Monday, December 4, 2017

Chattanooga 100 Mile (Race Recap)

*alternatively titled, how shocking, another 100 mile DNF*

Rising Fawn, GA
Friday, December 1 - Saturday, December 2
Ultra Marathon #28
Weather - Humid, temps not too terrible

So waaaay back in February I was searching for my goal race for the year. I had been very successful at Lean Horse (on very little training) and wanted to attack another 100 mile race, with a bit more technicality and a tad more gain. My criteria was late fall (cooler temps) and less than 10,000 feet of gain.

Chattanooga 100 was inaugural (but only for the 100, the 50 mile had been held a few years already), but everything I had heard about the race director was positive. The race was on track to sell out very quickly, so I pulled the trigger. The course was not finalized until October, and when it was posted, was listed at 9,122 feet of elevation gain. OK, that's exactly what I was looking for!

I trained a LOT more on trails than I ever have in the past. I ran quite a few ultras as "training runs" - including the Dirty 30 (which was so insanely brutal), the 50 miler at North Country trail run, Bear Chase 50K, and most recently the Sage Burner.

Once the profile was posted, with segment descriptions, I was most worried about the initial 13 miles. There were no aid stations in the first 13 miles and there was a HUGE climb (which I found out during the race was actually 900 - yes NINE HUNDRED - stairs that we had to climb). Anyway, as it got closer to race day, there were more frequent updates regarding the course. All the leaves were being blown off the trees so when we would be on the peninsula we would be very exposed. Temperatures were predicted to be in the 30's overnight, but with wind and/or humidity would feel like 20's. Oh, and with the finalized course, there were also going to be water crossings (which I would hit for the first time during these cold temps).

So with all that ^ said, I went into this race feeling like I was prepared to tackle the hardest segment, and if I was able to get through that without missing the decently tight cutoff, that I would be fine, as long as I brought enough warm clothes with me. I planned and planned, changed the pack I was going to be wearing at the last minute, and managed to shove everything I needed into a tiny Patagonia backpack since I was flying United basic economy and could only have one personal item.


Flight was at 9 am, so I dropped A off very early at before school care. No delays in my flight, I had a short-ish connection in Chicago. Flight to Chattanooga was also on time, and was blissfully short at under an hour. We arrived early and I picked up my rental car. By now, it was already 5 pm - thanks to a two hour time change. I headed over to the Chattanooga Brewery to pick up my packet and have dinner.
The race director was there and I felt a lot better about the race when he estimated that the course was probably closer to 94 miles, although since he doesn't run with a watch, it was an "ish" distance. This really should have been more of a red flag to me, but I had my burger and beer and went to my hotel down the street before 8 pm. I got all my gear packed into my one drop bag (that I would be able to access only at miles 40 and 72) and the pack I would be wearing. For next summer's adventures I had picked up the Orange Mud "Adventure Pack" and it would hold a lot more gear than the Ultimate Direction Jurek FKT pack I had planned on using. I stayed up drinking one more beer and watching Gilmore Girls before lights out around 11.


The race didn't start until NOON. I set my alarm for 8:30, hoping I would be able to sleep. I actually slept pretty fantastic, except I had turned down the AC too much and woke up freezing around 4 in the morning. I immediately got panicky about having this feeling during the race, but was able to fall back asleep. Woke up a few minutes before my alarm went off, took a shower and got dressed. The "breakfast" wasn't great, only a few packaged danishes and coffee. After I checked out, I stopped at the closest fast food place with breakfast - Taco Bell, and got a breakfast quesadilla on  my way to the start.

Upon entering the park I had to go to the visitor center to buy 2 days of passes so I could park without getting a ticket. I had a bit of trouble finding the start line, but when I finally found it I still had a little over an hour until go time.

I used the bathroom a few times, hemmed and hawed about what to start out in clothes-wise, and put some water in the bladder of my pack. I planned on using a bottle in my front pocket for nuun, but wanted the bladder back-up, especially the first segment since it was so far without support. I also remembered years ago when I attempted the Big Cedar 100 and the humidity made me SO THIRSTY, so I really didn't want to run out of fluids.

