Sep. 3—Brad Precosky started mountain running as an escape, a place where a self-described socially awkward kid could find refuge.
By the time he stepped down from Alaska Mountain Runners recently, after more than 20 years at the helm, Precosky had helped develop a booming community that included hundreds of trail and mountain runners.
The idea for the group started as a payback plot, an opportunity to do something for friends who had helped Precosky.
He'd suffered a broken hip after an accident in the mountains. His friends in the mountain running community held a fundraiser for him.
"I'm sitting there for the rest of the winter thinking, 'Oh, man, am I gonna give back to these guys?'" Precosky said. "So you know, I thought, 'I'll just host a race.' I think that was it."
In 1999, Precosky and friend and fellow mountain runner Barney Griffith launched Alaska Mountain Runners. The one race he'd planned to hold turned into a series, initially called the Alaska Mountain Cup, that soon became the Grand Prix. Longtime Alaska mountain runner and race organizer Matias Saari took over as AMR president last fall, and Precosky recently stepped away all together.
"He's been the face of AMR for 20 years," Saari said. "And has really helped create a mountain running community that didn't exist before."
At the time, Precosky was on the cusp of a legendary string of wins at Mount Marathon, which included four straight races from 1999-2002 and six wins in nine years. He also won the Grand Prix six times. But along with the on-course victories, Precosky was advancing the sport and opening up opportunities for a growing fleet of runners.
When he and Griffith started, there were only a few major races in a short window — most notably Bird Ridge and Mount Marathon. Precosky added a race at Hope Point, and the network started to expand.
"We started talking and he mentioned that there just needs to be more races," Griffith said. "People are really getting interested in this stuff, and you train all winter and all summer for three races that are close together, and it's over."
By 2023, the Grand Prix included eight races with popular events at Knoya Peak, Matanuska Peak and Government Peak.
Precosky said the interest has always been there — someone just needed to take the dive into the administrative portion. Since its early days, the organization has become a nonprofit and has added a board.
"When you jump off a cliff, you get momentum," Precosky joked about the expansion.
One of Precosky's biggest achievements was bringing the World Mountain Running Championships to Alaska in 2003. The race had not visited the United States through its first 18 years in existence, and brought the world's best runners to the state.
"We put Alaska on the map and put the U.S. on the map," Precosky said. "It legitimized us in a lot of ways."
Racers battled snowy conditions on the Alyeska Resort course in Girdwood in late September that year. Five-time world champion Marco De Gasperi from Italy won the men's race and two-time champ Melissa Moon from New Zealand took the women's race. For Alaska's mountain running community, it was a massive undertaking, hosting 400 athletes and coaches from 30 countries. While there were dozens of volunteers and plenty of help funding the event, the ambition started with Precosky.
"Brad had the idea for it and made it happen and worked his ass off to do it," Saari said.
Precosky and Griffith got into the international mountain running scene themselves. They qualified for the U.S. Mountain Running Team in 2001 and ran in the World Mountain Running Championships in Italy that year. They raced up 13,435-foot Mount Kinabalu in Malaysia twice competing in the Mt. Kinabalu Climbathon.
"Barney and I were connected at the hip in those days, so everything one of us did, we did," Precosky said.
Alaska Mountain Runners has helped increase the level of competition and the volume of races in the mountain running community. But Griffith said the organization's enduring legacy will be of community, a bit of a surprise coming from the self-proclaimed introvert.
"People just like seeing their friends at the races," Griffith said. "It's young and old. It's just a community thing that's just really fun for people to connect every year with the thing that they enjoy doing."