Rock/Creek Chattanooga Mountain Stage Race – 3 Days, 3 Mountains, 60 Miles
Friday, June 13 – Sunday, June 15, 2014
Gear: Patagonia Air Flow Shirt, Patagonia Strider Pro Shorts, Smartwool PhD Run Graduated Compression Socks, Salomon Sense Pro Shoes, Suunto Ambit 2 (HR) Watch, Camelbak Handheld Bottle, Salomon S-Lab Soft Flask, Hammer Gel Flask(s)
Oh stage race… You have been an elusive sphinx for me in the past. The past two years I have tried to break the eight-hour mark for this three-day event, each time falling short by roughly 30 minutes. Well, God willing, not this year.
Competition this year was pretty good, there were some fast people from Nashville, Huntsville and the surrounding Chattanooga area. Then there were some super-fast people from Florida/Colorado who came out to burn up the course. The Stage Race always seems to attract a great group of people from around the country and is one of my favorite aspects of this race.
Day 1, Raccoon Mountain (18 Miles):
The Raccoon Mountain trails are minor-to-moderately technical, very runnable single track trails that are a lot of fun to run. The very popular Rock/Creek Scenic City Trail Half and Full Marathons are run on most of the same trails with Day 1 of the Stage Race adding a few miles of different trails.
Driving up to Raccoon Mountain on Friday morning, there was an awesome cloud/fog mixture engulfing the entire mountain and temperatures were in the mid-to-upper 60s. After catching up with a few old friends and putting some faces with some new social media friends at the Laurel Point start/finish area everyone started gathering around for the start of the race.
The start of Day 1 sends runners down a short 1/8-mile pavement section before taking a hard left onto the single track. Thus, it is vital to push hard for this first pavement section, as otherwise you’ll be stuck in the conga line of walking and jogging the first mile or so until you have a chance to spread out.
As we counted down the last five seconds off the start cloc,k everyone put on their game face and was ready to go out and run. As we shot off the starting line I was running beside Memphis superstar Olaf Wasternack and not 100 feet into the run he abruptly pulled off to the side of the pavement and fell out of sight. I knew that Olaf was a strong contender, so I was hoping that everything was alright.
The first few miles up to aid station one seem to fly by with all of the excitement at the start of the Stage Race. This makes it easy to get sucked in and push yourself too hard and pay for it later. Keeping that in the back of my mind I decided to focus on staying comfortable and keep reminding myself that I still had two more days.
Within a mile in the race we were spread out from the main pack and I was running alone somewhere in the top ten. Coming through Aid #1 (4.7mi) everything still felt good except the buckets of perspiration pouring out of my body… I didn’t realize how humid it was at the beginning of the race but could definitely tell how high it was now.
The next 3+ miles rolled by quickly as I worked my way down to Aid #2 (8.0mi). For those that are familiar with the Scenic City Trail Race, just past Aid #2 is where the course changes for the Stage Race. In the stage race runners run the Small Intestines trail before running up the Grindstone trail over to Aid #3 around the Visitor Center. Small Intestines is a nice section of trails that winds in and around allowing runners to see people in front of them and behind them throughout various stages of the section.
Somewhere around mile 10 or so I finally heard someone coming from behind me and turned to see Olaf blistering his way up the trail. Come to find out, Olaf’s running watch was ripped off his arm only 50 feet into the race and he made the decision to stop and grab the expensive piece of equipment. This minor setback put Olaf at the complete back of the pack and really shows how good of an athlete he is to have worked his way all the way back up to the top ten despite having to pass some 200+ runners and all on tight single track trails.
We had caught another fellow superstar, Cody Goodwin. Once the two were together they seemed to feed off of each other’s energy. I ran with them as long as I could but soon realized I was feeling very tired and decided I couldn’t stay with them as I seemed to be hitting a low.
By the time I reached Aid #3 (13.0mi) I was almost completely out of energy. I knew the next 5 miles were going to be a little rough but figured as long as I could get through it without losing too much ground I could recover for Saturday and Sunday stages. Leaving Aid #3 runners have 1/2-to-3/4-mile of easy downhill/flat running before coming to the visitor center and getting a very fast downhill section that really lets runners fly. Once at the bottom runners begin climbing out of the other side via a few quick switchbacks followed by some rolling climbs.
Although this section of trails offers some of the most gorgeous views of the river and gorge I was not in the best mood to enjoy the views. I wasn’t expecting to hit a low like this on Day 1… I figured holding back and taking it easy would have left me feeling great the entire race with plenty of extra for Saturday and Sunday, but it didn’t feel like that at all. I struggled to keep any kind of decent pace through these last 5-miles. About 2 miles from the finish I heard the inevitable sound of footsteps and conversation as two other runners caught me and quickly passed me.
Thanks to God for giving me the strength to push through to the finish because I managed to retain a jog/run on flat and downhill sections and a walk/suffer-fest on the climbs. Finally I found my way to the R/C flags taking me off of the single track and back onto the pavement section that would lead me back to the start/finish line at Laurel Point. Crossing the line I was greeted by my beautiful wife and daughters who came out to cheer me on.
Recovery included a bottle of Perpetuem, bananas, pretzels, ice pool, and figuring out why I bonked so bad. As it turned out “everyone” seemed to struggle more than expected for Day 1. At the end of the day I wrote it off as very high humidity and changing my normal drink plan to Skratch Labs products versus Perpetuem and some decreased calorie intake. Don’t get me wrong the Skratch Lab products are great and I don’t fault them, just my failure to play with concentration mixtures enough before the race to understand how my body would fare during race conditions. Decided I would go back to my tried and true mixtures for Day 2 and see how that played out.
As always I want to give all the glory to God and thank Him for keeping me and all of the other runners safe throughout the day. Thanks to my beautiful family for coming to watch me finish. Thank you Rock/Creek for the running gear and support. Thanks to all of the volunteers and personnel who made the first day of the Stage Race happen.
Day 1 – 6th place, 2:08:46
Until Day 2…
Nathan D. Holland
2014 Rock/Creek Race Team