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, June 16, 2013

Rock/Creek Stage Race: Day 3 Signal Mountain 06.16.13

3 days, 3 mountains, 3 stages. Only appropriate that I ran with #33 all weekend.
Gosh! Where to start? I'm sitting here, showered, fed and relaxed but trying to look back at a jam packed weekend with old and new friends doing something that I love to do...trail running. "60 miles, 3 mountains, 3 days" with good camaraderie and wonderful trails is hard to beat. Before diving into today's recap of stage three, I have to thank Rock/Creek, Wild Trails, Randy and Kris Whorton, Jeff Bartlett, Mike Scott, the Ultrasignup crew, Tim Titarka from Salomon and all of the race volunteers, staff and fellow competitors for yet another fantastic Chattanooga Stage Race weekend! I am looking forward to doing it again soon, whether it's the Stage Race again or another of the Rock/Creek race series. Top notch!

Coming up the steps at Signal Point.
Photo Jeff Bartlett, Rock/Creek
Day three didn't start much different from the other two days. I showed up, picked up my bib number, visited with friends, stopped by the Salomon tent to pick up the test pair of Salomon Mantras and got ready at my car. Everyone was walking with a little stiffness, some more than others. My quads were sore from all the downhill running yesterday, but otherwise I was feeling pretty good. Everyone seemed ready to tackle day three. There was talk about the difficulty of today's course. The veteran stage race runners were explaining to the new ones that while today's stage was technical and difficult, it was easily also the prettiest of the three stages. With a few minutes to go, everyone gathered at the start and once again at 8am sharp, we were off!

We started off through the gravel parking lot and immediately onto the trail. Although it did bottle neck some, it wasn't the same traffic jam of day one. There was a bit more room on the trail and somehow things spread out pretty quickly. I did notice right away that the poison ivy was out in full force and it would be something to be watchful of over the rest of the course. The first few miles are a long descent past Mushroom Rock and down to a cable bridge. At first I ran with Brian from Indianapolis who I had run several miles with on both days one and two, but once we crossed the bridge and started the climb over the ridge to then go down into Suck Creek, we got separated. This portion of the trail is an out and back from Suck Creek back to Mushroom Rock and it wasn't long before we saw the front runners led of course by David Riddle. This guy is impressive to watch as he looked liked he was gliding along the trail. He set the course record on day one, barely missed it on day two and I would learn later that he would set a course record for day three. The guy is an unbelievable athlete. The guys behind him were cruising as well. I arrived at the first aid station at the bottom at Suck Creek, refilled one of my hand held bottles (I stuck with my two bottle strategy all weekend and I'm glad I did) with water and turned around to make the climb. It was fun to see everyone coming down and to cheer each other on. Lots of "Good job!" and "Looking strong!" comments being exchanged.

I made it back over the ridge and I was by myself when I heard some singing behind me. I knew right away that it was John Dove and he caught up to me in no time but then settled into my pace. I really respect John and I also enjoy hanging out with him, so when he decided to run with me, I was happy for the company. We made our way down to the bridge and John and I started talking and exchanging stories. We made it across the bridge and then back up to Mushroom Rock and took the right turn onto the trail that led to Emerald Point.

This part of the trail is beautiful with incredible views of the valley to our right and with trails that while having some degree of technical difficulty were still very runnable. We caught a few runners while we continued to talk and catch up about various things which made the miles go by relatively quickly. The weather was cooperating and I was glad it was. Earlier in the week, the forecast called for hot temps in the 90's but it would never get above the low 80's at any point of the race. It was definitely a bit more humid than the previous two days, but it wasn't suffocating.

We were cruising along and when we were starting to wonder when the next aid station would appear, we strolled into it at Emerald Point. I was feeling good and enjoying running with John, but I was also anticipating what was coming next. In 2011, it was at this point that I started feeling crappy and I was hoping to avoid that this time around. I had kept up my hydration in these first nine or so miles, but I hadn't been paying attention to my eating. I ate a salty potato, a small PBJ and a gel at the aid station. John and I then headed out on the next section of trail.

