SEWARD Newly retired from Olympic skiing, Nina Kemppel put her Mount Marathon running career to bed Friday with a record ninth win and record eighth consecutive victory. At 56 minutes, 45 seconds, she won in commanding fashion, being the only woman to complete the 3.5-mile trip up and down the 3,022-foot mountain face in under an hour.
"I'm going to miss it next year," she said. "It's going to be a little hard when the Fourth of July comes around and I'm not here."
Kemppel said she is going to graduate school at her alma mater, Dartmouth College, in New Hampshire. But she hinted that she may eventually return to the race she has mastered for so many years, saying only, "It's hard to say."
She led the charge up to the mountain and eventually picked her way ahead of a pack of six front-runners that included second-place finisher Cedar Petrosious of Seward, third-place finisher Shannon Donley of Anchorage, fourth-place finisher Dominique Colberg of Palmer and fifth-place finisher Lisa Hartman of Seward.
Although Kemppel was the first to summit Mount Marathon, Colberg and Petrosious gave Kemppel the biggest challenge ascending the mountain.
"We ran as fast as Brad (Precosky) runs up to the gateway," Kemppel said. "That's way too fast for girls."
But Petrosious, who finished third last year, said the speedy pace didn't seem to trouble Kemppel. The nine-time champion steamed to the top of the mountain from the halfway point, leaving the rest of the field behind.
"I saw (Nina) in the beginning," Petrosious said. "But that was it. She's just amazing."
Kemppel said her years of skiing helped her to develop a kick that enabled her to leave her opponents, even on an incline.
Women runners queue below the summit with the city of Seward nearly 3,000 feet below.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
The veteran runners had a surprise, however, from Colberg, who was running the full race for the first time. The Colony High graduate took second in last year's juniors race after winning in 2001. Colberg chased down Hartman in the street and outran her to finish fourth. Hartman was fifth.
"Dominique was in front of me to the top, and I beat her to the bottom," Hartman said. "I just ran out of gas."
Kemppel said she was the most surprised by Colberg's emergence, as the wily rookie beat the veteran out of the tree line. But Kemppel admitted to being proud that new blood is moving in to take control of the race.
"Dominique snuck up on me through some secret way through the trees," Kemppel said. "In the last few years, I haven't had anyone with me past the top ridge. That got my adrenaline flowing a little bit.
"But it's really fun to see all the younger runners like Dominique and Kikkan (Randall)."
Randall finished eighth, an improvement over a dismal 77th-place finish last year after she tumbled through the shale and out of contention. She said she was focused on enjoying herself this year.
"I don't really do well in the heat," she said of the near 80-degree temperatures on the mountain when there was no breeze. "With it being so hot today, I just really wanted to have fun."
Kelli Boonstra, the part-time Ninilchik resident who teaches in Galena during the school year and frequently finishes in the top 10, repeated her sixth-place finish from 2002. She said she hadn't had much opportunity to practice on hills this year in the flat tundra village, and only got to hike seven times after arriving in Ninilchik in early June.
But she said that didn't seem to bother her husband, Todd, who won the men's race.
Brigid Cruickshanks leads other runners down a waterfall in the gully near the base of the mountain.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
"I think it would have helped, but I guess Todd didn't need it," Boonstra said. "I guess we were more rested."
Robin Baker of Soldotna ran for her first time Friday. She said she signed up early as part of a New Year's resolution and was determined to complete the race.
"I trained on Skyline," she said. "Just being in line with everybody going up was really hard. But it wasn't too bad, because people were really courteous and let you pass."
Baker said she enjoyed herself, but had yet to determine whether she would make the race annual occasion.
"It was a blast," she said. "But give me a couple of days to decide."
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