Welcome! The intent of Anecdotes from the Trail is to share my experiences while trail running or racing (occasionally on the road too.) And to feature other trail runners and their accomplishments. You may see the occasional gear review or even contest. Please visit from time to time. Happy trails!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Coming Down the Mountain: Lookout Mountain 50 Miler 12.18.10

Just before the start of the race.

My friend Kena dropped me off near the start with about twenty minutes to spare before the race was set to begin. I checked my gear, put my number on, answered a nature call and lined up with everyone. I saw Roxanne and gave her a big hug to wish her luck. A few short announcements and one of the RD's unceremoniously said, "Go!", and we were off. One hundred and fifty or so trail runners heading out on the Lookout Mountain 50 Miler. So it began.

It had rained much of the week leading up to the race with a couple of days of freezing rain and sub-freezing temperatures. I kept looking at the weather forecast and clinged to the good news of clear skies and above freezing temperatures for race day. Thankfully, the day before was clear and warm enough to where the trail recovered from the water and ice for race day. Except for some spots, it really was not an issue although much of the trail was well covered in leaves and made it hard to make out the rocks and roots below.

And they're off. (photo from race Flickr site)
I tried to layer smart for the race. After much deliberation, I went with tights that morning and was glad I did. I had a singlet on underneath with a short sleeve layer and then a long sleeve top layer. With gloves and my winter cap, that was perfect. I also deliberated on whether to carry a hand held water bottle or to go with a hydration bladder pack. The race organizers had emphasized self-sustainment with the hydration that it was a matter of concern, but I ended up going with the hand held and it turned out to be the right choice. The first aid station was eight miles into the race, but the rest of the aid stops along the way would only be four to seven miles apart. Just enough distance to get to the bottom of my bottle before needing a refill.

The first 22 miles of the course took us on the north side of Lookout Mountain with the first 6 or 7 miles following this amazing bluff with an incredible view of the valley and also Chattanooga down below. We would run with these large rock formations jutting upwards about 50-80 feet on our right, but with these drop offs on the left where if we took one wrong step, well, let's just say that you may not be around to tell the story to your trail running buddies. We cruised along with everyone trying to find their pecking order for the first half of the day. I would end up keeping a local runner, named Kathleen, within sight for much of this section and I would see her quite a bit later in the race. We cruised down the bluff, going below the Lookout Mountain tourist overlook and then making our way down to a gravel service road as we neared the first aid station.

Coming Down the Mountain
As conservative as I thought I was trying to be, my pace was fast. Much of this due to the excitement of the start, of course, and then because of the long stretches of downhill trail. Once past the first aid station, we continued to go down until we ran along a creek for a distance until we eventually hit aid station #2 around mile 15. Now if you take a look at the elevation profile, you would quickly notice that one of the toughest sections of the course was soon to come. After refueling at the aid stop, I paired up with another local runner named Yoli. We ran together for a ways and then we hit the climb. She let me know that the local trail runners had named this climb, "Big Daddy" and there would be no guess work as to why. It went straight up with the trail cutting through a power line section and then through more of the woods, eventually hitting a series of switch backs. Up and up it went with the ridge line getting closer and closer.

Coming out of the tree line, we came out into a clearing and some school soccer fields. After crossing the road, we were back at the start/finish area.  I was glad to see Kena and Tom. I rode up with Kena the day before and she was also there to cheer on her good friend Perry who was running the 50-miler. Tom had run the 10K that morning and was now in dry clothes and cheering us on as well. I had not planned to have a crew for this race, but these guys would soon proved to be an improptu crew for me and I couldn't be more appreciative. Anyway, I came in at around 4 hours on my watch and was at mile 22. Needless to say, things were going very well and if I could hold this pace, I would easily break 10 hours. But as usual in ultras, you go out fast and you pay for it later.

I left the start/finish area and headed down the trail on the southside of Lookout Mountain. This trail would wind down towards a creek, come out into a muddy powerline section and then go back into the woods for a long, descent to the Lula Lake aid station at mile 28. For this section, I mostly ran by myself except for occasionally catching a glimpse of another runner some yards out in front of me. It was nice to get in my own groove and not feel like chasing anyone or feel like someone was breathing down my neck. When I came into the aid stop, the sun was out and things were looking good at this point. Scarfed down some boiled potatoes, topped off the water bottle and headed out.

View from ridge. (photo by Perry Sebastian)
The next six miles to the next aid stop would be quite the rollercoaster with several changes in terrain. I followed a creek for a while, then a woodsy, rolling section, then along what look like some kind of bird sanctuary area that spit you out at Lula Falls. Here I had to stop and take in the view. Lula Falls is beautiful and even with the icicles on the edges of the falls, the water was rushing down into the gorge below. From here, I could look up to the other side and see where we had come from down the trail earlier. Leaving the falls behind, I was with other runners again and together we tackled a short but very steep section that some one had laid out ropes for us to use. Past the climb, we would come out on to a ridge with great views. We followed the ridgeline for a couple of miles until we then had to descend again. again, we ended up down by a creek and the trail wound its way along it.

Lula Falls
It was at this point that I started wondering about the lead runners coming at me. Sure enough, within a few minutes here came the leader. He looked really good and fresh. It wasn't hard to guess that he would hold onto to his lead. We exchanged words of encouragement and it would be a while before I saw the second place runner.

Soon enough, I came to the aid station at mile 34. I was hurting a bit at this point. I saw Kena and Tom again and Tom would have a grilled cheese sandwich waiting for me. This dude saved my life the year before at the Pine Mountain 40 Miler and here he was doing it again. That sandwich was awesome! He told me he would have another one for me when I came by next. Just the thing to get me going!

