Lookout Mountain 50 Miler Race Report (2012) – Nathan Judd

Lookout Mountain 50 Miler begins at Covenant College on the top of Lookout Mountain. I began the race with two Run It Fasters, David Pharr and Joshua Holmes. David and I have been friends for a long time and have done several races together here recently. He is definitely becoming a very strong ultra runner. I also had a great crew seeing me off, including my lovely wife Melissa (who was holding our precious baby daughter Brooklyn, Jonathan Harrison (who helped me out A TON) throughout the day, and Leah Harrison (Jonathan’s wife).

We ran through the parking lot of the college and then went into the woods on the west side of the mountain. We ran along a single track with some nice bluffs that could end one’s life directly to our left. We could see a beautiful view of a valley for about thirty minutes on our left. What a great way to start the day!  We continued to run north and then came to the stairs marking Point Park which was directly above us. The trail then turned around to the north side of the mountain, and we could see Chattanooga on our left. This was a very fast section of trail. I knew ahead of time that I had to be careful here. I love going fast on the downhill, but I didn’t want to expend myself 6 miles into the race.

After this section, we came to a gravel road that went back in roughly the same direction we had just come, only it was going downhill. We weren’t on this road long before getting to Craven’s House, the first aid station at mile 8. David had pulled a little ahead of me before getting to the station. I could tell he was on a mission, and I did the smart thing and just let him go. Jonathan refilled my gels, Enduralytes, and got me some food as well as a change of shirt (into my sweet Run It Fast shirt).

I looked up to start running with David again, but he was gone. I didn’t see him again the rest of the day. We continued downhill. There really wasn’t a lot going on for this section of the trail. I just made my way down to the Nature Center area. I knew there was another aid station there at about 14 miles, but I also knew I wouldn’t see anyone I knew at that station. I ended up getting to the bottom of the mountain and running along a creek to my right. This was a very moderate section of trail and very flat. I then came to the station, refilled, and started the next section.

I knew I had a monster climb ahead of me from looking at the course profile. Sure enough, the trail started going up, up, up. Before I knew it, I was about halfway up the mountain. I actually said to somebody, “This isn’t quite as bad as I thought it was going to be.” I passed several people during this stretch. My spirits really started to lift as I realized how well I was doing with what was described as the hardest section of the course. Then the trail started to go down. And it kept going down. The pump fake! I ended up at the bottom of the mountain again! The only time you don’t want to go downhill is when you know you have to go back up. This was definitely that case. When I started the real ascent, it was definitely a difficult stretch. It was near the top of this section that I started to get nauseous for the first time. I took a ginger capsule, some more gel, and some enduralytes. Somehow I was able to hold it all down.

I heard several people say they had the same thoughts I had at the top of that hill. “If my legs are already this tired, how am I going to make it thirty more miles?” It was definitely a mental/physical game at that point, especially considering the start/finish was right after that climb as the 22.5 mile aid station. My crew met me there again. They had a lawn chair for me, and I sat down for a minute. Jonathan refilled everything, and Leah got me some food from the table. I just took a minute to recuperate. Melissa gave me a kiss, which was definitely a boost to the spirits. I changed socks and mentally prepared for the next stretch.

A Rock/Creek guy told me that, if I made it through the first part, I could definitely make it the rest of the way. He said there were a lot of ATV trails, so it wasn’t nearly as difficult.  Let me say this, while the trails weren’t as technical and weren’t quite as hilly as the first section, they were VERY hilly. It was not easy.  Still, I got out of the chair and started the remaining 27.5 miles.

This section started on the ATV trails and then switched to another single track after winding through the campus woods a little bit. This single track was really narrow and had some uneven footing making it difficult to move quickly. However, I had received a second wind and even called a couple of buddies (Alex Walker and Mitch Zlatovich) to tell them I was confident I was going to finish. Mitch didn’t answer, and he later told me (after calling me back later) that he thought I had called him to tell him I had dropped.

I came out of the woods to a section of power lines that went to my left. I ran with the lines for a while and made a mental note that they would be a marker on the way back. (Boy were they a marker). I went into the woods again on the other side of the lines, and I began a pretty long downhill towards the Lula Land Trust property. There wasn’t a whole lot going on in this stretch either, except that there was one creek crossing. The good thing was that this trail was definitely a moderate trail making it easy on the feet.

I crossed a road and then began a downhill with a large bluff just to my right. The trail went down to some picnic tables, and we crossed a bridge over Rock Creek. We headed through the woods, went up and down some decent climbs, and then the next aid station appeared after I heard some water. It felt like a really long way to this station from the previous one. It turned out this station was at mile 30, right beside Lula Falls. Also of note, it was shortly before the aid station that the race leader passed me heading back to the S/F.)

I texted Jonathan to tell him I was lost… Then I texted him to tell him I was actually at mile 30. I continued down a gravel road for a short bit, saw the monster falls to my left, and then looked up to see… a rope!? Who puts a trail so tough you have to use a rope at mile 30? And what’s worse, I had to climb down the stupid thing right before mile 42.5.  What could I do, though? I climbed.

At the top, the trail became very wide and comfortable, and I was greeted with probably the best view to my left from the whole day. I took a picture, but, as in most cases, the picture doesn’t compare to what it actually looked like. There is something about covering a lot of ground and gaining a lot of elevation to be rewarded with a secluded gift from God. I became a little emotional (as most people do when they are completely drained in a race). The road kept going up a long, slight upgrade slope, which I welcomed. It was not steep, but it was steep enough that I got to walk for a while. 2nd and 3rd place started to come by me at that point. They were at least 3-4 miles behind the leader. That guy was flying.

