Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Chattanooga Stage Race - 60 Miles, 3 Mountains, 3 Days

As always, Randy and Kris Whorton did an awesome job putting on the Chattanooga Stage Race this year. Randy and Kris also are the Race Directors for 8 trail races in the Chattanooga area including The Rock/Creek Stump Jump 50K, (one of the nations largest ultras), Lookout Mountain 50 mile, Upchuck 50K and the Rock/Creek Trail Marathon.

By the way, take a look Kris' bios.  Kris Whorton.  She is fast. Her time in the 2009 Umstead 100 was 16:05:34.  That is amazing!  Below are Randy and Kris.  She also holds the Master Women's record in a bunch of races.

The Chattanooga Stage Race is three stages on three days, each very difficult running.  The first stage on Raccoon Mountain is the easiest and relatively flat (by Eastern Tennessee Standards) which means it is not flat at all.  There are just no big climbs.  The terrain is very runnable but you sure have to pay attentions.  One mountain bike section was really interesting called the "Switchyard."  There must have been two miles of trails in what seemed like 50 acres of land.  We zigzagged all over the place.  The first stage in 18 miles and about 1,500 feet of elevation gain.

The second stage started at Lula Lake land trust.  This section has one long climb up Lookout Mountain and two trips up a shorter climb in the land trust.   The race starts at Lula Lake and follows a gravel road along  Rock Creek and past two beautiful waterfalls, one about 120 ft, before hitting a climb that is about 100 feet and so steep runners have to pull themselves up via ropes for the last 30 or 40 feet.  After reaching the crest of the ridge the trail follows a ridge for about 1.5 miles with some absolutely beautiful views of Western Georgia and the area around the Chickamauga Battle Field.  The trail here is good enough that you can actually cruise up a gentle climb and enjoy the view without worrying too much about crashing.  The descent off the ridge is a little tricky in a few spots but again all runnable.

After returning to the aid station at the start finish runners begin the long 700 foot climb to the top of Lookout Mountain.  The trails up Lookout Mountain are good and 100% runnable although the first half mile or so is pretty steep and most of us walked up a ways.  We made a big loop up top and had a chance to enjoy running under two power-line easements for a while. (What fun!)  We came back down the same route to Lula Lake where we ran the loop around the land trust in the opposite direction.  They do throw in a little surprise at the end though.  Instead of following the road the last mile you are sent off to the other side of the creek through the most miserable section of the entire course and finally cross the creek and head to the finish.  The stage has 2,500 feet of climbing, not a lot for 22 miles.  A real plus to the start/finish is that it is located next to an upper section of Rock Creek.  Everyone grabbed a beer and climbed down to the creek and sat down in the icy water.  It was wonderful and I don't even like beer!

The following photos were taken by Jeff Bartlett and are posted on the Rock/Creek Stage Race website. Below are two shots of the extremely steep descent off the ridge in the Lula Lake Land Trust.  We climbed up this section on the first loop in the land trust before heading over to and up Lookout Mountain. On the second loop in the trust we ran the opposite direction and descended this hill about 2 miles from the end of stage two.

The bridge over Rock Creek at the completion of the first loop in the land trust.

Under the bridge following the finish of  Stage 2.  Rock Creek in Lula Lake Land Trust

The third stage on Signal Mountain is the killer.  Although it only had 2,700 feet of elevation gain, (200 ft more than the previous day) the issue is not the climbing, it is the terrain itself.  From the start to the first aid station at mile 3.3 and back to Mushroom Rock at about mile 5 is on the Stump Jump 50K course so I knew how difficult this first set of climbs would be.  We then began a 6 mile traverse around the crest of the cliff band on Signal Mountain.  These cliff bands (Bluffs) around the tops of all the mountains in the area make for some spectacular scenery along some intimidating trails.  This section was mostly runnable although we were constantly up and down and we had to frequently slow almost to a stop for a few very technical, rocky sections.  There were also long sections where grass overlapped the very narrow trail so you could not see where you were stepping.  At one point I was running along thinking to myself I had better pay really close attention because I cannot see where I am stepping.  As I finished the thought my foot caught on something hidden under the grass and I slammed to the trail.  No damage done so I hopped up and continued.

