The 11th annual Mountain Man Memorial March is back and bigger than ever.
A record 656 people set off from Gatlinburg Saturday morning to march in honor of fallen soldiers in the East Tennessee region. But this is no ordinary race.
The military style marathon takes about eight hours to complete. Athletes have to run 26.2 miles with a 35 pound backpack or ruck sack.
But what carries the most weight is the reason behind the run.
Young and old, civilian and military, traditional marathoners, and military competitors make up the group participating this year. Everyone is marching for a different reason.
"We had a cadet five years ago who ran [this race] and he fell during the race and he actually passed away, so Appalachian State has come back every single year," said Jack Simpson, a senior in ROTC at the university.
This is Simpson's fourth time running the full military marathon. While he runs for the memory of a classmate, others run for people they've never met.
Like the stranger who has run for 10 years in a row to honor the life of Jay and Lynn forehand's son, Ryan. He was killed serving overseas 12 years ago.
"There are no words to explain what it means," said Lynn. "It brings tears to my eyes that he would come back year after year and put himself through what he goes through."
This march requires a lot of training. It's a team effort, with no teammate left behind. That effort means a lot to the veterans who come out to cheer them on.
"When I came back from overseas, I was spit on," said Korean War veteran John Hodges. "And it's just great to see the enthusiasm."
Even if the course is tough, it's worth it for the honor it brings to those who sacrificed their lives while overseas.
"Kids are now realizing that this is an honor for the parents and for the people who have actually lost lives," said Dave Head, a Vietnam War veteran and five-time purple heart recipient. "Americanism is not dead. People enjoy God and country still to this day."