Local adventure racing guru, champion smack-talker, and Rock/Creek Adventure Race Team Captain Jim Farmer gives a rundown of his day at the 2006 StumpJump 50K. The adrenaline kicks in after a good start, but Jim leads a few suckers off course in his enthusiasm. Read it all below:
2006 Stump Jump 50K Trail Run
By Jim Farmer (aka “Opie”)
The smack talk started about two weeks prior to the race. Woody, Sponge Bob, Closet, Opie, Craven and the rest of the local trail running legends and wannabees jousted via email with wildly boastful claims of world domination mixed with spurts of self deprecation. Okay, it was just me spewing the world domination thing, but it’s all I got. As usual, the banter was mostly about the Stump Jump interlopers coming into Chattanooga from “other places.” You know, them “ferners”, coming here to take our jobs and our women and our trail races. Unlike the last couple of years, where superstuds like Bryan Dayton from Boulder and Josh Beckham from Nashville, put the fear of god into everybody, this year’s race was sort of a toss up. There would be a lot of fast runners but many of them hadn’t established themselves in the trail running circuit yet or simply hadn’t done this kind of distance to date.
The lack of an alpha-male was evident as all one hundred and sixty 50kers left the front of Nolan Elementary School on a brisk October morning. It was a conversational pace for the first couple of miles as the lead group pounded the trails around Shackleford Ridge Park and then out towards Mushroom Rock, a rock formation that definitely earns its moniker. I figured that my “hey, is this a group run or a race” comment would stir the pot a bit, but the feel-out period continued. That’s until we approached Mushroom Rock and the near vertical drop that took us down to the swinging bridge that crossed North Suck Creek. If I had any advantage over most of this group it was the knowledge of the trails, along with my ability to act like a pinball on the gnarly, technical downhills that littered the course. I couldn’t resist the temptation and bolted out to the front just before the turn onto the singletrack.
I didn’t do my usual full-out sprint downhill, figuring it would be wise to save my knees and quads for later, but I put enough time on the bunch to have the entire swinging bridge to myself. Trust me; going across that span with a dozen or so runners at the same time is comical if you’re a bystander, but downright nauseating if you’re racing. I continued to hold the group off as we climbed up and over the next ridgeline, then plummeted down to the Suck Creek road aid station. I had a good hundred yard lead as I climbed the steps on the other side of the road that took us into the main part of the Prentice Cooper Wildlife Management Area (WMA), but I had no delusions of holding off the pack for much longer. As my old man would say, “I’m dumb, but I ain’t stupid.”
Two runners caught up to me and we started chatting. “Where are you from?” came the voice from behind. “Chattavegas,” I responded. “Good, you know the trails then, so we won’t get lost.” “Sure do,” I responded. Moments later we were scrambling uphill through the briars as we watched the lead pack go by on the main trail about 50 feet above us. Why those two guys trusted me in the first place, I’ll never know. Suckers. But at least our little jaunt through the woods got the blood flowing, literally. My fifteen minutes of fame were up, so now it was time to go back to work with the rest of the crew.
Although a little spread out by now, there were twenty or so runners all within sight of the front pack by the time we hit the next aid station at Indian Rockhouse, another wicked rock formation that locals like me take for granted all to often. There was no time to smell the roses though as the first moves of the day were made. I knew how much of a mental boost it was to stay near the front, especially in such a long race, and how much of a downer it can be to get dropped, so I made quick work of refilling my hand-held water bottle and put it into overdrive to get back into the mix. The next section of the trail, with plenty of uphill slogs and tight singletrack, was going to separate the men from the boys. With over ten miles under our belts, the race started in earnest. I settled in with a group just behind the leaders and enjoyed some of the views along the Tennessee River Gorge as I got back into my comfort zone. I could handle a few of these surges, but I’m more of the slow and steady type in the long run.
Hitting Snoopers Rock, we made the turn west along the Mullen’s Cove Loop taking us back across Tower Road which bisects the WMA. Things had spread out quite a bit after this aid station and it was time for me to settle in, keep the engine fueled, and simply keep on plugging. Without a ton of training base miles under me, plus the lack of speed that the guys up front possessed, my pragmatic side took over and it was time to race my race. If I passed or got passed, so be it. Years of adventure racing and plenty of other epic rides, runs, paddles, etc. had me very well acquainted with my personal physiology. I knew what I could do and what I couldn’t do and I was cool with that.
I had promised myself a small break at the Rock Garden near the back end of the loop part of the course in order to get a little food in my stomach, replenish the electrolyte stores and rehydrate in preparation for the last third of the race. The Rock Garden is, as its name implies, a boulder field at the base of the Mullen’s Creek Gorge. This section of the Cumberland Trail, which is, by the way, the beneficiary of the funds raised from this race, is extremely technical. You can’t keep much of a pace while hopping from one loose and mossy boulder to the next, so I just used it as a moving pit stop for lack of a better term.
The return to Indian Rockhouse is at just a little over mile twenty, with the rest of the course being a rehashing of the first leg of the race in the opposite direction. The 20-mile mark is infamous in road marathons and holds true in the Stump Jump as well. Physiologists suggest that this is the point where the body’s glycogen stores are used up, resulting in the dreaded “bonk”. Personally, I think it’s some sort of Bermuda Triangle deal that hangs over Indian Rockhouse. Either way, I passed one runner at the aid station as I grabbed a few more Hammer Gels and a Zip Loc full of Endurolytes and Motrin from my drop bag and hit the trails again for the return trip home.
Not knowing how my body would hold up this deep into the race, I was very happy to be able to keep a fast pace along the technical singletrack without the dreaded cramps creeping in as of yet. Passing a couple more racers before hitting Suck Creek Road, my confidence was high heading back up and over the ridge, passing one more runner along the way. I was safely in the top ten by now, and not too far behind a few more potential victims. Unfortunately, I was unable to run most of the steep climb back up to Mushroom Rock as the calf cramps finally started to rear their ugly heads. Once at the top, I simply had to keep moving and try to work out the cramps as the last of the big climbs was over and all that remained were undulating jeep roads back to the finish.
Unfortunately, I never caught sight of anybody else until I neared the finish line. I crossed under the banner in eighth place with a time of 4 hours, 33 minutes and change. That was twenty minutes better than my previous best from two years before. Unfortunately, with the Stump Jump attracting a greater number of racers each year, as well as many of the strongest runners around, my personal improvements don’t manifest themselves into a better placement overall. But that’s okay. This is an epic race in an epic place and I’m just glad to be a part of it. As usual, I have grandiose plans of heavy training in preparation for the 2007 race. Odds are that I’ll be toeing the starting line again next October wondering where all that extra training time went. C’est la vie.
Check the StumpJump information page for details about next year’s race. We hope you’ll join us!
See the Race Results and Photographs here.