We had hiked some of the CT last year near Crossville, TN. That should have been a warning:
So, I didn't get to run Cloudsplitter this year due to other commitments. I really wanted to run a 50 mile or 100k this fall. Then I found the perfect race: Rock/Creek Stillhouse 100k in early Dec. Along the Cumberland Trail in Chattanooga, with about 10k elevation gain. This was an inaugural race, but the company puts on other races, to include one on the same trail called the Upchuck 50k (there is a story to the name of that race, look it up). The Stillhouse 100k was going to be a double Upchuck. Three trails: Soddy Creek, Possum Creek and Rock Creek, connected together. They even wheeled to course to 61.66 miles (although my gps said just over 58).
Cool video from my Suunto:
From my GPS, here are the course route and elevation profile:
Given that I didn't 'need' a race, we watched the weather closely before signing up for this. Another complication was the fires that were burning in the area. At one point, it looked like the trail was closed due to fire (it was re-opened about 2 weeks prior). The week before, rain finally came to the area (after 100+ days of no rain), but also brought high winds and a tornado. Fires followed by a storms (to include a tornado) that left ankle deep leaves on the trails at night. Wonderful!
I signed up on the Saturday prior, and that night, on cue, both Mark and I got sick. Just my luck...
One of the things that attracted me to Stillhouse was the 12:01 am start. I've never run through the night, so this was a good learning experience for me. The logistics of a long race are challenging enough, but add night and temperature changes, makes it even more so. The race would start at ~45 deg, drop to low 30's, then rise to mid-50's. I was not planning for Mark to crew for me, so I needed to be self-sufficient. Originally, the race info said two aid stations ~15 miles apart (the first would be hit twice). Drop bags at the turn-around, but also a few mandatory gear items. During the pre-race briefing, they announced that a 3rd aid station was going to be available at approximately the 23/39 mile mark. Even better!
As I mentioned, this was billed as a primitive race, so I was prepared to follow the CT blazes on the trees, knowing it was going to be tough at night. I was extremely happy when the RD announced that they had flagged the course with reflective tape and markers. Although at times, we'd have to stop and search for a reflection, it made it much easier than I feared.
The race had an aggressive cut-off (in my opinion) at the turn-around, given the terrain and darkness of 9 hours. The overall cut-off was 20 hours. Once again, I set a goal of 16 hours. And once again, I missed my goal. However, I am much happier about this miss than the one at World's End. More on this later.
Given the weather, we had to drive the six hours (poor plane just is not getting any love this year). We arrived a bit later than originally planned, but I was able to get ~1.5 hrs of 'sleep'. I use quotes, since I'm not quite sure I slept. Mark drove me to Soddy-Daisy and the start. Shortly before the start, he headed back to the warm bed in the hotel, while I started my day:
While waiting for the start, I had a chance to meet some other runners from OH. A group from Columbus had come down to run as well. It was great to meet them, finally, as we all part of a FB running group, but I haven't been able to make any of the runs they host.
At 12:01, we were led out by a truck up the road to the trail. I joked with one of the ladies as we were going through town that anyone up at that time must have been really confused as the 50 of us walked up the road at midnight. She mentioned that it probably wasn't a good idea to be in this part of town at night alone...I hoped that I wouldn't have to do that on the return trip.
We hit the trails and wow, they didn't disappoint. Rocks, leaves, twists and turns. Another runner, Greg, and I stuck together for the first few miles. It was nice having someone else to chat with, as well as find the turns. We chatted about races and other stuff. Turns out he had done Georgia Death Race in 2014 and was doing again in 2017 (same one I am doing). When we hit the area of the fire, you could smell the burnt, even though we couldn't see it. I slowly pulled ahead of Greg and was alone in the woods. Coming into the first aid station, I met up with two other ladies and two of us left at about the same time. Leah and I would meet up and change positions (for 1st and 2nd, it turned out) all the way out-bound. We enjoyed each other's company for a couple miles and chatted till one of us (mainly Leah) would pull away, only for me to catch up again at another time. The first 13 miles took just about 3 hours. I was told the next section, Possum Creek was a doozy, and it didn't disappoint. It took 3 hours to run that 10 miles, due to the rocks and climbs.
Somewhere around mile 28, as the sun came up, I grabbed a bite to eat. All of a sudden I felt it crunch a bit more than it should. Oh-shit! My temporary crown had fallen off my tooth. At least it didn't hurt, just a dull pain. I wrapped up the crown, and kept pressing forward. I hit the turn-around just over 8 hours, not bad considering the dark and technical course
At the turn-around, I needed to re-group. A couple of cups of ramen later, and I was off. I left just a few seconds after Leah and her pacer. As we hit the trail, Natalie came running in, looking strong. Leah had mentioned that Natale was a beast and this was her home trail. I passed Leah and figured this was a good time to put some space between us. Not a good thing for me to think, as I probably redlined it too much going out on the flatter part of the course. Natalie would ultimately catch me around mile 43 and win. (although I had assumed she finished at least an hour prior, in reality it was only 16 minutes). Leah would finish 18 minutes behind me. Only 3 of the 6 females that started finished.
