Stump Jump 50K 2009: A fantastic race and beautiful scenery for my first ultra-marathon!

At the top is me with my running buddy Greg coming downhill into the mile 26 aid station, followed by us refuling at that aid station. The middle is Kelly, me, Zack, and Greg with our paper cups of champagne; me blissfully icing every part of my left leg humanely possible; and then sleeping in the car on the way home.

At the top is me with my running buddy Greg coming downhill into the mile 26 aid station, followed by us refuling at that aid station. The middle is Kelly, me, Zack, and Greg with our paper cups of champagne; me blissfully icing every part of my left leg humanely possible; and then sleeping in the car on the way home.

This past Saturday, I ran the illustrious and challenging Stump Jump 50K in Chattanooga, TN – my first ultra-marathon! Due to the fact that the race was 31 miles (which I found out later that the course is actually a little longer) and everything I read about it talked about it being one of the more difficult 50K’s in the southeast, I spent most of this past week worrying about that void of the unknown that awaited me. I’ve run road marathons before and know what to expect – what my body will feel like in the later miles, the pace to keep, etc., but I didn’t know what to expect on 31 miles of trails. Turns out, I love trail running! This does not come as a huge surprise as I really enjoyed my training runs in Sweetwater Creek State Park, Kennesaw, along the Chattahoochee, in Blue Ridge, etc. and I simply love being outdoors, in the peace and quiet of the woods, and with (or without) people who share the same passion to be outside and active.

So, to add to the other Stump Jump 50K reviews and stories that are out there online, here is my adventure (and you can check out more photos on facebook here):

Pre-race pasta dinner:
My boyfriend Zack and I met up with Kelly for race packet pick-up and the pasta dinner. We shared a table with a man who had run Stump Jump the year before and we grilled him about what to expect. Probably not good for someone with heightened nerves, especially when he said that he had the same goal as me when he set out last year (a 6.5 hour finish) and finished in 8 hours instead. Lord! The other guy we sat with said that he runs 3 hour road marathons and hoped to finish in 6 hours. He and I actually spent quite some miles the next day hopscotching on the trail until he took off ahead of me, which is probably a good thing so I actually lived to tell about it and not die of exhaustion.

After dinner, we walked across the street to hear Dean Karnazes speak. You may know the name as the crazy guy who ran 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days. He gave a great talk and came out to run the race with us the next morning! Then it was off the hotel for a Sweetwater beer, more water, and some quality time with the race maps. And filling the cooler with ice to chill the champagne for the finish line.

Pre-race morning:
In the early morning hours, we wound our way up Signal Mountain to the starting point at the high school. You could hardly miss which way to go – it seemed every car on the road was headed to the race. We arrived, we parked, and we walked up to the school to check in, shivering at the 50 degree temperature. Zack had decided overnight to run the 11 mile race, so he checked in as Rich, our friend who should have been there to run the 50K, and downgraded his number to the 11 miler. At least that would buy him some time from sitting around for who-knows-how-many hours he’d be waiting on me to finish!

We met up with our friends in the school, stretched a little, took pictures, swallowed salt tablets, and headed to the start line. All of a sudden, it was almost 8 o’clock as we shuffled into our 11 mile and 50K chutes. And then we were off!

Miles 1-3:
We started out on asphalt, but just long enough to wind around the school and into the woods (we split with the 11 milers as we left the parking lot). The initial trail was a gently sloping, double-wide gravel path used for training by the Signal Mountain High School cross country team (who were out running the 11 miler). We started to sort ourselves out pretty quickly but still ran in a long line of people for the first stretch. I kept checking for Kelly right behind me to make sure I didn’t get too far ahead since she was planning on closer to a 6 hour time (she passed me a couple miles later). We reached the Mushroom Rock aid station at around mile 4, where photographers were taking pictures as we ran by the enormous balancing boulder for which that spot is named. Then came the first major descent…

Mile 4:
This is the first part where thoughts of “I have the run back up this?!” entered my head. The trail dropped straight down in a series of switchback, tree roots, and rock steps that had just about everyone walking.