We heard church bells from the valley and realized it was ten o'clock. We were two hours into the race. I didn't forget my watch this time, instead I left it in my bag on purpose. I found from the first two days that running without the watch helped me run my pace and didn't stress me out to try to run a certain time. This was working well for me. It wasn't long before we hit some of the more technical parts of today's course. John was in his element and he soon took the lead in front of me and then proceeded to drop me. He got farther and farther away from me until he disappeared around a turn. I saw him briefly at the next aid station and then I didn't see him again until less than a mile to the finish. I found myself alone, but in good spirits and even more importantly feeling strong. The rocks along this part of the trail are huge and tough to navigate, but I was making my way over them pretty well. I caught a few runners before the climb up the stairs at Signal Point where the next aid station was located.

Me and Blaine on the short road section.
Photo: Jeff Bartlett, Rock/Creek
Once at the top of the stairs, my buddy Jason was there to greet me and refill my water bottle. It was good to see him (you should check out his blog sometime, click here). I refueled on some potatoes and fig newtons and took off up the road. It was on this road in 2011 that I went straight across and ran a few minutes off course with another runner, so I was sure not to miss my turn this time. I caught up to a runner from Johnson City named Blaine and together we ran for a bit. We ran in front of what seemed like an assisted living home and there was quite a crowd on the porch. Everyone cheered us on and it was uplifting since it's unusual to get any cheering while on the trails. After passing the cheers, the turn back onto the trail came up quick. Blaine got out in front of me while the trail stayed relatively smooth, but once we ran along a creek bed, the trail became much more technical and I was catching back up to him. We crossed a couple of cable bridges and then I passed him. The next couple of miles were tough due to the terrain. It's funny how in my head I was dreading the section between Emerald Point and Signal Point, but I had forgotten about the difficulty of this section along the creek. I caught up to a couple of other runners and as I passed them, I also went by these cool cliff sides that were dripping with water. It really was amazing to run by them. A creek stayed to our right for the rest of the way before the next aid station. I did a gut check and all systems were running fine. Maybe the conservative running of the first two days was paying dividends now.

I arrived at the last aid station. Refilled my water bottle and asked how much was left. I was told 3.6 miles. Sweet! Not much left to go. I was now on a double track trail that climbed up and I knew that meant we were heading back to the school where the finish was set up. I was still running much of the climb which gave me some more confidence. The double track turned onto a single track trail and I caught up to two more runners. I didn't pass these two guys right away, but I could tell that neither of them was feeling all that great. We also kept climbing until we came out onto the last section of trail which was identical to the Stump Jump finish and so it was very familiar. I managed to get by one of the guys and the other one was staying out in front of me. We crossed a road turned onto the last section of trail. I saw a tall guy a few yards ahead and realized it was John. I caught him and we both patted each other on the back. The other runner that was in front of me then all of a sudden stopped and put his hands on his knees. He was taking a quick breather I guess as I went by him. I knew the finish was really close. I could see two female runners in front of me and although I thought I could catch them, I never did. We came out from under the tree canopy, crossed a road and ran on the grass along the soccer field fence towards the finish. I crossed it with my arms up in the air. I was tired, but happy.

At the finish holding my sweet Marmot finishers jacket.
This year the race offered a new finishers award, a sweet Marmot ultralight running jacket. You even had a choice between two different colors, black or off white for the guys and blue or green for the ladies. I gladly picked mine up and then went to grab a bite to eat and something to drink before making my way to the kiddie pool with ice water to dip my tired legs. What a great day on the trails!

I finished the 20 miles in 3:53 which was almost 20 minutes better than my 2011 stage three time. However, I only beat my 2011 cumulative time by three or so minutes. I finished with a cumulative time of 10:23.

I'm leaving the stage race with several positive things going into my next event, the TransRockies Run in August. I learned to manage my effort better over consecutive days of running and finished feeling well on day three. I also learned that I could run on tired legs which will serve me well in Colorado. The next few weeks are going to be tough with lots of miles, but my confidence is high with just about two months to go. I just have to hang in there, train well and stay injury free.

