• Forecast
  • News Tip
  • Categories
Temperature Precipitation
Estimated read time
2m 51s

Mount Marathon veteran stresses importance of knowing the terrain

By Emily Carlson Photojournalist: John Thain - 7:29 PM July 3, 2014
SEWARD –

It started as a bet between two sailors. Race 3,022 feet to the top of Mount Marathon and back down in an hour. The first attempt in 1908 was a failure. Today, hundreds do whatever it takes to survive the challenge.

“We say if you get to the bottom and you’re not bleeding then you didn’t try hard enough,” says 17-time race finisher Clint McCool.

He isn’t joking. Despite his experience, McCool still makes at least 30 trips each year from Anchorage to practice.

“There’s so many variations to the race, so many different trails and so many different approaches to it. Knowing the mountain is so important, even more important than your fitness,” McCool said.

He breaks it up into chunks. It makes it easier to digest, he says. Right away at the bottom, runners are faced with a choice.

“We have a decision to make. We have two routes. One is called the roots and one is called the cliffs,” McCool said.

The roots is a tangled, jungle-like ascent up narrow pathways. While roots make convenient grippers, the congestion on race day could hold you up. That’s why most people choose the cliffs. It’s a wider path, with plenty of room to pass.

“This is very steep, but at least it is rock and people tend to trust the rock a little bit more,” McCool said.

The roots and cliffs open up into what runners call the climb. Here, speed hiking is the name of the game. This is where training trumps athleticism. McCool calls his practice climbs choreography sessions. He can picture each step of the climb in his head.

“The story of this upper mountain is that it’s incredibly braided and there’s no rule,” he said. “You can take any route that you like. This is where experience can give someone an advantage.”

The climb takes you all the way to the top, but don’t relax just yet. Here comes the dangerous part: the scree. Small, loose rocks litter this part of this mountain. If you don’t watch your step the result can spell disaster.

“It’s very easy to take a trip and these rocks are very sharp,” he said. “If you take a fall up here you’re gonna feel it, trust me.”

If you don’t fall here, don’t let your guard down. The next part of the mountain, called the gut, is the most daunting part of the rock to some racers.

“This is actually where most of the injuries take place and the reason is that your legs are just exhausted.”

Once you survive the gut, you’re faced with three tough choices. Most people choose the cliffs, the safety trail is for juniors, and then there’s the route that’s not for the faint of heart.

“You do not want to go straight, which is the waterfall. Unless you are an expert you do not want to go down that way,” he said.

Even elite athletes mess up the waterfall. McCool goes down with reservation.

It’s a combination skid and slide. He uses his hands, feet, and even his bottom. The more points of contact the runner has, the better. If you make it past this challenge, you’re nearly home free.

The mountain is a delicate dance of control, courage and perhaps a little bit of crazy.

Latest Stories

  • News

    Thanksgiving travel tales from the Anchorage airport

    by Kate McPherson on Nov 26, 23:27

    Spending Thanksgiving with loved ones isn’t possible for everyone. But for others, taking a flight or two is all it takes to get the family together. At the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport on Wednesday night, two-year-old Rachael waited patiently for her dad to come home from the North Slope. Her mom, Melissa Chapman, is happy that […]

  • News

    After power outage, Tuluksak families get turkey donation

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Nov 26, 22:50

    Families that lost tons of meat after a power outage in Tuluksak will now have a turkey on the table for Thanksgiving. The community of nearly 400 went without electricity for an extended period of time following a power plant failure. Because of the warm temperatures, many people weren’t able to keep their subsistence meat frozen. […]

  • News

    ‘Tis the season: 800 Christmas lights on Government Hill

    by Heather Hintze on Nov 26, 22:11

    Residents riding around Anchorage may notice a familiar sight in Government Hill. The lights have been turned on at the Christmas Tree on the neighborhood’s cell tower — a day students at Government Hill Elementary School have been waiting for all year long. The students waited anxiously on the eve of Thanksgiving for the school’s […]

  • Weather

    Evening News weather, Nov. 26

    by KTVA Weather on Nov 26, 19:36

    Kenai Peninsula and Prince William Sound Skies will be partly sunny for Thanksgiving, but expect to wake up to early morning fog. Southeast Expect clouds to move out as clearing happens from the north to the south. Interior and North Slope In the Interior, skies will be mostly clear with temperatures dramatically cooling off. North […]

  • News

    Farmer’s market in Anchorage offers Thanksgiving alternatives to turkey

    by Lauren Maxwell on Nov 26, 19:29

    Alaskans who want to eat local this holiday season will find plenty to fill their holiday tables. That’s especially true if they are open to some alternatives for the main course. At the Center Market, a year-round farmer’s market inside the Sears Mall, shoppers could be found on the day before Thanksgiving picking up produce […]

  • News

    Anchorage students learn about the godmother of Thanksgiving

    by Alexis Fernandez on Nov 26, 19:23

    Food and family are two of the symbols most associated with Thanksgiving. On the eve of the national holiday, one group of local sixth-graders decided to dig a little deeper. Word-by-word, sixth-grade students at College Gate Elementary School relived history and learned about the past. They put together a presentation about well-known author Sarah Hale, known as […]

  • News

    Injured musher, dogs recovering after being struck by car in Willow

    by Shannon Ballard on Nov 26, 19:14

    Willow, Alaska is musher country, a place where residents joke that there are more dogs than people. Dog sled trails weave through the trees right up against the Parks Highway. Six-time Iditarod finisher Karin Hendrickson is familiar with the curve near mile marker 91. It’s where she and her sled dog team were stuck by […]

  • News

    Anchorage Animal Control: dogs seized from Girdwood regaining health

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Nov 26, 18:10

    A dozen emaciated dogs taken from a Girdwood kennel are getting healthier, says Anchorage Animal Care and Control. Two weeks after Animal Control seized the dogs from Girdwood, the center released photos of two of the huskies. “Per Dr. Myra Wilson, Anchorage Animal Care and Control veterinarian and director, the 12 huskies in AACCC’s custody […]