The history of the Rock/Creek StumpJump 50k trail race

The following history of StumpJump was written by former RD and race creator Matt Sims.

The StumpJump 50k was born from a trail run that I did with John Fellers from Signal Point to Mullens Cove one day in the Fall of 2000. At this point the River Gorge Race had not even been thought of yet, but on that run I thought it would be cool to expose people to running in Prentice Cooper. This was a beautiful area to run in and there was hardly any signs of people utilizing Prentice Cooper for running or hiking. The only trail race established at that point was the Wauhatchie Trail Run.

The original thought was to start and finish from Signal Point, but the mileage calculations would have been longer than 50k. I knew that running by Mushroom Rock was key to the race, so I started playing around with different start/finish areas. The only thing that existed over in the area that is now the start/finish area (Signal Mtn. High School) was a gravel parking lot for day hikers. The soccer fields were there and Nolan Elementary was being built.

I did get a permit from Prentice Cooper, but that was about the only thing we got from them. I did all the trail maintenance myself for the first 2 years until they recognized the value of having trail races in the park. We didn’t make any money the first 2 years because we had to buy most of the race packet goodies, which were really good.

After thinking more about the effort involved in putting on the race, I figured I should run a 50k first and also put on a smaller event to test the waters on what it was going to take to pull it off. I signed up for Mtn. Mist that year — which was my first 50k — so that I had a comparison of what a quality race should look like. I also started plans on creating the River Gorge Race which would be a good test for how many people would actually be interested in trail running.

One of the guys that helped me with creating the course was Frank Harrison. Frank doesn’t run ultras any more, but was one of the few guys in Chattanooga that was running ultras during that time. He had lots of experience with how the trail should be marked and helped me establish aid stations, etc. Jerry McClanahan, a TVA engineer and a great friend, was probably the biggest help. He ran the course with me early on, made signs and did most of the trail marking. He also was my “in” to the Chattanooga Track Club and helped me set up the timing clocks. He was instrumental for the first few years of both the River Gorge Race and StumpJump. He posted results online and submitted results to the newspaper. We didn’t get any press beyond that.

Justin Goodlet, a friend and co-worker at Rock/Creek, designed the first SJ logo, which is different than today’s. After the first year, we re-designed the logo to have a guy jumping over a stump; this is still the logo today and hopefully will never change.

The key sponsors were Marmot, Montrail, SmartWool, Great Harvest Bread Company, Subaru, Chattem, and Clif Bar.

I don’t remember exactly how many people showed up, but I want to say it was around 60 runners for the 50k. Tom Sell won that day, and passed out at the finish line. It was very low key for the first 2 years since the development of the schools hadn’t happened yet.

I wasn’t working for Rock/Creek after the first year, but I continued to play Race Director for the second year event. After that, I passed it on… and I’m glad I did. It’s really cool to see where the event is today and how many locals are venturing into the 50k distance for the first time. The event was ultimately created for the local community to be exposed to the wonderful trails 20 minutes outside of the city.