Well, it’s the Monday following Chattanooga Mountains Stage Race, and I’m still feeling a ton of emotions– relief that it’s over, sadness that it’s over, gratitude for a fantastic weekend and fantastic friends, post-race depression, determination to start training again. I can say with certainty that it’s been my favorite weekend of running ever.
I headed down to Chattanooga about 4pm on Thursday. On my way, I had to drive through a storm with rain that was so bad I could barely see. My first thought– I hope this isn’t a sign of the weekend to come (spoiler alert: it wasn’t). Eventually, I made it in, headed to Rock/Creek to pick up my packet, and went to check in the hotel (Thanks, Tara and Phil!). I planned to meet my friend Phil and new friend from the weekend Theresa for dinner at 6:30 so I had just enough time to get in a 20 minute shakeout run. While I was out running, I ran into two Nashville friends, Steven and Daniel H, which was awesome. I headed back to the hotel, quickly changed, and walked to dinner with Phil and Theresa. We went to an amazing pizza place right down the street, Lupi’s. There was a big group of Nashville peeps there, including Steven and Daniel, which was awesome. After eating a lot of some crazy good pizza, we went to the Crash Pad to pick up everyone else’s packets. Then it was back to the hotel (where I may or may not have eaten even more pizza– carbo loading??) for some tortured sleep.
5 am came pretty early– I think I finally fell asleep about 1 am. I slowly got ready, drank my superstitious beet juice, braided my hair, and met Phil, Theresa, and new friend Charlie for breakfast. Soon, it was time to load up and leave for Raccoon Mountain. We got to Laurel Point, the Start/Finish, and picked up our bibs. I’d be number 111 for the weekend
I ran into my good friend Alicia K who I hadn’t seen in a few weeks which was a great nerve-calmer. After bib pick-up, we went for a little warm-up jog. Jeff “the Beast” Davis, another awesome runner from Nashville, ran with me and gave me some good advice/strategy for the start. It became apparent that it was going to be suuuuuuuper humid. I was dripping sweat after just 5 minutes of warm-up. Clearly, this was going to be a sun’s out, guns out weekend. Soon, it was time to line up at the start, and before I knew it, we were off. It was a mad dash to the trail where it quickly became single-track and a bit congested. Luckily, Hunter and Jeff had told me to get towards the front so I could jockey for a good position before the trail really narrowed. I liked where I was and got into a comfortable rhythm pretty quickly. I looked down at some point to check the time and realized I didn’t start my watch! I tried to guesstimate how long we’d been out there but really had no clue. I stayed with two strong runners, Erin and Sadie, for quite a while. I started feeling really good so I increased the pace a bit. At the first aid station, I still had almost all of my water so I didn’t stop. After that, I don’t remember much of what the trail was like but I remember that we made it to the next aid station at mile 8 super quickly, so much so that I accused the guys of lying to me about what mile it was. Luckily, they still filled my bottle up after my accusations.
After the aid station, we hit a section that’s called the small intestines. Basically, just switchback after switchback after switchback. All were completely runnable and not a lot of climbing. The cool thing about the small intestines was that you could see a lot of the other runners even though you never knew exactly where anyone was. I started running with a cool dude named Brad and had some casual, intermittent conversations. While on the small intestines, we got to see the lead pack which was F-L-Y-I-N-G. I also got to see Phil, and we exchanged some shouts! That really put some pep in my step. We came to a fork in the trail and couldn’t see a course marker. Luckily, Brad chose the right path as we could see runners above us and figured we were headed in the right direction (getting lost is my biggest fear, not that I know anything about that…ha). We still had probably 2 miles or so before hitting the last aid station at mile 13.3. Sadie’s BF Danny was at the aid station offering lots of encouragement to everyone which was fantastic. After leaving the aid station, I felt great, but man alive, those 5 miles or so dragged on forever.
I think this was the section with the most climbing or at least it felt like that to my legs. Finally, I heard music and cheering so I knew we were close. We hit gravel and then there was the finish line. 2:23:16 was my finishing time, good enough for 3rd place female and 23rd overall. This was a super fast course with only 1564 feet of climbing and not very technical at all. As long as those last miles felt, they’d be nothing compared to what was to come over the next two days.
After crossing the finish line, I saw Jeff who had come in some time before me, drank some coke and ate some fruit, tried to take a dip in the ice bath that had been provided but jumped out after about 10 seconds and 50 expletives, and waited for other friends to finish. One of the greatest parts of races is cheering for friends at the finish line. Sadie, Erin, and Daniel L (an amazing runner I met while doing River Gorge back in March. He just crushed ThunderRock 100 back in May) were right behind me. Soon, Phil, Daniel H (who came in grinning like the Cheshire cat), Theresa, Charlie, and Steven had all crossed. Other Nashville friends, Donna, Sinith, and Roy all had a great day too! I think the consensus was it was humid as hell, the last five miles were brutally long, and it felt great to have the first leg done.
The rest of the day would be relegated to eating (Taco Mamacita and Urban Stack) and resting along with a few back and forth strategy emails with Hunter. By 10pm, the bed was calling my name and as quickly as it started, the day 1 was in the books.