Difficult, sometimes technical trails with long, extended climbs, over and around Fort Mountain.
Both races will start with a flat, quick
loop around the lake. The course then connects to the Gahuti trail via the rocky and rooty Big Rock trail. The Gahuti travels around the edge of the park. The trail is single track, cambered and rocky as it travels just below the summits of both Cohutta and Fort Mountains. The course will briefly leave the Gahuti to take in a loop around the top of the mountain. The top of the mountain trail is narrow and footing is difficult until reaching the legendary rock wall, where the trail then descends back to the Gahuti and gradually begins to widen with the footing becoming smoother. The hills do not end coming “down” the mountain back to the lake; the elevation gain is almost the same as the initial ascent.
The course will come back to the lake via the other side of the Big Rock trail. The 12-milers will run back around the lake for their finish. The marathoners will turn and run up to the 301 loop via the steep power line trail.
The 301 loop is a beautiful, challenging, and mostly double-track trail. It passes through pine and scrub laurel thickets, upland hardwood and cove forests, by old mines, then waterfalls and rhododendrons before returning up the mountain and then following the mountain ridge top before descending back to the lake. From there, the marathoners will run back around the lake for their finish.
Bears have been spotted along many sections of the Mystery Mountain Marathon course, so be aware!
Trail Course Markings - General
As simple as this may sound, this is NOT a road race. There will be no mile markers. It will not always be 100% apparent which way to go. There may not always be another runner in sight. It is entirely possible that you could get lost or sustain a serious injury in this race. No matter how careful you are, you might fall or trip along the way. Ultimately YOU are responsible for running this race, being careful, and following the course markings.
The course will be marked with a combination of surveyor’s tape, flags, chalk, and directional arrows. Turns will be marked with one or more of these methods. The trail will also have “confidence” markers every 2-5 minutes, even when there are no turns off the main trail – this is to assure runners they are on the right path. As you run the course you should continually look for markings to be sure you are on the right course. Do not turn onto a side trail unless you see markings indicating a turn. For the majority of the course you will stay on the main path and seldom take side trails. If you have not seen a marker in over 5 minutes, then consider retracing your steps to the last known marker or waiting for another runner.
Trail Course Markings – Specifics for MMM
12M racers will follow ORANGE markings.
Marathon racers will follow ORANGE markings for the first 11 miles, and then BLUE markings after the Power Line Aid Station.
Note that the majority of the 12M route (and the first 11 miles of the Marathon) predominantly uses the Gahuti Trail, which is blazed ORANGE. ** Remember, however, that a portion of the route goes off the orange-blazed Gahuti trail, so be sure to follow the orange MMM flags/signs/chalk/course marshals/ribbons and not just the trail blazes. **
All markings will be placed on the right hand side of the trail. Doing so will help you verify if you are running in the appropriate direction.
When approaching a trail intersection, a series of three to four ribbons will be placed on the right side of the trail before and after the trail intersection if possible.
The race starts and finishes with a loop around the lake (both 12-milers and marathoners). This section of the course will be marked with orange flagging as you start, and with orange AND blue flagging as you finish. Markings will again be on your right.
Prior to the Park Entrance Aid Station, the Gahuti and the 301 trails share a quarter mile of trail; we call this the Fort Mountain Connector. 12-milers will pass this section once, following orange markings. Marathoners will pass this section twice, following orange (before the power lines), then blue (after the power lines). This section will be marked with orange and blue ribbons.
It can be difficult to pass other runners in a trail race, especially on single-track trails. If you are ready to pass another runner you should verbally indicate your intention by saying “may I pass?”, or “trail left” or “trail right”. The runner should then yield the trail by moving over as much as possible. As soon as you have room, pass the other runner quickly. If someone asks to pass you, then follow the same rules of courtesy, and move over when requested. Even if you can move partially off the trail or turn slightly sideways, this should be enough room for someone to quickly move past you. Or, if you are looking for an excuse to rest, just step off the trail and wait until they are gone!
A word about headphones: Trail races are not road races. Trail courtesy relies on communication between runners. Headphones naturally impair the ability of runners to hear one another on the trail. (They also hinder your ability to hear bears!) Please consider leaving your headphones behind and enjoying the soundtrack of the woods. If you absolutely insist on wearing headphones at MMM, please keep the volume low and remove one earbud when around other runners.
Fort Mountain Trails will NOT be closed during the race. You may encounter hikers, bikers (marathon only), or even horses (marathon only) on the course on race day. Please be courteous. Announce your approach in order to allow them time to move off the trail.
Leave no Trace
Do not leave any litter on the course. Anyone caught littering will be disqualified and ostracized. Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them. Observe wildlife from a distance and do not approach or feed them (especially the bears).