Stump Jump 50K Recap by Charlie Taylor

2011 Signal Mountain Tennessee (Stump Jump 50K):

This was my first attempt at any trail race and like I pretty much always do, I tackled one of the meanest 50K’s to see if I would like it or not. Stump Jump 50K is sometimes called “The meatgrinder” and I really had no idea why. I had read as much as I could about it and knew that it was a tough one. One of my friends, Brent Fuqua, had run this race in 2008 in about 7:40 or so and he had talked about the hills that made your ears pop when you went up or down. Anyway, I was determined to get my first 50K under my belt.

My summer and fall training did not go exactly as I would have liked it to go, I did get a lot of miles in, having put in a tad over 2,300 as of Sept 30. A lot of them were not real quality miles, but even bad miles are better than no miles. I kept my weeks pretty steady at 50-60 per week and most Saturdays I was knocking out at least 14 and a lot of 20 milers. Since the first of July, our running group had been doing a hill run on Thursdays that we called HAT day (Hilly A– Thursday) which consisted of a mile and a half run from Station Camp HS to the bottom of Longview hill. Then we ran from Longview to Long Hollow Pike and then back to the bottom of Longview for a total of 2.2 miles and about 500 feet of climb. We would run this loop about 3-4 times, then back to the high school. 1500 feet of climb in a 10 mile run was about all you wanted. I’m really glad that we decided to do the HAT run because as it turned out, that was really the only preparation I had made for the hills that I had to run at Stump Jump.

We had to be in Chattanooga Thur and Friday for a Sunday School retreat and were staying at the Choo Choo. We made it to the expo Friday about noon and picked up our race packets and had time to mingle just a bit, ask questions, pick up free samples and register for the giveaways (which we did not win). My wife, Terri, had signed up for the 11 mile trail run. She was really excited about her first trail run also. Some other Hendersonville Running Club buds were also running the 50K with me. Jamie Abbott, Scott Jordan, and Dave Morris. Terri and I made it back to our retreat, attended classes until 8PM and then had a giant piece of key lime pie from City Cafe.

The Clock went off in the morning and we quickly got dressed, excited like it was Christmas or something. We got out the door and decided to stop at Waffle House and put a little protein in our bellies. That was a great idea! Then we were Back in the van and headed up Hwy 127, around the twisty curvey hill up to Signal Mountain and to the High School. I am glad that we had checked out the location the last time we were in Chattanooga because there was absolutely NO directionals telling us where to go and it was foggy. We did make it on time and was directed to park on the back side of the school which was a pretty good walk from the start/finish.

We already had everything laid out that we wanted to carry and such so we loaded up, got our shoes and gaiters on and was pretty much ready to run. Since Terri was doing the 11 miler, she wore a fuel belt with about 20 oz of water and I had just purchased a Nathan hydration vest which held 80 oz of water and had a lot of pockets for whatever I wanted to put in them. I didn’t carry a lot, a Cliff bar, My Ipod, My running camera (Olympus Stylus Tough), some bandaids and tape, a squirt bottle of Hammer gel, and a container of Kramer body gel. After a couple bathroom breaks, we were ready for the race to start.

I normally try to start near the front and somehow I was in the wrong place at the wrong time when the gun went off and found myself in the back of about 350 trail runners. I knew that if I had any chance at all of getting in the upper third, i would need to take every advantage I could when I had opportunity. Most of the first 3 miles or so was a bit spread out so when I could, I would pass as many runners as I could get around. I’m sure I pissed some people off, but, that’s how it goes. By the time we got to Mushroom Rock (mile 4), I had probably passed 150 runners and was running with folks with my same speed.

After Mushroom rock, we headed down the first (of many) big hills into Suck Creek. I see why they call it Suck Creek, it really sucks. Very steep descent, big rocks to jump over, twists and turns, bridges to cross, and then you cross another bridge and up another hill and across a guardrail onto a highway. Run up the highway for 200 feet and immediately turn left up and embankment and back into the woods. A lot of this race is pretty level running trails, however, most of it you are either going up or down. Not a lot of level running. Even when it could be level, the demons who designed the course, would have you go downhill a couple feet so you could make a hard turn and go back up. This part of the trail had a lot of big cliffs and pretty much immediately, we were running on the side of some pretty massive dropoffs with big cliffs on our right side. In many places, if you had taken a step to the left, you would have hurled 200 feet to your death (or dismemberment). After about 2 miles we could see the Tennessee river way down below us and we made our way around the side of the cliffs, exposing ourselves more and more to the widening views to our left. It was a most beautiful sight, really makes you glad (as Charlie Daniels used to say) to be alive and be in Tennessee!

Many places were so rocky that you had to watch every place you put your feet for fear that your ankles would turn. I did manage to turn ankles 5 or 6 times throughout the race, none to the point of sprains. There were places where nature had cut through the rock and we ran between 2 giant rocks that were only 2 feet apart. There were giant rocks as big as a house just sitting on the side of the mountain like somebody just dropped them out of an airplane. There had been a tornado in this area a year or so ago and there were a lot of downed trees. Several places, someone had simply sawed the tree into on each side of the trail, you just ran between it. Other places, the tree was still there and you had to crawl over or jump up on it and throw yourself off. The 10 mile aid station was called Indian Rock House and it was under a big cliff (I’m sure that Indians used to live under these cliffs). They had a great selection of food items, PNB, M&Ms, pretzels, and much more. I made it a point to eat a bit at each station. At that point I started drinking Mt Dew that they had in cups. Mt Dew added a good sugar burst and you could also wash down whatever you ate. I noticed that some of the runners that had passed me a while back were still at the aid stations. Some folks were wasting a lot of time at these stations. I quickly deducted that if you spent only 5 minutes at each station, you would finish 35 minutes later than if you kept running. My time at the stations were less than half a minute, then back to the trail.

