This race is so hard to put into words. Mount Marathon in Seward, Alaska, is known as the world’s toughest 5K for a reason— there’s no other race out there like it.
It’s the only race I know of that requires each racer to have been up the mountain at least once before receiving a race bib. The race starts in the heart of town in front of a bar with a half-mile sprint to the mountain base. From there, you climb as quickly as you can up the savage route of cliffs, roots, mud, and shale— ascending 3022 feet in 1.3 miles.
It’s a brief but brutal calf screaming, thighs on fire, lung punishing climb with absolutely no breaks from the start until you get to the top. Unless you actually look up, all you see the entire time are butts and shoes. Quite a few times, you find yourself climbing up on all fours.
The only rules of the race are starting and finishing downtown and going around the rock at the top of the mountain. Other than that- whatever route you choose is totally up to you, so knowing the mountain is essential. Locals have a serious advantage since they can train on the mountain-especially on the downhill where the steep decline of shale moves underneath your feet on the controlled fall. Some race years, if winter has provided a healthy snowpack- you can slide down a steep snow chute for about 150 yards before continuing on shale until you reach a slippery creek bed, then continuing down the last part of the mountain called ‘the cliffs’ before hitting the road section to the well-deserved finish.
I grew up in SE Alaska, so this race and state are very special to me. This is my third year running it, and I’ll keep coming back as long as they’ll have me! I trained for this race on Dog Mountain, running stair repeats and doing track workouts for that first half-mile sprint.
Mount Marathon is an ass-kicker and should be conquered and experienced by all who can get near her- race day or not. So keep moving, my friends. We’ve all got mountains to climb!