Matanuska-Susitna Borough

The Grittiest Mountain Runners are from Here

Christy Marvin and Eric Strabel

Christy Marvin sees other mountain runner elites as the genetic superhumans. Yet she powers herself up and down 10,000 feet of mountain, and across 12 miles in an inhuman time: 3 hours, 31 minutes, 45 seconds.

Marvin’s running life is a series of summit highs. In 2013, she won all six Alaska mountain races she entered. In 2014, she won all again except Mount Marathon, losing by two seconds to an Olympian.

She also set a new record for women on Mat Peak Challenge, Government Peak Climb, Kal’s Knoya Ridge Run and in the Equinox marathon.

"I gave everything I had to the finish line..." Christy Marvin

Ankle-rolling scree, neck-high grass, quad-tearing descents, lung-wringing steeps, and shifting boulders are picked over along the way in the Matanuska Peak Challenge. But the lowest of moments comes when crawling up the backside of Lazy Mountain.

When she reaches a point of legs buckling and wanting to lie down, she says she digs deep. “You have to tell yourself that you know your body is capable of so much more than your mind thinks it is.”

God and family are her bedrock. Husband, Ben, is also an elite mountain runner. A hobby of bread and cookie baking fuels her 6-days-a-week training with homemade carbs.

Victory for her, win or lose, even if it’s two seconds, is that “I didn’t give up, I gave everything I had to the finish line.”Photo of Christy Marvin by Alisha Germer

Victory for her, win or lose, even if it’s two seconds, is that “I didn’t give up, I gave everything I had to the finish line.”

Photo by Mark Stigar
“It was all surreal, the whole experience..." Eric Strabel

Eric Strabel in the Mount Marathon Race dropped 2,800 feet in seven minutes. On 60 to 70 percent grade, “that’s basically a freefall,” says Christy Marvin of her mountain running peer.

In a race video, Strabel, 32, leaps off a large boulder and glides through six feet of air to its base, more a parkour stunt in a James Bond movie than trail running. Three out of four years Strabel took title to 3,200-foot Mount Marathon, beating in 2013, Olympian Bill Spencer’s 32-year race record in 42 minutes, 55 seconds.

After the first victory, the state’s largest newspaper proclaimed “Eric the Great!” across its front page. “It was all surreal, the whole experience. It’s hard to put that in perspective,” Strabel says.

In the local, agonizing Mat Peak Challenge, in 2012, Strabel came in at 2:55:43 setting a course record. He’s won it twice. “It’s the hardest, most demanding, exhausting one I have done.” He lives in Anchorage, but Strabel’s roots are here. “I’ll always be from Palmer.”

Photos of Eric Strabel provided by the Strabel family

While his training takes him trail running in mountains, his “giant passion” is for skiing. He retired from a ski racing career with national and international success but he missed being a part of the sport. So he gave up his civil engineering job and became a coach for the Elite Ski Team at Alaska Pacific University where he says “he’d rather engineer skiers to be the fastest in the world.”

Text by Patty Sullivan