At Indian Rock House, we continued on around the bluffs overlooking the river for a 10 mile loop around the mountain. I believe they called this Mullins Cove Loop. Again, many big downhills ad uphills. I remember one place in particular where up on the hill above us, big rocks were laying all over the side of the mountain. I meant to get a picture of them but didn’t. I want to hike back there sometime just to get a picture of those rocks!

Several miles later we came through the Snoopers Rock Aid Station, which was on the point of a big bluff, then winding on around the mountain and to Haley road Aid station. This was just a bit past the halfway point and my enthusiasm was not in the best of shape. I was getting tired, my quads were starting to hurt after all the rock jumping, and it was getting hillier. Maybe a couple miles after Haley Road, we came upon the rock garden which consisted of several hundred feet of trail that was nothing but big rocks, you could not see the flags at all and you pretty much had to guess which way to go. I’m sure there were some who got off the course at this point. I was running with a couple guys and we figured out after a couple short wrong ways which way to go and once we got out of the rocks, we were back on the trail.

At the 19 mile mark, many had left drop bags with a change of socks, meds, etc. i had elected to carry what i needed and did not do a drop bag. I had worn my Swiftwick Merino wool 5″ socks, which turned out to be a blessing. No blisters, not slipping around in my shoes, and they had quite a bit of cushion. Got another drink of Mt dew and kept on running. It was only a mile or so until we came back upon the Indian Rock House station. I was surprised that we were back there that quick, go some more Mt Dew and headed out again. i actually started feeling pretty good again and picked the pace up a bit. My original goal was to run this thing at a 10:00 pace (What a fool i was!). I had been noticing my Garmin splits and I was running 12:00 miles on average.

After Rock House, I started running with a guy from Nashville, Gavin Duke, and we ran together for about 5 miles, carrying on pretty good conversation as we ran. My left hip had been giving me fits since maybe mile 10, and I started stopping for 20 seconds or so and stretching, which made the pain go away for 3-4 miles. During one of these stops, my new friend, Gavin, went on in front of me.. We wound around, back through the cliffs and river overlook, through the tight rocks, down the ladders and back into the suck creek area, down the Highway, crossed the guardrail and down into the creek. I had kinda forgotten how much of a hill it had been coming down, but it was really bear going back up. I think I walked the entire up hill. My half mile split on that hill was 17 minutes!

Once i got to the top, wound around a bit, I came back upon mushroom rock. my Garmin had lost some measurement and I was thinking I still had almost 6 miles to go. When the people at the aid station told me I only had 3 1/2 miles to go, I about jumped out of my skin with excitement!. Now all of a sudden I have new life. Another big drink of My Dew, some M&M’s and I am ON MY WAY. At that point, I was thinking I might be able to break 6 hours 30 minutes. My pace picked up to sub 10:00 minute miles and I found it easier to run the more gentle hills. As I got closer, I could hear the announcers talking and that made me go faster. I did log one 7:50 mile at mile 30 due to some gentle downhills and flat running. During the last 3 1/2 miles, I did pass probably 15 runners and as we came out onto the road leading to the school, I passed my friend from nashviile that I had run with a few miles back. I like to finish hard with a smile on my face, so as I made the turn,I saw Terri and my son Matt and his girlfriend Madeline cheering for me at the corner and I powered it to the finish line as the clock read 6:35:15. My watch time was 6:34:14. I think that when the gun went off, everybody’s time started, instead of using the mats to start your time when you crossed the start line.

I was finished!! I was really glad too! That was one tough race. I see why they call it the meatgrinder. I walked around a bit, my quads were screaming, I got something to drink and decided to change my shoes. I told Terri that I was going to the van and when I got there (remember that it is 1/2 mile away), I discovered that she had the key, so I get to walk back to the finish line area without my fresh shoes. Got a hamburger and more to drink and watched my buddies come in. Terri had finished her 11 miler in 3:09. In my race, Expedition Dave Morris came in at 6:43, Jamie in 6:47, and Scott 7:11. I met and had my picture made with Rob Apple who had just run his 600th ultra race since 1982 and he is only 50.

Official time 6:35:15. I know its only a minute in a 31 mile race but I’m gonna count my time as 6:34:14. i was 133rd overall out of about 400 and 9th in the masters division (age 45-55). If grandmasters was 50 and over,like in most races, I would have been 4th grandmaster.

What did I learn? I learned that I like ultras. Being out there in God’s creation all alone for 6+ hours is a really peaceful time. Really makes you aware of the awesomeness of God and appreciate being able to live in such a diverse place.

Would I do this again? What do you think? As soon as I got home, I signed up for Mountain Mist 50K which is in northern Alabama Jan 28. Big mountains, lots of climbing, maybe snow, maybe cold, lots of fun. I’m also signed up for Recover from the Holidays 50K on new Years eve in Huntsville. What a way to end a great running year!

What would I do different? I would start more up front. I would have run some trail runs (with hills) (I did No trail runs at all), I would have taken more pictures than i did, although I did get a lot. I would have talked Doug Boomer into running this with me (although he would have beat me)

Ill be more ready next year for this puppy!



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2 Responses to “Stump Jump 50K Recap by Charlie Taylor”

  1. Benj says:

    Recover from holidays and Mountain Mist! SWEET! Welcome to Huntsville next!

  2. gavin duke says:

    cheers charlie! great run great recap. hope to run another one with you. i’ll look into the mt mist one. do you recall that long alley of boulders where you had to look hard for the flags and it kept going from rock to rock? hooah ! got to get the next one on the horizon. thanks for the post!


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