The next section was a 4-5 mile loop that wound back to the same aid stop. It was on this loop I had a bit of a bonk moment. I somehow was running along with kathleen who I had run with earlier in the day and we were both feeling it. The first half of the loop is mostly an incline and that didn't help. Then the second half of that short loop was tricky footing along a creekside trail that someone had named Scrawny Trail, but I swear it had nothing scrawny about it. I was looking forward to getting off this loop and was thinking of Tom's grilled cheese sandwich. I reached the aid station again and claimed my prize.

I was at mile 38 or so. Just 12 or so to go, but now I knew the terrain and I knew that there was quite a bit of climbing left to do. Also, my pace had dropped off considerably from earlier in the race. Still, mentally I was in good spirits despite the tough moment experienced on the short loop. I left the aid station, and Kena and Tom, munching on my sandwich. Once back on the trail, I just focused on timing my running and walking right. I eventually got back on the ridge top and followed it down to the short, steep drop. I once again ran by Lula Falls and was soon back at the aid station at Lula Lake. Ah, just six more miles to go.

I chatted with the folks at the aid stop for a minute while I ate some more potatoes and had some Coke (the best ultra race drink ever, period). When leaving the aid stop this time, I wasn't paying attention and I started running up a gravel road. I was going along for a few minutes when I realzied that we never came down this road earlier on the approach to the Lula Lake aid station. You hate to admit this to yourself after you've been running for so many hours, but I had to retrace my steps until I was almost back at the aid stop again. I saw where the markers pointed up the trail and I got back on course. It sucks to lose time like that but it's all part of the experience.

Just finished and checking out the swag.
Up and up I went. This other runner I had seen earlier caught up to me and passed me and I would focus on keeping him in my sights for as long as possible. Daylight was also starting to fade and it became my goal to finish before dark. I was gonna cut it close. I did alot of walking at this point, mainly due to the climbing. I kept thinking I would come out into the muddy powerline section soon, but with every turn of the trail I would be disappointed. I kept that other runner in view and eventually I could see the clearing. a few more steps and I was out in the open again onto the powerline cut out. The sun was going down and I had to turn on my headlamp. So much for finishing before dark, but I knew I was almost there. The trail left the powerline and back into the woods along the creek we ran by earlier. Another climb and I could see lights. I knew I was close. I looked back and I could see two headlamp beams coming up behind me. I made it my mission to not let them catch me. I pushed on that last mile and I was glad to come out onto the road where the finish area was located. I could see the finish line and I looked back again. I could still see the two headlamp beams but they were still on the trail and a bit farther down the hill. I was good to go. As I neared the finish, I noticed the clock was nearing 10:30. 10:29:50... 10:29:51... 10:29:52... I grit my teeth. 10:29:56... 10:29:57... 10:29:58... Almost there. 10:29:59... Nope. I ended up finishing in 10:30:05.

I was happy with that time. I came in to the race thinking I would run somewhere between 10 to 11 hours and I basically split it right down the middle. Earlier in the day when I came in to mile 22 at around 4:00, I contemplated a sub-10 hour time, but I knew I would pay for the pace on the first half. No negative split on this race. Not even close. Still, I was really happy with the run and I felt that I managed a good race for the most part.

I carried my Blackberry during the race and I shot out a few tweets. It was great to have other tweeps posting words of encouragement. My phone would chime repeatedly during the race and I knew it was another person cheering me on. It really did keep me going. I want to recognize those folks here: @cathicannon @jamieofthenorth @reallynotarunnr @tpcleary @MASlife @ekalifeh @marathondan @OTD_Colonel @julierje @BikeBeerBBQ @KevinSchraer @runnerteri @chamiltongt @hak42 @mogliaiken @AeRoss @oreo_drama @perseid88 @running_drew @PayneDave @twittyRUN @g_monee @ChuckJohnstone @SEB1119 @trailheadmarmot @SamanthaUF @Mountainman60 @jabaugrad @Bamarunner @DarthHelix @runnergoslow @goingforgoofy @octrailgirl11 @nicobrx @masonham @RunAroundATL @jsneads @GeorgiaSnail @runnersl @Dinkruns @Broadwayrunclub @goldentrails @UltraRunnerBren @Runjohnrun @luckeywinters @tradshad @sarahstanley and @laidbacklbc. Thanks you guys!

My friend Roxanne would come in fourth female and finished the course over an hour ahead of me. It was good to see her. She would later let me know that she wasn't in it mentally this time. The great thing about racing is that there's always the next one.

Big thanks to Kena and Tom, they were awesome support! Also props to Perry who ended up pulling out of the race after he rolled his ankle and had to walk on it for almost eight miles.

Lastly, major kudos to the folks at Rock Creek for yet another top notch race. These guys know what they're doing and I recommend any of their races. Oh, and the race swag was amazing: Patagonia tech tee, TNF arm warmers, TNF fleece headband, Lookout Mtn 50 pint glass and even a complimentary race day photo.

P.S. Check out the blog write up by the women's winner, Sarah Woerner: http://sarahsrunsandotherstuff.blogspot.com/2010/12/lookout-50-milerto-run-or-not-to-run.html

And also check out this cool little video the folks at Wild Trails put together about the Lookout Mountain 50 Miler: http://vimeo.com/18450406


  1. Great race report Javi, You had an awesome finishing time and you're looking great as you pick up your swag. Great going, I can only hope I do as well when I do my 50 miler.

  2. Great run and finish time! Sounds like a beautiful course.

  3. Great run - you Ultra guys are crazy. I've got to go on a trail race!

  4. It was very nice mweeting you at Big River Brewing Co, Javi. Excellent race, and I really enjoy your blog. See you on the trails, my friend!