Course Condition Update – 7/4

This is a developing issue. Please continue to check this post for additional updates. 

July 4 – 2:05 pm

Air Quality Index to be Updated Hourly; Adult Runners Encouraged to Consider Potential Adverse Health Risks

As of 2 pm, the local Air Quality Index in Seward is 109, which is categorized as “unhealthy for sensitive groups.” 

People with respiratory or heart disease, the elderly and children should limit prolonged exertion.

Since the men’s race is underway, this concludes our hourly air quality updates.

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As of 1 pm, the local Air Quality Index in Seward is 147, which is categorized as “unhealthy for sensitive groups.” 

People with respiratory or heart disease, the elderly and children should limit prolonged exertion.

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As of 12 pm, the local Air Quality Index in Seward is 160, which is categorized as “unhealthy.” 

Sensitive groups should AVOID prolonged or heavy exertion. Everyone else should REDUCE prolonged or heavy exertion.

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As of 11 am, the local Air Quality Index in Seward is 162, which is categorized as “unhealthy.” 

Sensitive groups should AVOID prolonged or heavy exertion. Everyone else should REDUCE prolonged or heavy exertion.

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As of 10 am, the local Air Quality Index in Seward is 164, which is categorized as “unhealthy.” 

Sensitive groups should AVOID prolonged or heavy exertion. Everyone else should REDUCE prolonged or heavy exertion.

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As of 9 am, the local Air Quality Index in Seward is 168, which is categorized as “unhealthy.” 

Sensitive groups should AVOID prolonged or heavy exertion. Everyone else should REDUCE prolonged or heavy exertion.

Learn more about the Air Quality Index, potential health effects, and cautionary statements here.

July 4 – 8:24 am

Junior Race Canceled Due to Unhealthy Air Quality

As of 8 am, the local Air Quality Index in Seward is 172, which is categorized as “unhealthy.” 

This data is being measured by a new air quality sensor in downtown Seward provided by the Department of Environmental Conservation.

Race organizers previously announced that the Junior Race would be canceled if local air quality on the morning on July 4 exceeded an AQI value of 100, which would be categorized as “unhealthy for sensitive populations.”

Due to the extent by which the current air quality exceeds safe levels, the decision to cancel the Junior Race is final.

We will continue to post AQI levels prior to each race start to make sure that adult racers have as much information as possible to make their own healthy decision.

July 3 – 1:49 am

If Air Quality is Unhealthy for Children and Teens on July 4, Organizers Will Cancel Junior Race 

In accordance with recommendations from physicians and public health experts, Mount Marathon Race officials have decided to cancel the Junior Race if the air quality in Seward is assessed as unhealthy for children and teenagers leading up to the 9 a.m. race on July 4.

Regardless of whether or not the race is canceled, juniors—like all other registered runners—may choose to defer their 2019 entry to the 2020 race.

Children and teenagers—along with older adults, and people who have heart or lung diseases—are more likely to be affected by health threats from smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), air quality is considered to be unhealthy for children and teenagers when Air Quality Index (AQI) values are above 100.

Air quality can change rapidly due to shifts in the wind, so race officials have developed a plan to wait until the morning of July 4 to evaluate the local air quality.

The Junior Race will be canceled if the Air Quality Index (AQI) is determined to exceed a value of 100 in the 90 minutes leading up to the race.

As of July 2 at 8:53 p.m., the National Weather Service is forecasting “widespread smoke, mainly before 10 a.m.” for July 4.

Race Day plan will rely on rapid decision making 

An initial assessment of local air quality will be conducted at 7:30 a.m. on July 4 by a team of experts. If the air quality is determined to be unhealthy, the Junior Race will be canceled by 8 a.m. Juniors would be notified via the public address system, through volunteers stationed at Race Headquarters, and on the race website.

If the initial air quality assessment is satisfactory—with corresponding AQI values below 100—then a second assessment will be conducted at 8:30 a.m. and a final determination on Junior Race status will be announced by 8:45 a.m. via the public address system.

In the event that the Junior Race is canceled, all registrants will receive a full refund of the $25 entry fee and may defer entry to the 2020 race.

We strongly recommend all junior runners and their families review the following documents:

July 2 – 2:41 pm

Mount Marathon Race Offers All Registered Runners Option to Defer Entry to 2020

Mount Marathon Race officials have issued an unprecedented deferral option to all 2019 registered runners due to persistent smoke from wildfires on the Kenai Peninsula.

Dense smoke advisories persist through July 5 

On July 1 at 4 p.m., the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation issued an air quality advisory for Southcentral Alaska through Friday, July 5 at 4 p.m. Key points include:

  • The air quality will vary between GOOD and VERY UNHEALTHY depending on wind flow and proximity to the fires. 
  • Be aware that areas immediately downwind of any fire will experience HAZARDOUS levels of smoke. 
  • Generally, worse conditions occur overnight and during the early morning hours, as the atmosphere cools and brings smoke to the surface. During the day, surface heating will mix smoke and carry it upwards, temporarily improving air quality.
  • In smoke-impacted areas, DEC advises people with respiratory or heart disease, the elderly and children should avoid prolonged exertion; everyone else should limit prolonged exertion.

