The Mountain Man Memorial March is held each year in Gatlinburg, TN; a small town that is the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains. I had first heard of this event when searching ruck event on the internet. I found out that this event was founded in 2007 by the University of Tennessee Army ROTC program to honor one of their fellow classmates who had been killed in Iraq earlier that year.
The MMMM has grown every year since, attracting other ROTC cadets, along with active duty military, reservists, veterans of all services, and many civilians.
There are two options to choose from, the Heavy and Light. The Heavy requires you to carry 35# plus food and water and you can choose either the 13.1 mile course or 26.2 mile course. The Light doesn’t require you to carry any weight and you can choose either the 13.1 or 26.2 mile course. I chose to do the Heavy full 26.2 mile course.
You have the option when registering to sign up as a Team of 5 or as an individual. I tried to recruit some friends here in Chattanooga and the surrounding areas who I knew were strong ruckers (2 of which will also be doing GORUCK Selection this year) and a few former military guys. I just couldn’t get them to commit so I ended up registering as an individual.
This was a priority event for me because I wanted to log lots of rucking miles early in the year to build a strong aerobic base specific to the demands of GORUCK Selection. Plus I was excited about exploring the Gatlinburg, TN area as it looked like the route would weave through town and nearby foothills of the Great Smoky Mtns.
Looking at previous results, and knowing the pace I was training at, I was figuring to finish around 5 hrs 30 min. This would place me in the Top 5 for sure.
The race started at 9am and the temps were pretty moderate, but the forecast was to see temps get up into the 80’s. I chose to wear the attire I plan to wear in Selection (pants, t-shirt and boots) and was a little worried I would struggle with the heat in the later miles.
Right from the gun Teams and individuals began to ruck/run. I stuck to my plan and would ruck/run for 2 min and fast march for 1-2 min. The whole time I also wanted to keep my HR below my Lactate Threshold if I could (the exception being the steep hill at mile 12). Looking at the profile that was given out during check-in, there didn’t appear to be many “hills” along the full 26.2 mile course, but I remember talking to several people who had done this in the past and they all said it was hilly.
Well the course profile was definitely inaccurate because the course was MUCH hillier than what it showed. It was relatively flat to rolling the first 11.5 miles. The from mile 12 - 18 there were many steep hills that prevented any sort of ruck/running.
By mile 12 I was near the front of both the Teams and individuals. I had just passed the leading military Team of 5 and one of them said that there were 2 individuals ahead of me. With all the hills I knew I could gain ground on them because I know my strength on hills. I caught one other individual around mile 16 and he said that there were still two ahead of us.
I continued with my pace of 2 min ruck/run (8:30/min pace) and 2 min fast march (13:15/min pace) and felt good as far as energy. I was wearing the GORUCK MACV-1 boots and feet felt great. It was around mile 22 that I could see the two leading individuals ahead of me. There was a slight uphill for 1.5 miles and then slightly downhill the rest of the race to the finish.
I feet started to get a hot spot on the ball of my feet as I crested the top of the light uphill. I gained time on the two leaders but I knew I had to stop and make a slight adjustment in one of boots. I quickly adjusted my sock and it seemed to help a little but the “burning” feeling came back. I could no longer maintain a 2 min ruck/run and was now reduced to only 30 sec of ruck/running. It felt as if someone was lighting a match under my feet.
I was only 1.5 miles from the finish and I was doing everything I could to block out the pain I was feeling. I finally caught one of the two leaders and it looked like he was hurting just as bad as I was because I cruised past him. I caught the leader with only 1/2 mile to go. I found out that he was the military division individual leader and I was the civilian individual leader. We chatted for a few seconds and with only a 1/4 mile to go we both did everything we could to ruck/run to the finish. He crossed the line with a time of 5:12:07 and I was shortly behind at 5:12:38.
It was an honor to compete with all these amazing men and women and especially to have the chance to talk with many military individuals and Teams along the way. I even heard some pretty damn funny military songs being sung by a few military Teams.
I would highly recommend this event to anyone who likes a challenge and wants to be a part of something special.