I finally met up with Tasha, we got a picture together, talked briefly about our race strategy, and before I knew it, it was 11:45 and time for our pre-race briefing. Sean, the race director, decided that everyone but the top 3 predicted finishers (male and female) could have pacers right from the start, although that didn't impact me at all since I was there alone.

Race Director in the pinkish shirt and teal shoes

I lined up towards the back, and right at noon, we headed out. The first few miles were on the road, and it was mostly downhill. I still took it easy and just wanted to loosen up my legs. If nothing else, we were cautioned to not blow up early by going out too fast.

The course was marked with pink/black flagging and was pretty easy to follow, especially in the beginning when we were so close together. I had planned on the same strategy I do in most ultras/trail races. Run the flats/downhills and gradual climbs and power hike everything else.

By the time we finally moved onto the trail we had all spread out quite a bit, and there was never any issue with congestion on the course. I also noticed immediately just how much the fallen leaves were going to impact the trail conditions. The leaves literally covered EVERYTHING. There were roots and rocks, but all covered by leaves. It was tough to really run sections because you were never really sure what you were stepping on. The downhills were a bit sketch because it was slick with steep grades. Did I mention that it had rained all day Thursday, so much of the course was also wet?
I was well ahead of cutoffs at this point, but we had just started. Somewhere around mile 6 or so was when we were running along the peninsula, and then started the descent into the canyon. Some of it was trail, most of it was those damn steps. This part was the most difficult because 1). it was not closed to the public, 2). it was 900 damn steps and 3). vertigo.

I passed Tasha on the stairs on the way down, and then once we finally got off the stairs we had about a mile out to the road where we saw the 100 mile turnaround sign. On the way back Tasha told  me she was already going to be done... and I think at this point we are only like 8 miles in??

Already with the climbing. It was all uphill up the canyon (who knew?) - across the bridges and up the stairs. Trying to not burn out my quads, but watching time slip away.

The first cutoff was 3:45 into the race, I had been hoping to get there in about 3 hours, but it was looking like I was going to be closer to 3:15 or 3:20. About a half dozen of us were in the same pace area, and we just plugged along, until we completed the loop and got to the aid station near where we had started.
I have become a pro at getting in and out of an aid station quickly and this was no exception. I grabbed some pickles, filled my bottle, swigged some coke and headed on my way, the first of our group to head out.

The next "aid" was only going to be a water drop, but it was only 5 miles away. I found this next section to be pretty runnable, but it was a gradual descent, and I knew it wasn't going to be fun to come back up this later. I was running near a woman (that I would later run with for a few hours, Vivian), but it was only the two of us for ages.

We had to cross a state highway (I think) and I quickly filled up my bottle and headed out. Next section, still only 5 miles away, and that would be our first scan for tracking. I was "well" ahead of cutoffs at this point, but knew that the hardest parts were yet to come. Running when I could, walking when I could, just keep moving.

Wish I wasn't making a pain face here - sunset looks awesome!
The sun was starting to set, but I wanted to get to the aid station before I started messing around with my headlamp and my cold/night clothes. Even with all that, I probably only spent 3 minutes at the aid station, got some grilled cheese, bark, and meatballs, and headed out.

The next segment was the second longest stretch without aid - 9.5 miles to Hinkle Road. This was the segment where I ran with Vivian for a bit. We talked about races that we had done - you know, normal runner conversations. By now it was super dark (even though we had a nearly full moon that helped), and Vivian was super cautious on the descents. I ended up passing her. At this point, however, I was losing valuable time on the climbs and I was not very confident about the race. The climbs were so much steeper than I had anticipated and even though I trained all summer on trails, my quads were just burned out. The descents were super scary because they were slick. I honestly wasn't even sure I would make it to mile 40 where my drop bag was.