My race results for stage 3: 3:53:16, 67th overall, 61st male, 168 official finishers
My race results for all three stages: 10:23:02, 81st overall, 72nd male, 168 official finishers

Stage three course map and elevation chart, click here.
Stage three race results, click here. 3-day cumulative race results, click here.
View race photos courtesy of Jeff Bartlett and Rock/Creek, click here.

Other 2013 Chattanooga Stage Race reports:
Hot Wing Runner: http://hotwingrunner.blogspot.com/2013/06/chattanooga-stage-races-2013-pool-balls.html
The Ale Runner: http://thealerunner.com/2013/06/19/chattanooga-mountains-stage-race-recap/
Run, Lala, Run: http://runlala.blogspot.com/2013/06/joyful-chattanooga-mountains-stage-race.html
Jason Green: http://bestpacescenario.blogspot.com/2013/06/dnf-chattanooga-mountains-stage-race.html
David Riddle: http://riddleruns.blogspot.com/2013/06/rockcreek-chattanooga-mountains-stage.html?showComment=1372079863291#c2630176842924214721

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Rock/Creek Stage Race: Day 2 Lookout Mountain 06.15.13

Good day on the trails. Me shortly after finishing.
Day two is done. I'm feeling it, but after a good half hour in the creek I cooled off and my legs are not too sore. Today's stage was fun and I always enjoy the variety in the terrain, especially after the gentler, more rolling course from yesterday. Here's how it went...

Test drove the Salomon Mantras
After taking a wrong turn on my way to the Lula Lake starting area, I arrived around 7:10 with plenty of time before the start. Every day we have to pick up a new bib. It's the same number, but a different color. Yesterday's bib was black, today's was blue. We'll see what we get tomorrow, but it'll probably be red. I got my number and bee lined toward the Salomon tent. Yesterday's experiment with a pair of Salomon's turned out alright and since my current shoes that I brought are trashed, I thought why not try another pair for today's stage. Tim from Salomon put me in a pair of Mantras and immediately they felt better than the Cross Max's I ran in yesterday. A much lighter shoe but not missing out on the tread and cushion. With bib number and shoes in hand, I went back to my car and got ready for today's stage. I stayed with my strategy of two hand held bottles and I'm glad I did.

Action shot. Courtesy of
Jeff Bartlett and Rock/Creek.
We lined up and took off right at 8:00am sharp. There were 205 official finishers in yesterday's stage, so I can only assume that the same number lined up today. We had about a mile of gravel road to stretch out which was nice. We passed Lula Falls on our left and it was a gorgeous sight. Once passed the falls we hit our one and only bottle neck. There's a steep, rope assisted climb up a cliff and it takes a bit for the single file to get up it. The last time I ran this race, there was a wasp nest wreaking havoc but they were no where to be found today, thankfully. Anyway, we made our way up and over the short cliff and got on single track up onto the ridge. I was running with Brian, who I finished the race with yesterday, and Brendan (@thealerunner on Twitter). We some what were together for most of the portion along the ridge. The views to our left were stunning over looking the valley below. Brendan even stopped at one point to snap a photo. Several people were still jockeying their position, but I felt like I had found my pace and I wanted to stick with it. It wasn't long before we were on our way off the ridge, down Turkey Trail and towards the creek. I had forgotten my watch again for this stage, so I had no idea on time. I'm learning that this may be a good thing if I'm trying to run conservatively. We made it down to the creek and ran along it for a short time, soon coming out at the first aid station which is the start/finish area. The first loop is 5-6 miles and I was feeling pretty good. I ate a salty potato, refilled one of my hand helds and took off up the hill.

