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Off Track: Coal Miners, Loggers And Milkmen In America's First Adventure Race

01/11/2013 04:36 pm ET | Updated Mar 13, 2013

I got a bit sidetracked from toxics after coming across the below trailer for "The Mountain Runners". The new documentary, currently screening in the Pacific Northwest, tells the story of America's first adventure race held more than century ago near Bellingham, Wash.

From 1911 to 1913, groups of men apparently raced by auto, rail and foot to the 10,781-foot-high summit of Mount Baker -- and back -- for a chance at a $100 purse of gold coins.

"These were not professional athletes," Todd Warger, a historian of the Mount Baker Marathon, says in the trailer. The competitors included a postman, a milkman, a bedspring maker, loggers and coal miners.

the mountain runners

The 1912 race was won by a mule packer for the Polson Coal Mines, Harvey Haggard, pictured center. (CREDIT: themountainrunners.com)

The daunting race was eventually discontinued on account of its dangers, which included the treacherous approach by car or train to the base of the glacial peak. (One train derailed with a racer on board.) On the mountain itself, runners suffered everything from broken bones to hypothermia to falls into glacial crevasses. Needless to say, few finished the race.

I couldn't help but wonder how the coal miners fared, especially on the ascent, given their likely respiratory handicaps. So I asked one of the film's producers, Brian Young.

His answer: None won a race, but one did come close.

"There were two coal miners in the first race (1911), Joseph Frankoviz and Norman Randall," Young told me in an email. "Randall was running neck and neck with the first year's winner, but couldn't keep up and missed out on placing in the race."