Thursday, October 8, 2009

Stump Jump 50K

Photo by Christian Griffith

I ran the Stump Jump 50K this past weekend. I did not plan on running this race with it being so close to the time I was suppose to be in recovery from the AC100, but since that did not happen, I thought the SJ would be a really good training run for the Pinhoti 100. I ran the SJ in 2007 as my very first ultra. Man, did that course beat me down that year! I had no clue of what I had gotten myself into in 2007. My trail training was quite limited but I thought I could wing it since I completed 3 road marathons earlier that year. I really didn’t really think that a 50K was that big of deal. Just 5 more miles, right? Wow, was I WRONG! So in 2007 I crossed the finish line in a roaring 7:40 (20 minutes shy of the 8 hour cutoff time) barely able to walk due to the quarter size blister on both feet and it was 93 degrees. As thoughts of that day came back, a fire started to build within me. I wanted to get a little runners revenge, if I could.

The Rock/Creek Outfitters was having a great expo on the Friday before the race, so I had planned to go up early on Friday to look around and just hang out. Plus, I found out that some of the elite runners of the ultra world would be there hanging out and I wanted to get a chance to pick up some tips for my first 100 miler. For some of you that are not into the ultra world, imagine your favorite athlete, TV/movie star, or musician that you would really like to meet and having the ability to walk up and talk with them. I have experienced this multiple times at different events in the ultra world. Krissy Moehl was there at this expo and I really wanted to meet her and ask a few specific questions in regards to my running. This young lady is truly elite in the ultra world placing in the top 5, if not first place, of countless ultras. She was so very gracious and talked with me for about 20+ minutes. She gave me some great advice for my first attempt at 100 miles.

As I stated before, I love going to meet people at ultra events, but it doesn’t always have to be the elite of the sport. It can be very interesting and humbling to talk to other runners and find out what brought them to the sport or that event. A buddy of mine, named Wayne, shared with me that he was running SJ on the 3rd anniversary of being cleared, or in his word “healed”, of cancer. Man, what a way to celebrate!

SJ hosts a 50K (31 miles) and an 11 mile run at the same time. It is one of the best 50K’s in the southeast with 5000 feet of elevation gain in the Tennessee mountains outside of Chattanooga. It is what I had heard described as a “lollipop course”. From the start, you head out to a particular point, run around the round top part of the lollipop, then return back to that particular point, then from there return to the start/finish line.

Race morning was in the mid-40’s, which I was happy for. In 2007, by 8 am it was in the 70’s. This year the 50k and 11 milers started off together, but with in ¼ mile we were directed in two different directions. I had planned to really run this race, not just complete it with whatever time I crossed the finish line. I wanted to see what my body would do if I put it under more pressure and a somewhat faster pace than I am use to. But, I still wanted to run my own race. It didn’t matter who or how many passed me, I did what I felt I needed to do at the present time.

Shortly after leaving the high school where the start/finish line was, we got onto some nice dirt/gravel running trails around the sides and the back of the school. This goes for a few miles till we get to Mushroom rock. Truly, a rock the size of a house that looks just like a mushroom. I would love to show you a picture, but I didn’t take my camera on this run. After this is some great single track that is pretty steep downhill at times. Keep in mind, this is part of the course that you will cover twice.

We cross Suck Creek road, and head up more single track for a few more miles till we get to Indian Rock House aid station, which is aid stations #2 and 5, since you will run the Mullins Cove Loop and return to this aid station. During this loop you come across the section called the Rock Garden. It is a huge section that is completely covered in rocks and is pretty difficult to navigate. In the SJ course description, it states that this section of the trail is “hard to follow” and “easy to fall.” Very accurate. I luckily didn’t fall, but had some close calls. I felt like some teenage girl trying to walk in her first pair of high heels and trying to be cool about it. I learned something from this section for myself. When the trail is that technical, from the way I am stepping, it starts to work on loosing my shoes. If my shoes get loose to a certain point, I am guaranteed blisters. So after this section, I took a minute and re-tided my shoes. No blisters for the whole race!

