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Nathan Holland: 2014 Chattanooga Mountains Stage Race, Day 2

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 2, Lookout Mountain (22 Miles):

Day 2 takes place on Lookout Mountain starting and finishing at the Lula Lake Land Trust area. Lula Lake offers some great hiking/running trails with some beautiful ridgeline views and a gorgeous waterfall.

This area is only open the first and last Saturday of each month so it’s a real treat when you get an opportunity to visit. The trails are moderately technical with most of the trails being double track or relatively wide single track.

In the past, Day 2 has never played out in my favor. On both of my previous attempts I ended up throwing up a few times during the race, struggling through to the finish, and left completely drained for the final stage on Sunday. This year I wanted to do my best to recover for Day 2 and complete this stage still feeling good. So, following Friday’s Stage 1 I spent plenty of time in the ice pool, I started refueling as soon as my run was complete, rolled and stretched my muscles numerous times, and tried to get as much rest as possible. It must have worked, because I woke up Saturday morning feeling great. My legs were loose, nothing was hurting and I felt nice and rested for the day’s run.

Stage 2 course is shaped kind of like a dumbbell. There are two circular loops that are connected by an out-and-back trail. Of all three days, Stage 2 offers the best and easiest venue for family and friends to watch the runners. The start/finish area starts at the main parking area on the Lula Lake property and runners will run through this area twice throughout the race before coming back in for the finish.

Friday’s race had been extremely humid and the late afternoon and evening thunderstorms that rolled through the valley Friday really helped knock down the humidity for Saturday’s race. The temperatures Saturday morning were in the upper-60s and were forecasted to be into the mid-70’s by noon. The atmosphere was very lively and runners were looking forward to the great running conditions and some beautiful trails. The race director, Randy had warned runners on day 1 that most runners hold back on Stage 1, feel great at the start of Stage 2 and end up blowing the wheels off, and end up wiped out for Stage 3. It was true, I had fell victim to this scenario in my previous two attempts so I was focused on not putting myself in that position again this year.

Before we knew it, it was time to start. Everyone took off under the Salomon Start/Finish Arch for a nice ~3/4 mile run down the gravel road to spread the field. Runners are treated to a beautiful waterfall on their left about 1/2-mile down the gravel road. Past the waterfall a single track trail juts off to the right taking runners over to the steepest and most technical climb of the day. There is a short steep climb that involves a few rocky switch backs and ropes for aid in making the ascent. With the steepest climb of the day complete within the first 1.5 miles of the run the single track opens up to a nice double track trail that continues climbing up the ridge line. Off to the left are some gorgeous views of the valley and usually a nice breeze.

This easy ridge climb continues for the next mile or so with a few flat sections mixed in to give your legs a break. It can seem like the ridge is never going to end and finally you make a hard right hand turn heading back down on another double track trail. Once you get closer to the bottom of the descent the trail narrows back to single track and starts winding in and out around the trees with some fun short climbs and quick descents. The last little bit of this initial loop has everyone running beside the creek back to an awesome wooden bridge that carries you over the creek and back to the start/finish area, Aid #1 (5.3mi). Coming through this aid station I was sitting around the top 10 again and felt like I was maintaining a reasonable pace that wouldn’t have the wheels falling off midway through the race.

Leaving Aid #1 runners run through the Lula Lake parking area and begin the climb out of the Lula Lake area and take a connector trail up toward Covenant College. For anyone familiar with the R/C Lookout Mountain 50 Mile Race some of this trail is similar to a portion of that race. It is a pretty consistent uphill climb for the next 5 miles to Aid #2 (10.7mi). The trails up to the next aid consist of washed out double track, smoother more runnable double track, some easy single track, and a little bit of exposed power line trails. There are a few downhill sections throughout to break up the perpetual climb up to the Covenant aid station.

Finally when you come out on the steepest and longest power trail climb of the day you’re almost to Aid #2. I had caught a runner on my way up to this climb and had been running with them now for the past mile or so and it was nice to have a little conversation. This Aid was stocked with all the normal aid station paraphernalia; water, HEED, sweet and salty stuff, oranges, apples, and then… some watermelon… Awesome! Cold watermelon on a hot day’s run is phenomenal! With some fresh water bottles and two fists full of watermelon we were off.

