Runners get ready to start the 14th annual Prince of Wales Island Marathon Saturday in Craig.

Prince of Wales Island had a small, but healthy, population boost over Memorial Day weekend for the 14th POW Marathon.

About 300 people showed up to run or walk the annual marathon. While most of the participants are Prince of Wales residents, quite a few traveled for the big race. Within Alaska, they came from elsewhere in Southeast, and further north; others made the journey from Washington state, Oregon, California, Nevada, Colorado, Montana, Pennsylvania, New York and Vermont.

Volunteers at an aid station cheer runners and walkers, and hand out orange slices as the athletes run by.

Some ran alone, others ran or walked in pairs or groups. There also were quite a few relay teams, with colorful names like The Klawalkers and Hot to Trot.

And they were all cheerful. Maybe they were anticipating the runner’s high, because despite the early-morning hour, the light rain and the prospect of at least a couple hours of strenuous exercise, there were plenty of smiles.

The volunteers also were pretty cheerful, from registration desk officials, timekeepers and the announcer, to the many local groups that set up aid stations all along the route.

Brandon Richter of Naukati was one of the aid station volunteers, and his enthusiasm was … loud. He yelled encouragement at the racers as he energetically rang a large cowbell.

His station, run by the Naukati Fire and EMS, was one of 14, and they won the best aid

Naukati EMS aid station volunteers hold up their trophy after winning the Best Aid Station Award for the second year in a row.

station award for the second year in a row, an honor bestowed annually by a vote of marathon participants.

There were a couple themes during the race weekend, and cowbells — like the one Richter was ringing  — was among them. Everyone, it seems, wants more cowbell.

Richter and his crew were part of the biggest theme, one that’s universal to any successful event: Volunteers. They were everywhere, and there’s no way the race would have happened without them.

The featured performer at the awards ceremony was Cindi Reeves. She wore traditional Yupik regalia as she sang a duet with her father of her original song, “Alaska, My Home and My Land.”

Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins stands at the finish line as people take photos. He was the first full-marathon runner to cross the finish line.

Alaskans did well in the race. The big winner of the full marathon was Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins of Sitka, who won a different kind of race last fall. He’s the young state representative who ousted longtime Rep. Bill Thomas in a close election. Soon after finishing, he was surrounded by well-wishers as he ate a banana, replenishing some of his potassium.

“I just try to – what’s the – let’s see – healthy mind and healthy body,” he said. “In session, it’s awfully hard (to train). I had no idea what was going to happen today, because my mileage was not what one would want before a marathon.”

He ran the full 26.2 miles in three hours, one minute and 40 seconds. Second place in the men’s division went to Andrew Tighe, and Bill Elberson took third. Both are from Ketchikan.

Elberson is an active member of the Ketchikan Running Club, and is well known on POW,

Cindi Reeves and her father sing during the awards ceremony,.

too. He says he’s run every Prince of Wales Island marathon since it began 14 years ago. He’s run other marathons, but, “Prince of Wales is probably the prettiest, and the most involved as far as the community,” he said. “The whole community, everybody on the island they’re either volunteers or they’re just coming by to say howdy, and you’ve got a good chance of seeing a bear.”

In the women’s full-marathon division, Anchorage runner Debbie Cropper, who was the special guest speaker, took first place with a time of three hours, 33 minutes and 49 seconds. She donated her plaque to the community of Craig, along with her race bib.

Cropper, an elementary school teacher, has run marathons in all 50 states. She spoke the night before the race about the power of accepting challenges.

Dianne Cropper of Anchorage won the women’s full-marathon, and was the guest speaker at this year’s POW Marathon.

“Life is a marathon, and I believe the analogy of any training that we do, it’s the same thing you have to do whether it’s 26.2 or a college course, or anything you have to put the power of mind to,” she said.

Most participants weren’t really there to win. They just wanted to finish. Here is Amy Anzueto, a Ketchikan High School junior, after completing her first half-marathon.

“I really wanted to run,” she said. “My auntie has run some marathons, and walked some, and that kind of got me motivated. I really wanted to do my first marathon, or half, at least.”

So, yeah, technically, she didn’t win, but really, as was said again and again by officials and participants, everyone who finished is a winner. Like most challenges in life, the real competition is against yourself, overcoming the mental barriers, and pushing to finish one more mile. And then the next one.

And the next.

Race officials hold up the poster for next year’s POW Marathon.