Gnarly Trails

(December 3rd, 2016 12:01am)

After a summer of suffering due to heat and humidity, I was looking forward to running in some cool weather.  The last few weeks of September things finally started cooling off.  I had the Georgia Jewel 50 miler coming up and in November I knew I was running Pinhoti 100.  I was trying to find a December race but I knew I didn’t want to run Lookout Mountain 50 again.  Stillhouse 100k popped up on the signup web site.  I asked Paul, my training buddy if he might be interested in running it.  Paul and I have learned that running the long events together increase the likelihood we finish and since we run at a similar pace it works out well for both of us.  We both registered for the race.

Let me just say, WOW!  Stillhouse 100k delivers.  I’m not sure what the race director’s goal was for the race, but, he has created a great race for those looking for a challenge.  Maybe, if you’re a local Chattanooga runner who trains on the trails frequently, you might think this course isn’t hard, otherwise, you’re going to get your moneys worth at this race.

Me at Packet Pickup

Me at Packet Pickup

Pre-race and start:

The packet pickup is at the race start immediately before the start.  It was a normal packet pickup.

The race:

A 100k starting in Soddy Daisy, TN.  Traversing @31 miles on the Cumberland trail then turns around and runs back.  It starts at the finish line of the fairly well known “Upchuck 50k”.  Runners run the course in reverse for the first half of the race.

The course

The course

Elevation of the Race (Fenix 2)

Elevation of the Race (Fenix 2)

The Race

About 15 minutes before midnight, the RD gave a race briefing and we all stood around waiting for the start.  All the Huntsville, AL. folks spoke to each other and we just waited.  At midnight the journey begin.  We started the race expecting to run 15 miles before we got to the first aid station. The course was marked with reflective ribbons.  You could get lost, but it wouldn’t be easy.  Up a road through a neighborhood and about 6 tenths of a mile up to the trail head and let the fun begin.  I hadn’t turned my head light on running up the road the to save some battery.  I knew it would be on until at least 7am.  Off the road we went and we headed straight up some steep switchbacks.  Almost immediately, we got a taste of what we were going to be running on for the next 60 miles.  We got to the top of the first climb and started the first section of gnarly trails.  It was very interesting, especially when your legs are fresh.  Even though it was dark you could tell the trails were beautiful.  I was looking forward to seeing them in the daylight.  Fresh legs didn’t help you run fast as you were constantly concerned about turning an ankle or falling.

Just Keeping My Teeth

I always try to complete trail runs with the same number of teeth I had when I started the race.  When the terrain is rocky, my mind keeps reminding me that if I fall there’s a good chance the damage will be severe.  I don’t want to break my leg and I don’t want stitches.  All these things are common when taking a hard fall on rocks.  With all that said, you spend a lot of time navigating large rocks.  Sometimes it’s not bad and you can hop across the rocks.  However, some times, you’re trying to figure out where to put your feet but can’t decide due to leaves covering the rocks and when you do place your foot the rock(s) move.  No problem if you completely in control of your body, but, if you slightly out of control due to the fact you’re running at 70-80% and the trail has you turning suddenly you’re having a bad day.  Paul told me you either had to run the trail fast or you had to move slow.  You couldn’t run it at an easy pace.  Rough stuff for the middle of the pack type of runner.  30% of the trails in the Stillhouse 100k is exactly what I just described.  The other 25-30% is climbing.  Much of the climbs are steep, likely too steep for most to run.  Those climbs all have equally steep downhills.  That leaves about 30% of the course for running for the average runner.  Make the best of it.

