After my performance at Tecumseh, I was pretty down on myself, so the best medicine for getting my mind off that was to enter another race ASAP! I needed to have a long, fat-burning run to kickoff my diet too and the Lookout Mountain 100k fit the bill. I thought briefly about entering HUFF 50k as I had not run that race either, but the idea of running my first 100k on a mountain had me excited & full of anticipation!
After I decided to enter the event though, there were indications that I had made the wrong choice and it took some extra determination to stay positive thru it all:
The 1st sign of things to come was the weather & it became the biggest influence on the event. When I registered online 5 days out, the forecast was for nice weather Friday & Saturday -- zero chance of precip. The actual weather was rain ALL DAY Friday, resulting in local flooding. Race day was windy with rain & snow in the evening.
I left early Friday for the drive to Chattanooga, TN, in hopes of sightseeing & getting a few pics. I set the GPS in my car for a motel off the Interstate in town. Where did I end up? The GPS never registered the exit off the Interstate and it eventually led me down a dead end road! When I eventually found the motel, the clerk informed me that I was not the only one to have found that dead end. Oh no, I thought, it was beginning to be one of those events that gets started on the wrong foot!
After checking in, I decided to scout the start/finish area atop Lookout Mtn and get a few pics, even though it was raining. Halfway up the mountain, I started into the clouds/fog & soon it turned really thick. At the top, it was said you could see 5 states on a clear day. Well, this day you were lucky to see 5 feet in front of the car! After much difficulty, I got turned around & headed back down into town to attend the prerace meeting. Suffice to say I was pretty disappointed I could not get any pictures.
Arriving at early packet pickup, I received a BIG surprise. Apparently an email with last minute changes was sent to everyone in the afternoon (after I had left home) & it seemed I was the only one not aware of it. The surprise: due to lack of parking (mud) at the start/finish & concerns over the safety of the runners with the cold weather Saturday night, the race was being changed to 50 miles! Associated with the distance drop were major changes in the course itself, changes to the aid stations, start/finish location & starting time -- Wo! All my race planning & course studying were out the window. A huge letdown on not running the 100k distance too, but I was still determined to complete my fat burning mission! And, I still wanted to have fun, of course. So onward!
Most of the prerace meeting was about preventing hypothermia as they had problems with a runner last year. The major changes were discussed, but no new maps or revisions were handed out. Trying to figure out the new course & a new strategy left me with my head spinning.
The fog wasn't bad Saturday morning, but still made it a challenge to find the start/finish in the maze of roads atop the mountain. Temps up on top were 7 degrees lower than downtown Chattanooga. One thing I learned this day: Yes, you can have fog and have 20 mph winds -- guess I was confusing fog and frost!
The race began at the new late start time at the revised starting location. At first it was splishy-splashy with standing water & streams running down the middle of the trails, but no real muddy areas with the rocky base. I would have wet feet all day, but no blisters. There were numerous waterfalls off the rock cliffs which at times towered 200' above us -- really nice! There were occasional barrier cables at sheer cliff dropoffs -- not really functional, but served as an extra warning to watch your step. Along the way, we passed beneath the inclined railway -- it was nearly vertical -- no way would I ever get on one of those! There would have been super nice views had there been no low hanging clouds.
At the first aid station at about 8 miles I found that I had gotten confused with the new numbers of the aid stations & labeled my drop bags wrong. No problem though as I ended up depending on my bags very little this race.
There's one sinking feeling which I hate to have during a race -- that's when you see a runner who had been in front of you, come to a stop & start to come back towards you. You know he's going to ask if you'd seen any markers lately! There was one thing brand new to me for an ultra -- a new course marking technique. The course was marked by blocking off wrong turns with a small line of flags -- the right way to go had no flags blocking the trail. Seeing an intermediate or directional flag was rare. It was not uncommon to go a mile or two before seeing a flag. When the runner (Mike) said we could be off course, I told him I could not remember crossing any flags either. So we continued till we reached the highway going up the mountain -- obviously signaling we were way, way off course! Pretty disappointed here as I had been averaging 12 minute miles up to this point (15.4 miles) & had been feeling pretty good. So we sucked it up & backtracked till we ran into some runners -- never really found the exact point where we went off course, but I did measure it to be about 1.1 (x 2) miles additional. From what I heard from other runners, they could see aid station 2 & turned & headed toward it, rather than go straight in the wrong direction as we did. The extra out-and-back is to the top center of the pic above & lower right of the pic below:
Finally coming into aid station 2, I really felt drained (more mentally than physically) having done the extra miles & felt a little defeated in that all the runners who were 25 minutes or so behind me were now in front (yes, I do feel competitive at times even though I bring up the last third of the pack!). Some of those runners I had worked hard to get by, or keep ahead of -- now I was way behind . . .
What uplifted me though as I approached the 3rd aid station was I saw Mr. Ultra (Rob Apple) & several others fueling up. I was really surprised to be catching up & passing anyone as slow as I was going back up the mountain. So with renewed energy, I picked it up & started to pass some runners. This next section going to aid station 4 was on a newly constructed trail, so it was nice & muddy. One swift creek crossing & one windy powerline segment were included here. The leaders were now heading back on their final leg on this out & back section. I recognized a local runner, Troy Shellhamer in the top 7 moving pretty good -- Congrats Troy! I also recognized several runners who I ran with earlier in the race when I left the course -- they were now 30 minutes in front of me.
After the turnaround would be the most scenic section of the event. After using a rope to climb down a short steep muddy incline (shades of McNaughton), I could hear the roar of a waterfall. It became louder & louder . . . . until . . . WOW! A most impressive waterfall! Super rock formations! With all the rain, the creek was up & roaring down thru a narrow, winding channel & over a cliff. A place where I could sit for a week just taking it all in! An aid station was located right there -- those volunteers must've done something extra special to deserve that location!
That waterfall really made my day -- everything that had gone awry earlier was now distant history! From here as night fell, I cruised on at a steady pace, never having to walk any except the steeper hills. The rain which had been off & on, turned to snow & the 30 mph headwind on the return trip thru the powerline segment was pretty tough.
Only one small disappointment from there as I finished up in 11:49 : I had picked up my Moeben sleeves at the last drop bag station since there was so much emphasis by the RD at the prerace meeting about the cold front coming thru -- I should have known with my cold weather experience that it was nothing new. Anyway, I just didn't need the sleeves & I ended up dropping/losing one on the course. At the end of the race, I apologized for "littering" the course. With it being black, I don't think any runner or sweeper would see it in the dark unless they were looking for it specifically. No news yet on whether it's been found.
It's been guaranteed the course will be changed again next year. I would highly recommend this very scenic event, especially if the weather is better!
DIET time! Holding to the plan, it's crash diet time (a low carb/starvation/unhealthy diet) for 4 weeks or so -- just long enough that hopefully I can get in a good training run afterwards for Louisville's Lovin' the Hills on Feb 6.