Monday, September 25, 2017


Tough & Crazy Marathon (S. Taylor)
Some informative and entertaining race reports about the Mystery Mountain Marathon already exist from its ten year history:

Wilson Clemons (2012)

Trailcats (2013)

Ultra Kraut Running (2014)

I ran the MMM as a recon race for the Double Top 100 next April and to see what my big mouth had gotten me into. After running over 20 marathons, the MMM was a new experience for me in a few ways.

To take as long as it did (7h 25m), I never got down on myself. I stayed mentally strong the entire race, even after taking a wrong turn and running an extra 3/4 of a mile around mile seven.

Not losing my positive mindset was a boost of confidence that I would need, because this marathon course is no joke. It's a battle of technical and tight trails full of roots and rocks that rates among the best I've run.

Boasting 15,000 ft. of elevation change, my Garmin adjusted number was 6,035 ft. of gain, while my Relive Video came in at 5,784 ft of gain. Another Relive Video I saw had just over 5,000 ft. of gain. Needless to say, for a marathon distance run, that is a humbling workout in addition to the mileage.


At 2:39 a.m. Sunday morning I was east bound and down loaded up and hopeful I would be able to do what others said could be done and had done. I would have my doubts around mile 19, when the 2 mile climb I'd heard horror stories about reared it's ugly head. More on that later.

From Clemon's RR (above)
The 3.5 hr. drive to Chatsworth, GA was typical of many long drives I've made before races: the unexpected fog and fear of deer darting across the road... Wondering if it was too early in the morning (or late at night) to be pumping gas and become a crime statistic.

I  did not, however, have a nagging feeling that I'd forgotten something, and that made for a good start to my 15 hour trip.

I felt ready for the race except in two minor areas: volume of training mileage and hill work; but, hey, that's part of becoming more of an experienced runner: Who needs race specific training, right?

Efficiency plays a helpful, but also harmful role before races. The never ending quest to see how few miles can I run and still get away with it?

There would be a lot of faking it in this marathon, and also drawing from years of experience to use my mental advantage to overcome my physical laziness.

I drove through on again-off again fog all the way to Chattanooga where the IRONMAN was taking place. I thought about all the athletes making their last minute checks in Transition and nervously getting to the swim start as I had done in 2015. I cruise through Chatty wishing them well, straightening the curves and flattening the hills.

Elevation over 26 miles
I-75 South takes me to exit 333 in Dalton, GA where exactly one year ago to the day I DNF'd The Georgia Jewel 100 at mile 87. Still the hardest thing I've ever done. I thought about stopping in at the Start/Finish to say Hello, but felt that I didn't have enough time.

As I drive east toward Chatsworth I see a bright star that I thought was a plane at first, but soon realized must have been a planet shining in the soon-to-be sunrise.

I see the black silhouette of Fort Mountain in the faint dawn directly ahead and just below the bright star guiding me to the mountain. I pay my $5 Park fee and drive to my parking spot guided by race volunteers. I felt comfortable.

I had plenty of time to prepare before the start. Plenty of pickle juice, too, so I drank 16 -24 oz. I dropped three GU tabs in my Camelbak and quickly realized I should have used only two. No regrets, because I knew that pungent taste would provide many longed for electrolytes later in the day.

Me, Allie, and Alex
I had my change of clothes laid out for after the race, my towels, and my additional pickle juices to drink on the way home hoping they would keep me from cramping during the 3.5 hr. drive back. I get my packet, put on my bib, and walk around some.

I see Allie Law who I knew would be running the race and also Graham Gallemore who I was pleasantly surprised to see. We talked for a few minutes, but parted ways to make final preparations. 

I looked for them again at the start to snap a Huntsville Selfie. I meet Alex Anaya who I knew had also run the Lake Martin 100 as I had. We grab a pic before listening to brief race instructions.

We had a big day ahead of us. The first half of the marathon we run with the 12 milers before branching off at the power line section around mile eleven. Where marathoners separated is called The Power Line climb.

In Garmin World it's known as "Power Up." I didn't know that till my Garmin watch told me. It's a .44 mile climb at 11.8% grade. It's just before the humongous drop on the map above. That's what ought to be called "Power Down!"

I'd much rather have climbed the power line again after running down that thing. Quad buster for sure, and it's what had my bigger muscles twitching and starting to cramp later on, especially on the 2 mile climb starting at mile 19. Say it with me three times, "PickleJuice!, PickleJuice!, Picklejuice!"

I mean I quit singing drinking songs and started singing gospel songs about half way up this thing.

I walked the first mile of it in 27m 58s. The second mile wasn't much faster at 25m 51s. My Garmin had over 1,300 ft. of gain for those two miles alone.

About half way up, I thought that I would be walking the rest of the race. At that point, I still wasn't sure that I would finish under the 8 hr. cutoff. And I certainly didn't believe that I would be running as well as I did after it.

"Power Up" - 11.8% Grade
I felt cramps in my quads that I'd never felt before, and being in somewhat of a no-man's land between aid stations, it was sobering to think about what I'd gotten myself into.

All I could think of was the story told by the Athens (AL) running group that went to The Grand Canyon for the RTRTR run last year. I'm told there was a sign you read on your way down that basically says: 'You get yourself in, you get yourself out.'

I wondered if I would get myself out of the MMM around mile 20.

One positive result of taking the wrong turn earlier in the race was that I would retrace those steps after this long climb, so I knew exactly where I was going and how far it was to the next aid station.

Perseverance and a positive attitude have their rewards.

As tough (and rewarding) as the race course elevation was, everything about the day was great. The weather. Dry surface. Waterfalls. Shaded race course for nearly all the run. The volunteers were awesome. GUTS (Georgia Ultrarunning & Trailrunning Society) puts on a great race.

This was the 10th Annual running of the Mystery Mountain Marathon, and I can only see it growing and continuing to be a top quality event. 

Fort Mountain State Park
The scenery is as good as anywhere I've run in Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama. The mountain views never get old. They are worth the effort it takes to see them, and Fort Mountain State Park is no exception. It's no wonder it has almost 10,000 likes and near 5 star reviews on Facebook. 

This marathon is the second hardest that I've run and by far the most difficult regarding elevation gain. The lifetime of good memories and pictures that I have are worth every ounce of pain. 

The friendships that are made and carried around to other events is long lasting. Marathoners and ultra runners are special people, and you won't find better people to be around than those in the endurance community.

They are definitely a big part of my song, "Thank You, Lord, For Loving Me," that I started singing at mile 20!



  1. Nice job! Not an easy one for sure. Last year, I bombed the big downhill and almost paid for it later. Oh, and I forgot to tell you about the pack of feral dogs I saw right at the bottom of that big downhill. That and the chance of bear sightings certainly had my sense on high alert the entire second half of the race! :D

  2. Cool! I didn't look too hard for bears on purpose! :-) I looked cautioiusly if I heard a sound too close to ignore. Never was a factor, thankfully.