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Month June 2010

Stage race, Day 3: Perseverance or Stupidity?

Endurance athletes are a different breed. We like to go long, thrive in the hours upon hours of time in the woods, be it on foot or bike. We push past our comfort levels to get “there” (wherever there may be). I’d like to think we are fairly intelligent and wise, preparing adequate nutrition, hydration, and clothing for our adventure at hand. Then comes our bodies. Yes, we train consistently (and hopefully smartly) to ready ourselves for longer, harder, & further. We often push through the pain, but take notes of the little aches we feel along the way. Sometimes, decisions must be made.

For me, the first decision came at mile 8 of Stage 2. My knee was officially not cooperating – to the point I could not ignore it. Do I DNF today? pull out of the whole series? attempt tomorrow? I found a happy medium in the fact that I could still walk halfway normally, so while quite slow, I did finish that day. And, it kept me in the running for an overall finish.

©Mark McKnight.

Sunday came… with not a fantastic sleep and no appetite. The only plus I had going was my body & feet felt pretty good since my exertion level the day before was all but nil. Today would be a very challenging 20 miles. Starting from the soccer fields on Signal, we’d run thru the gorge to Suck Creek and back to Mushroom Rock. That itself would be considered a tough run; making it miles 42-46 of a 60 mile race is just cruel. There’s roughly 1250′ of elevation gain and another 1250′ of elevation loss during this section – and I’m not sure which was worse! Regardless, it did a number on my knee/ITB, and from here on it would be mostly hiking. (although I have to say, I’m developing quite the power hike :)  We stayed on the Cumberland Trail to Edward’s Point, then on to Signal Point. I’d run small sections that were mostly flat and not technical – nearly nonexistent out here. Then came the infamous Rainbow Lake section we scouted last week. Talk about slowwww going. At least most everyone was slow during these sections.

Since I came into day knowing I’d walk a lot, and that my only goal was to finish, I was in much better spirits than yesterday. People could see me struggling and ask if I was ok…  Sometimes I said yes, sometimes sorta… but that I knew I could finish. Doubt never entered my mind. The last 4 miles were a highlight. A new section of trail meandered by a creek, where some of the race staff (friends of mine) were camped out, encouraging folks with offers of cold beer and cold creeks. Since I wasn’t in it for the time, I indulged. I took a can, walked out to a lounge chair they set up in the middle of the creek, and took a seat. I’m not one for cheap beer, but damn, did that frosty Miller High Life hit the spot! While I was kicking back, Wendy & Mary came running through, so I hopped out and tagged along with them for the final few miles. It was great to finish up with some friends – the support was mutually appreciated, as the last 2 miles really felt like double.

I was thrilled to finish the stage, even if I was 2+ hrs off my anticipated time. It was a different experience, one I hope I can improve upon in the future. As for my knee…  Did I make the right decision in continuing on? Afterall, I knew 30 miles into a 60 mile race it was just not right. Call it Perseverance or my Taurean Stubborness; I just don’t like to quit. I guess only time will tell if it was a stupid decision, but I’ll do what I can now to rest & mend my body. I think my bikes have missed me anyways :)

Huge thanks to Rock/Creek Outfitters, Wild Trails, Smartwool and all the volunteers for another wonderful event!

Stage race, day 2: Worst.Race.EVER.

Let me preface that by saying the race organization, course, volunteers, etc. were stellar; it was my own personal performance that failed.

I started off slow & easy, feeling ok. I knew the trails of Raccoon inside & out, so mentally I was prepared for the 18 miles ahead. Somewhere before the switchyard, my knee was getting stiff. I looked down and realized I had forgotten to wear the ITB band/strap thing that has been the magical little piece of gear that has kept me moving. Shit. Sure enough, it locks up on me a few minutes later. I hobble stiff-legged to the next aid station, at the entrance to the small intestines trail loop. I gave a friend my keys to get my strap (hoping it was in my car), and meanwhile sacrificed my Buff to make a sort of tourniquet thing to tie around my ITB and apply some pressure (and hopefully gain some relief). Then I set out on the trail… and walked every bit of that 3.5 miles. QUITE frustrating. a few tears even.

