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.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Rock/Creek Stage Race: Day 2 Lookout Mountain 06.18.11

Chattanooga Mountain Stage Race Day Two
about half a mile from the finish.
(Photo by jeff@rockcreek.com)
Day two started the same way that day one did, overcast and almost cool. Praise the running gods! The difference being that the humidity had increased over the day before, but the overcast skies would be much appreciated on another long morning of running on the trails.

The course for stage 2 travels through the Lula Lake Land Trust Preserve. It consisted of a five mile loop then a twelve mile loop and then a repeat of the initial five mile loop but in the opposite direction. Along the way, we would experience significantly more climbing and descending than what we did on stage 1.

I carpooled with the race directors that morning, so I arrived much earlier than most of the other runners. I was able to watch the start/finish area get set up while the volunteers showed up and then of course the runners. I was feeling good about this stage. I woke up with not much to complain about from day one's run. I was happy with my performance and I was still wondering if perhaps I had run it too fast. There was only one way to truly find out and that would be once the race started. After much sitting around, it was time to get this stage started. We were off right at 8:00am.

Unlike yesterday, we had almost a mile of gravel road to stretch the field and get folks into place before hitting any single track. This was nice, and it allowed me to feel out my legs and other than a slight tightness in my right abductor, I felt good. It would quickly loosen up within the first couple of miles. We made our way past the beautiful Lula Falls when we arrived to the first bit of singletrack. All of a sudden, I felt this sharp pain just above my right knee, then I felt it again on my shin. I reached down and smacked at what ever it was and I realized that I had been stung by a couple of yellowjackets. A couple of other runners cried out too. Seems we pissed of a nest as we ran by. Not how I wanted to start my race.

This occured right before a very, steep climb that I was familiar with from my experience at the Lookout Mountain 50-Miler last year. In fact, much of stage two's trails are part of that race, so it was familiar to me. Back to the climb, the race organizers set up ropes for the climb and there was a slight bottleneck as runners made their way up. Once at the top of the ridge, we thinned out again. I tried to get into my own groove and I wanted to run on my own, but I ended up running with a couple of runners along the ridge and then on the way down off the ridge. Before we descended, I tried to sneak a few peeks to my left into the valley below. Many of the trails in Chattanooga have great vistas and this one is fantastic. We ran the ridge for a while, descended down a long wide trail, then a single track down to a creek and made our way back to the start/finish area where we would hit our first aid station. First loop done and I was feeling good except for my yellowjacket stings. I had a little swelling, but it wasn't bothering my running. At the aid station, I grabbed a couple of apple halves, downed some Coke and headed off.

The next five or six miles were mostly uphill. The first section appeared to be a really abandoned forest road that was overgrown with small trees and we had to duck in and out of them. Once through that, we crossed a road, ran up a trail with mossy, flatrocks that were a little slick and then hit some singletrack. We climbed but the grade was gradual enough for most of it, that we could run. While we ran, we kept coming across debris that had landed along the trail from the tornadoes that hit this area back in April. There were a number of trees down too and the ones that had fallen across the trail had been cleared by chainsaw. I guess nature has to show who's boss every once in a while.

We reached a powerline cut out and did a short series of zig zags in and out of the woods and the cut out. On the last time we ran back into the woods, we were confronted with a mean climb straight up on single track. This was one of those, put your hands on your knees and push type of climbs. At this point, I was running with a female participant that had caught up to me and passed me, and I tried to keep up with her for a short while before getting dropped. We came back out to the power line section and this time walked up a long climb along the cut out. It wasn't long before we hit the aid station. I was still feeling good, but it had started to warm up and I needed to top off my water bottle. I left the aid station and enjoyed a wide, forest road for a while. I caught up with another runner, Robert Lewellen. Robert is one of the race directors for a new 50K in Georgia that will take place on the Duncan Ridge trail and the Coosa Back Country trail. It's the Duncan Ridge 50K/30K. That race is going to be a beast! Anyway, I ran with Robert for quite a while. Chatting with him made the time go by and we were making good progress. He decided to take a quick nature break and he told me to run on ahead of him. At this point, I was back on the same trail we had come up earlier but enjoying the descent. One of the Texas runners, Dat, that I had met caught me and passed me. He was looking strong.

