What a View From the Top: The Lookout Mountain 50 Mile Race Report by Cole Crosby

What a special day. I had such a memorable experience at Lookout Mountain and hope to be back one day!

With my job as a Tech Rep, I was so very lucky to have the opportunity to run one last 50 miler before the year was out in Chattanooga, TN. To put this into perspective: I have always heard such great things about the city of Chattanooga, its people, the racing community, and the host of races and trails that make the area one of the best in the entire country. Running an ultra in Chattanooga has always been a dream of mine!

As I ended up getting my trip solidified, I was excited to sign-up for the Lookout Mountain 50 miler.

This was a part of the Rock/Creek race series but is now under the "Wild Trails" non-for-profit race management group. The course from what I was able to read online was a fair course with good vertical gain and loss (6,600ft), had amazing terrain with scenic overlooks, runnable trails, and good long and gradual uphills. I was a fish that had taken a bite on the hook. I knew that after the Virgil Crest Ultra 50 (race report) that I had run in late September, I was going to be a little rusty on race tactics but had trained consistently from September and knew this was a prime opportunity to race hard one last time before the year was up so I was going to take it. I knew that this race was going to be an adventure and that in the past years, the race has always brought in some great talent. I was excited to see how I would stack-up to the competition and who knows, maybe run one of the fastest times at the event.

Here is the photo of the course map and design. I was planning on spending the Christmas holiday with my family in Nashville, TN so everything was lining up perfectly. I signed up for the race the week before as I was making my way to DC, Virginia and Tennessee for work and then began to prepare.

My time spent the week out from the event was great with a highlight of running around the heart of Washington DC, having the chance to see honest Abe, Einstein, and other famous tourism destinations in the heart of our Nation's Capitol. I also really enjoyed my time in Lynchburg and Charlottesville, Virginia checking out the running scenes at UVA and Liberty University. My time the day before in Chattanooga was excellent!

Here is my Race Recap:
I arrived in Chattanooga the day before the race where I had the chance to settle into my hotel, grab some food and visit the local store accounts in the area. It was such a cool city, with nice rolling hills off of the rivers that it reminded me of Binghamton, NY a ton. It was fun and to get myself ready I gorged myself at a Little Cesar's Pizza Joint (That's right, cheap pizza before an ultra). It was such a cool place with some awesome restaurants, and a packet pick-up at the Chattanooga Brewery which was the place to be on a Friday evening. I ended up getting all settled and then it was a nice night of sleep before the race tomorrow.

All my race gear. Photo Credit: Cole Crosby

All my race gear. Photo Credit: Cole Crosby

I carried with me a much different level of running gear than what I have used before. I was planning on racing with:

The weather was looking to be cool: in the 20's in the morning with a high near the mid 50's which for me is an ideal 50 mile temperature range. The body warms so much in the course of 50 miles that these temperatures would mean with proper layers and fueling, I would have to worry about overheating as much as in traditional summer temperatures. I felt that by carrying a hydration pack, I could comfortably stash my layers without use of a crew or drop bags and could do so comfortably. Also, I was hoping to stash a full set of Boom Gels (10 total) into my Nathan Vapor Air pack without much issue with comfort and weight distribution issues. The Mcdavid sleeves were a chance to try out one of our partner company's products and see how they stack-up with other graduated compression products on the market. I can give you a sneak peak and note that they performed nicely.

The sun about to rise 15 minutes before race start. Photo Credits: Cole Crosby

The sun about to rise 15 minutes before race start. Photo Credits: Cole Crosby

The race start time was at 7:30am with a sunrise at 7:40am. With a traditional start, I wound my way up the hill to Covenant college, a small religious university at the top of Lookout Mountain. The course would cross the college three times which made for a terrific central location. It was a cold morning with a little frost on the grass and the Wild Trails race set-up is cool with a huge bon-fire and pulsating music. It truly had the vibe of a big-stage event with the lovely southern charm the area's people showcase.

It was such a blessing to have the opportunity to run this ultra. I soon crowded the starting line with the top group as we got ready to race. I knew some top local athletes would be there. Nathan was the guy that had won the race the year before in 7:14 and from what I was told from staff at the local running store: Fastbreak Athletics, I knew that he would run a smart evenly paced race and had excellent course knowledge. I was also told that a guy named Daniel was hoping to run 6:30 on the course and was quite a speedster. He would be blasting off the front so I knew to key off of him later in the day.

