for longtime DOWL survey lead Stan Ponsness to retire in 2016, Willie thought of Mount Marathon as a great way to pay homage to his mentor. And the race committee just happened to be hoping for a survey of the mountain to confirm its height!
Willie was happy to do the work, as long as he could place a survey monument with Stan’s name on it. So, he got permission from the Department of Natural Resources and the City of Seward to do so, hiked up in the spring of 2015 with a 75-pound pack complete with a rock drill and all the gear he needed, and couldn’t find the boulder – it was still covered in several feet of snow.
A few weeks later he tried again and found the rock exposed, completed the survey, and placed the monument. He also discovered something that may be disappointing to those who bought one of those “3022” stickers for their car thinking that was the height of the mountain they climbed.
“That’s actually wrong,” Willie said. The mountain is only 2,970 feet.
Willie won’t run the race this year due to some family commitments, but he is spending plenty of time in Seward anyway surveying for a new diversion, including dam, tunnel, and infrastructure, for a Lowell Creek flood control project designed by the United States Army Corps of Engineers.
Still, he’ll be sorry to miss the spectacle.
“It’s just phenomenal,” he said. “Coming down the mountain to those crowds and with that view is really something special.”