Boonstra, 41, becomes oldest men's champion

Posted: Sunday, July 06, 2003

SEWARD The Boonstra family came to Seward on Friday fully expecting to do well. The recent Galena transplants and summertime Ninilchik residents expected to be somewhere in the top 10 in each race they entered during the Fourth of July extravaganza surrounding the 76th running of the Mount Marathon Race.

Nothing out of the ordinary.

But few anticipated Todd Boonstra winning his fourth Mount Marathon in 47 minutes, 32 seconds, and becoming the oldest men's winner at age 41. Least of all, the patriarch of the Galena Boonstra home.

"I didn't think I had a chance to win. I was hoping to come in maybe the top five and for Barney Griffith's (40- to 49-year-old age group) record," Boonstra said. He missed Griffith's record by 23 seconds, but beat challenges from second-place finisher Frode Lillefjell, who finished in 47:55 in his first Mount Marathon.

Early in the day, it seemed as though something extraordinary was in the works for the family.

Kelli, Boonstra's 34-year-old wife, repeated her sixth-place finish in the women's race. Young Riana, the Boonstra's 2-year-old daughter, wobbled to third place in the toddlers' race.

But Boonstra said he held off on looking at these accomplishments as signs of good fortune to come. When the race started, he jockeyed for position at the front to give himself the best chance of winning by being one of the first to the top. He was the third.


A rainbow forms above Darin Markwardt of Palmer as he receives a cold shower from volunteer Jay Bishop (not pictured) following Markwardt's sixth-place finish.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

"I didn't know who was ahead of me," he said, recalling his thoughts approaching the summit.

Lillefjell, who earned entry into the race by winning the Robert Spurr Memorial Hill Climb on Bird Ridge in 2002, was the first man to summit summit the 3,022-foot mountain. Brian Bethard of Anchorage was the second over the mountaintop.

As Boonstra turned to descend the mountain, he said his focused turned, subconsciously, to his rear and what he was certain would be a grand entrance of four-time reigning men's champion Brad Precosky into the fray to take the lead.

"Brad and Eric (Strabel) were so much faster on the downhill last year," he said.

In last year's race, Boonstra had the lead coming down the mountain, until Precosky and Strabel thundered past like two miniature avalanches to finish first and second. And his move to Galena, a Bush community surrounded by miles of flat, level tundra, minimized his opportunities to train.

He and Kelli arrived in Ninilchik at the beginning of June and had only seven chances to hit any hills: once in Anchorage, twice on Skyline Trail and four jaunts up Mount Marathon. And Boonstra said the downhill is his weak point.

"When you're skiing and training full-time, you're able to get up the hill well," he said. "I'm just not as fast going back down."


Brian Stoecker talks with other runners after his 23rd-place finish. His unusual attire makes him a crowd-pleaser each year.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

On Friday, however, he was fast enough. He shot past Bethard just after the turn to descend the mountain, and set his sights on Lillefjell.

"Todd came blasting past me at the point where the juniors turn around," Lillefjell said.

Boonstra said he was still concerned about being caught by Precosky, saying in his mind it wasn't a matter of "if," but "when."

"When I didn't see Brad, I thought, 'I might have a chance,'" Boonstra said. "But you never know."

Bethard took third in 48:03. Strabel finished 10th with a time of 50:15, and Precosky finished 13th with a time of 51:40. Precosky said he just didn't have a good race.

"I blew up," he said after the race. "I ran as hard as I could, just slower. I'm ecstatic for Todd, though. He won on the road."

Lillefjell caught and passed Boonstra at the shoot, but the 41-year-old powered back past the rookie to finish 23 seconds ahead.

"I was the first down to the road," Lillefjell said. "But I was tired and my quads ached. He was so strong."

Boonstra said once he hit the road, it was just a matter of out-toughing the other racers.

"Once we got to the road, I thought I'd be in front," he said. "Because once you get to the road, it's whoever's legs aren't the wobbliest."

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