Rock/Creek StumpJump offers a 50K and an 11 mile race. One year and four months ago, I joined a trail training program to run the 11 miler. Two days into that training, I decided that I wanted to run the 50K in 2014. This desire was further amplified after witnessing friends finish the 50K last year. Well, time flew by, and after countless blue trail repeats and runs at Percy Warner, Saturday it was time to jump some stumps. The week leading up to the race, I did some shakeout runs, ate some (ok, a lot of) pasta, and slept more than I have in months. I even got pretty decent sleep on Friday night which rarely happens on regular nights, let alone before a race. Saturday morning, I got up around 4:30, ate a peanut butter sandwich, got dressed, and loaded up the car with everything I thought I might possibly need (Apparently, I was still in 100 mile crew mode because the amount of gear and nutrition I brought could’ve helped both Jeff and Steven for their entire race). I got to the start pretty early, got my drop bag ready, braided my hair, and met up with the RunWild crew and other friends. Sinith, Scott, Alicia, David, Taylor, Daniel, and Sean all looked like eager beavers, ready to crush it.
I ran into Daniel L who was so happy and encouraging that I couldn’t help but feed off of that. I always love seeing him. I also saw Chris who was super great the whole day for me. He helped me out before, during, and after the race. It was freeeezzzzingg before the race so I stayed bundled up until the last-minute. I tossed Chris my cold weather gear before toeing the line.
I saw Yong (thank god) at the start line. We had planned to run together for a least some of the race. He was after a PR, and I was after a good race. We joined up right as the gun went off. We took off down a paved road for about 3/4 mile before jumping onto a jeep road. At this time, I was about the 6th or 7th woman back. No sweat. Hunter’s magic words for the race– “Be Patient, it’s a long race”. Even with these words in my head, I was glad to have Yong next to me to keep me accountable and patient. We ran on some easy trails for about 3.5 miles before hitting an aid station near Mushroom Rock. After that, we started a pretty steep and technical descent. Then we had to cross this ridiculous suspension bridge. It was just as scary and death-defying as it was during stage race.
After miraculously surviving this crazy swinging bridge, we had a climb and then another descent down to the Suck Creek aid station. At some point before this aid station, we had picked off 4 or 5 women, leaving me in the nice, comfortable position of 3rd. I liked this position even though I couldn’t see the front two women. It’s a long race; be patient.
Yong and I filled up with water and then climbed out of the AS, crossed Suck Creek Road, and continued on along some really runnable trails. We were in the middle of a good pack that was keeping a nice, steady pace. We stayed with this pack all the way to the Indian Rock House around mile 10. Scott, Jobie, and Chris were there, and it was really nice to see some familiar faces. Indian Rock House is really cool and an awesome place for an aid station.
After filling up my handheld, Yong and I were off to Mullins Cove loop. This loop is the entire River Gorge course (a FANTASTICALLY fun race). We descended some stairs, and for the next few miles, we were settled into a long train of people. Lo and behold, leading the train were the top two females. Sweet. Yong turned to give a big grin and a thumbs up. This train of people was just what I needed. Perfect pace, some sporadic conversation, and forced patience. We went through an aid station, but I had plenty of water so there was no stopping. Our train got a little mixed up, and at some point, 2nd place female took off. We wouldn’t see her for a while. Erin was in 2nd now, and Yong and I settled in behind her for a bit. Just before hiking up the climb to Haley’s Road aid station, Yong and I got out in front. We were both feeling great and keeping a steady effort.