The good thing was that it was warmer than I had thought it would be. I was just wearing a thin Smartwool top and felt fine. I didn't even need my gloves, which was super crazy to me. For MILES AND MILES, I kept thinking that we were never going to get to the aid station. We finally arrived at the aid station and it was THE BEST ONE OF ALL - they had all types of liquor AND beer. I had them fill my cup with an IPA (which was interestingly much better than Colorado IPAs), and quickly headed out. Vivian was going to put on extra socks to prepare for the water crossings, so I headed on without her.

Somewhere around mile 35(?) I missed a turn and ended up on the sketchiest of sketch trails. I'm glad it was night when I was on it because I really thought I was going to die. I had pulled up the trail run project app that had the course pre-loaded, and it kept telling me I was on the right trail. Apparently I was actually on a stretch that ran parallel to what I should have been on, but I met up with the right trail without too much issue. Then finally came the water crossings that I had really been stressing out about - only they were actually not that big of a deal.

The aid station, and next tracking checkpoint, was further than what I had expected, and I didn't arrive until my watch was nearly at 41 miles. I was still ahead of cutoffs (I arrived around 11, with the cutoff not being until 12:30), so I opted to grab my magic coat and leave my pack. The jacket is warm and has inside pockets that would easily hold my nuun bottle, food and my charger for my watch. I had changed my headlamp batteries at the aid station, put on my tights, and headed out. I kept seeing little glowing green things on the side of the trail and finally zoomed in with my headlamp to see what they were - BIG SPIDERS.

I remember very little about this section. I had balled up my gloves and put them in my outside pocket, and at some point realized they had fallen out. I was warm enough I didn't really need them, but I was bummed that they were my nice Smartwool ones! The next aid station was at Lula Lake, but before we got there, we had some challenges. One of them being the ropes section. ROPES SECTION?? Somehow in the detailed course description I had missed that there was a section that we had to shimmy down a rope??? Sean had put out a sign that said "use extreme caution - cliff area," and thankfully I was with a couple other people that had read about the ropes and knew we were on course.

Then there was a nice section of flats that I was actually able to run a bit. This part wasn't too bad. Don't remember much else, other than we finally started to see the faster runners heading towards us. The climbs were so bad and I was really wishing that I had trekking poles. I spent some time looking for a stick that I could use, and I finally found a couple good ones that I would use for probably 30 miles total.

I was in and out of Lula Lake in probably 30 seconds. The cutoffs were getting tighter, but the rumor was that the next aid station/cutoff/tracking scan was being extended. There were some tough climbs heading up to Covenant College on the power line. Blech - this was so much harder than I had thought!!

I was also in an out of the next aid station pretty quickly. The buffer I had built was dwindling, and now that I had already done more than half of the course I knew how much climbing was left. I really had thought for a while that I could finish under cutoffs, but I was going slower and had rolled both of my ankles to the point of "cracking" that I was pretty sure this was a losing battle. I was determined to NOT drop on my own accord and just keep going until/if I missed a cutoff.

The segment from Covenant back to Lula was a different way down than we had come up and was 9 miles of misery. I missed the first "official" cutoff when I got to Lula, but due to the extensions I had about a half hour to spare. At this point I was pretty excited that I would at least be able to make it back to Nickajack to my drop bag. The jacket was way too warm for conditions and I had it tied around my waist and it was pretty annoying. My headlamp batteries were running low and I had to stop to change them. It was then that I forgot my stick. There was no way I could go back for it. I got a picture of a cool waterfall, and the ropes section was not nearly so scary during the daylight.

Trail on the way up to the ropes section - no pic of actual ropes of course 
Finally got back to Nickajack about mile 70, and was told I had about 30 minutes to spare. I dumped the jacket, grabbed my pack, decided to just leave my tights on for now, and headed out, following Vivian and her pacer. Immediately I was regretting my choice to keep going.