I began a downhill stretch and was greeted with a nice view of a river below again. The footing was pretty uneven, although comfortable due to the soft dirt. I was forced to walk by the river for a bit because of the footing. I eventually came out of the woods and took a right to run along a road up to the next aid station which was marked mile 34.

I was feeling a little bit queasy, but I knew I needed to try to eat something. My crew had me some soup, and I drank some of the broth. Surprisingly, it tasted great. I changed my shoes because I knew I was going to cross a creek in the next section. I would shortly be back at this same point (miles 34-38 were a loop). I wanted to make sure to have dry trail shoes if I could keep it that way. Because the soup went down so well, I figured I would use the opportunity to try to get some food on my stomach.

I grabbed some oranges and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Jonathan jumped in with me and ran with me for the rest of the race. We waved bye to our crew before heading into the woods. Right before going into the woods, while looking back at the crew, I became very nauseous and started to dry heave, forcing the unswallowed sandwich out of my mouth onto the ground. Jonathan looked at me concerned. I said, “Don’t worry, it was just the peanut butter and jelly.” I immediately turned and hurled. Without missing a beat, I said, “Don’t worry, it was just the peanut butter and jelly. I feel great!” Then we headed into the woods.

After puking, I got a major second wind. I honestly think I maintained about a 12 minute mile average through the next section, which, at that point in the race and with some of the climbs in that section, was definitely moving. I passed five people through that section. Jonathan told me my spirits were definitely better than most of the people he had seen at that point.

We came out of the woods to the 38 mile station again. I changed back into my trail shoes, grabbed my headlamp, made sure I had everything I needed, and started the 12 (I heard it was actually 11.5 miles) back to the start finish. I was definitely glad to have company at that point because 12 miles after 38 miles is still a really long way.

I won’t rehash the views explained earlier because they’re just in reverse, but it definitely lifted my spirits to have someone to talk to for the rest of the race. I thought I was going to be completely coming apart at that point, but honestly, I still felt pretty good. I was definitely moving pretty slowly, but I had no doubt I would make it to the end.

When we got to the 42.5 mile station at the falls, I sat down by the fire for a few minutes, drank some Mountain Dew, ate some candy, and gave myself a short mental break. Then we headed back into the woods which was definitely not very runnable. After being in the woods for just a short time, we were forced to turn on the headlamps. I was able to keep my bearings for the most part somehow, but it’s hard to describe much that goes on when it is dark all around.

We passed the creek again and did a large climb away from the water. I was definitely getting tired, but Jonathan kept telling me how well I was hiking the uphills. We pressed through this connector trail, and I waited to find the power lines again.  Finally, I saw the lights of the power lines ahead of me. I knew they were close… They were not. I probably saw those stupid lights for about an hour.  What is worse, it was an uphill climb almost the whole way. That was the most mentally taxing part of the day. I kept saying, “We have go to get out of here.” Jonathan kept telling me to hang in there. That would last about five minutes, and those stupid lights never got any closer. Repeat cycle. He gave me just the right amount of encouragement without overdoing it because, honestly, at that point, I was really just ready to be done. I had gotten some feedback from people estimating distance and time, too. They told me that, if I averaged a 15 minute mile to the end, I would probably still make it in under 12 hours. Finally, I made it out of the woods and followed the power lines for a bit and then went back into the woods on the other side. I really tried to push myself to go for the 12 hour mark. We hit the last ATV trail, and I started moving. I don’t know how fast I was going, but Jonathan said the last half mile actually made him tired. My watch turned over the 12 hour mark, so I backed off a bit on the pace. I could see some Christmas lights ahead, which outlined the chute to the finish. They started announcing my name, and I saw my crew and family cheering me on. When I crossed the line, I spiked my water bottles and yelled. I was completely exhausted but completely pumped at the same time.

I did miss the 12 hour mark by 2 minutes. (Note here. That was just a hopeful goal. My goal was to finish and enjoy the race. I met both goals, and I took pictures throughout the way, took nice breaks at aid stations, and did exactly what I needed to do. Even though I didn’t get under 12 hours, I am not disappointed at all. I did it exactly how I wanted to do it, and I would not change a thing about my race strategy).

A big thanks goes out to everyone who helped and supported me throughout the day. Melissa was a major trouper, taking care of Brooklyn for 12 hours and then doing so much to take care of her over the weekend while I was too tired to do a whole lot. Jonathan was a major support throughout the entire race (crewing me for 34 miles and then running with me and crewing at the same time for 16 miles). Leah also helped crew, was a great support, and came a long way to watch me run. Thank goodness she wasn’t hungry. My parents also fought the cold to get out there to watch me at the finish.  I also want to thank David Pharr and Joshua Holmes for hanging out at the finish to see me at the end. They both killed it and finished in close to 10.5 hours. All in all, it was an awesome experience. I enjoyed every bit of 10 hours of this race.  10 out of 12 isn’t bad. Haha. Run It Fast!

Nathan Judd (RIF #166)

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- who has written 1052 posts on Run It Fast®.

Joshua Holmes has completed 197 marathons/ultramarathons while running 100+ miles 43 including races such as the Badwater 135, Western States 100, The Last Annual Vol State 500K (3x). His favorite races to date are the Vol State 500K, Badwater 135, Barkley Fall Classic, Catalina Eco Marathon, Chimera 100, Across The Years, Savage Gulf Trail Marathon, Strolling Jim 40 Miler, Tunnel Hill 100, RUTS, EC100 and the Flying Monkey Marathon in his home state of Tennessee. Follow @bayou Follow @joshuaholmes on Instagram

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One Response to “Lookout Mountain 50 Miler Race Report (2012) – Nathan Judd”

  1. Brent says:

    Nice review. I had the pleasure of meeting some of your Run It Fast people, Joshua in particular. Thanks for sharing guys, the story and the trail.

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