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 Calf Sleeves, Salomon Sense Pro Shoes, Suunto Ambit 2 (HR) Watch, Camelbak Handheld Bottle, Salomon S-Lab Soft Flask, Hammer Gel Flask(s)
Day 3, Signal Mountain (20 Miles):
Well, we finally made it to Day 3. The first two days had taken their toll on quite a few runners and for good reason. Forty miles, a little over 4,000 feet of climbing and plenty of heat and humidity. They always say ‘save the best for last’ and Day 3 is by far the best day of this stage race. These trails have a great mix of super technical trails, steep climbs, fast down hills, almost 2,700 feet of climbing, and some gorgeous views.
Just like Day 2, Day 3 has never been a ‘good’ day for me. I’ve usually been so shot by day 3 that my favorite course ends up being a long suffering day in the woods. However, this year was shaping up a lot better… Thank you Jesus. Going into Day 3 my legs still felt good, I wasn’t having any issues with cramping/soreness and was doing a pretty good job of staying hydrated and fueled up for the last day.
Stage 3 course starts at the Signal Mountain High School soccer fields and runs some of the same trails as R/C StumpJump 50k course out to the Suck Creek Road crossing. From there runners make a 180-degree turn and head back up the same steep rocky climbs they just completed to begin a big 15-mile loop.
Everyone limped, hobbled and gathered around the starting line for the last 20 miles of fun. The last few seconds ticked off of the starting clock and in no time we were off and running. A short run through the parking lot and then off down some small gravel double track for the next mile to help spread the field before reaching the single track at Mushroom Rock.
This gravel double track has wreaked havoc on plenty of runners in the past and this year was no exception. There are plenty of washouts and areas that jump out and grab runner’s ankles and can take a runner out very quickly. Thankfully I didn’t have any issues of my own for this section. Once at Mushroom Rock (MR) you take a long sweeping left hand turn down to some fast single track that drop runners down to an awesome wood swinging bridge at the bottom the gorge. My best advice for getting across the swinging bridge quickly and efficiently is a very fast walk/shuffle. Trying to run makes the bridge oscillate and causes any running difficult and extremely awkward.
Across the bridge runners start making their way back up the climb on the other side. This climb is fairly runnable with very little technical sections but the roughly 400 feet of elevation gain in such a short distance make it difficult. At the top runners have a short ‘flat-er’ section before dropping down another 300 foot steep technical trail to the Aid #1 (3.3mi) at Suck Creek Road. Anyone shooting to beat any of their fellow runners will like this out and back section because it gives you an opportunity to see how far ahead or how far behind you are from your competition.
Leaving Aid #1 runner turn right around and begin heading back toward Mushroom Rock. The trip back to MR is a little more difficult than the initial trip from MR. Despite having two difficult climbs and only one good down hill on the way back to MR the return trip always feels somewhat easier because of the cheers and encouragement runners give each other as they pass on the out and back section.
Coming back up to Mushroom Rock I noticed that I hadn’t seen a couple of runners that had been ahead of me on the overall time from the previous two days. I found out from some people at MR that one had dropped and the other was taking it very slow both due to some ankle injuries. Relieved to be back up the second climb and at the MR intersection I knew that the next few miles over to Aid #2 (9.4mi) were a relatively flat. The trails over to Edwards Point and Aid #2 are a lot of fun. These trails twist and wind around through the woods running right on the edge of the ridge giving some great views.
There are plenty of runnable trails, rocks, roots, vegetation, and all the great elements of trail running that make this a very fun section. Rolling into Aid #2 at Edwards Point there is a spectacular view of the river below and the ridge lines surrounding the river. It’s definitely worth a quick look and photo while you refill water bottles and refuel.
I was sitting in 5th place at Aid #2 and hadn’t seen or heard anyone in the last 4 miles. It sounded like the four runners ahead of me were doing pretty well and I would have to make up a decent amount of time to catch them. Everything still felt pretty good and I figured I would do my best to make up some ground but was still shooting to have a sick-free Stage Race and figured I would do the best I could with the last 10+ miles of the race.
The trail over to Aid #3 at Signal Point is only about 2.5-miles but is some of the most technical couple miles of trail out of the entire Stage Race. There are a few wooden swinging bridges in this section and plenty of rocks for those who enjoy the technical terrain. To top this section off there is a real hard climb as you reach the base of Signal Point. There are a combination of man made wooden stairs, rock steps and cables to help everyone make the climb up to Aid #3 (11.8mi).
Immediately leaving Aid #3 everyone runs up a short road section, past some families standing on the road handing runners lemonade and coke drinks and then past a senior home where there always seems to be some elderly people rocking on the front porch and cheering on everyone. It’s great to get some encouragement from everyone after making that Signal Point climb. Just past the senior home the course turns left off of the road and runs down beside a golf course on a nice double track trail that rolls smoothly down to some more difficult creek running sections.
The creek running section is quite interesting, there are a lot of off-camber sections, rocks, roots, loose dirt, sketchy “trail” sections, etc. I was happy that I was able to run most of this , where in years past I’ve had to walk a large portion of this section. With God’s help too I didn’t break anything. I ate it at least 2-3 times and had even more close calls. As you close in on Aid #4 you start to run up and away from the creek. At Aid #4 (16.4mi) runners emerge from the single track onto a jeep road and gather any last few supplies for the last 3+ miles back to the finish area.
These last few miles back up the finish are non-technical and consist of forest service roads and a little bit of double track once you get back toward the school. I still hadn’t seen anyone since early on in the race so I figured I would push on as much as possible and at a minimum try to maintain my 5th place position.
This last few miles went much faster than years past but were still fairly difficult considering the uphill climb that makes up a good portion of this section. The thought seeing my wife and daughters at the finish liner were a great motivation for me to run this last section strong. I noticed if I could maintain my current pace I had a chance to break 3 hours. I talked with God a little to take my mind off the hurt, focused on maintaining a good stride and before I knew it I was within earshot of the finish.
Coming up the last small climb I started looking for my family and found them standing down by the finish line cheering me on as I emerged from the woods. Coming up to the finish I was able to grab my youngest and cross the finish line with her. What a great Father’s Day!
I wasn’t able to chase down any of the lead four runners but managed to hold on to 5th place for the day and with God’s help was able to do it in under 3 hours.
I found my way straight to the ice pool to congratulate the other runners and cool off. My wife, daughters and other family gathered around the pool to congratulate me and the other runners as well and I was able to steal a few kisses from my beautiful wife.
Thanks to all the good memories and laughs from all the runners. Nashville crew… thanks for the great competition and the Shaggy comparison. I love it! Thanks to God for the great trails and beautiful scenery on all three days. Thank you to my family for crewing and cheering me on for this Father’s Day weekend. Thanks to Rock/Creek, WildTrails and all of the volunteers and personnel who put Stage 3 and the entire weekend together.
Day 3 – 5th place, 2:58:57
Overall 3 Day Total – 5th place, 7:41:53
Until the next race.
Nathan D. Holland
2014 Rock/Creek Race Team