Luckily when I looped back around to the aid station, my band aid was waiting. YEAH! I had been seriously contemplating what to do if it wasn’t there. Do I withdraw? Is a DNF the smartest thing to do? Or do I persevere and hike it to the finish? (Or is that just being stubborn and stupid?) Thankfully I took the finding to be my sign, and carried on.

I walked. and walked. The band wasn’t so magical that I was able to start running right away, but it did loosen up enough to shuffle through MegaWatt slightly faster than a granny’s pace. I listened to a storm rumbling through Sequatchie Valley and met some nice folks along the way. A few miles from the end, the sky opened up. At first, it was refreshing. cleansing. But then the lightning started, and boy did that put a pep in my step. All pain was forgotten and I focused on getting to the finish line asap.

Finally, it came. A few minutes after 4 hrs. wow. A whole hour after my predicted time. This was definitely the most trying day I’ve had on the trail. Mostly due to the frustration of my dang knee pain and not knowing how to fix it. Any progress I thought that I’ve made is out the window. (Goodbye WR50… maybe next year). I think some solid rest (or at least, time off the feet) is in order after tomorrow’s final stage.

Stage Race: Day 1

22 miles. 3000′ of climbing. temps climbing into the mid-90s. classic southern humidity. yeah, it was going to be a big day no matter how you looked at it.

While the distances alone aren’t scary, add them up on consecutive days, with the aforementioned southern summer, and I know that I’ll have to play it smart if I want to survive. I started this race off much slower than any other, hoping to save some leg for what will certainly be a killer Day 3. (I’m also using this as a training race, so no big pressure to perform well… although I suppose the desire to do well never fully leaves your mind).

The first loop around the land trust was uneventful, although an extra trail added in that we didn’t prerun played some mental games with me (more so on the last loop). The run out to Covenant College was fine – overall more flowy and not as technical. I did take one nosedive – tripping on a stick or something. A friend behind asked if I was ok.. then he tripped on the same dang stick, headed right towards me. Luckily all ended well and we got a good laugh. The final (repeat) loop at the end started playing games with me – by now I was ready for the day to be over. I was running alone for most of it and it seemed like the trail just wouldn’t end. Perseverance…

The best part of the trail was the creek crossing at the end. It was probably around knee-high, and just begging to be neck-high; yes, a full body dunk was in order. Only a half mile or so to the finish, so why not? (It was FANTASTIC!)  Anders was waiting for me at the finish line, which was the best part of the day :) After a quick lunch, he got ready to head to Memphis for a bike race, and I dragged my sore body & throbbing feet to work for the afternoon. (Note to self: Never go back to work after a race. Talk about a lack of focus…)

I finished day 1 as the 10th female, with a time of 4:17:25. My body feels a bit beat up (although the knee is doing pretty ok!)… tomorrow will be interesting!

National Trails Day

June 5 was National Trails Day, so of course, we had to indulge. It was also a designated open gate day at the Lula Lake Land Trust… which so happens to be the site of Stage 1 of the Chattanooga Mountains Stage Race. Ah, everything falling perfectly into place!

The race itself has 2 loops (opposite directions) inside the park, with a middle section that takes us out to Covenant College and back. With steamy high temps, we kept inside the park (close to the water) and fully explored what we’ll soon be running. I’ve only been up here 2 other times, both for races, so it was nice to take it easy and soak in the scenery for a change. It’s really a hidden gem – a mere 25 minutes from my house, and you all but forget there’s a city just at the bottom of the mountain.

After 2 hours of running fun, the crew sat in the creek and ate watermelon; but I still needed 30 minutes, so back out I went. I took this opportunity to hike to the bottom of the waterfall – awesome! peaceful, serene, with a cooling mist filling the gorge. I highly recommend a visit!

final recon for the stage race

The Chattanooga Mountains Stage Race begins on Friday and, knee-willing, I will be at the start. I’m not sure how much of a race it will be for me – I just want to get through all 3 days with my knee intact (the plan is for this to be a prep for the White River 50 at the end of July). The other thing I hope to survive is the heat. It’s been just plain nasty – and this weekend’s scouting mission up on Signal was the perfect practice for such suffering.