This portion of the race is all on the same course as the Lookout Mountain 50 that I ran back in 2010.  That day, I took a wrong turn right at this point except that was about 40+ miles in on a 50 mile course. I was not about to miss my turn today and even shared that past experience with another runner. So we made our way up to the road, crossed it and kept going up hill. We crossed a creek that I didn't recall and then stayed with three other runners while we made our way up to the first powerline cut out. When we reached it, one of the runners mentioned that we were about an hour and a half into the race. In my head, I was thinking that I was doing pretty good since we were probably 8 or so miles into it.

We crisscrossed the power line cut out a couple of times, took in a couple of hefty, but short climbs before coming back out onto the powerline cut out for a climb up to the second aid station. The sun was out, but despite my fears it actually wasn't too hot. My friend Jason was at the top and it was good to seeing him. Unfortunately, Jason missed the cut off of stage one, but he was out here cheering other runners on and volunteering as well. You have to admire that. At the aid station, I refilled my hand held, ate another salty potato and grabbed a PBJ and a piece of apple before heading down the trail.

A guy I passed at the aid station soon caught up to me and he introduced himself. His name is Mark and he also lives in Atlanta. He mentioned that he had ready my blog (I'm glad some one reads this. Ha, ha!) I thanked him and we ran together for a few miles. Somehow I forgot that we would skirt Covenant College (the start/finish of the Lookout Mountain 50), until we ran along a technical trail along a creek and came out to a different powerline section. Then I realized that we were on the 50 miler course again. Once back under the tree canopy, we made our way down. At this point, we were about 13 or so miles in and I thought to myself that I needed to just cruise down this long descent. Mark got out in front of me and Lara who I had run with earlier (and who crossed the finish line just ahead of me yesterday) passed me as well. I would never totally lose either of them out of my sight, but it was enough to where I wasn't catching back up to them.

We finished the descent, crossed a road and then kept going down back to the first aid station. While descending, we could hear the PA announcing the faster finishers and as we came out into the clearing we could see runners finishing while we still had to finish up a 6 mile loop. I fueled up at the aid station, crossed the foot bridge and ran along the creek. Some where along here, I kicked it in to a higher gear. We ran a single track for a while where I put a little distance between me and some runners and then started the last big climb of the day. I actually ran most of it, only walking the last few yards at the top before getting on the ridge. Again, it was hard not to look to the right and enjoy the amazing views. Mark who had stayed in front of me was just a few dozen yards ahead. I wasn't sure if I would catch him. I arrived on the thin trail that led to the cliff with the rope and all of a sudden I passed Mark and there was another runner just in front of me who I could tell was not running at his best. We all used the rope to get off the cliff and when we hit the gravel road near the falls, I took off.

In 2011, this part threw me off because I thought we would finish on the gravel road, but I was prepared this time for the detour. The course took us on a more technical trail along the creek. Here I caught several people to my surprise, even my buddy John Dove. I had pep in my step and decided to finish strong. I crossed the creek and knew that I had half a mile at the most left. I was surprised at how well I felt and inside was hoping that it wouldn't come back to bite me in tomorrow's stage but we'll find out then. I crossed the finish line at 3:31 and then stuck around to high five a few of the runners that I had run with in the latter part of the race.

I found out that David Riddle won today's stage as well although he did not set a course record this time. I'm sure if he runs it again, that it won't stand for long. I had a chance to chat with him after the race and thanked him for the Q&A he did a few months back for this blog. Very nice guy!

Hanging out in the creek.
Because this stage is on private property, there are no park rangers to discourage alcohol, so the race provides several coolers of beer as well as water and sports drink. I grabbed an IPA, a bowl of pasta and headed to the creek to sit in the cool water for a while. I wasn't the only one.

I'm looking forward to tomorrow's stage. I feel like I did reserve myself pretty well today even after picking up my pace in the last several miles. I just want to do better on day three than the first time I ran this event. We'll see.

