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!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Rock/Creek Stage Race: Day 3 Signal Mountain 06.19.11

All smiles before the start!
(photo by jeff@rockcreek.com)
What a day! I write this and I'm trying to organize my thoughts looking back on not just day three of the Rock/Creek Chattanooga Mountain Stage Race, but on the whole weekend of trail racing. I'm exhausted, but I am not spent spiritually. For me, this has been a weekend of comraderie with other people who share the same passion for a sport we love. It is going to be hard to come down from this experience. I'll try to capture day three in words...

I was sitting in my car parked at the start/finish area in Signal Mountain, TN and thinking to myself, "Well, this is it. Last day of running through the woods with 160 of your new found friends, Javier." While I was putting on my trail shoes and adjusting things, people all around me were doing the same. We were all gearing up for one last day of trail racing. This time on the hardest stage of the three. Nobody seemed nervous really. If anything, the look on people's faces was one of anticipation, maybe even excitement. I know I was. I was doubly excited too, because my wife and son drove up from Atlanta the day before and I knew they would be at the finish to see me in. Best Father's Day present I could imagine, that's for sure.

Before the start of the race, some other friends had come up from Atlanta to participate in this stage and it was good to see them and exchange best wishes with them.

It was overcast to start, but the forecast was for hot and humid by mid-day. Also, a wicked storm blew through the night before which would add a degree of difficulty to the day's stage with tree limbs fallen on the trail and damp, wet rocks through certain sections. I'll get to the rocky sections in a moment.

Once we were all ready, all the runners gathered again to hear some announcements by Randy, the race director. He mentioned something ominous that would stick in my head during the stage. He said, "The technical stuff doesn't really start until mile 9 or so. You'll know it when you hit it." As he said this, he said it with this wry smile on his face. He knew what was in store for us. And with that, he let us go right at 8:00am.

The first part of the course follows much of the same route as the Stump Jump 50K in October. When I did that race last year, I remember the last few miles coming back very well. They almost finished me. It consists of two long climbs. For the stage race and just like the Stump Jump race, the first few miles are mostly down hill past a rock formation called Mushroom Rock and down to a suspension bridge crossing a creek. Then back up a steep climb over a ridge and down again to a road. For Stump Jump, you cross the road to continue on the race route. For stage races, this is a turn around point and you head back the way you came, back up the long climb while slower runners were coming down. After some initial shifting in the order, I got on the heels of a couple of guys from Nashville. They were keeping a pretty good pace and I felt like I could keep up with them. This may have been a mistake, as I later found out.

We made it back to Mushroom Rock in good time and this is where the race route breaks off from the Stump Jump course. We hopped on a singletrack trail that made its way along the edge of a ridge and we would enjoy this for several miles. It wasn't overly technical, but it had enough rocks and tree limbs on the trail to keep you watching your footwork. We had several miles before aid station two, so we just maintained the pace and worked our way ever closer to it. At a couple of points, we saw amazing rock outcroppings where you could look out into the valley below, but we didn't make time to stop and enjoy it. One of the the guys in front of me invited me to get ahead. he said, "Go on, if you want. I don't want to hold you back." And I said, "Don't worry. I'm just trying to hold on. You're not holding me back." Both of them had run the stage last year and they were commenting about how they were going to finish. One of them mentioned that if we finished in three and a half hours that we were doing good. That made me hesitate because in my head I was giving myself less time than that to finish, but clearly I had no idea what was in store.