I had worked things out in my mind that I wanted to take it easy in the first part of the race, but once I got back to Indian Rock House, I knew that I was heading back to the finish. I really wanted to see if I could not only keep on running through the last miles, but see if I might be able to speed up a little bit. I knew what laid ahead. I had vivid memories from 2007 of leaving the Suck Creek Rd aid station and doing a “death march” as it is called, up the hill that seemed never ending. I remember having to sit down on the side of the trail or stopping in this section to try to catch my breathe. This year I had a different attitude and plan for that section. I was determine to show it that it wasn’t big and bad, and I had gotten stronger. Mind you I was power hiking it and not running, but I didn’t have to stop one time! One of the guys I passed on this section commented that I “seemed effortless” in going up that steep section. That was a great thing to hear and it put a pep in my step a bit more. I shared with him why I thought that I could do this. In training for the AC100, I knew there would be sections of that course that I would be walking up hill constantly for 3 and 4 miles, and that is just in the first 25 miles of the race. Well, that type of constant uphill sections are not readily available in Georgia, so I starting thinking how I could recreate that. I came up with 2 ideas. First, stairs. I happen to work in a building that has 22 flights. So, I started doing 100 flights in a workout and worked up to 200 at a time. Next, getting on the treadmill and setting it to 12-15% grade and walking for 3-4 miles at a time at 3-4 mph pace. And to push things a little harder, I started wearing a weight vest. I started off with 10 lbs and now have worked up to having 25 lbs in it while I do the stairs or inclined treadmill. Just thought I would share this with my ultra friends and see if that sparks any ideas to help them out.

Early in the course, I had bumped into Kena, one of GUTS members and the superstar that ran 104 miles at Hinson Lake a couple of weekends ago. I know that she is faster than me, so I decided that I would try to push myself to stay with her as long as I could. At one point I was running ahead of her and got to an aid station just before her. I am not sure where it came from, but you know how I like to play games in my running, so I purposely hurried through the aid station and told a friend of ours to tell Kena that I was playing “Boogieman” with her. That she is the boogieman and it is her job to catch me. I can’t explain it, but man, it fired me up to get down the trail. Side note, Kena was running this 31 mile race that day in TN, then driving to SC to run a 40 mile race on the next day.

With a couple miles to go I caught up to a buddy of mine, Tony. He had taken pretty bad fall and was in some pain. I knew that he was just trying to get through it and cross the finish line. I talked with him for a little bit and we kept moving forward. I told him that Kena was behind us and closing in, if we let her catch us, especially with the fact she is running 40 miles the next day, that she would never let us live it down! In no way in she that type of person, but it really does help to play some of these games to cover this distance. It did work and Tony started running with me again. Another side note, Tony went on the next day and ran 40 miles in SC also!

For the past mile, we have been in the trails that we started at that are around the school. You can hear the cheers of other runners crossing the finish line and want to finish this event up. The last ½ mile is back on the road and you can see the finish line when you get to the top of the hill. This time was such a great feeling to cross the finish line running strong. I was able to take an hour and 9 minutes off from 2007 time.

I appreciate all volunteers and people that worked at the SJ this year. You guys did a great job!

Krissy, thank you for taking the time and talking with all of us. I really appreciate the advice you gave me and will be sure to let you know how it works out at Pinhoti.

Wayne, with you beating cancer, 50 or 100 miles should not be that intimidating at all! Let me know when you are ready and I will help you all I can.


  1. Coach Philip, you never cease to amaze! Congrats on another great race!

  2. Good job sista' SOOS. You tore it up this year...

    Nice pic with Krissy.

  3. Yay-uh!! Nice one, Philip! Way to knock off the time from last year. Good report too.

    Tony *only* did the 50K on the next day. :)