By Kelley Lane for Seward City News-
I first met Mary Beth Koster near the Junior Race turnaround on Mount Marathon. She was up there with a mother-daughter duo, helping to train the little girl on the route and strategies for her upcoming race. Koster later spoke of what an honor it was to be asked to familiarize a young person with the race route. I came upon the trio while doing my own training and found them full of energy and enthusiasm, despite the thick clouds of insects buzzing around the mountain that sunny Monday.
Koster appeared comfortable and upbeat about being on the mountain, which led me to ask me for pointers. “Gardening gloves,” she instructed, “because they’re not too hot and they’re easy to get on and off.” I had been trying out different styles of gloves and ankle gaiter options, trying to find what would protect my hands from getting chewed to a pulp by the razor-edged rocks that comprise much of the mountain. The Mount Marathon Race is notorious for surface injuries, and sometimes, deeper wounds. Racers choose their race day outfits and gear carefully, seeking to strike a balance between lightness and coolness and protection for their skin and bones.
I got in contact with Koster again later in the week when I learned from one of her fellow long-time women’s race participants, Karol Fink, of Koster’s longevity in completing the race. Koster has completed 18 races as of 2016, starting in 1998. She is one of a trio of women who have been racing for the past two decades. The three friends: Koster, Binget Nilsson, and Heather Shank train and recreate together all year long. Nilsson has raced 17 times and Shank has raced 18 times since 1996.
I met up with Koster at a corner in downtown Seward. Koster’s dog, Abby, met me just ahead of Koster herself, who easily loped along with her long stride on pavement. Koster was wearing her painting clothes, having come from painting walls in her house. We easily fell into conversation about the race, and each of our backstories on how and why we live in Seward.
Koster says that she views the Mount Marathon Race as a benchmark that forces her to keep her body at a high level of fitness. Staying fit for Mount Marathon also enables her to do most physically demanding activities that present themselves.
All four members of Koster’s family have been involved in the race in various forms. Her husband used to race, but now chooses to run the trail route up the mountain, Jeep Trail to Bench Trail to Skyline, when he’s home from his job as a Fed-Ex pilot. Koster’s son, Sam, still a teenager, has already raced seven times. He plans to race again this year, despite breaking his foot earlier in the spring. Koster’s daughter, Megan, will be racing for the first time this year. It’s her last chance to compete as a Junior, at age 17. She has chosen to throw herself into the endeavor, in spite of her busy schedule and trepidations. Megan’s individual summer schedule, as well as the family’s annual trip outside of Alaska make it challenging to train on the mountain. Even so, the whole family is looking forward to this year’s race.
As we walked around town, Abby the dog greeting locals and visitors alike, Mary Beth spoke of the confidence that comes from being able to complete an endeavor like Mount Marathon. It’s a tough race that requires physical stamina, comfort with heights, and the constant risk of serious injury. I could easily agree with this sentiment, having been up on the mountain a few times in the past week, and having stumbled and fallen multiple times myself.
Koster achieved her Personal Record (“PR”) just two years ago, at the age of 50. It was a confidence booster for her, and an accomplishment.
In addition to discussing her own experiences, Mary Beth made sure to emphasize the gratitude she felt for the tremendous amount of volunteer effort that makes the race and the race weekend possible. “The Seward Volunteer Ambulance Corps is there at the bottom of the mountain every year.” They are situated at the base of the waterfall section in Lowell Canyon, alongside Providence Hospital workers and local volunteer EMTs. “They’re there every year, and it’s their 4th of July too,” said Koster, “please make sure you let them know how much we appreciate them.”
Mary Beth Koster plans to race again this year, as do her two friends.