A couple of the front runners on the stairs.
(Photo by jeff@rockcreek.com)
The trail in this section was rolling with no major climbs or descents, so we made good progress. Soon we reached the aid station. I had to tie my shoe and by the time I did that and replenished my water bottle, the guys I was running with ahd already taken off. I hit the trail behind them, but never saw them again. Earlier, we had passed my buddy, Tim, who was once again easing off his pace. I should have followed his example. I wasn't by myself, there was a runner behind me that I managed to stay in front for some time. The trail between aid station two and three was only a couple of miles long, but they would end up being the toughest couple of miles of all three days of stage racing. Again, Randy's words stuck in my head, this was technical stuff indeed. Most of these two miles involved getting by long sections of rocks. With the storm the night before, much of it was still damp which made me even more cautious in dealing with this section. The difficulty of the terrain and the quick pace I ran for the first nine miles of the day were catching up to me. Hell, it was probably the fifty miles of cumulative running over the last couple of days that were also catching up with me. I started to slow down. The runner that was behind me, was in front fo me before long and I was left alone until we came to a series of stair climbs. Up and up they went and these steps did me in.

Another runner caught up to me on the stairs and together we came into the third aid station. I was wiped out. He was fresh. We got what we needed from the aid station and headed out. We went up a road for a bit following the flag markers. When we came to an intersection, neither of us was sure which way to go, so we went straight. He was stronger than me at this point and got ahead. I was looking for markers after a while but didn't see any and I thought it was weird that we would run on asphalt for this long. I turned around and headed back to the intersection. I turned right and finally saw another marker. I was back on track. I also picked up another runner and and together we were back on single track soon. This runner had been at Western States the year before and she was telling me about her experience. This helped me forget how crappy I was feeling at the time. Down we went and it wasn't long before we were following the trail along side a creek. The trail wasn't as tough as the earlier section, but it still had its share of rocky segments. It also had a series of suspension bridges to cross which were a bit slippery and we had to be mindful of our steps.

The guy that had run ahead of me on the asphalt, soon caught up and passed us. He was upset about the "detour". Actually, he was really upset. My thought was that although I didn't care to lose time going the wrong way, I feel that it's just part of racing. Not much you can do about it.

The female runner I was running with also dropped me and I was again alone getting by on the trail. I was walking anything that remotely seemed like an incline and I was walking through the more technical sections. A couple more runners started catching up and passing me. A clear sign that I was toast. I tried to not think about it too much and take in the beautiful scenery of the trail. It really was spectacular running through the woods, along a creek and the weather was cooperating even though I could feel the temperature rising some and the humidity was high.

I was glad to reach aid station four and I knew I only had a handful of miles to go. The trail became much easier at this point and I just kept moving. I tried to latch on to a couple of runners that caught me, but it was futile. They dropped me too. This was it, I just had to finish my own race. The last couple of miles were endless. I was ready for the finish line. More runners caught me and passed me and I got "chicked" a couple of times in the last couple of miles.

Finally, I could hear the music of the finish line and Randy making announcements. When I came off the trail and out into the open, I turned to the finish. As I came near, I could see my wife and my son with big supporting smiles on their faces. I picked up my step and came through the chute exhausted. I'm not sure I could have gone another mile. I ran really well on the first two stages and for the first half of the third day, but it wasn't pretty for the second half of this third stage.

I high-fived some of the other runners that had finished before me, grabbed something to drink and a seat at a picnic table while my family made their way towards me. I gave my wife a kiss and my son a big Father's Day hug.
Me and my son.

Once I recovered some what, I picked up my finisher's award and my free pair of Smartwool socks. I then took a look at the results. I finished stage three in 4:12. It took me almost an hour and a half longer to finish the 20 mile course compared to stage one's 18 mile course. That shows you just how hard is day three. The cumulative results were also posted...my time for all three days was 10:26:55 and I came in at 37th place overall. Not bad, I was really happy with that. If this was one continous ultra-race, that would have been one hell of a pace for sixty miles at a 10:43/mile.

I had never before run a stage race, but I am really glad that I ran this one. Like all Rock/Creek events, it is an extremely well put together event. I'm already looking to see if there are others like it around the country. The Gore-Tex Transrockies has been on my short list for some time. Maybe I need to figure out how to add that to my race calendar sooner versus later.

I'd like to thank Randy and Kris Whorton for all they do to put these races together and to Rock/Creek for supporting them. I'm looking forward to running Stump Jump 50K again in October.

*Visit the official race blog with updated results and photos for stage race day three.

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