Despite tremendous potential, Chattanooga wasn’t always a trail town. Tucked along a scenic curve in the Tennessee River, the place was once a gritty industrial town, notoriously identified as the "dirtiest city in America" by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare in 1969. These days, things couldn’t be more different. With more than 50 trailheads within half an hour of downtown, Chattanooga has emerged as a hub for all kinds of outdoor lovers—especially trail runners.
Over the last 15 years, Chattanooga has flourished as a bucket list destination for trail runners from all over America. Yet, less than two decades ago, there was only one trail race in town—the 6.7-mile Wauhatchie Trail Race.
Enter the local outdoor retailer Rock/Creek.
In the autumn of 2000, while on a run from Signal Point to Mullens Cove in the Prentice Cooper Wilderness Management Area, Matt Sims (then manager of Rock/Creek’s store in downtown Chattanooga) took note of both the stunning backdrop and lack of trail traffic, and dreamed up what would become the city’s first distance trail race—the StumpJump 50k. Just a year later, in 2001, Rock/Creek launched the River Gorge 10.2 mile, and the following year, the StumpJump 50k premiered.
In the years since, Rock/Creek has continued to expand Chattanooga’s trail race repertoire, crafting an eclectic lineup of events, with enough range to garner interest from both newbies and seasoned trail racers—and the runners keep coming back. Rock/Creek’s Chad Wykle says, "It comes down to listening to the land managers and race participants. We keep doing a good job of listening to the community."
The trail series hasn’t just put Chattanooga on the map as a destination for runners all over the country—the races are also helping to conserve local outdoor spaces, fostering both the development of new running routes and the maintenance of existing trails. The Rock/Creek Trail Series continues to focus on local communities, partnering with Chattanooga-area environmental and outdoor-related non-profits, including the Tennessee River Gorge Trust, the Cumberland Trail Conference, the Southeast Youth Conservation Corps, and the Southern Off Road Biking Association. In 2016, the trail race series raised close to $8,000 for local non-profits.
In 2017, nearly 1,000 runners from 36 states and three different countries are expected to descend on Chattanooga for the half dozen races in the Rock/Creek Trail Series, featuring a lineup which will include:
Rock/Creek River Gorge 10.2
*March 25, 2017 *
Rock/Creek’s oldest race kicks off the trail series for 2017, and is early enough in the season that chilly temperatures and spring rain often add to the challenge. The River Gorge 10.2 also remains one of Rock/Creek’s most popular races, as veterans return year after year to navigate the technical (and often slick) singletrack of the Mullens Cove Loop in the Prentice Cooper State Forest. The course transitions between sweeping vistas of the Tennessee River and a forest tour featuring beech, hemlock, hickory, and rhododendron.
Rabid Raccoon 25k
*May 6, 2017 *
While many locals are familiar with Raccoon Mountain’s extensive bike accessible trail system, the Rabid Raccoon 25k still manages still manages to surprise runners with a challenging course. Introduced in 2016, the races begins atop Raccoon Mountain, first taking participants on a 5-mile descent, courtesy the Live Wire Trail. Once at the bottom, runners head right back up to the top, along a less-than-subtle ascent of a trail aptly named High Voltage. Only adding to the race’s appeal, the top ten finishers are awarded raccoon skulls, and the first 100 runners receive raccoon jawbones, but don’t worry—Rock/Creek’s Chad Wykle insists, "No raccoons were harmed."
October 7, 2017
One of Rock/Creek’s longest lived and most beloved trail events since premiering in 2002, the StumpJump 50k has drawn ultra-runners from around the country—becoming so popular, that entries had to be capped at 350 to ensure the race experience remained fun and low-key. Graced with a stunning backdrop—including bluff-fringed rivers views, airy plateaus, and leafy forests—the course uses singletrack trails on Signal Mountain and Walden Ridge. Racers cover a challenging terrain with suspension bridges, rock stairs, soggy creeks, and 6,000+ feet of climbing.
** October 8, 2017 **
The popularity of the StumpJump 50k spurred the creation of a bite-sized version—the StumpJump 15k. Held the morning after the 50k ultra, the StumpJump 15k still treats runners to a fast-paced, technical course on a segment of a 50k loop through Edwards Point and Mushroom Rock. Rock/Creek’s Chad Wykle praises the abbreviated version of the ultra-race course, saying, "the shorter race is really compelling, and crosses a great series of trails all Chattanoogans should be proud of."
Stone Fort Stomp 4.2
October 28, 2017
One of the more unique runs in the Rock/Creek trail race series, the Stone Fort Stomp is the ideal gateway event for runners that aren’t quite ready for rougher backwoods trails. The race route hits the paved golf cart tracks of the Montlake Golf Club, while still treating runners to plenty of punishing ascents. For dual-athletes, the 4.2-mile run can also be paired with entry into the Stone Fort Bouldering Competition, part of the annual Triple Crown Bouldering Series.
December 2, 2017
An elite race limited to only experienced ultrarunners, the Stillhouse 100k is undoubtedly among the most challenging distance races in the South, drawing about 50 participants in 2016. The route is basically a double of the Upchuck 50k (a distance race named for a mid-run snack that didn’t sit well), taking ultrarunners on an out-and-back along the Cumberland Trail, featuring a course requiring racers to navigate three different gorges—Soddy Creek, Possum Creek, and Rock Creek—and with nearly 12,000 feet of elevation gain.
Originally written by RootsRated for Rock/Creek.
Featured image provided by Mark McKnight