Here’s my review each leg of the course:

Section one

From the start of the race to mile 13 (first aid station that we thought was the only aid station), is a mixture of gnarly and runnable.  This section is the first 13 miles and the last 13 miles.  Heading out the first 5 or 6 miles is gnarly, you’re either going up or down and it’s very rocky.  A common pattern of this course is steep switchbacks with steps on the steep sections.  Frequently, you’ll go down and cross a bridge and head straight back up a climb.  There are many bridges where this happens.  Keep in mind that everything that you do in this first section is how your going to finish the race with not so fresh legs but going the opposite direction.  The last 6-7 miles of this section is runnable.  Easy trails that are very enjoyable to run.  You can make some great time both coming and going if you wish and you have the legs.  The aid station was great.  It was a surprise.  We didn’t think we would get to an aid station until mile 15.  When we rolled in we asked if we had to run 18 miles to the next aid station and the race director (Brian Costilow) told us that they decided to have a second aid station.  We were very pleased to hear we would have two aid stations going out and coming back instead of just one.  It’s kind of a weird time to hear about it but I didn’t care.  I was just glad we had another aid station.  We fueled up and headed out as quick as possible.  It’s was cold and the few minutes chatting and eating allowed our body temperatures to drop and it was getting cold.  I was sweating and my shirts were wet so I was shivering before we left.  Seems like I stopped and put my Patagonia wind breaker on to warm me up.

Paul and I waiting for the start

Paul and I waiting for the start

Section two

Or the middle section is about 9.5 miles long.  It’s not that bad.  There’s some climbs and descents as one would expect but it’s not like the climbs and descents in the first section.  It’s mostly runnable.  There is one steep climb over a short distance.  You’ll barely notice it.  I don’t think going either direction is harder.  Both outbound and inbound have already started to fade out of my memory.  Neither direction is easy but both are not as hard as the first section.  At the end of the 9.5 miles, the next aid station is a welcomed site but mostly because for me it was time to eat.  Paul and I had discussed that we wanted to make our own aid stations to ensure that we stayed up on our nutrition and hydration.  That basically just means we stop at a predefined location to eat, drink and just chill for 3-5 minutes.  It can make a big difference.  We did the same thing on the first section.  It’s also a good way to break off from conga lines.  In the first section, we stopped for a few minutes, took a piss break, drank some and decided that we were going to pick up the pace.  This allowed us to catch up with the conga line we had been running with and pass them.  Whether this was a good thing or not is unknown.  The conga line was running just a little more conservative than we felt we needed at the time.  Sometimes, a pace slower than your normal slow pace causes your knees to hurt.

Section three

Or the last 7-8 miles of the course is very interesting.  Heading out the to turn around it’s smooth sailing.  You’ll think things are great.  You’ll will probably be wondering why it’s taking you almost 8 hours to run a 50k but you’ll be moving well.  Paul and I were already feeling tired but that section heading to the turn around is easy running.  Mostly down hill tails that are very runnable.  The aid station at the turn around was first class.  Great service.  Drop bags.  A porta-john.  What more can a trail runner ask for?  I sat down with my drop bag and drank some coconut water and ate a peanut butter and mayo sandwich I had packed for such a moment.  It was delicious.  One of the aid station volunteers made me a hot cup of coffee.  Paul was doing the same kind of turn around runner maintenance.  There wasn’t much danger of us staying to long.  It was very cold and the longer we stayed there the colder we got.  Again, I was soaked.  In the few minutes we sat there, we saw two runners drop out of the race.  This is when we realized that we weren’t the only runners realizing that the course is challenging.  After spending a few minutes taking care of our bodies we headed out for the second half of the race.  This section returning back to the start is very difficult.  It seems like you’re climbing for the entire 7-8 miles to the aid station.  As it turns out, it didn’t just seem like it it was all climbing to the aid station, it was all climbing.

Stillhouse 100k Swag

Stillhouse 100k Swag

One Statement to Make

It’s more of a general statement that applies to many race directors and applies to this one.  I know race directors try to keep the size of drop bags that the runners bring small.  So, the race director sent a message a few days before the race specifying that the drop bag is 1-gallon size bag (1×1).  I had already packed two drop bags and since I was running by one aid station twice, I had loaded up that drop bag up with plenty.  Needless to say, it was bigger than 1×1 foot.  So, after his email, I cleaned it out.  When I get to the aid stations with drop bags, I see many of the other drop bags were larger than 1×1 foot.  My point is that if the race directory doesn’t enforce requirements like this, then they really only punish the runners who follow their rules.  WTF?


Strava Data

1st Half

2nd Half