We were on the trail by 8:30am, planning for 2.5 hrs. We started from Signal Point, planning to run all but the Suck Creek Gorge and school sections. Things got off to a bad start when we couldn’t find the trailhead, so we hopped on the road until the next intersection with the trail at Rainbow Lake.  (I later found out we will follow the road; why the map shows differently I don’t know.) Once on the trail, we ran around… and apparently around some more, as we nearly did a complete loop. The trails criss cross a lot, so we couldn’t keep track of precisely where we were. (And the map was so minimal that even the resourceful ex-AR navigator in me had no way to orient it to my compass). Apparently gut feeling wasn’t working, but some nice folks we met on trail got us moving in the right direction. Once I saw a familiar red blaze, I felt better… that is, until it was so overgrown and laden with slippery rocks that we all felt surely this was not the race course. We persevered and eventually hit a FSR that led us to where the Edward’s Point Rd aid station will be. (I also later found out that this was, in fact, the one and only race route. Wow. This will break souls. and maybe ankles.)

From here, we were at least 30 minutes behind schedule if not more, so we stuck to a familiar jeep road that would bisect this part of the forest and take us right to Edward’s Point (pictured above). Emily actually hadn’t been here before, so it was cool showing such a beautiful spot to someone new. We then hopped on the Cumberland Trail and ran that back to Signal Point. While a bit brushy, the growth wasn’t too bad and a decent pace was kept. (Until the final climb out to where the aid station will be, at the top of umpteen wooden stairs.)

The temperatures were ridiculous – the heat index well over 100 – so a dip in the cool waters of a nearby waterfall were definitely appreciated. Unfortunately this luxury will NOT be a part of the race course :(

the JMT in TN

When someone mentions the John Muir Trail, thoughts of the amazing 215mile trail out west comes to mind. Little do people know we have a touch of the great man here in eastern Tennessee as well! It begins at Childer’s Creek near Reliance, on the northern bank of the Hiwassee River. From there, it stretches east 20.7 miles, following a route Muir took many moons ago. I’m going to steal a quote here, from his book A Thousand Miles to the Gulf, as it to eloquently describes the beauty of the area:

My path all to-day led me along the leafy banks of the Hiwassee, a most impressive mountain river. Its channel is very rough, as it crosses the edges of upturned rock strata, some of them standing at right angles, or glancing off obliquely to right and left. Thus a multitude of short, resounding cataracts are produced, and the river is restrained from the headlong speed due to its volume and the inclination of its bed. All the larger streams of uncultivated countries are mysteriously charming and beautiful, whether flowing in mountains or through swamps and plains. Their channels are interestingly sculptured, far more so than the grandest architectural works of man. The finest of the forests are usually found along their banks, and in the multitude of falls and rapids the wilderness finds a voice. Such a river is the Hiwassee, with its surface broken to a thousand sparkling gems, and its forest walls vine-draped and flowery as Eden. And how fine the songs it sings!

BTW, that link seems to actually be the whole book online…  will have to mark that to read!

Anyways, back to the run! We had a great group meet out there – about an hour from Chattanooga, so not too bad of a drive. We parked at Hiwassee Outfitters, running across a bridge, then accessing the JMT not too far down the road. The first section was flat and fairly wide, following the banks of the river. There was a few miles of pavement to get us to the Apalachia Powerhouse (mile 6), where the dam is. Hikers can duck under the bridge and access the rest of the trail. This section, being tucked away a bit, isn’t as well-traveled, so some bushwacking around fallen trees spiced things up. We didn’t quite make it to the end – the trail crossed a the river (or was it a feeder creek?) and we were tempted by the sunshine for a snack break, ultimately making this our turnaround (around mile 9.5).

On the way back, Wendy had conveniently stashed her car for use as a water stop – definitely needed as I had sucked all 100oz of nuun from my bladder by now! Refueled, we hit the trail for the last few miles…. however, my knee did NOT want to cooperate. I tried to shake it out, but it was just done. So, my day was over early, although I was happy to have ticked off 16 miles (the most in several months). I drove the car back to our start (convenient!), soaking in some sun while icing my knee.

The afternoon ended with everyone safely returning & happily exhausted, followed by a long soak in the chilly river and much-needed nourishment at the best food in the Ocoee Gorge: The Ocoee Dam Deli!

The mountains are calling and I must go.
John Muir

More pictures here


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