The National Weather Service forecast for Seward (as of July 1 at 10:53 pm) calls for “widespread smoke” and a high of 84 degrees on Independence Day. 

The Southcentral and Southwest Alaska Forecast Discussion issued on July 1 by the National Weather Service (Anchorage office) explains why wildfire smoke is persisting in the area:

“As far as the smoke forecast for the Swan Lake fire, persistent low level northwesterly flow will carry the bulk of the smoke southeastward across the interior Kenai Peninsula down to Seward and out into Prince William Sound and the northern Gulf. Based on this, have issued Dense Smoke Advisories for the Kenai Peninsula zones through 1pm Wednesday. 

The worst conditions/lowest visibilities will generally be late at night through the morning hours as smoke gets trapped near the surface with night-time inversions. The dense smoke could also become more widespread as subsidence inversions strengthen beneath the upper level ridge

The advisories may need to be extended further out in time, as the pattern and general flow look like it will hold through the remainder of the week.”

A cautious decision that prioritizes runner safety

After carefully reviewing recent weather forecasts, smoke advisories, and public health guidelines regarding the effects of wildfire smoke, the Seward Chamber of Commerce—in consultation with the Mount Marathon Race Committee—has decided to issue a “course condition deferral” option to all runners registered for the 2019 race. This was previously referred to as an “emergency alert.”

Race officials solicited feedback from the National Weather Service, the Air Quality program at the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, the Environmental Public Health program at the Alaska Department of Health and Human Services, and several health care specialists before making the decision. 

The course condition deferral will allow all registered runners to defer their 2019 entry to the 2020 race if they choose not to run due to air quality.

This includes lottery winners, priority racers, petitioners and special invites. Runners with “10-year status” are already allowed to defer their entry without losing their priority status. Runners who have already submitted medical or military deferrals for the 2019 race are not required to take additional action. 

FAQs on the course condition deferral option can be found below.  

All races are scheduled to proceed as planned; volunteers are needed more than ever

The women’s and men’s race will proceed as scheduled on July 4 at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., respectively. Runners who choose to start the race will not be allowed to claim the course condition deferral option if they decide to drop during the event. 

Volunteers are always critical to the success of Mount Marathon, but perhaps never more so than this year. All volunteers will be offered an “N95” dust mask. This type of mask will provide limited protection against the smaller particles found in wildfire smoke.

On-mountain volunteers are encouraged to allow extra time to reach their location, to avoid overexertion in the heat and potential smoke. Volunteers unable to complete their duty for any reason should notify their lead volunteer and the race volunteer coordinator, Marissa Amor, who will be located at the volunteer check-in tent in Lowell Canyon at the base of the mountain. 

Vulnerable populations, including children, should use extra caution

Children and teenagers, older adults, and people who have heart or lung diseases are more likely to be affected by health threats from smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Additional information is being collected and analyzed before a decision is made about whether to proceed as scheduled with the Junior race (ages 7–17). Any changes to the race day schedule will be announced on the race website. 

For now, families are encouraged to seriously consider the risks of allowing their children to participate if the air quality in Seward is moderate or worse on July 4. 

In the absence of an air quality monitoring station in Seward—there are only a handful of these stations across the state—the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation’s Air Quality Smoke Reference Guide illustrates that visibility may be used to estimate air quality levels and potential health impacts.

For example, “moderate” or better air quality equates to approximately six miles of visibility or more. Air quality deemed “unhealthy for sensitive groups” is indicated by visibility of less than five miles. Race officials will rely on real-time observations as well as reported data when evaluating air quality. 

Runners of all ages are urged to consider the potential health risks of wildfire smoke and abnormally high temperatures, along with the inherent risks of Mount Marathon’s steep and exposed trails. 

As always, runners must assume responsibility for their own safety and not expect assistance of any kind from race officials or spectators. 

Course condition deferral FAQs

Q: How does the air quality deferral work? 

A: An online deferral form is now available on the race website. Submit the form by Friday, July 5, at 11:59 pm AK to defer entry to the 2020 race. An approved waiver will be applied to your race record for the 2019 race, allowing you to register for the 2020 race without returning to the lottery. 

Q: Do I need documentation from a medical provider in order to get an air quality deferral? 

A: No. 

Q: Can I still get my t-shirt and swag if I take the course condition deferral option?

A: Mount Marathon Race tradition has been that only runners who receive an official finish time receive a “finisher” shirt. Due to extraordinary circumstances, we will allow runners who defer their entry to claim their shirt and other runner items. Runners may opt to donate their “finisher” shirt. 