Mile 5:
The trail bottomed out at a creekbed and a beautiful camping spot, which was occupied by a guy who, a few minutes before, had probably been having a very peaceful Saturday morning all alone in the woods, until he was interrupted by 201 runners bouncing off rocks and roots. When I ran by, he had a kettle in one hand and a coffee mug in the other and I couldn’t decide if he looked annoyed or surprised or still a little asleep. After passing him, we ran over a long suspension bridge, which I know had everyone doubting its safety as the 2×4’s bowed and it looked like the only thing holding it together was zip ties. Then it was straight up the next hill!

Miles 6-10:
After a couple more ups and downs, we descended into Suck Creek and the next aid station. After a couple peanut M&Ms, we crossed the road and up a set of steep, rickety steps to a muddy hill face that we quickly climbed only to have the trail continue uphill for a bit more. At this point, we had formed smaller running packs of 6-7 people and people would politely ask when they wanted to pass. We were all getting into our stride (and I was still trying to make sure I’d kicked the habit of going out too fast). This stretch of the race opened up over the Tennessee River valley, where you could catch glimpses of the fog burning off over the water and, around the bend, could see the river, too. The sun was up, the weather the perfect temperature, and the views were incredible. I felt ecstatic to be out on the trail with these other crazy people in such an amazing setting. Of course, you can hardly look up from the trail to soak in the view and it seems like sabotage to say, “wow, check that out!” when clearly it’s going to result in a competitor taking his eyes off the ground and surely taking a tumble. Which happened more than once.

During this segment, the guy behind me and I started talking – the usual “have you run this race before?” kind of questions. It dwindled down to three of us running and talking until we passed and the guy and I continued on. More narrow wooden stairs, more rock steps and huge boulders, more small stream crossings, but no huge elevation changes. As we approached the Indian Rock House aid station, I realized I had no idea what the voice behind me looked like, as I had not turned around for miles, so I had to be sure not to lose him at the aid station. The aid station was a hike-in spot situated underneath a huge rock outcropping – not a bad place to spend a day volunteering and handing out water! After that, I introduced myself to my running buddy, who’s name was Greg. His 8-month pregnant wife had hiked into that spot to support him and bring him a fresh water bottle, which was awesome!

Mile 11-16:
The lollipop! Greg and I set out on the next section of the course, which is the lollipop part of the course (10 miles out on the stick, 10 miles around the candy, and 10 miles back on the stick), and continued to run along the ridgeline overlooking the valley. I knew I should stop and check out the views, like I’d been saying for months that I would do, but my competitive side was kicking in and I didn’t want to stop. For one stretch, the path got pretty overgrown and it seemed like the last people to pass through were probably the Stump Jumpers from the year before. I almost tumbled a couple of times on the underbrush lining the trail. In the distance, we could start to hear whooping and shouting and emerged from the trail to make a right up a steep gravel “road” which looked more like an old creek bed. And we hiked it in to the Hailey Road aid station at the half-way point.

Mile 17:
At least it took 17 miles before the inevitable happened. Crossing a small stream, my brain thought it lifted my foot higher that it did and I tripped into the bank on the other side. Luckily, the sloping ground met me partway and it was an easy fall. And that was my only fall! After that, my foot-and-eye-coordination had a regrouping.

Mile 18:
You know you’re nearing the end of the loop when you hit the Rock Garden. I’d heard about the field of boulders that lasts for “3-4 miles,” but it took me a few minutes to me sure we were in it. The Rock Garden actually lasts about a mile, pretty much all of which has to be hiked. In a heavily-shaded part of the forest, the surroundings were beautiful, although wet leaves, damp rocks, and dirt churned up by earlier runners made for careful steps.

Mile 19:
Greg and I again heard shouting voices pierce the silence in the woods and knew we were close to the next aid station. Our drop bags were here, so I went a grabbed a couple more gu packs and stretched while a volunteer came over and draped with an ice cold, soaked blue towel. It felt lovely! I located Greg talking to his wife and mother-in-law by their car and went over to introduce myself to them. His wife said that he’d just had a moment of panic that he’d lost me and kept asking “Where’s my pacer?” I told him not to worry, I needed him to run with just as much, so I wasn’t going to leave without him.

