And a little child shall lead them.
Thursday morning, under hazy Resurrection Bay skies, more than 200 youth -- from as young as 9 to 17 -- led the charge up the Seward mountainside to begin the annual Mount Marathon events.
Although competition was the reason for the juniors race, many of the kids who tackled the 1.7-mile, 1,700-foot climb up the mountain and back were more focused on having a good time and reaching their own personal goals, be it previous times or their body's desires to quit.
"It felt like I was going to puke," said Alex Stone, 10, of Kenai. "I ran for fun."
The second-time race participant said the urge to stop on the side of the trail was strong, but he continued on in spite of himself. And actually made headway on the ascent.
"I know I passed a lot of people on the way up," Stone said. "Maybe 20 people. I wanted to quit at a few points, but I kept going."
There were winners, too. About 15 minutes after the crowd of racers disappeared into the thicket of trees past the initial rock face, 15-year-old Rory Egelus of Palmer emerged with a sizable stretch on the rest of the field. He finished first for the boys with a time of 28 minutes, 13 seconds, more than two minutes faster than anyone behind him.
Anchorage's Leah Besh was the first girl down the mountain, crossing the finish line at 35:22, ahead of last year's winner, Dominique Colberg, 17, of Palmer, who finished second with a time of 36:17.
Colberg said Besh took the lead on the way down.
"I was there with her," Colberg said. "Once we hit the little gully in the creek, she flew right past me. She's more familiar with that area. I took it easy because I don't know the gully that well."
Marci Mohler, who will be a sophomore at Skyview High School next year, finished fourth, and said she was displeased at not being able to improve on her third-place finish from last year.
"I figured I was going to do OK, but I was about a minute behind my time from last year," she said of her 40:50 finish.
She said she took the longer, more circuitous switchback trail instead of the more direct rock face at the foot of the mountain, and that cost her precious seconds.
"I didn't get a chance to practice as much this year as I did last year," Mohler said.
Seward's Lief Bardarson, 15, ran the race for his fourth time, and said his 34:50 final time was an improvement.
"Compared to other years, this (year) was much better," he said. "I was coming in 38s and 42s."
Bardarson said he plans to keep running and pushing himself to do better.
He said his motivation to continue is because he enjoys the race so much. But he said fun was only part of the draw to the race.
"I also run for the challenge," he said.
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