The nice thing about all that climbing up to Aid #2 is that for the next 5 miles back to Lula Lake you know that it’s pretty much all downhill! It’s the reward for the last 5 miles of climbing. About 2 miles out from Aid #2 I heard some fellow runners coming up from behind and was able to run with a small pack of 3-4 runners for about 2 miles. Just a couple miles past Aid #2 you finish the lollipop portion of the Covenant aid station loop and get back onto the stick portion heading back on the same trail that you ran on when you left Lula Lake. This is a nice motivational section because runners are now going both directions and it’s nice to give words of encouragement to your fellow runners and it’s just as nice to receive encouraging words from them as well.

As we made it back within earshot of Aid #3 (15.5mi) the couple of runners ahead of me got an extra boost of energy and picked up the pace and I let them go as I was not concerned with running anyone else’s race and was still feeling great and wanted to make sure I stayed with the plan of finishing day 2 with plenty left for the last day of running.

Leaving Aid #3 I was in 6th place and had a new that there was just a little of 6 miles left to get back to the start/finish line and see my wife and kids. Great motivation to finish as quickly as possible! Leaving Aid #3 runners head out to run the original loop in reverse, counterclockwise. This means a mile or so of flat single track winding around beside the creek before a nice steady climb back up on the ridge. This climb has really put a hurting on me in the past but not today. Before I knew it I had reached the top of the climb and began the next 1-1.5 mile “downhill” run along the ridge line. This ridge is considerably harder than it should be for a “downhill” run… or at least that’s what my body tells me every time I run this section.

It’s a fact, it’s definitely uphill when running it clockwise so it just make since that it should be downhill when running it counterclockwise. However, my legs always feel like it’s uphill both ways. Oh well, at least there are beautiful views off the side of the ridge which almost makes up for the difficulty to run this ridge fast. You’ll know you’re coming to the end of the ridge run and getting ready to make the quick descent back down to the gravel road when the double track ends and you jump back on single track. This single track runs for a short distance before starting a series or quick switch backs down to the hand-rope climb that will drop you down to the gravel road. Once at the bottom runners take a short 1/8-mile run up the road and past that amazing waterfall, now on your right.

Most people will have missed the waterfall at the start because it’s behind them as they’re running down the road, but this direction gives everyone an awesome view of this beautiful waterfall. After a quick view it’s time to get back to running because you’ve only got a mile or so to get back to the finish area. At the bridge runners will take a left and up a steep climb back on to some really fun single track. This trail climbs up and down, in and all around the roots, rocks and trees all along the creek that’s feeding that gorgeous waterfall. This is a fairly technical section and with 40+ miles over the past two days it can be somewhat treacherous if you get out of control. I’ve eaten it a few times in here but never more than a minor cut or bruise. As you make your way to a clearing and usually a small crowd of people you’ve made it to the last water crossing. This calf-high water crossing is pretty fun and feels great on tired legs and feet.

I’ve always seen these awesome pictures of people running through this creek and it looks so easy. In the past I’ve been on the verge of death and have only felt like crawling through the creek. This year I felt great so I figured I could run through and maybe get one of those “cool creek crossing” photos… Well, I almost made it. I was mere feet from the end of the crossing and I busted. So, instead of a cool photo of me running gracefully through the creek I got a picture of me on all fours clumsily climbing out of calf-high water! Oh well, it felt great. With only a 1/4-mile of gravel road to the finish I laughed off my clumsiness and sloshed off to meet my girls.

The finish area at Lula Lake is a blast. Runners can hang out with the family/friends and cheer on runners that are finishing as well as those that still have an hour or so of running. There is a great place for kids and adults to climb into the creek and lay around in the cool water. WildTrails and Rock/Creek have music, food, popsicles, and cold drinks to help runner recover for the next day.

Recovery included another bottle of Perpetuem, pasta, ice pool, and some playing in the creek with my little girls!

I thank God for the amazing trails and beautiful scenery at the Lula Lake Land Trust and for being able to enjoy this with my family and friends. Thank you to Mary (stepmom) for coming out and supporting me all day, Jodi (step… dog?), Katy and the girls for cheering me on through the finish and for hanging out with me in the ice pool and creek. A BIG thanks to Rock/Creek, WildTrails and all of the volunteers and personnel who put Stage 2 together.

Day 2 – 7th place, 2:34:10

Until Day 3…

Nathan D. Holland
2014 Rock/Creek Race Team

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