Down past the mossy, flatrock, across the road again and down into the start/finish area. As I came in to the aid station, there were a number of spectators waiting around for their runners, but they cheered me on in. That was an appreciated ego boost and I picked up my step after grabbing something quick at the aid station. Only one more loop left and I knew it well by now. We ran along the creek, then up a quick incline to reach more single track that would take us back to the another gradual long climb that we had descended earlier in the day. I walked almost all of this until we hit the top of the ridge. I knew that was the last long one of the day and I was glad to be on the ridge again. I caught up and passed a couple of other runners and soon came up on the steep, rope assisted climb down and I was getting anxious about more yellow jackets. I joined a couple other runners who had bottlenecked on the rope and we made our way down. We went past the area where the yellowjackets had been earlier unscathed. Phew!

We were almost done. The rest of the way back was slightly different than the start earlier that morning. Instead of running back on the gravel road, we were directed off of it and made to run alongside a creek. Up and down short three and four foot little hills along the creek. It was tough on the legs. Ran that for over a mile when we then crossed the creek, the only time we truly got our feet wet on the course. Just a couple hundred more yards and there was the finish. Randy was on the mic and I heard, "Here comes number 24, Javier De Jesus, from Atlanta." I gave him the thumbs up and came through the chute. 3:33:34...good enough to crack the top 50.

I grabbed something to drink and got in the creek with the other runners that had finished before me. It felt really good to cool off in the stream and exchange "war stories" with others. After some time in the water I grabbed a bite to eat and got in line for a massage. Tomorrow was to be another day. The toughest yet of the three. I was looking forward to it.

*Read official race blog and find results and photos for stage two

Friday, June 17, 2011

Rock/Creek Stage Race: Day 1 Raccoon Mountain 06.17.11

Start of today's stage one with Randy Whorton addressing the runners. (Photo Chattanooga Stage Race Facebook page)
For weeks, I have been worried about the recent heat we've been experiencing in the Southeast. Record number of days in the 90's this month of June and even back in May. I was anticipating three days of scorching, humid, energy-draining trail running during the Rock/Creek Chattanooga Stage Races, but day one couldn't have been any better. We woke up to temps in the 60's and overcast, and even when we lined up at the start it was still in the 70's with the occasional brief drizzle. Not perfect, but way better than expected. Add to that, today was the so-called "easy" day with 18 miles of rolling terrain without much technical difficulty or major inclines and we have a winner! That's all in store for us tomorrow, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

I've met some great people already. There's about a dozen or so, Tejas trail-runners that are nice as can be and I've also met Tim Waz from Bluffton, SC and owner of Palmetto Running Company (thanks again for the shoes and the shirt, Tim!) We all met in the parking lot, exchanged "good lucks" and lined up at the start. Randy Whorton, the race director, made some announcements and we got started at 8:00am sharp. With only about 500 yards of asphalt to semi-thin the crowd, we bottle necked right away on the single track trail. It took some time to settle an order and even then, it was well over an hour of running before I felt like I had found my spot in the pecking order of things. The trail follows along a dam reservoir with over looks into the valey below. At one point early on, you could look over to our left and see Chattanooga below. You could also look across to the site of tomorrow's stage at Lookout Mountain. The first hour of running was just trying to pull back the reins and not get too fast, but it's hard when you get caught up in the excitement. Once things thinned out, this was harder still. Since the temps were comfortable, I wasn't running out of water and I was still able to maintain a good level hydration. We hit the first aid station and I felt good.

The next few miles went by quick with a small stretch on a gravel jeep road. Normally these stretches get hot, but since it was overcast, we were fine. A couple of guys passed me here, but once we were back on the single track, I stayed with them pretty well. Soon, we hit aid station number two. I try not to spend too much time at the stations. One of the volunteers asked me more than once if I needed my bottle topped off, but I still had more than two-thirds of a bottle and I thought I'd OK. He said, "You sure? It's five miles until the next station." Which made me hesitate, but I decided to go on. Luckily, I didn't have to regret my decision.