My race results: 3:31:08, 84th over all, 74th male, 195 official finishers (under the five hour cut off)

Stage two course map and elevation chart, click here.
Stage two race results, click here.
View race photos courtesy of Jeff Bartlett and Rock/Creek, click here.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Rock/Creek Stage Race: Day 1 Raccoon Mountain 06.14.13

Stage one race start. Photo courtesy of Jeff Bartlett and Rock/Creek
First day is done. I purposely did not go back and reread my race report from a couple of years ago, the last time I ran the stage race. Just so that I would have a fresh perspective for today. But once I got out on the course, I couldn't help reliving some of it obviously. It was a better than expected morning on the trails, much of it because I feel better prepared going in than I have felt for any race in a while, but also because the weather gods were a little on our side and didn't crank up the heat until after the stage race was over.

Bib #33. Cool Marmot race shirt too!
I've learned that in Chattanooga distances are not that far. So this morning I took my time getting ready and leaving the hotel. I had picked up my race packet the night before so I had everything I needed. My bib number was 33. A good number since it made me think of Larry Bird and Tony Dorsett. Good company, I thought. I arrived at the first day's start line area with plenty of time to kill. I'm a little bummed that my friend, Mike, couldn't make it, but I stopped by the packet pick up and got his race shirt for him. I hope to give it him in Colorado when we see each other in August for the TransRockies Run. After picking up his shirt, I ran into another buddy who now works for Salomon and realized that he was letting people try on a pair of shoes on the course. Normally, I wouldn't try anything new on race day, but being that my current trail shoes were pretty trashed and that I haven't had a chance to get a new pair, I slipped on a pair of Salomon Cross Max's and that's what I ran the race in hoping that I wouldn't regret it. I dropped off Mike's shirt at the car, chatted with other runners for a bit and then timed the trip to the porta-john with just a few minutes to spare for the race start.

Me before the race.
Photo Jeff Bartlett.
If I have one complaint about this particular stage, it's the start. I've run several of the Rock/Creek races and I love how well they're organized, but man, it sure would be nice if they made us do a lap in the parking lot or something before putting us all on the single track trail. There's probably less than a hundred yards before the trail and well, it bottles up instantaneously. Every one kept calm and just did their best to single file it onto the trail. Surprisingly, the portion of the trail convoy I ended up in turned out to keep its pecking order for a good while. I didn't pass anyone and very few passed me. I was behind two runners who I would share the trail with for the first hour or so. In fact, I was appreciating the pace and I was trying hard to keep it easy and steady. I forgot my running watch back at the hotel, so I was clueless as to the time. While approaching the East Overlook aid station at mile 4.7, I asked the runner in front of me what his watch showed and he said 52 minutes and change. I liked what I heard. That meant I was running 11+ minute miles. Nice and easy.

We went through the first aid station. For me, just enough to refill one of my hand helds. I was concerned about the heat, so I was running with two bottles, one with nuun and the other with just water. I stuck with the water for most of the race. I finished with some still left in the nuun bottle. I did a  good job with hydration for this race which I hope will pay me back on the next two days. Anyway back to running, I stayed with the two runners from the earlier section and we picked up a few more folks. We all stayed pretty much together for the next few miles until the next aid station. I was feeling strong and still feeling like I was conserving myself. We came off the single track trail and crossed a lawn towards the aid station at mile eight. I popped a GU, drank some Coke and jumped back onto the trail.

The next section is a lot of fun. It's called the small intestines and it's easy to see why. It's twisty with lots of turns and little switchbacks. At one point, you can look up and see runners to your left on trails above you and runners to the right on trails below. At this point, I had some how picked up other runners and we ended up chatting for a while. This went on for a few miles until some where along the way, I think just after the small intestines section, I passed the runner in front of me while she decided to walk a hill and then I was alone for a while. I was feeling good and decided to pick up the pace a bit. That's when I started passing people at first only by coincidence, but later by design.

