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Nathan Holland on finishing second at the Scenic City Trail Marathon

Rock/Creek Scenic City Trail Marathon & Half Marathon
Saturday, April 26, 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 Soft Flask, Hammer Gel Flask(s)

For 2014 the Scenic City Trail Marathon & Half Marathon races were moved up into late April to make way for the inaugural Thunder Rock 100 race in mid-May. This ended up being a blessing on race day with morning temperatures in the mid-50’s and early afternoon temperatures just creeping into the low-70’s. This was a sigh of relief considering that most of the time hot and humid temperatures reeked havoc on the Scenic City runners.

Both of these races take place in the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Raccoon Mountain facility. The Raccoon Mountain facility is an enormous pumped storage hydroelectric plant just 15-minutes outside of Chattanooga. Runners enjoy a nice loop around the huge water reservoir at the top of the mountain as they drive around to the start/finish area at Laurel Point. The Raccoon Mountain trails are some of the best running and mountain biking trails around Chattanooga. They are relatively flat, not overly technical and offer some of the most gorgeous river gorge views. It’s no surprise that the Scenic City Trail races are one of the most popular trail races that Rock/Creek offers. These two races offer a great transition for road runners to get into the trail racing scene.

Both the half and full marathon races start simultaneously. Both race groups run the first 11.5 miles together before the half marathoners split off and run the last 1.6 miles to the finish, while the marathoners head out for a second loop. The race kicked off and all runners took off for a little less than a 1-mile run on the asphalt before dumping onto the trails. I knew that there were some fast runners in the mix today and didn’t want to get caught up trying to run someone else’s race so I tried to focus on staying relaxed and hitting my targets.

I’m an Excel geek so I like to put every race into a spreadsheet with expected pace and goal times for each aid station. I try not to beat myself up too much if I miss those targets but it does good for me to plan out my race that way. Up to Aid #1 at the East Overlook (2.8mi) I was right on my target time and feeling good. I don’t know where I was in the pack exactly, somewhere in the top 10, and really didn’t care because I didn’t know how many runners ahead of me were running the half or the full.

Leaving Aid #1 we had roughly 2-3 miles of relatively flat fast section and a couple of easy descent sections that really let you pick up the pace easily. Then about a mile or so from Aid #2 (7.1mi) runners have a good climb up the Grindstone trail, which is comprised of a couple of moderate climbs, switchbacks and a good downhill bringing runners into the aid station.

A little less than a mile from Aid #2 runners hit a very steep descent section that drops them down behind the visitor center. This is the rockiest and steepest section of the entire race. This trail is a lot of fun and you can really let the legs fly. Once at the bottom of the ravine, runners have roughly 4 miles to Aid #3. There are some short steep climbs, a few short technical sections, fast running descents, and beautiful views. There is a section of trail known as Six Flags that detours runners off of the main trail, up a short climb and then lets runners bomb back and forth from one side of the ravine to the other over and over again all the way back down to the main trail. It reminds you a lot of riding a roller coaster.

Back on the main trail and just before the half marathoners and full marathoners reach their separation point runners exit the woods and run a few hundred feet on a rock bridge that sits at the base of the reservoir… and It’s pretty spectacular. Leaving the rock bridge runners re-enter the woods where the half marathoners hang a right and complete their final 1.6 miles to the finish and marathoners head left and run a short climb to Aid #3 (11.9mi). From Aid #3 runners cross the Laurel Point road and jump back into the woods heading back up toward East Overlook aid station (Aid #1 & 4) for the second loop. I hadn’t seen anyone since about mile 7 and was a little under my targets for each of the aid stations.

So far I was still feeling good and hadn’t really noticed that I wasn’t taking in as many calories as I had planned. However, as I started through mile 18 I could feel some fatigue setting into my legs. My training for the Thunder Rock 100 mile race hadn’t involved a lot of speed work so I wasn’t doing so well with taking in calories with my heart rate higher than normal. At the 2013 Scenic City Marathon I got myself into a pickle around mile 19 and struggled through some puking rally sessions through the last 7 miles. With the shuttering thought of repeating my puke sessions I decided to bump the pace back a little and focus on getting my heart rate down a little and keeping what fluids and nutrition I was able to take in, down!

I was still ahead of schedule as I started back in toward Aid #6 (23.8mi). I still hadn’t seen anyone in a while or heard how far I was from anyone in front of me so I figured I must have been well out of reach of the podium. This didn’t bother me too bad because I knew that if I could hammer the next few miles strong I could still beat my target finish time. I got a quick cheer from my beautiful wife Katy, my two little girls and the rest of my family/crew and tried to focus on finishing this last section strong.

This section is similar to the last few miles at Rock/Creek’s StumpJump 50k. The last few miles are within earshot of the finish line and you can even see it a time or two… this can really knock the wind out of someone who’s not having a great day or is just ready to be done. After listing to the finishing music for what felt like an eternity I came around the last corner and saw the asphalt walk path that I knew would lead me back to the Laurel Point road loop and take me to the finish. It’s funny that no matter how tired you are at this point, it’s extremely difficult to walk because as runners emerge from the walk path they are met by a slew of cheering people encouraging them to the finish line.

As I ran around the Laurel Point road loop up to the finish line I heard Randy announce that the 2nd place overall finisher was coming in and I was floored! I had no idea that I was in a podium position and was blown away. I saw my wife and daughters standing just to the side of the finishing gate and ran over to grab my youngest and ran across the finish with her in my arms. It ended up being a great day… I was thrilled to have not gotten sick any, I was able to keep my wits enough to back it down when the odds were turning against me and still able to finish in under my 3-hour goal.

2nd Place Overall at 2:54:33

Of course, none of this was of my own doing and I owe all the glory to God. He kept me and hundreds of others safe throughout the day and provided a wonderful day for everyone to enjoy this beautiful course. Of course a big thanks to my family/crew for being there to support me. A big shout out to Rock/Creek for all of the awesome running gear and support. One last thank you to all of the volunteers and personnel who helped put together the 2014 Scenic City Trail Marathon & Half Marathon.

Until the next race,
Nathan D. Holland
2014 Rock/Creek Race Team