Two shots of the trail on an early descent down to Suck Creek

This section was spectacular with the mountain dropping almost straight down below the path all the way to the Tennessee River probably 1,000 feet below.  There were a lot of places you would not want to fall along here but I found myself taking my eyes off the trail for a quick glance at the view.  I did stop once just to look but the pace of a race is fast and you don't want to loose too much time.

We finally reached the third aid station at Edward's Point (mile 9.4 in the picture to the left) and things immediately went down hill, figuratively and literally.  We began a very gentle descent, per the profile, to Middle Creek, but this was where things got tough.  The trail just about disappeared because we were running in a jumble of rocks about 70% of the time.  I am comfortable running over rocks because that is what I run on all the time here in Birmingham.  I make good time and passed a lot of other runners in this section but this was as technically difficult as any trail I have ever run and it was exhausting.  We were either climbing up steep rocky sections or descending steep rocky sections.  Even thought the section was less than 3  miles long it totally zapped me.  Finally, near the end we hit a section of very steep stairs climbing almost straight up through the cliff band to the top and the aid station at Signal Point. 

This is what much of the flat sections of the trail looked like.  Climbing was easier!

I slowed a little after passing Butch Holt being helped up the trail.  At the end of the first two days Butch had a 1 hour 30 minute lead over me and about 30 minutes over anyone else in the 60 to 70 age group.  He had a rag wrapped around his head and another held to his face.  There was blood running down from his head and cheek and his shirt was covered in blood.  I asked if I could help and the person helping him said there was help on the way down.  He was still about 8.5 miles from the finish.  I was sure he would not be able to go on.

By this time it was hot and the Signal Point aid station had pop-sickles.  They were great!  I continued up a road for a few hundred yards where we cut in front of an assisted living center with a bunch of people in wheelchairs on the porch.  The staff waved and cheered as we went by.  Some were probably thinking I needed to be in the "nursing home" not out there running.  We then shifted on to a nice gravel path for a few more hundred yards then back to the piles of rock.  I guess I had not completely made the mental shift back to difficult terrain and no more than a 0.10 mile into the rocks tumbled again.  This time it hurt.  Rocks are hard, but again no damage done, just a few sore spots.  From there things began to get a little better.  We finally reached a long gentle climb following a creek that seemed to go on forever but easy to run.

Finally, the Guardrail aid station at mile 16.4.  Only 3.6 miles to go!  From there we started up a very long climb on a smooth gravel road.  It is a lot easier to run up a road when  you are really tired and I took advantage of it and relaxed a little.  Big Mistake!!  I didn't even see anything to trip on but I did.  Another hard fall but with a nice recovery roll.  This time there were a few skinned places but the worst was the "ROLL!"  I was very hot and sweaty and the road is covered in dust and there is no creek at the top to wash off in.  This time a walked a minute to regain my senses and get back into a rhythm.  Then I was off again.  Soon I began to recognize the tail as part of the finish of the Stump Jump course and I knew we were near the end.  I raced with several other runners headed to the finish which helps keep the pace up.  As always, there was Marye Jo at the end to cheer me to the finish.  There may not have been a creek at the end but there was a water hose and it felt really good and cold and I washed off most of the dirt.

Today, three days after the final stage my ribs hurt, my arms and shoulders hurt, my elbow and knee are sore and I am still really tired.  But I feel Great!!  It is amazing how good going out and totally wasting ones self can make you feel.  My legs even feel good but the recovery run at Veteran's Park yesterday was REALLY slow!

Here is a link to all of the Rock Creek Pictures for the Stage Race.
And here is the map of the final stage.  Stage three

1 comment:

  1. This looks so freaking cool! I have already put this on my calendar for next year. Thanks for the recap.