While looking for a training run to prepare for my upcoming 108k ultra race in Germany, I came across this race listed on the G.U.T.S. online race calendar. Honestly, I first tried to register for the Twisted Ankle Trail Marathon, but it had filled up already. But can you blame me? What thrill seeking trail runner wouldn't want to register for a race with the phrase "twisted ankle" in it? Anyway, that's when I decided to register for another race fairly close to home. The Scenic City Trail Marathon is actually going to be the first marathon or ultra race I am traveling overnight for. This should be great training for my ultra in Germany.The Scenic City Trail Marathon takes place at the Racoon Mountain Reservoir in Chattanooga, TN, which was build on top of Racoon Mountain ten minutes from downtown Chattanooga. This reservoir drops water down 990 feet to create electricity with turbines inside the mountain. After the water has been used to create electricity, it is discharged into the lower reservoir. The penstock or pipe that carries the water to the turbines below is large enough for a full-size bus to drive through. Built in the 70s, the upper dam is 230 feet high and 8500 feet long and the power capacity consists of 4 units supplying 1532 megawatts. The upper reservoir is 1.2 miles in length and the trails circumventing this reservoir will be the site for this marathon and a half marathon taking place at the same time.
I drove to Chattanooga the night before the race for the race packet pick-up and to take my better half out for a nice dinner. We had decided tostay in town through Sunday to enjoy a weekend away from home. I immediately located the Rock/Creek store in downtown Chattanooga, where I picked up my race bib and swag (a nice Patagonia short sleeve tech shirt). Afterwards, we drove about 5 minutes to our hotel to check in and to meet my running buddy Richard and his girlfriend. Richard was kind enough to run with me in my preparation for the ultra next month in Germany.
Richard and I went to the race location on top of Raccoon Mountain at 6:30 AM so he could register on site. We arrived there with the early crowd, able to enjoy some organic coffee and muffins (courtesy of Greenlife) that were absolutely fantastic. We put on our bibs, got our calves marked with the black letter "M" to identify us as marathon race runners to other runners. This was done to allow racers to recognize and differentiate the marathon from the half marathon runners during the race. Aparently, the race had doubled in size from the previous year. Since I had done some research online reading other race reports from last year, I knew that the course was 90% single track trail and that runners would get "stuck" behind each other on large stretches of the race. There was an opportunity to minimize that problem by going out hard on the first quarter mile on the road immediately after the start of the race. Now, all I had to do was convince Richard that is was a good idea to start out fast prior to reaching the single track trail...and I did.
We came out fast and settled in what I figured must have been at the front of the mid pack of runners. The field consisted of what must have been over 450 runners in the marathon and half marathon combined. I was settling into a comfortable pace, but Richard felt he was going out too hard too early. He sent me on my way arounf 5 miles into the race. Even though this was a training run, I wanted to try to push for a sub 4 hour finish. The course had been advertised as a fast trail course and I confirmed this tag line with other runners before the race, so I figured that I should give it a shot. I figured it must be rather flat since it was considered a fast course by many. However, there were two problems with my plan. First, the course wasn't flat or fast my any means of my imagination. Second and more importantly, there was a serious discrepancy between the actual distances covered during the race and the distances recorded by my Garmin 310XT (many other runners reported the same problem after the race). As a result, my Gramin kept showing me a pace significantly slower than my actual pace since it used false distance information. I, not aware of this error, continued to try to push harder to maintain a 9 minute pace not realizing that I was already going faster than that. The result of this error cost me dearly. Add the humidity and fairly high temperatures of the day and you get the inevitable crash and burn I experienced even before I reached mile 20. I was actually on track to finish in under 4 hours about 2 hours into the race. Unfortunately, my demise was becoming more and more evident as my balance and ability to lift my feet increasingly declined. I stopped counting my tripsand near face plants after ten. That coupled with my erroneous decision to wear two pairs of socks to prevent blisters and for added padding caused some foot problems late in the race. First, I stubbed my toes too many times to count. In addition, the high humidity caused "swamp" feet early in the race and the extra pair of socks did not seem to prevent blisters as I now have one pretty good one on the outside of my right foot. Next time, I will add hyrdopel to the mix (cover myfeet in it) and see if that helps.
Looking at the splits, I lost a significant amount of time towards the last third of the race. My Garmin recorded almost 4 miles less than the actual race distance. However, this need to stop running the hills late in the race to try to recover and lower my heart rate really allowed me to take in the beauty of this course. There were many places along the course where runners had magnificent views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. I just wished I had brought a camera to capture these images. Instead, I will have to leave you with an image of the price I paid to run this great event (see below).