An expert’s guide to Mount Marathon
Looking up from downtown Seward, Mount Marathon looks pretty daunting, and the people who run up this mountain will tell you — it is.
Flip Foldager knows the mountain about as well as anyone can. The 60-year-old Seward resident has climbed it since he was a kid.
“Hundreds of times,” he said. “Maybe even approaching a thousand. You need to come here, you need to train, you need to know what you are doing.”
Flip knows it better than the back of his gloved hands (The razor sharp shale has taught him to wear gloves).
There are a many different ways to get onto the mountain, but on race day, there are two favorites, “the Roots” or “the Cliffs.” Racers will take the route they’re most comfortable with. Flip says this first part is one of the most dangerous. The steepness here requires racers to climb almost straight up, scrambling on hands and feet.
“Once we’re over the cliff, the mountain’s personality changes,” he said. “Big trees and thick vegetation provide shade, but also block any cool breeze. At this point, you’re either dying like a dog, or you are going, ‘well, this isn’t so bad, I’m maintaining.'”
Some challenges depend on the weather.
“You can see where this is just a mud slide,” Flip says, pointing to a steep patch of well-worn dirt.
On this day, a week before the start, it’s warm and dry, but, suddenly swarming with flies. Flip inhales one.
“At least they don’t bite.” he chokes.
The mountain changes again and suddenly we’re in the open. A merciful breeze keeps the bugs at bay and the sun beats down. We pass an aluminum pipe — half-buried in the rock.
“The junior runners, that’s their turn around point,” Flip said. “Lucky buggers.”
From here, the summit still looks far, far, away.
“On race day, I’m giving it everything I’ve got just to keep moving uphill,” Flip says.
The turnaround rock sits 3,000 feet above downtown Seward. The ground levels out and Flip’s pace goes from a climb to a brisk run.
“I just need to get around that damn rock,” he says. “And then you start down.”
“Be careful here,” Flip shouts, climbing onto the crumbling rock at the summit. “This is ankle-breaker city.”
Then he starts running down, his running shoes sinking into the scree field.
“Note, I’m not looking at the scenery,” Flip laughs. “I’m looking at where my feet are going. There are big rocks in here that can unglue ya.”
The trickiest part was yet to come. The “chute” is a lumpy stream bed full of small waterfalls trickling over the slippery rocks.
“You want to be paying attention in here,” Flip yells, remembering years past. “You’re exhausted. In my case, you are down to tunnel vision here.”
Trees and roots take over again for a few minutes while Flip jogs to the edge of a cliff — the same cliff he climbed on the way up. Reminded of the danger, he grabs onto any sturdy root or rock he can grasp.
“I always try to keep one hand on something at all times,” said Flip as his descent looks like a backward crab-crawl.
Now, on flatter ground, he describes the feelings that come up every year at the finish line.
“You basically finish saying ‘I’m never doing that again,’ …and then you start planning for next year,” he said.