Monday, October 31, 2011

Rock Creek Stumpjump 50k Race Report: The "East's Legendary Meat Grinder" lives up to the hype

The elevation profile of Stumpjump according to my Suunto
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On October 1, 2011 I ran my first trail ultramarathon. Though it was only 5 (give or take) miles longer than a marathon, the epic ruggedness of the trail made it a fantastic challenge. Short of anything out west, the Rock Creek Stumpjump 50k is just about as challenging and harsh as any set of trails you'll find. It wasn't just the altitude profile (which has you running between 11,000 and 12,000 feet of elevation change), it was the craggy nature of the trail itself. The rocks and roots were very exposed and you end up running right on huge slabs of rock regularly. Also, there are multiple section of large boulders you need to navigate, basically jumping from one to another. It is a miracle I didn't sprain or twist anything. There simply is not the kind of soft soil over the trail like we are used to in Michigan  The trails in eastern Tennessee just seem very old, very deliberate and permanent. In other words, it is a killer trail...very challenging, but very beautiful. 

I was lucky to have my wife, Moira, my boy Leo, my Dad Bill and my Mom, Carol all there with me. We made a 6-day trip out of it and really enjoyed our time in Chattanooga. They call Chat the "Scenic City" and it certainly isn't hard to see why. The Tennessee River Valley snakes through the region and highlights the peaks of Raccoon Mountain, Lookout Mountain, Signal Mountain, and others. The river flows around 2,000 feet below some of the highest points and curves and curls in a picturesque way. The City of Chattanooga has really worked hard the past 20 years to turn around from a post-industrial outpost to the riverside jewel it has become today. The readers of Outside Magazine, for instance, recently voted Chat as the Best Outdoor Town Ever (although it must be said the magazines own reviewer was pretty unkind in his assessment). I, for one, side with the readers. The soaring pedestrian bridges, quaint 2 North Shore redevelopment, the art museum, AT&T field (home of the Lookouts), the massive and impressive Tennessee Aquarium....the list goes on when you start talking about Chattanooga's downtown charms.

The race itself was very, very well supported and expertly run by an experienced Rock Creek crew. The race benefits Wild Trails, an extraordinary Chat nonprofit responsible for hundreds of miles of trail maintenance. The aid stations are frequent enough, are located in beautiful spots, and provide support that goes above and beyond the norm. Late in the race, for instance, a guy took my bottle from me, cleaned it up, filled it, and gave it back to me...all while talking me through the rest of the course, offering encouragement, and making me feel like a rock star. The level of dedication of these folks should not go unnoticed. It was amazing.

I also had my Dad at mile 11 and 19. His help in getting me refueled at mile 11 and getting me settled at mile 19 after the tortuous Rock Garden section were invaluable. Moira was there to run me in at the very last half mile, and Leo and Mom and Dad were waiting for me as a crossed the line. My Dad put together a short video (at the end of this post) showing the race and my long day, and you can see my little guy Leo at the end looking through the race barrier waiting for me to finish. As I crossed the line he shouted "YAY Daddy!" and it nearly brought me to tears. You can't beat having family around you when you do something like an all-day run. I was already pretty revved up with adrenaline at the end, as it was such a relief to finish, but also because I was trucking to beat the guy in the green shirt, who was ahead of me all day. As you can see in the video, I pipped him just a few yards from the end. I was exhausted, my sore IT band had cost me maybe an hour of time, and my form was non-existent at the end, but I felt like I was running faster than ever as I crossed the line. I loved it, and I will be back in 2012. Here is the video:

Click here to read what Trail Runner Magazine had to say about the race. My favorite part: This is the Stump Jump 50K, the Southeast's pinnacle trail race. While every trail race tests a runner's mettle in some way, the Stump Jump tests a runner's refusal to quit. And there are numerous reasons to quit, beginning with the fact that the course climbs a total of 5330 feet while traversing dew-slickened roots, off-camber trail and mossy boulders.

Indeed, most everybody will fall at least once here.  And for natives to this area, the Stump Jump 50K reflects a shared mantra: that the winner is every last person who gets up one more time than he falls down.

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