As the horn sounded for one last 50 miler, I settled in with the top group of 4 including myself. I decided to hang with Nathan as he would be my guy to key the smart race with. As we know with myself, I have a habit of making wrong turns and I was not wanting to make that mistake at all in the event so I wanted to have the security of not making a foolish decision.

Daniel shot out and ran with another gentlemen who turned out to be third place finisher: John Kelly. I ran the nice road section as we left the college for the first few miles before entering the trail and beginning our descent off of Lookout Mountain.

Mind you, Lookout Mountain has some incredible views and vantage points right on the sinuating trails from the get-go. I was treated to 100 mile views as soon as we entered the trail section. We began the rolling descent along one of the ridgeline trails of Lookout Mountain and man was it perfect. I was in awe of the beauty of the course as the sun was rising through the trees. It was so great to spend the early miles hanging with Nathan, a solid local Chattanooga Ultra runner who had some great accolades himself such as a 7:14 on the course last year for the win. We talked and enjoyed the early morning miles and I even had a slip-up where I banged and scraped up my knee pretty badly. With my fall, Nathan stopped to help me up to begin our pursuit of 1st and 2nd. We kept that group in sight for the most part but knew that after the ascent back up the mountain, then the real race would begin. Anything to kill yourself too early on could be a move that had the potential to bite you in the rear later in the race.

Aid station one in the race went by nicely! Photo Credit: Wild Trails

Aid station one in the race went by nicely! Photo Credit: Wild Trails

After the first few aid stations, we began to make our move together running a strong and smart pace. As we hit the first few climbs, my lungs could feel a little of the early fatigue from not having insane vertical training before the race but I knew my body was primed and well-trained for the race. I had to be at ease with feeling a little extra fatigued from the hills. As we made our way along the ridgeline back up to the summit, I must say it was so much fun running the race with Nathan and having that chance to get to know him. This guy is going to do great things in the ultra world. I cannot wait to see how he does at the Georgia Death Race!

As we hit the last climb, Nathan let me go ahead hoping that we may see one another later in the race. I began to begin making a slight surge up to the top. As I hit the top, the morning sun was clear in the sky and man the view from the top was unbelievable. It was awesome! I kept a steady effort through the finish area and then felt ready to start rolling into a higher cadence in the next few miles. I was hoping to run miles 25-30 faster than my previous 25 and then work on picking up the pace miles 30-45 and then hold on for what I have left. I was able to do just that.

With perfect fueling with Boom Gels every 45 mins and I was drinking plenty from my Nathan Speedraw Plus Insulated 18oz handheld and that was a great call on my part. I felt strong, relaxed and ready to race hard. As I was entering the next section of trail I heard a yell coming from behind me. Then I saw a runner sprinting off trail towards me.

Was I going the wrong way? It was the second place runner at the time: John who came up and mentioned he had been lost for like 5 minutes. I assured him that we could get back on track. I then led the way as we looked around the dirt mounds at the top of the school. There we saw the Race Director: Randy and he apologized about the markings. We maybe lost a minute or two here. Nothing big in the scheme of things. I then continued to lead the charge after Daniel, the race leader. I felt strong and had the confidence that I could catch Daniel.

We navigated the Tennessee switchbacks in the deep woods until also missing a turn at the top of a jeep road and luckily a volunteer hollered to get us back on track. Jason held his own with me really well as we worked together to close the gap. After each aid station, the gap was mentioned as either 2-4 minutes. We were extremely close. Jason kept going as I took the time to shed my layers and place them in the back of my Nathan Vapor Air Pack. This was a smart move. I took down some soda and loaded up on gels as I heard this section had a nice uphill push with a rope climb. I surged on the jeep road and was able to catch Jason going up the steep rope climb section. With a solid mix of power-hiking and running at the top of the ridge, I began to pull away. I threw down a surge here to create a little separation.

