Andy Hedden
Siyel George and Brennan Palmieri compete in the Takshanuk Ridge Run for the Glacier Bears Cross Country team fundraiser Saturday, Sept. 12.

In an unprecedented outburst of local running, the Haines Glacier Bears hosted two cross-country races last weekend, featuring 46 participants. On Friday they held their first ever “virtual race,” a 5-kilometer race in which local runners compared the results to seven other Alaskan schools who held similar races on the same day. On Saturday, they hosted their second annual Takshanuk Ridge Run, with 27 local athletes completing a 11.6-mile course starting at the 7 Mile Saddle trailhead and finishing at the Haines Brewery.

Both events were successful by any measure. The Glacier Bear girls and boys teams each finished first ahead of Wrangell, Petersburg, Klawock, Craig, Hydaburg, Metlakatla and Unalaska, as they saw their personal records fall like autumn leaves. On Saturday, the outpouring of vigor and community support raised $2,500 for the Glacier Bear cause.

Virtual racing is a new concept, brought about by travel restrictions for most communities around the state. Coach Jordan Baumgartner said, “The coaches try to create comparable courses throughout the state and then all the high school cross country athletes run a timed race with their teammates. The cool part is that all the coaches then input their race times and determine individual and team placement virtually. It’s not the same as a real race but you couldn’t tell from the excitement from our team last Friday.”

The race started and finished in the school parking lot and ran past the Small Boat Harbor. After all the runners were in, the team ran a victory lap around the track. The girls had the top six individual finishers in a seven-team race, led by MacKenzy Dryden’s 20:29 run. Luke Davis led the Haines boys. His 17:45 finish was second only to Uriah Davis of Petersburg, who finished in 17:02. Next was Carson Crager in 18:08, a run that Baumgartner called “one of the best I’ve seen all year.” Baumgartner also noted Jacob Weerasinghe’s “incredible” run in which he knocked a full minute and a half off of his previous personal best.

This Friday at 3:30 p.m., the Glacier Bears will take on teams from across Southeast and beyond in a 5- kilometer race starting and finishing at Fort Seward. Two weeks later will be the Region V meet and while it has yet to be determined whether that race will be held in-person or virtually, Baumgartner is confident in his team. “I feel like our runners from Haines will represent us well.”

Saturday morning was a trail runner’s dream as athletes of all ages trickled in for a staggered start. Last year’s champion, Garrett Montgomery, set a new course record, summiting Peak 3920 and Mount Ripinsky and coming down in a time of 2 hours and 41 minutes. “The weather and the trail conditions were perfect,” Montgomery said.

When asked what he thought about as he ran alone he said, “I just think about my pace and breath and when I’m going to eat a snack and change layers if necessary. It’s just super analytical and pace oriented.”

Following the two-time champion was the two- person team of Glacier Bear captain Brennan Palmieri and last year’s state cross-country champion Siyel George. They completed the course in 3:07 and then kept running for another mile and a half so that they could get a half marathon under their belts.

The next best time of the day was Tracy Wirak-Cassidy, the top women’s finisher in 3:12. She talked about doing the race for the second year: “I think it’s a great event. We had perfect conditions. It was fun seeing so many families out on the trail. I’m happy that it was such a success and that it supports high school cross-country.”