The race is put on by and for the Tennessee Park Rangers (TPRA). They really bent over backwards to be sure everyone had a safe & fun time. I love new venues & this was no exception.
From the TPRA race website:
This was my 7th different trail marathon, but really the only other race I've run that's comparable to this one, as far as trail type, is Massanutten 100. ROCKY! I thought it had more rocky-technical trail per race mile than Massanutten, but it was distinctly different in one way: the trails at this race were very well manicured -- even with the sometimes constant rock piles & boulder fields!
You could tell the hardcore people who built this trail made a super-human effort to rearrange some of the massive rocks & also bring in some flat rocks & place them amongst all the ones on edge or pointed. Even so, it wasn't very easy jumping from rock to rock all day -- but it made a big difference.
Checking out the accommodations before heading south, it appeared the closest motel was almost an hour drive from the race. Dry weather was forecast so I decided to take advantage of the free camping near the start line. I arrived early so I could take in some sights. This was at the Stone Door overlook:
There's only about a quarter mile of road (paved or gravel) running on the course & that's on the park road & parking lot at the start/finish. I was still chilled by the cool, windy night in my tent so I wore a shirt to the pre-race instructions at the start. As we ran past the cars in the parking lot during the start, I dropped off my shirt at my car. That made me dead last heading onto the trails.
To me it seems the marathon pace is so much faster than a 50k. I bided my time on the 1st couple miles on the easy, non-technical trails which led to the Stone Door steps & entrance to the rocky gorge below. I knew I would catch up to the tail end of the group as they would still be backed up at those steep & narrow steps by the time I got there -- and they were.
Photos by Jessica Phillips Photography:
The trails were GREAT. I always prefer narrow, technical single track over anything else. No mud or sleet like last week at LBL -- I got the bottom of my shoes wet a few times here. What I wasn't prepared for this race were all the suspension bridges! Some of them were pretty long.
One of the crossings:
The 1st bridge was only a few miles into the gorge while everyone was still bunched up. I was a third of the way across the bridge before I knew it. It was going up & down quite a bit, but I held on. Then it started swinging sideways at the same time! I stopped dead in my tracks. This was not a place for someone who gets motion sickness easy & has a fear of heights!
2 runners were stuck behind me on the bridge when I froze, so when the sideways motion slowed down, I let them squeeze by me. Only when they got off & the bridge stopped moving did I get across -- one down, 7 more crossings to go! I did not (nor did others I suspect) read the sign that said only 2 persons on the bridge at a time. I got better as the day went on as I also made sure I was the only one crossing on each bridge.
One bridge was made up of strung out aluminum pic boards -- that was nice as it restricted the up & down movement. It reminded me of how ice climbers go across crevasses in glaciers on ladders. I did stop on a few of the bridges to admire the scenery. The crossing over the Collins River with the huge boulders was the highlight of the course to me.
Surprisingly my back gave me problems at only one location the entire race: the "Stagecoach Rd historic trail" about mile 16. I imagine passengers on a stagecoach on this rough road in the old days got back problems here too! It was a 1.5 mile section all on a steady downhill. By the time I reached the bottom, I was ready to crawl. Luckily there was an aid station right there. I took time for a little rest & recovery & even more surprisingly, I had no ill effects afterwards!
Next up is Potawatomi in Pekin, Illinois in about 2 weeks. I'm attempting 10 loops of the course -- last year I was injured on the 5th loop.