By Addie Whitlow, Features Editor — Chattanooga was voted Best Town Ever by Outside Magazine because of all the outdoor activities the city has to offer. Whether it’s swimming, biking, hiking, kayaking or so much more, there’s something for everyone in Chattanooga. The Raccoon Mountain Marathon, an annual race for adventurous runners that will be held on Saturday, March 18, is another way to enjoy the great outdoors in the Scenic City.
The Raccoon Mountain Marathon, which began in 2015, is a marathon, half marathon, double half and relay that is held on Raccoon Mountain, just a short drive outside the city via I-24. The event is organized by Run Chattanooga, a local and unique organization for runners that gives them fun marathon and race opportunities in the area.
Courtney Bird, Race Director for the Raccoon Mountain Marathon, said that Run Chattanooga was founded to support the runners who are less worried about being competitive and more worried about having a good time.
“We plan our races with that in mind, always. We don’t care if people want to walk or run, or do a little bit of both. That’s why we have such long time limits for our races – we don’t care if it takes a long time, we want to see everyone cross the finish line,” explained Bird. “We don’t take ourselves too seriously, and that has luckily attracted runners with a similar mindset to our races.”
Raccoon Mountain boasts a variety of different terrains and trails, which makes it great for hiking and will also provide runners with a unique marathon experience.
“The original course for the marathon and the half marathon – there’s both a morning and afternoon half – is part road and part trail. It alternates about every three-ish miles between road and trail,” explained Bird. “The trails for that course are the beginner trails on the mountain, so there aren’t any big hills or super rocky parts. There is one big hill on the road section, though. The marathoners do the course clockwise for the first half, then turn around and do the course counterclockwise to cover all of their mileage.”
The semi-official time limits for both the marathon and the morning half marathon are nine hours. Bird said that as long as someone is still moving forward on the course and TVA, who is in charge of security on the mountain, isn’t ready to lock up, then the marathon lasts for as long as it takes everyone to cross the finish line.
There are about 300 people signed up to participate in the marathon this year. However, the event isn’t just for local residents; there will be participants from more than 30 states and a couple of countries. In addition, there will even be virtual runners in the Middle East and the U.K., according to Bird.
Because the event is quickly approaching, volunteers from Run Chattanooga have been hard at work putting the finishing touches on the course before this weekend. Bird said that the preparation process begins the day after the marathon and lasts for 365 days a year. Some of that preparation includes applying for a land-use permit from TVA, deciding on race merchandise, designing a new logo and marketing the race, among many other tasks.
Bird also said that the three weeks leading up to the race are essentially “controlled chaos” because of all the last-minute merchandise orders, grocery shopping trips, marking the trail and responding to emails from runners.
“On race weekend, I’m up in the mountain the longest, it’s usually at least a 16 hour day for me. Our key volunteers and course director also tend to pull a 12-16 hour day, but that day is always so much fun that it doesn’t feel like work,” explained Bird. “It starts as soon as the gate opens; we set up the aid stations in the dark, get all of the runners parked and get their packets picked up, get volunteers in position and get started on time.”
Because Run Chattanooga is in charge of organizing multiple marathons and races in and around Chattanooga, they’re always looking for volunteers and would love to see a greater presence from the UTC community. Volunteering for Run Chattanooga is almost always more fun than work, and it can provide you with great experience in event planning and marketing, too. For more information, or to get involved, visit runchattanooga.org.