We hit a long climb, the only one in this stage, and I ran most of it. I knew that I had to hold off a bit, but I figured I had been good for the first half and thought why not have some fun on the second half. It wasn't long before I arrived at the last aid station at mile 13 or so. Less than five miles to go. "Let's do this!", I thought to myself. It seems that there was another guy who had the same thought I did. His name is Brian and at first I was just tagging along behind him, but as we both passed several people together, we started to chat a bit. While talking, we came in and out of the tree canopy by the dam and I was commenting how grateful I was that we didn't have to run for long out in the open. The sun was up high by now and it would be miserable to stay exposed to it. Back under the tree canopy, we could see a female runner a few dozen yards in front of us. I mentioned that we were near the finish and both of us picked it up to catch her. We caught her but didn't pass her, because we came off the trail and were back on the asphalt. Knowing that there were just a few yards to go, we all stayed together. Lara was the female runner's name and she ran out ahead of us a bit right before the finish line. Brian and I came in side by side.

I looked back at the clock and I realized I ran a sub-three hour race. Then I tried to think back on two years earlier and I thought that I may have beaten my previous time. That sounds good normally, but when you have two more days to race and last time I burned out on day three, I immediately got a little worried that maybe I went too fast. However, I looked up my time from 2011 and I ran a 2:40 (it was much cooler that year too) and this year I ran a 2:58. Hopefully, I kept enough in the tank for days two and three.

David Riddle won the day's stage and annihilated the course record with a blazing 1:52:51! He wasn't the only fast guy though, up to five runners came in at sub-two hours.

I hung out at the finish line and saw several friends among them John Dove, Todd Henderson and others. I returned the Salomon shoes I ran in (just one little hot spot), grabbed something to eat and then sat in one of the kiddie pools for an ice bath. Capped it all off with a couple of beers. I had a good time on the trails, met some really cool people and I can't wait for tomorrow. My only disappointment was that a few friends didn't make the cut off.

My race results: 2:58:38, 109th over all, 92nd male, 205 official finishers (under the four hour cut off)

Stage one course map and elevation chart, click here.
Stage one race results, click here.
View race photos courtesy of Jeff Bartlett and Rock/Creek, click here.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Race Preview: 2013 Rock/Creek Chattanooga Stage Race

Three days on the trails with a bunch of other trail runners sounds like fun, right? Well, that’s what I’m in for this weekend when racing in Chattanooga at the Rock/Creek Stage Race; three beautiful, but challenging, stages on the best trails that Chattanooga has to offer. I ran this race back in 2011 and I knew then I’d be back. This year I have extra motivation to run it since it will be a good tune up for my TransRockies Run training.

Day one is 18 miles at Raccoon Mountain. It’s the easiest of the three days but not just because of the distance, but because the terrain is the most forgiving of the three locations. The course is mostly single track trail, some of it mountain bike worn, along rolling hillside around the reservoir. The tendency is to race this stage hard, but the smart stage racer will go conservative and save some for day two and three. View course map and elevation chart here.

Day two is 22 miles at Lookout Mountain. The highlight on this day is running past Lula Falls. It’s rained quite a bit this spring, so hopefully the falls will be going strong. We get to run by them twice, so it will become a familiar site. This day brings a lot more climbing than the day before. The quads will be hurting at the end of the day with all the down hill running. The best part is the dip in the creek after crossing the finish line. View course map and elevation chart here.

Day three is 20 miles at Signal Mountain. Not the longest of the three days, but undoubtedly the toughest. When I ran this in 2011, it took me an hour and a half longer to run this stage than day one did and it’s only two miles longer. Now granted, I also had 40 miles on my legs from the previous two days, but this day’s stage has some tough rocky trails in sections and if it’s hot, you pay for it. View course map and elevation chart here.

The weather forecast is not looking favorable for me. In 2011, we had unusual cool temperatures, especially on day one. This weekend calls for mid to high 80’s for a high with day three pushing into the 90’s. I’ll be running with two hand held bottles, but still relying on the aid stations heavily for hydration.

Despite the warm temperatures, my training has been good and I just need to remember that this is more of a training weekend. I have to keep my eye on the bigger prize which is the six day stage race in Colorado in August and my hundred in November. Check back as I’ll be blogging after each stage race this weekend.

Check out the official Rock Creek Chattanooga Stage Race video: