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Nathan Holland on the 2014 Rock/Creek StumpJump 50k

Rock/Creek StumpJump 50k
Saturday, October 4, 2014

Tributes: It’s hard to find the words to pay respect to someone who I didn’t even know… However, from runner-to-runner, father-to-father, son-to-son, and brother-to-brother through Christ Jesus I wanted to honor Eric Jacks, the ultimate runner from Saturday’s race. Our prayers and thoughts are with Eric’s family and friends.

To all of the volunteers, runners and people who helped Mr. Jacks and his family I have the utmost respect for each and every one of you. I always knew that the trail running community was a great group of people who sincerely cared for one another and that was truly shown on Saturday.

Gear: Patagonia Air Flow Shirt, Patagonia Strider Pro Shorts, Patagonia Arm Warmers, Walmart “Special” $1 Gloves, Smartwool Socks, Salomon Sense Pro Shoes, Suunto Ambit 2 (HR) Watch, Camelbak Handheld Bottle

Race Details: Rock/Creek’s StumpJump is by far the largest and most popular race in the Salomon Rock/Creek Trail Series. Both the 11-mile course and the coveted 50k course give runners a beautiful experience of running through some sensational double and single track trails in Chattanooga. Runners are exposed to some of the best double and single track trails around Chattanooga in less than half a mile from the start. Once onto the trails runners will continue on these beautiful trails for the duration of the each race with only a few minor road crossings on the 50k course.

StumpJump also signifies the first sporting event of Chattanooga’s River Rocks festival. Now in its 5th year, River Rocks is the 30-day event that brings world-class and amateur athletes together to enjoy all that Chattanooga has to offer for the outdoor lifestyle.

The real StumpJump experience begins 2-3 months in advance. Thanks to and the local trail running community there are generally 4-5 group and/or demo runs hosted by Rock/Creek, Wild Trails or just local enthusiasts that get people out on the course many, many weeks before race day.

These group runs are great opportunities for locals and out-of-towners to come and experience sections of the course before having to put it all together on race day.

As race day starts closing in the StumpJump buzz really gets fired up with the very popular Vendor Fair. The Vendor Fair brings all the of the biggest names in running and outdoor gear out to Chattanooga’s Coolidge Park to show off their latest paraphernalia. This is a great opportunity to try on the latest gear, talk with vendors about future products and developments, hang out with friends, pick up your race packet, eat some great food, and of course get some free swag! This year was a little different due to some foul weather that was moving through the area. So, the 2014 Vendor Fair was a scaled down version that took place at Rock/Creek’s Two North Shore Store and still provided a great location to hang out, check out some of the latest outdoor gear and visit with friends before Saturday’s run.

Thanks to the storm front that wreaked havoc on Friday’s vendor fair the cold front on the tail end of that system made for great conditions for Saturday’s race. The mid-80 degree temps that had been around in the days leading up the race were nowhere to be found. Saturday morning saw lows in the 40’s and highs just barely creeping into the 60’s providing fantastic running conditions.

StumpJump starts are always a lot of fun. There are generally a lot of spectators, vendor booths setup all around and a lot of energy in the air getting everyone amped up for the races. To help separate the two runs the 11-mile race starts at 7:50 am with the 50k runners getting started at 8:00 am. This year my wife, Katy, was able to volunteer at the start/finish area and I was thankful to steal a good luck kiss just before the start of the race… this is a much better way to start the race rather than looking for good luck loving from one of my friends… I’m sorry Cary Long and Michael Scott, you know I still love you guys!

Before we knew it the starting clock was down to less than 10 seconds and we were off. Running out of the school parking lot runners take a short 1/2-mile run down the asphalt toward the soccer fields before jumping on the double track trails that surround the high school. The double track trails very runnable, consisting of well packed dirt and rock mixture, with a few washed out gully sections and a good mix of up and downhill running that wrap all around the school grounds for the next 3-4 miles. At roughly 4-miles into the race you come to the Cumberland Trail intersection at Mushroom Rock and begin a quick, technical 400-foot descent on some very fun single track down into the bottom of the gorge.

At the bottom of the descent runners jump onto a gorgeous swinging bridge carrying them across the gorge. Coming off the bridge on the other side runners are met with a steep, gnarly 400-foot climb. Make sure to enjoy this climb while the legs are fresh because on the way back after 20+ more miles you’ll REALLY enjoy the climbs! Just after making it to the top of this climb you begin back down for another 400-foot descent toward Suck Creek Road and Aid #1 (6.1mi). The majority of the descent toward Aid #1 is very runnable and it only gets technical about a 1/4 mile from the bottom and just before reaching the aid station.

