Monday, December 19, 2011

Lookout Mountain 50 Miler

This year's Lookout Mountain 50 mile race took place on December 17, 2011. Lookout Mountain is in Georgia, just across the border from Chattanooga, Tennessee. This wasn't a race that I had ever thought about running until the beginning of October, although I had been plotting to get down to Chattanooga sometime to run one of their trail races. After running the Vermont 50 at the end of September, my brother Jim (Vermont was his first 50) wanted more fun before ending the year and suggested we do Lookout Mountain. It didn't take much to convince me so we entered.

Waiting for the start.
The race starts and ends at Covenant College so I quickly got us a room in a guest house at Covenant. The travel distance necessitated an airplane flight, which I am not wild about, but some things are worth it. A race this late in the year also meant that I needed to keep my mileage up longer than I normally do but I have felt fairly good this fall so it wasn't a big problem.

Our flight into Nashville was an hour late so we hustled into our rental car and headed south to Chattanooga. We made a stop at a little Italian restaurant to carbo-load on some spaghetti and then continued on. As we approached Chattanooga, Lookout Mountain was an impressive sight. It isn't nearly as tall as some of the other mountains in the East but it still rises pretty far and steeply from the valley floor. We arrived at our cottage after 9:00pm, I think (we crossed time zones so many times I got confused). The race start wasn't until 7:30am and we were only half a mile from the start so we were able to get a decent amount of sleep.

Saturday dawned fairly cold (temperature in the lower 30s) and windy but no rain in sight. A bonfire near the start was much appreciated. The starter said "go" and we were off into the dawn. The start is on top of Lookout Mountain and the course basically took us down into the surrounding valleys and back up again twice, with some partial climbs in between. So we started running across campus and then plunged down the other side of the mountain. One woman behind me said in a southern drawl "It is butt a$$ cold out." I said I didn't think it was too bad and she, obviously recognizing that I wasn't from these parts, said that it may not be so bad for a northerner but it was cold for Georgia.

In the river.
I expected steeper descents and ascents but for the most part everything was gradual. The trail was technical in spots, but not nearly as bad as most of the Pennsylvania trails, so it was very runnable. We made the descent to the valley floor and then came across the first fun part of the race. They had some significant rainfall in the last few days and the streams were swollen. The trail was supposed to be beside the one river but we ended up having to go in the river for a stretch of about 50 yards. The BAC woman (from the fourth paragraph) was behind me again and when she saw the river she said (in a southern drawl) "Holy f###in' a$$ s**t, this is ridiculous" over and over again in various combinations. Then she said "When we finish, I'll hold the race director down and you can kick him in the nuts." I actually enjoyed the wade in the water, but she did add some color. The water was thigh deep in places and I had my camera out to take some pictures. That is when I stepped into a hole and went in to my chest. I held my camera up as I was losing my balance and fortunately another runner grabbed me before I completely lost it.

After the river, the ascent back up the mountain began. Part way up Jim started to bonk badly. I gave him some of my Gu and realized I had not stayed after him to eat at the aid stations. I started to feel a little off also and downed a Gu. We walked more than I would have liked going up, but there isn't much else you can do in the middle of a good bonk. We finally summited the mountain and cruised into the aid station at the start/finish line (mile 22). We made sure to eat well, grabbed headlamps and some more Gu from our drop bag, and headed back down the trail.

Restocking my stomach.
After a little while when the calories started to sink in, we were able to make some better time. There was a nice section by Rock Creek with a good waterfall thrown in. The trails this day were mostly single-track, with an occasional jeep trail thrown in, but overall they were really nice. We went through one section that we later found out had been struck by a tornado. There was total devastation of trees across a wide stretch of forest. It probably took weeks to cut the trail out after the tornado because there were massive trees laying everywhere. I've never seen anything like that.

Somewhere in here Jim had his second bonk and we had to back off again. I think lack of quality sleep in the preceding week was as much responsible for his issues today as lack of calories were. The next few aid stations had Ramen so we loaded up on noodles and soda as much as we could. We hit the last aid station as the sun started to set and we had six miles to go.

We made some good time now, even though we were heading back uphill, because Jim felt better. After a mile or two, it got dark enough that we strapped on the headlamps. Shortly thereafter Jim hit his third bonk (it was a bit of a tough day for him). We were reduced to walking as the air started to cool off. I was ready for the finish as my fingers started to really get cold. Eventually we summited the mountain for the last time and ran across the finish line. Our time was 11:41. They gave us huge hamburgers and we ate them while walking the half-mile back to our cottage. I was really cold by this time (and my feet were still wet from all of the water) and fortunately I had arranged with the hosts to use the showers in our room, even though we weren't staying there that night. We took hot showers, jumped in the car and headed to Nashville. We stayed at my cousin's house in Nashville and flew home in the morning.

Although it was a tough day time-wise, it was a beautiful run. Nice trails, decent weather and good company made for a good day. It was well worth the trip for me. I had a little video from my camera, including the river section where I went in deep, so I put it up on Youtube at

More water.

Waterfall on Rock Creek.

Stream crossing at night.
Finished at last.