After a quick fill-up, we started up the pretty gnarly switchback that would eventually lead us to the rock garden but not before we got to a really runnable section. In what would become one of our mantras for the run, Yong and I were taking what the trail gave us. We didn’t push it to an uncomfortable pace, but we ran with the trail, getting some good time out of the flatter or slightly descending parts of the trails. The rocks started becoming more numerous, and soon, we were making our way through the rock garden. The rock garden provides about 3/4 mile of big, slippery rocks. Yong was kicking my ass on this section– he made his way over the rocks like they were a well-groomed single track. I think he was a mountain goat in a former life. Leading us out of the rock garden was a pretty legit climb and then another runnable section up to the parking lot at Mullins Cove. Another AS — another handheld fill up. We went down some stairs that would lead us back towards the Indian Rock House. Scott was still there and told us that we were about 2 mins back from the front female. This was surprising and exciting– I thought she was much further ahead. Regardless, we didn’t deviate from our plan. This was mile 19– there was still plenty of race left.
We began retracing our steps that had led us to the Indian Rock House some 10 miles previous. We were taking what the trails gave us– a nice, runnable single track. Yong would check in with me every now and then, and we seemed to be on the same page with our effort/pace. A couple of miles more and we were greeted with some stairs– and the lead female. Yong’s face was priceless–definitely made me feel great…and put an extra pep in my step. We settled in behind her, and about a half a mile later, I took my first of two face plants.
I got up, dusted myself off, and continued on. We started down a pretty steep descent, and pretty soon, we were crossing Suck Creek Road and headed towards the aid station. I couldn’t believe we were already at mile 24 and change. I chugged some Coke, filled up, and got some amazing encouragement from Kris (a trail rockstar/legend). We had a decent climb out of there, and Yong and I capitalized upon the “freshness” of our legs which had been patient up until now. We passed a few people on the climb out, including first female. We climbed and climbed some more. After crossing over the suspension bridge again and taking another face plant (Yong was kind enough to encourage me to rinse the dirt out of my mouth), we were soon at Mushroom Rock and the final aid station. More coke and a fill up, and Yong and I were headed home!
Yong cautioned me that these last miles were deceptively long. Even though they were on a wide jeep road, there was a gradual incline. We kept up a decent pace. At a climb, we were passed by an awesome guy that we had been trading positions with all race. This guy — 61 years old and a complete badass. Yong and I picked it up a bit and caught back up to him. We ran with him and with a few miles to spare, we all passed behind the high school where the finish line was. As tough as StumpJump is, the cruelest part of the course is hearing and seeing the finish line and having to run at least 2 more miles. Finally, I decided to kick it in. A little farther and I was at the paved road. I thought this meant I had about a half mile left. Either I was wrong on the mileage or that was the longest half mile ever. Whatever it was, I took the final curve to the left and heard some pretty sweet words — “we have our first female finisher”. I had been scared ever since passing the first female miles back that she would catch me, and even at this point, I looked over my shoulder to make sure she wasn’t surging towards the finish. All clear. I crossed at 5:22:46 and felt like a million and a half bucks. Just sheer happiness. I thanked Yong profusely for his help in coaching/pacing/encouraging me the entire race, but no words can suffice. He helped me more than he’ll ever know! After calling/texting all the requisite peeps (Steven, my folks, and Hunter), Chris helped me get a veggie burger that I basically swallowed whole. I waited for the rest of the RunWild group to finish–100% finish rate. Whoop! It was great seeing all of them cross the finish line and to exchange our race stories.
One year and 4 months ago, I never would have thought that I could finish StumpJump 50K, let alone do it feeling so great. For months, I have wanted nothing more than to be a trail ultramarathoner. Being someone who races/runs trail ultras is how I’ve wanted to define myself for so long. Even though I had no doubt that I would finish the race (not meaning that I would finish with a time or place that I wanted, just that I would finish), there was a part of me that was terrified that I would hate it, that I would never want to run an ultra again. I’m not sure how I would have or could have handled that. But thank the trail gods above, that was a moot point.
I loved every, single second of this race. I ran with a smile for most of the race. I cannot wait to do it again. And thankfully so, since I have Lookout Mtn 50 in, oh, less than 3 months.
Congrats to the entire RunWild crew!!
*I’m terrible remembering a lot of specifics of courses. If I’m off with my description/mileage/anything, please forgive me.