Coming out of the Aid #1 runners will climb a small hill and jump the guardrail onto Suck Creek road to pick up the trail a few hundred feet up the road on the left. Once across the road runners will climb a set of wooden stairs onto the trail taking them into the Prentice Cooper State Forest. The volunteers/safety personnel did a great job with this intersection. They had cones up on the road and volunteers at each end stopping traffic to allow safe passage for runners.

Back on the trail, runners have a beautiful 5-mile section out toward Indian Rock House and Aid #2 (10.6mi). This section of single track has good technical rocky sections, runnable descents, a couple of great dry creek bed crossings, and some beautiful views of the Tennessee River Gorge. There are plenty of sections here that are worth taking a few minutes and enjoying the view. The views and surroundings in this section are what make trail running such a wonderful experience.

A few miles out from Aid #2 I fell in line with two other runners and lead them into the aid station. It was a nice surprise coming into the aid station and getting to see some Nashville friends who were down to help work at the aid station and run sweep for sections later in the race. We were runners 3, 4 and 5 into the aid and were about 1-2 minutes off the leaders. Glancing at my watch I realized that I was about 2-3 minutes off my target time for this point in the race but was feeling good and didn’t want to push too hard and blow up later in the race.

For those familiar with the Rock/Creek River Gorge 10.2-mile race, leaving Aid #2 begins the majority of the R/G course. Runners have a little under 3-miles out to Snoopers Rock and Aid #3 (13.3mi) and are treated to a few more stunning views and some more great single track. This section of trail has a few small climbs but for the most part feels like an almost all downhill run to the next aid station. A word of caution, be careful running and admiring the views at the same time… your body tends to go where your eyes are staring and you don’t want to take a bad step. The short run over to Aid #3 hadn’t changed anything in our overall placement. We were still 3, 4 and 5 and about 1-2 minutes off the leaders.

The single track continues from Aid #3 out toward Haley Road and Aid #4 (16.8mi). This section of trail is probably the “flattest” section of the course, if you could call it flat. Don’t get me wrong, just because it’s “flatter” doesn’t mean it’s any easier. This section has areas where you can pick up the pace and get the legs moving and a few sections mixed in to slow your rhythm. This area is one of my favorite sections of the race. I don’t know exactly what it is about this section but it always feels so quiet and comfortable through this section. A few miles into this section I started feeling a bit nauseas and decided that I better back off just a little because I didn’t want to battle nausea the next 15-miles to the finish. My two running companions came on around and started putting a little distance between us. Backing off a little helped somewhat and I was able to keep the runners within sight from there and into Aid #4. Just before reaching Aid #4 runners pop off of the single track and onto a forest road (Haley Road) and begin a climb up to the aid station. I hadn’t eaten a lot due to the nausea so I just grabbed a little water and jumped right back onto the single track leaving Haley Road aid station.

This single track leaving Aid #4 consists of a good steep climb with 3-4 switchbacks before plateauing at the top. Runners continue on the plateau for a little over a mile before dropping down a quick 200-foot descent into the infamous Rock Garden. The Rock Garden is glorious! I enjoy technical running and this rock garden is great for bounding from rock-to-rock, especially today since it was relatively dry. However, unfortunately enough for me my nausea decided to set back in during my descent toward the Rock Garden and I was forced to walk/jog most of the section trying to compose myself. Coming out of the Rock Garden runners have a slow steady climb all the way back to the Aid #5 (19.5mi) at Mullens Cove. Somewhere just after the climb out of the Rock Garden I decided to try and get some food down since it had been sometime and my muscles were starting to cramp. Bad choice… that set off a chain reaction that caused me to empty my stomach all over the side of the trail for the next few hundred feet… That sucks!

I’ve been down this road many times and my biggest issue with getting sick during a race is that generally just after a good puking rally you feel so much better that you end up pushing too hard trying to make up for any lost time. This doesn’t usually pan out too well when you still have any kind of distance left in your race. So, trying to learn from past mistakes I decided to take it very easy for the short distance into Aid #5 since I knew it was less than a mile. Coming into the Mullens Cove aid station I was greeted by many cheers from friends and volunteers. It was great, but I was just thinking about not getting sick again and trying to fight off the cramps in my quads. I was still in 5th place, but knew that I was behind my goal time and knew that it was going to be nearly impossible to make it up now that I had emptied the tank. I decided to grab as much food and variety as I could since I didn’t know what would taste good or what I could get down. I also grabbed a fresh bottle of water and a fresh bottle of Perpetuem. Thanked my Dad and the volunteers and set out again.