SO.MUCH.CLIMBING. I was hunched over to rest and breathe and clocked my slowest mile at just over 30 minutes. We realized after nearly getting to the top of this monstrous climb that some course markers had been pulled off and we had missed the turn!! Vivian's pacer ran down and found out that it was almost immediately after the aid station where we had to go back to. SHIT. We had wasted at least 20 minutes, probably 30, that we didn't need to. Problem was that the volunteer who had pulled the flags didn't know the aid station cutoffs had been extended. I knew for 100% sure I was done at this point. We were told that it was 7 miles to the next aid station, but we now had only an hour and a half or so to get that done. There was no way.

All the people I had been ahead of were now ahead of ME because they realized the markings were down before they had all made our mistake.

I was dead last on the course and struggling. The two course sweepers were right behind me pulling flags. I knew I was done and didn't even want to attempt running. Why bother, the cutoff was impossible at this point. I was pretty annoyed with being followed for a while, then we started talking and they were both pretty nice and made the time go by. Our "7 miles" was actually closer to 9 miles, which further proved that there was no way in hell I could have made the cutoff.

Arrived at the best aid station FINALLY at Hinkle Road, only to find out they were still allowing people to continue on because more extensions on cutoffs. I was more than 45 minutes behind the original cutoff and even with the extension, knew I was done. I had less than 3 hours to go 10 miles - with a TON of climbing still left. Liz had gotten there right before me, doing her first 100. She was talking about continuing - I was like "don't you remember how much climbing is in the next section?" She opted to stop too. So my watch had me at 79.9 miles, and 11,394' of climbing. Not ANYWHERE close the 9,100 TOTAL that we were supposed to have.

We sat, had a beer, shared some donuts, and then Liz's friends gave me a ride back to the start. I sat at the finish line with a beer and watched a few finishers (of the 100 and 50 miler) come in before I decided I should be on my way before it got dark.

Garmin stuff:
Miles - 79.91
Time - 26:42
Pace - 20:04 (oof. 20:00 was required to be under cutoff)
Moving Pace - 19:04
Elevation Gain - 11,394
Fastest mile - 11:36 (mile 1)
Slowest mile - 31:45 (mile 70)

  • I specifically wanted a race under 10,000' of climbing. Someone who completed the 100 posted their results on Strava and logged almost 15,000'. That's not cool. That is SO MUCH MORE THAN ADVERTISED. I would not have selected this race had I known this, or alternatively, would have trained VERY differently.
  • The course was well-marked to an extent. Many folks made wrong turns, and due to the terrain it was tough to make up the time if that happened. Some extra confidence markings would have been helpful. He did, however, have blinky lights on some of the signage, which was helpful.
  • The leaves, oh my god the leaves. If this race would have been even three weeks earlier, it would have been a totally different event. I never even considered how tough it would be to run on damn leaves!
  • The trails were mountain bike trails in most sections, NOT hiking trails. So the hills were STEEP. I did not train for this either, and that would certainly be part of my downfall.
  • The aid stations were SO FAR APART. I would likely have tried to keep going if I knew it would only be 1-2 hours to get to the next one. But when you are thinking 3+ after you have already been up for a full day, it's too much.
  • It was tough to start at noon and be in the dark after less than 6 hours. 
  • The volunteers were fantastic - very helpful. The aid stations didn't have as much as I'm used to, but plenty of variety. I had grilled cheese with bacon, no bake oatmeal & chocolate balls, bark, cookies, chips, pickles, etc. They had tailwind (which I didn't use) and coke.
  • I should not not have selected an inaugural event again, simple as that. I went in with so many unknowns (that I never even considered) and was pretty much set up to fail right from the beginning. 
  • Overall I'm not necessarily upset with the DNF itself, I mean, I still got 80 miles in. I'm upset that I didn't have accurate information for a successful race. 
  • Maybe I'm retired now. 

1 comment:

  1. I bet you're not realllllllly retired.

    Ropes, wtf. Cliffs. Spiders? Fuck no.


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