Runners who defer their entry must pick up their shirt and swag bag at bib pick-up on July 3 between 5–8 pm at Seward High School, or on July 4 between 8 am – 2 pm at Race HQ (125 3rd Ave). You may designate a proxy to pick-up your items. Race swag will NOT be mailed to runners who live in Southcentral Alaska. If you do not arrange for your shirt and bag to be picked up, it will be donated after the race. 

Race swag may be shipped for a small fee to out-of-state runners who defer and do not travel to the race. Contact the Seward Chamber the week of July 8 to inquire: 907.224.8051 or email mmr@seward.com.

Q: Am I eligible for a refund if I take the course condition deferral option?

A: Unfortunately, no. Because the race is still proceeding as scheduled, your registration fee has already been allocated to runners’ items (shirts, patches, stickers, trophies, medals, etc.) and essential race services. 

Q: What is the latest possible time I can decide whether or not to race?

A: Bib pick-up will be available until one hour prior to each race at Race HQ (125 3rd Ave). This will allow runners to make a decision based on real-time conditions. 

If you pick up your bib on the evening of July 3 and decide not to run, you must hand back your bib at Race HQ at least one hour prior to your race so we can remove you from the roster. 

If you pick up a bib, decide not to run, and don’t return your bib before the one-hour cut-off, you will receive a “Did Not Start” status for 2019 and may be returned to the lottery for future races. 

Q: Will the course condition deferral be revoked if the air improves? 

A: No. Air quality can change quickly with small shifts in the wind, and can worsen as quickly as it improves. Race officials decided to issue the deferral option after learning that widespread smoke is expected through the evening of July 4. 

July 1 – 2:46 pm

Dense Smoke Advisory Extended Through July 3 at 1 p.m.

The National Weather Service has extended its Dense Smoke Advisory through 1 pm on Wednesday, July 3.  Although the  advisory is only issued through Wednesday, there is the “potential for dense smoke to persist through the remainder of the week.”

The Seward Chamber of Commerce—in consultation with the Mount Marathon Race Committee, public safety experts, and emergency management professionals—is continuing to monitor air quality forecasts and may issue an “emergency alert” that would allow registered runners to opt-out of the race without losing their priority racer status. 

Stay tuned for more details.

June 28 – 1:54 pm

Race Officials Continue to Monitor Swan Lake Fire; No “Emergency Alert” for Runners at This Time

Dense smoke from the Swan Lake Fire has drifted SE across the interior Kenai Peninsula, including Seward. The National Weather Service has issued a dense smoke advisory that will remain in effect until 1 a.m. AKDT Sunday, June 30. 

Since the first running in 1915, The Mount Marathon Race has never been canceled due to weather. We do not expect that to change this year. 

Playing the Waiting Game

In the event of unhealthy air quality, extreme heat, or other unexpected circumstances, the Seward Chamber of Commerce—in consultation with the Mount Marathon Race Committee, public safety experts, and emergency management professionals—may issue an “emergency alert” to registered runners, volunteers, and the public. 

An emergency alert has not been issued at this time. The Seward Chamber will likely wait until July 3 at 5 pm to make a determination, since smoke from wildfires can quickly change and we don’t currently have an accurate air quality forecast for July 4. 

Runners Will Be Able to Maintain Their Priority Status if an Emergency Alert is Issued

In the event that an emergency alert is issued, runners may opt-out of the 2019 race while maintaining their priority status for the 2020 race. The specific protocol will be announced on the race website and emailed directly to all registered runners if an emergency alert is issued. 

Medical Deferrals Are Also Available to Runners With Documentation From a Medical Provider

If an emergency alert is not issued, runners may seek a medical deferral for the 2019 race if a medical provider advises them not to race for any reason. To apply for a medical deferral, this online form must be completed. Documentation from a medical provider is required. 

Dust Masks Will be Available to All Volunteers if Smoke is Present on Race Day

All registered volunteers will be offered an “N95” dust mask. If properly worn, these masks can provide some protection but will not completely shield your lungs from the small particulates found in wildfire smoke. The use of dusk masks is at each volunteer’s discretion. More information on using respirators and masks to mitigate the effects of wildfire smoke can be found here

Review This Advice From the CDC on Protecting Yourself From Wildfire Smoke

We encourage all runners, volunteers, and the public to review these recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control on protecting yourself from wildfire smoke. Older adults, pregnant women, children, and people with preexisting respiratory and heart conditions may be more likely to get sick if they breathe in wildfire smoke.

For now, keep your fingers crossed for favorable conditions for the courageous wildland firefighters on the Kenai Peninsula, and keep an eye on the local air quality forecast. Additional updates will be posted here on the race website as we get closer to July 4.

Photo by Casey Lasota/Alaska Division of Forestry