Leaving Aid #5 runners head down a 3/4-mile section of single track back toward the Indian Rock House aid station (Aid #3) and begin running back toward Suck Creek Road and Aid #6 (24.8mi). At this point in the race all of the trails back to the finish line are trails that runners have already run and now get to enjoy them in the opposite direction. I said a few prayers and asked God to help me listen to my body and push when I could push and eat when I could eat. I set into a steady jog/walk pace and made it a point to eat and drink if was forced to walk. I continued this for a mile or two and before I knew it I was able to get down about 2/3 of a banana and about 1/4 bottle of water. Continuing with this mantra I was able to increase my jog/walk to a run/jog pace by the time I started closing in on Aid #6. I had dropped a few places through this section and figured there would be a steady stream of runners picking me off now. However, to my surprise as I came down the wooden stairs and back onto the pavement at Suck Creek I hadn’t seen anyone else. I grabbed a few more bananas from the aid station and kept moving because any downtime seemed to ignite my quad cramps back into life.

Leaving Aid #6 the cheers from the volunteers encouraged me for the two climbs that I knew were coming to get me back up to Aid #7 at Mushroom Rock (26.8mi). Just into the climb another fellow runner came around and I gave my words of encouragement and continued up the first climb walking and jogging when possible. Lots and lots of discussions were had between God and me about keeping my leg cramps manageable… I knew it was unreasonable to ask for no cramps at all but simply prayers to help me from completely seizing up seemed more realistic. Like I said earlier, if runners didn’t like the climbs from Mushroom Rock out to Suck Creek at the beginning of the race they will REALLY like them on the way back!

On the way back to up to Mushroom Rock runners get the double whammy for back-to-back steep technical climbs. Although it’s slow going this really is a nice section of the course and the swinging bridge in the middle of the two climbs is a lot of fun. After the swinging bridge and the second big climb back toward Aid #7 at Mushroom Rock runners start to get a little bit of a high knowing that they’ve completed the most challenging sections of the course.

This is a great accomplishment, that is somewhat short lived when you realize that despite being back at Mushroom Rock you are not at the top of the climb and still have roughly 4-miles back to the finish line!

This last 4-miles back to the start has been pretty brutal in the past. The first year I ever ran StumpJump I had only trained a handful of times. I went into the race thinking it would be a cake walk and as a result I had my butt handed to me throughout the entire race and that last 4-miles to the finish was the longest death march to date in all of my trail running experiences. There is no good way to put it, you leave Aid #7 and begin some slow steady climbing for the next mile or so, before dropping back down to climb back up again; and all the while you can see the school and even hear the finish line music and announcements. You will swear that you’re lost and endlessly circling the school. Take my advise, remember to keep a positive attitude and know that with every step you are one step closer to completing the race and before you know it you’ll be at the finish. Runners will know they’ve made it as they crest the last climb and see the small swinging bridge on their right. The pavement just a few hundred feet ahead will lead them back around the school and to the finish area celebration.

As I made my way onto the pavement I glanced at my watch and knew that I was going to miss my goal time by more than 20 minutes but was happy to know that I had slowed the pace when things weren’t going as planned and was still able to salvage a respectable finish. As I rounded the last turn toward the finish area my spirits were lifted and I barely noticed the leg cramps that I had been battling the last 13-miles. My family and friends were there cheering me on and I couldn’t have been more thankful to see each of them.

I want to thank God for the fantastic weather, the great trails and beautiful scenery throughout the entire day. None of this would have been possible without all of the wonderful volunteers who helped organize this event, Rock/Creek, WildTrails, Salomon and all of the other great vendors, and all of the other people who helped put the 2014 R/C StumpJump together. Thank you to my wonderful wife, little girls, parents/crew, friends, and all of the wonderful people that I met before, during and after the race.

Congratulations to everyone who participated in Saturday’s events, finishers and non-finishers alike!

Overall – 7th place, 4:54:25

Until the next race.

Nathan D. Holland
2014 Rock/Creek Race Team

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