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Gatecrashing bear halts Alaska running race

black bear and young in Anchorage
In 2008, a black bear and her young were seen close to the marathon route (Image credit: Getty Images)

A quick-thinking race organiser was forced to suddenly change the route when a black bear sat down on the trail during the Mayor’s Marathon 2021 in Anchorage, Alaska.

Ian Marks was reportedly approaching the half-way aid station of the race when he came face to face with the huge animal.

He had previously spotted the bear in the Goose Lake area, near where more than 100 runners where progressing through the annual 26.2-mile race.

Ian had hoped the bear would take off away from the race route and the runners, but then he spotted it again very close by. The bear sat down on the path, which blocked the running route.

Ian, who is also assistant director of athletics at the University of Alaska Anchorage, made a speedy decision to divert the route.

Speaking on Alaska Public Media after the race on the summer solstice weekend, Ian said: “I was yelling to the runners that they needed to stop because there was a bear in the area. By this point, the top 20 to 25 runners had actually encountered the bear, but they had got through that section. So we were still early on in the race." 

runner in anchorage marathon

A runner in the annual Mayor’s Marathon (Image credit: Getty Images)

However, there were still 100 plus runners to come. Ian said: “The bear was sitting right on that path. It was in a heavily wooded area, so the path is really the only way through. 

“I made the decision immediately to stop all the runners. And that delay went on for 20 to 30 minutes and the runners were just standing around waiting, not knowing what to do.”

After communicating with other race organisers, the race was re-routed through parking lots near the woodlands. 

Ian also told Alaska Public Media in a news report: “I had my mountain bike on the back of my car… and I was like the Pied Piper leading 100-plus runners through a detour of a race, right in the middle of the race taking place.”

Anchorage Police Department then responded to a call out to deal with the bear.

Ian added: “This was the closest I’ve ever been to a bear... Looking back, it’s fortunate no one had an incident with the bear and everyone made it out safe.”

Fiona Russell

Fiona Russell is a widely published adventure journalist and blogger, who is better known as Fiona Outdoors. She is based in Scotland and is an all-round outdoors enthusiast with favourite activities including trail running, mountain walking, mountain biking, road cycling, triathlon and skiing, both downhill and back country. Her target for 2021 is to finish the final nine summits in her first round of all 282 Munros, the Scottish mountains of more than 3,000ft high. Aside from being outdoors, Fiona's biggest aim is to inspire others to enjoy the great outdoors, especially through her writing. She is also rarely seen without a running skort! Find out more at Fiona Outdoors.