• 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

    Downtown Anchorage business owner calls 2015 ‘worst year’ for Fur Rondy

    by Bonney Bowman on Mar 03, 17:42

    The Fur Rendezvous festival usually brings an annual influx of people and money into downtown Anchorage, but this year, it looks as if Mother Nature had different ideas for the Fourth Avenue festival. No snow forced organizers to cancel the dog sled races, typically Rondy’s biggest draw. Event organizers say the unseasonably warm temperatures, lack of […]

  • Weather

    Alaska February climate numbers

    by Brett Shepard on Mar 03, 15:28

    February 2015 climate numbers for Anchorage, Annette, Barrow, Bethel, Cold Bay, Fairbanks, Juneau, King Salmon, Kodiak, Kotzebue, McGrath, Nome, St. Paul and Yakutat. These numbers were compiled by data obtained from the National Weather Service. Synopsis – The “winter that wasn’t” continued into the month of February as it was warmer than normal for the […]

  • News

    Tuluksak emergency generator fails

    by Ben Matheson / KYUK on Mar 03, 15:28

    Tuluksak residents are now on the backup to the backup electric generator. The state flew out a second generator after part of the fan assembly failed Thursday, leaving the community without power for days for the second time in four months. Power was restored Sunday afternoon. Emily Ford is the Energy Policy and Outreach Manager […]

  • Crime

    Anchorage man sentenced to 9 years for armed bank robbery

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Mar 03, 13:34

    An Anchorage man was sentenced to 9 years in prison Tuesday after pleading guilty to robbing a local bank and threatening a bank teller with a gun. James Surrells, 44, was sentenced by Chief U.S. District Court Judge Ralph R. Beistline to serve 108 months in prison for robbing the First National Bank of Alaska on Northern Lights […]

  • News

    Buddy Holly plane crash investigation to be reopened?

    by CBS News/Associated Press on Mar 03, 12:11

    The National Transportation Safety Board has agreed to consider reopening the investigation into the Iowa plane crash that killed musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, and pilot Roger Peterson. The Globe Gazette reports that the board has agreed to consider another investigation after receiving a letter from L.J. Coon, an experienced pilot from New […]

  • Lifestyle

    Prehistoric tool found in Sitka landslide

    by Shannon Kemp on Mar 03, 11:56

    Two hydrologists taking geological samples from the site of a landslide in Sitka made an unexpected discovery — what appeared at first to be a “cool weathered rock” instead turned out to be a prehistoric hammer. Sitka Ranger District hydrologist Marty Becker and Tongass Forest Supervisors Office hydrologist K.K. Prussian were collecting rock samples in […]

  • News

    Voter registration deadline looms for Anchorage election

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Mar 03, 11:46

    Anchorage residents have until Sunday, March 8 to register to vote in the April municipal election. Residents must be at least 18 years old on Election Day — April 7 — for their vote to count. This Sunday is also the last day you can update your voter information, according to a release from the municipality. […]

  • News

    House votes to fund Department of Homeland Security through September

    by Jake Miller / CBS News on Mar 03, 11:42

    They came, they saw, they blinked. The House of Representatives passed a bill on Tuesday funding the Department of Homeland Security through the end of September, effectively ending a congressional standoff that nearly shut the department down at the end of last week. The bill, identical to a measure that passed the Senate last Friday, passed […]