• 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

  • Lifestyle

    A look back at the history of Mount Marathon

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Jun 29, 23:18

    As she prepares to take on one of Alaska’s most popular foot races, KTVA 11′s Emily Carlson takes a look at the colorful history of the Fourth of July Mount Marathon race in Seward. This year is the 100th anniversary of the running of Mount Marathon. The main event features a grueling 3,022-foot race to the […]

  • Crime

    Anchorage man sentenced in case of teen heroin overdose

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Jun 29, 22:27

    A man who admitted to injecting heroin into a 14-year-old who later died has been sentenced on a single charge related to her death. Sean Michael Warner, 29, was sentenced to 18 years in prison by U.S. District Court Judge Sharon L. Gleason for the charge of distributing heroin. Warner pleaded guilty to the charge on […]

  • On-Air

    New treatment for breast cancer

    by Ivanhoe Newswire on Jun 29, 20:10

    A breast cancer diagnosis is scary enough by itself, and for many patients, making endless trips back to the hospital for radiation therapy adds to the misery. But a new radiation treatment offers convenience and peace of mind to a lot of women. In her twenties, Beverly Treat was a dancer and physically fit. A […]

  • Politics

    Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan reflects on his legacy

    by Alexis Fernandez on Jun 29, 20:08

    A cleaner, safer and stronger city — that’s the legacy Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan says he hopes to leave behind as he prepares to hand over the keys to the next mayor this week. Sullivan updated the public on the state of the city at the Make it Monday forum. He told the crowd he’s most […]

  • Weather

    Evening News Weather, June 29

    by KTVA Weather on Jun 29, 19:58

    Kenai Peninsula/Prince William Sound Mostly cloudy with scattered showers and mountain areas could see a heavy shower or a thunderstorm or two.   Southeast Mostly cloudy with a chance of rain showers. Best chance for northern locations. Ketchikan will see a bit of sunshine and should be dry.   Interior/North Slope The interior will have […]

  • News

    ANSEP students test towers for earthquakes

    by Heather Hintze on Jun 29, 19:28

    High schoolers from around Alaska are shaking up their summer vacation with some hands-on math and science work. During the last week of their Acceleration Academy, Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program (ANSEP) students tested their PVC pipe buildings to see if they were seismically sound. “My favorite part is just building it and seeing […]

  • News

    Panic, frustration as Greece nears debt default

    by CBS News on Jun 29, 17:38

    The world financial markets took a major hit Monday from the debt crisis in Greece. The Dow lost 350 points. The S&P was down more than two percent, as was the NASDAQ. Greece can’t pay creditors and will likely go into default tomorrow. Greeks will vote this weekend on whether to accept strict austerity in exchange for a bailout […]

  • News

    Busy construction season at Anchorage schools this summer

    by Lauren Maxwell on Jun 29, 16:18

    The Anchorage School District is having one of its busiest summer construction seasons in almost a decade, according to Edie Knapp, construction manager for the district. Knapp said $170 million worth of projects are taking place this summer. They range from things like parking lot improvements to major renovations. At $28 million, Airport Heights Elementary […]