From here, we had quite a bit of downhill which was quite a bit of fun and then we hit a section called "the small intestine". And rightly so. It was twisty, windy and covered just a few acres with a few miles of trails. It was in this spaghetti of trails that I took a good spill. My foot caught a root and down I went. I was in a train of runners when it happened and only a couple looked back. I jumped up and caught up with them as quickly as I could. My bib number hung by one safety pin the rest of the race.

Runners started showing some strain and many were dropping back. I did a gut check and asked myself if I was going too fast but I was feeling good and decided to just maintain my pace. I caught up to a couple of the TX runners and soon passed them. Pretty soon, we hit aid station number three.

I didn't stick around. I refilled my bottle, grabbed something to eat and headed out. When I exited, a couple of the guys I had been running with stayed behind. I then also caught up with another runner who had passed me earlier on the gravel road and I soon put distance on him. The rest of the way, I spent it mostly on my own with no one to see ahead of me or behind me. This probably lasted for more than a couple of miles which allowed me to settle into a groove and get my breathing to where it should be. I caught up with Tim and he had decided to ease up since this is really a training weekend for him as he's getting ready for the Arkansas 100 later this year.

Nothing like an ice bath in a trash can.
Things were going well, and I knew there wasn't much left to go. I came upon the race photographer and instead of giving a smooth, strong looking runner to photograph, I almost ate it in front of him. I can't wait to see that one. With about a half mile to go, I came upon another trail runner and when I came up behind him, instead of letting me pass, he picked it up. I thought, "OK, I'll stick with ya." But then we came out onto an ashpalt path and I knew we were almost done. I passed him. I thought he was behind me, but when the finish line was in view, all of a sudden I could feel him trying to sprint by me. For a split second, I thought I'd try to sprint in, but then I thought, "That's stupid. We have two more even longer days still to race. Let this guy go." and I did.

I finished in 2:40 and 38th overall. Not bad, but I hope I didn't cash in all my chips. There's still two more stages. I took an ice bath in a tub and got something to eat. I hung out with other finishers for a while and the gang from Texas and then made my way out. I feel good, but we'll see how it goes tomorrow. Lookout Mountain awaits with lots of climbing and way more technical trails. Until then, happy trails!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Rock/Creek Stage Race Preview

Only four days to go and I'm chopping at the bit to get started at the first stage of this weekend's Rock/Creek Stage Race. It's three days of challenging running on trails in Chattanooga, Tennessee with a couple hundred of my fellow trailrunning nuts. I've run all kinds of long distance races, but I've never had to string three separate consecutive days of it. The concept is very popular in Europe and the good folks at Wild Trails and Rock/Creek thought that it would be fun to host something similar here in the good ole US of A. Thank you Randy and Kris Whorton, the race directors, for adapting the concept here at home!

Each day gets progressively harder. Day one is 18 miles on and around Raccoon Mountain, home of the Scenic City Trail Marathon in May. Day two is 22 miles on the trails at Lookout Mountain and in the Lula Lake Land Trust claiming an elevation gain of about 2,800 ft. Lastly, day three is 20 miles on Signal Mountain and probably the toughest with the first six miles showing absolutely no mercy to the race participants.

Following are the course maps for all three stages and elevation charts for two of the stages:

Day One - Raccoon Mountain, TN - Friday, June 17, 2011

Day Two - Lookout Mountain, TN/GA - Saturday, June 18, 2011

Day Three - Signal Mountain, TN - Sunday, June 19, 2011

Stay tuned to my blog as I'll try to post daily race recaps starting on Friday. If I can figure out a way to record some video, I'll post that as well. In the meantime, check out this promotional video produced by the race organizers:

Chattanooga Mountains Stage Race: 3 Tough Days of Trail Running from Rock/Creek on Vimeo.

Happy trails!