Now the sun was up, although there was a shallow cloud layer. The temps never did warm up too much, and I was glad that I decided to keep the tights and long-sleeved shirt. But now that it was light I could see the trails that we had traveled in the dark.
The pictures start at the turn-around and work backwards to the start/finish
Not too bad, right?
Then you get this:
Lots of water falls and rock formations:
While the picture doesn't make this look that treacherous, going down it on sore legs was brutal:
Coming around the corner at one point during the night, these leaves looked whitish in color. I swear they looked like someone had hung a dead bird on the trail in front of me.
The last bridge over the Soddy Creek, into the area where the fire had burned:
The trails themselves were in good shape (where you could distinguish a trail):
By the time I got to the last section, I knew I wasn't going to make my goal. I kept thinking maybe I need to stop being so aggressive on my goals. The one thing I didn't do was bag it in. I had the cut-off made, and like World's End, I could have hiked it in. I wasn't falling for that this time. I kept pushing and running when it was flat and hiking when it was treacherous. I was kept telling myself that now that I could see the trail, there's no way that I would want to do it in the dark on tired legs. I was going to finish strong. When I hit the pavement for the last mile, I almost broke into tears since I was so happy that I had pushed as hard as I could. I came in as strong as I could and finished in 2nd place, with a time of 16:38. Not bad, considering very little to no sleep since 0700 the day prior.
This picture was taken a few minutes after I finished (about the time I realized I had not stopped my gps):
Not knowing where the 3rd place female was, they presented Natalie and I our jug:
This was a tough race: 49 people signed up, 29 finished, 8 did not start, 12 did not finish. 3/6 females finished. Three of the five folks from Columbus finished, and Greg did finish as well, just making the cut-off at 19:56. Poor guy had to run that last section in the dark and rain. That was a great finish. The leading man finished in 12:13, so about 4 hours ahead of us ladies. I placed 19th overall. Even better, I got to eat dinner with Mark after a long race race! (although I barely kept my eyes open).
So you may be wondering where Mark was...well he was able to get a round of golf in and meet me at the finish. We were able to sleep in on Sunday and see my sister Kate for breakfast. It was good to see her and hear how her career as a news reporter in Chattanooga was going.
This was a wonderful race. I was impressed with the course markings, not once did I get off-course, even though there were times that we did have to stop and search for a few seconds. The aid stations were well stocked and had hot tea/coffee/soup when needed. (I heard they didn't flinch when one guy asked for ramen coffee). The swag was pretty good too. We got a nice cotton long sleeved shirt and finishers got a hoodie. As 2nd place, I got a medium sized whiskey jug (unfortunately, not filled) from Chattanooga Whiskey, as well as a tour. And I get to pick a pair of laSportiva shoes. Cool!
Some lessons I learned on this trek:
1. Starting at 12:01 is tough. Try to get to race site day prior (Thurs for a Sat morning start). That way you can wake up on Friday and then take a mid-day nap.
2. Bank sleep week prior. Since I was sick, that wasn't too hard. I was getting 9+ hours for a few nights prior
3. Caffeine only goes so far. I started to get headaches, although I didn't take that much. I had caffeinated Tailwind, small cup of tea and some Run Gum. I was most tired at about noon, but that was when the headaches were the worst (or was it a dull throbbing from my missing crown?)
4. I ran with new shoes. First time for a blister on the back of my achilles. I originally thought a stick had cut me, but I'm not so sure. It didn't bother me too much and I'd forget about it each time I'd come into an aid station. Other than that, my Altra Lone Peaks worked great (like normal).
5. I figured out some technics on night running. My new Petzel Tikka+ lasted the full 8 hours on one set of batteries. I had it on low, and used my Nathan Fire 300 handlamp on low as well (with one charge). When climbing hills, I'd turn off the handlamp to save battery.
6. When sending text messages to your family to let them know your status, make sure you inform them when unexpected aid station shows up. I sent Mark a note letting him know I was at mile 39 aid station. He didn't realize that they had added one and figured my 'math in public' was off. And was bummed that he was going to miss my finish, since he was still on the golf course.
y. Best of all: I slew my demon from World's End. I may not have finished with the time I wanted, but I finished by giving it my all. I didn't surrender to that inner voice that kept telling me to walk it in. First of all, there was no way I wanted to do those rocks in the dark again at that point.
Now on to Georgia Death Race!