Miles 20-25:
After squeezing through a tiny rock staircase between two huge boulders, we were back to the Indian Rock House aid station and out of the loop! Going home! This time, on the way back, I asked Greg if we could stop a couple of times and check out the view, which we did while we stretched. At this point, my left knee was causing my whole left leg to hurt, but what are you going to do? The pain probably wasn’t going to get any worse, so might as well run through it. The grunting and swearing did increase exponentially, especially as it seemed like we would never reach the next aid station. Then, all of a sudden, we rounded a bend and there was Zack! He had hiked up the trail a little bit to find us and take pictures – yay!

Mile 26:
Zack hiked with us down the hill into the Suck Creek aid station. I didn’t know which I was more excited about – seeing him or being at the next-to-last aid station. We refilled our water bottles and got ready to head out again. Zack took me by surprise by asking if I felt like I’d already run a marathon. Funny, I’d meant to celebrate that moment, but had completely forgotten about that benchmark in my quest for the next aid station. I told him not really, I actually felt pretty good!

Miles 27-28:
Up the hill! I actually thought it was going to be a lot worse climbing out of Suck Creek (and across the suspension bridge and up that hill), but we hiked it and I took off on the trail again. I had gotten a second wind from seeing Zack and feeling the pull of the finish line (even though it was still quite a ways off). I looked back for Greg, but there were a couple of people between us and I couldn’t make my little legs stop running. He caught up to me, though, and later told Zack how I’d taken off after seeing him. I pointed out that he still kept up! All I wanted to see at this point was the gigantic balancing Mushroom Rock, signifying the end of the uphill climb. It came sooner than I expected, which was awesome, but now we still had 3.5 miles left to go.

Miles 29-31:
I tried. I tried really really hard to keep running, but oh, I was getting worn out! The trail surface was easy running the rest of the way in, but still mildly hilly. When I heard footsteps behind me and I looked back to see a few women, my ego kicked in a little bit as I thought, “they better not be in my age group!” My counter-thought to that is usually, “hey, if they can still run right now, then they are a better runner and I admire them.” But I still want to beat them. At this point, Greg pulled ahead of me and was encouraging me to keep moving. Talk about never-ending miles… and then you keep winding by the school… the soccer field… the football field… the delirium from the pain and the thought of the finish line…

We finally crossed the last road, into the woods one more time, and emerged on the other side with .6 mile left to go on the road. Uphill. I’m not sure how, but I ran that last stretch all the way in with Greg right behind me. Zack was filming to the right and Kelly was cheering to the left as we crossed the finish line one right after the other. Holy crap. I’m not a crier at the end of a race, but I teared up just a little bit when I sat down next to Kelly and Zack – again, from both delirious pain and from having run the longest distance I’ve ever done in my life.

A few minutes later, we popped champagne and I gave Kelly her present of a Stump Jump bottle of wine. We caught up with each other, people we’d met the night before, people we ran stretches of the race with, and basically hung out in the sun for an hour or so. Turned out, Kelly ran the race in an incredible 6:06:57 and won first in her age group!! My final time was 6:47:09, which earned me a third place in my age group! That’s my PR time, too, since this is my first 50K. 🙂

A big thank you to Rock/Creek and all Stump Jump organizers and volunteers! Great job and an amazing course! Runners, if you’re thinking about doing a 50K or thinking about this race in particular, just go ahead and sign up – you won’t regret it!

One Response to “Stump Jump 50K 2009: A fantastic race and beautiful scenery for my first ultra-marathon!”
  1. The following comments were left by friends and family on facebook:

    Wow, that is amazing you remember that much detail about the race and all the names of the aid stations. Impressive. Congrats again.
    I signed up for Pine Mtn 40 miler. Sure you don’t want to do it with me???

    Great narrative. Once again congratulations.

    If you ever convince my wife to do one of those with you, I’m going to….I don’t know what, but you won’t like it 😉

    Well written…and well run!

    Kelly, the thought of the 40 miler actually crossed my mind today, but I think I’m going to pass right now! And Ken, she’s not safe. We’ll just have to find one where you can scoot around and see us along the course!

    Thanks for checking this out y’all!

    Hi Jenny, Hope you change your mind about Pine Mtn. It would be good to meet you and I’m looking forward to running with Kelly.

    If you are enjoying the trail running, check out a great 12-miler at Fort Mountain state Park this weekend,

    Happy trails!

    Hi Javier, I know you and Kelly will have a great time at the 40 miler! I definitely want to do more trail running, but I don’t know about the 40-miler right now… I’d love to join y’all for a run though!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: