• 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

  • ‘That is not Alaska behavior’: Residents react to video of Anchorage Carrs shooting

    by Eric Ruble on Apr 29, 11:48

    New video from a KTVA viewer shows the moments before and during a shooting at an Anchorage Carrs grocery store Saturday morning. At least two people were injured:  one Carrs employee was shot twice in the leg and another person who suffered a broken orbital socket after being punched in the face, according to court […]

  • News

    Experts: Long road ahead for Trump offshore drilling order

    by Associated Press on Apr 29, 11:40

    President Donald Trump’s executive order seeking to find new ocean expanses in the Atlantic and the Arctic for offshore drilling isn’t likely to reach its goals anytime soon, but instead will kick off a yearlong review and legal battle. Trump signed the order Friday aimed at dismantling a component of former President Barack Obama’s environmental […]

  • News

    First kelp harvest made from Ketchikan area site

    by Associated Press on Apr 29, 11:37

    KETCHIKAN, Alaska (AP) – Mariculture crews landed a disappointing first haul of planted seaweed recently near Ketchikan as part of an experiment on commercial kelp farming in the state. The University of Alaska Southeast, a seaweed product specialist known as Blue Evolution and a handful of commercial kelp growers are collaborating on the effort, with […]

  • News

    Record-breaking summer cruise passengers coming to Juneau

    by Associated Press on Apr 29, 11:32

    JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) – A record-breaking amount of cruise passengers are expected to land in Juneau this summer. The Juneau Empire reports Cruise Lines International Association Alaska President John Binkley announced Thursday that over 1 million summer cruise passengers are traveling to Juneau. The association predicts the travelers in the city from May 1 to […]

  • Officials plan highway improvements for safety, fish passage

    by Associated Press on Apr 29, 11:29

    KASILOF, Alaska (AP) – Alaska officials say highway improvement plans will result in better fish passage and overall safety. The Peninsula Clarion reports the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities showed the latest draft of their plans for Sterling Highway on Wednesday. DOT plans to widen the existing shoulders from 4 feet wide to […]

  • Lifestyle

    Hacker releases stolen copies of Netflix series

    by Associated Press on Apr 29, 10:52

    SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – The Latest on a hacker releasing stolen copies of a Netflix series(all times local): 11:35 a.m. A hacker claims to have followed through on a threat to release several episodes from the upcoming season of Netflix’s hit series “Orange Is The New Black.” The hacker, which goes by the name The […]

  • Lifestyle

    Deaths from opioid epidemic may be underestimated

    by CBS News on Apr 29, 10:21

    America’s prescription drug abuse epidemic may be even more deadly than expected, a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests. Some opioid-related deaths may be missed when people die from pneumonia and other infectious diseases spurred on by drug abuse. Their death certificates may only list the infection as the […]

  • Sports

    Morgan Hooe honored with Bill MacKay Athlete of the Year award

    by Dave Goldman on Apr 28, 22:34

      In another year of standout candidates, Morgan Hooe stood the tallest. The former South High School star parlayed a brilliant season at the University of Alaska Anchorage into the athletic department’s highest honor for former student-athletes while adding a local flair as she took home the Bill MacKay Athlete of the Year award. Her […]