The Stump Jump is one of the easiest 50K’s in the East.
There’s really not much climbing–the total is only about 2200′.
Aside from a couple of little rocky patches, the trail is smooth and
non-technical. It’s a much easier course than Mountain Mist.
Oh yes, and possums are purple, have fairy wings, and fly South for the Winter.
‘Well, this is a pretty nasty hill, early in the race, but it must be one of very few, since there’s only about 2000 feet of climbing. I guess I’ll push it while I can.’
The course began as asphalt and stayed that way for a half-mile or so. I charged ahead to take the lead shortly after the gun and maintained this position for several tens of yards. It was quite satisfying. I felt like the real Big Red. There was a short fella and a fella with a big tattoo on one leg at the front. I ogled them from behind before overtaking them in my one show of strength for the day. I knew the short fella was going to be strong, because the tattooed fella called him Josh.
The tattooed fella, though larger and bit rougher, I knew would be swift, because of the tattoos. (You see, this inking contains a not so coded message, regardless of the graphical details: ‘I’m real fast and I torture ALL of the hills.’ Most of my competent ultra friends have these markings. I, alas, have nothing remarkable on my peel aside from a few hairy moles.) Later, my friend Stephen, who also has no tattoos, would explain to me that this kid was none other than Bryan Dayton, training partner of Dave Mackey, destroyer of 50K fields. Stephen also explained that Bryan was at the Stump Jump because his parents live in the South, not far from Signal Mountain, in Tullahoma, Tennessee. ‘He’s probably a nice guy with a good upbringing,’ I reflected.
My strategy was to go out hard then settle into my true place in the universe within that No Man’s Land, that Void, between the leaders and the masses. Hard indeed. After six or seven miles of brutally rocky, wildly ragged, Cumberland style punishment, I really thought I might DNF. ‘This is gonna require anywhere from 1.5 to 2.0 liters of Coca Cola to pull off,’ I thought to myself. ‘Pretty soon I’m gonna start gettin passed like a Sunday driver. The Tennessee River Gorge sure is pretty today.’
I was quite miserable, but in the end, I learned that I was in a lot better endurance shape than I thought, as I was able to continue making myself miserable for the next four hours. I could do nothing with the bigger climbs but walk fast and shuffle intermittently but I managed to blaze the downs and the very rare flats hard enough to maintain my self-respect.
At mile six or seven, the leader (intimidatingly tattooed Bryan) comes up behind me and passes me! Holy! ‘How far ahead are they?’ ‘Around ten minutes I would guess.’ Later I would learn that a whole lot of folks took a wrong turn early in the race and accumulated a few bonus miles in the process. This could partially explain why no one passed me in the race. Bryan, despite having lost ten, fifteen minutes went on to win in a course record time of, get this, 4:01. When he passed me this second time, I noticed how colorful and elaborate the picture on his leg really was.
A massive boulder perched on a delicate column. The shattered remains of an old plateau, crust of an ocean bottom, sliding away over eons. The gaping maw opening up to catch me on its loamy palate, to chew on me with its granite teeth. I’m tossed up and down on phantasmagoric earth waves, splattered over a field of smooth, ancient stones, thrown down the devil’s staircase. I hear no footsteps behind me. I catch two men, uniformed in black, in a mossy gulch. ‘Where do you come from?’ I came from Rocket City, but I was born in the valley below at Memorial Hospital. Cool.
I pass over a familiar road again. A man at an aid station notes, ‘It says here Big Robinson for runner number 90.’ ‘I’m an egotist and I’m sparing a more accomplished athlete from having his reputation intertwined with mine.’ Tripwires snatch at my size 14 Orizabas. Fear of the two men in black pulls me up a nauseating climb to the last aid station. I slam four Coca-Colas, for the sixth and last time. A young kid wearing green appears before me, swaggering, tank absolutely empty. ‘C’mon, kid, let’s go!! I know you got somethin’ left.’ I hit asphalt again, flying, all out. I see the clock at the finish line at the top of the last, small hill. 5:01. My chest heaves and embarassingly loud grunts issue forth. I might have said a cuss word, but I don’t think it came out fully formed. Shoulda broken five. Coincidences reach up from the past to weigh on my used up mind.
As confirmed by another runner’s altimeter watch, the climb is much more than 2200′. More like 3500′. With the extra upsy-downsies that the organizers missed with their GPS mappings, they also probably missed a little horizontal distance.
The Truth is that the Stump Jump is a formidable eastern 50K (especially if you approach it with the mindset that it’ll be easy) with a lot of technical running. It’s at least as difficult as Mountain Mist, if not more, and it should be measured in units of Horton miles. That is The Truth.
More importantly, the Stump Jump is a beautiful course in an unusual geological setting. I had outrageous fun. The aid stations are wonderful and staffed by extremely helpful and friendly people who understand the importance of Coca-Cola. The goodie bag was totally on, with two pairs of technical wool trail socks, a North Face drop bag, a Marmot tech-T, and the latest Trail Runner. Saves me at least two shopping trips. Thank you. I’ll see you again next fall.