Photo Credits: Jim T. at Flickr

Photo Credits: Jim T. at Flickr

Let me tell you that the views from this race were unbelievable! Once at the top we were greeted to massive views of Chattanooga. I was in awe of what I was seeing. The next section began the tornado section that was devastated in a tornado and the low-lying windy trail made for a technical hop-scotch game. As I hit the next aid station coming from a 1 mile road section, I was about 3 minutes behind. I fueled well again and then proceeded to try and catch Daniel. This point in the race it was near mile 35 or so and I began to feel a little bit of muscle cramping. I immediately worked on taking gels and fluids. This 5 mile stretch was a tough one. The trail went around a lake and a creek and this winding narrow trail section was hurting my ankles and putting extra strain on my body. I worked hard not to walk here but most of the walking I did do was in fact in this section. In spurts I would walk 10 seconds here, 20 seconds there, intermixing both walking and running while trying to get my body back to balance. I would feel good for a few minutes then would cramp a little again. This was my rough patch. I was still running strong but had to ease-off my pace slightly.

After this loop, I found that my time down on Daniel stayed the same. That drew confidence for me as the roughest section of the race so far had me lose no time on the lead which showed he was hurting some. After fueling here, I felt like a million bucks. My 5 mile so-so patch was gone and I was back to the hunt. Now I would head back on the course the way I came. It was great to see so many people on the trail giving words of encouragement. On some of the uphills, I had to grind them out but I began to surge and regain my early pace. I went through the Tornado section, the Vantage point section back on the crazy descent of the Rope climb and then back to the Lula Lake Aid. I was 2 minutes behind and began one final push.

As each mile progressed, I felt stronger and stronger. Time to Race! I grit my teeth at my slightly tight muscles as I pushed with all I had. Some people I was passing on the trail said I only had 30 seconds to catch him. I was close. I got to about mile 45 and by this point my body was tired from the surges I had made. I briefly power-hiked some of the uphills and hammered the downs. The rest of the story is history. I kept pushing hard the last few miles, slowing in pace as I was truly tired now. I knew that if Daniel was to falter, the past 10 miles was my chance to catch him. He fought hard and earned his victory. I hit the sand dunes and knew I was almost home free. I fought the last few climbs and then shot through the finish chute.

I finished 2nd in about 6:45:13 beating the old course record of 6:52 and only finishing about 4+-5 minutes behind Daniel. I ran a perfectly executed race for myself on the day and truly felt very strong almost the whole time. I was so pleased with how I fueled in the race and with adjusting to my new life on the road, I did amazing on a great course that is a solid challenge.

The Finish!!!!!!

Podium! Photo Credits: Charles Crosby

Podium! Photo Credits: Charles Crosby

All the awesome gear at the race. Photo Credit: Cole Crosby

All the awesome gear at the race. Photo Credit: Cole Crosby

I want to give a big Thank you to my sponsors:

This race performance was thanks in part to your continued support!

I would like to thank my father for making the trip out to see me race. I would like to thank my amazing fiance for believing in me each and every day.

I would like to thank RD Randy Whorton and his wife Kris for putting on such an incredible event. I would like to thank the amazing volunteers that helped me stay on course, helping ensure I was well-nourished and kept me motivated with some great stories and jokes. Thank you to Nathan Holland for keeping me company throughout the first 20 or so miles of the race. Best of luck in your future races.

The Trail Running Community here at Chattanooga is truly one of the best in the country. The trails are fantastic; the perfect blend of technical with runnable ability and the views and the style of the trails were so cool. The people of Chattanooga are what make this area tick. I met so many kind and interesting people here that with coming from Upstate NY, I felt like I was a part of the family. My advice for those Chattanoogans are keep doing what you are doing. I was treated to one incredible race experience so thank you. What a way to close out 2015!

So I got in my last ultra of the year. Now what for 2016? For starters, I am going to get back to training and preparing my body for winter.

I Christmas in Tennessee and the Year Ahead:

I had a great time spending the opportunity to run some of the rolling hills of Tennessee right in West Nashville. I had a beautiful 70 degree day running at Percy Warner and Edwin Warner Park which is one of my favorite places to train in period.

I am so excited for 2016 and the year ahead. My plan will be to run many USA Championship events from 50k-100k on both road and trail. Thank you again everyone for an incredible 2015 and onward to 2016.

Related links:
Cole's Athlete Page
All Race Reports