YABRR: Chattanooga 100 2018 Edition
"For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack"
~ Rudyard Kipling
As usual, the important things come first, and even this section is going to be long. Thanks to Mike for suggesting this race, Robin for joining me on the trip (she had to put up with bagpipes as background music for 22 hours of driving), Nikki, Billy, Martha and Marcela for being outstanding crew and taking care of those of us who were crewless and clueless. Thanks to the many Team Ninja folks who were out there, especially Michelle who got stuck holding the bag. Thanks to Jill for keeping me company during the waterfall section (and counting steps), Mike, Arturo, Agustin and Ben for the pack running afterwards. Thanks to Sean for inviting us to play in his backyard, and his volunteers for being there. And, as always, Shellene for putting up with me (that is a full time "thank you").
Thanks to DDR, for the strength of the wolf is the pack.
"The course is 97% runable*" *If your name is Killian Jornet.
"The point of this race is not to be extremely difficult it is meant to show of the natural beauty of Cloudland Canyon State Park You will see a couple of MASSIVE water falls, run around the rim of a canyon, and finish to beers and cheers."
At least one of those two statements is 100% correct. Chattanooga 100 isn't extremely difficult, but it was difficult, and I believe it would be even in good weather conditions. I made the comment that, at least according to the different mapping platforms, it looked as easy as Rocky Raccoon. That wasn't quite the truth, looking at the numbers that a lot of us brought back, if you took out the first 12 miles, it might be a little harder than the full Rocky, but Rocky doesn't have the sustained climbs.
I'm not going to attempt to describe the scenery of the course, there are plenty of photos posted, and they really don't do it justice either. Let's just say that the first 12 miles of the course are worth doing, no matter what happened during the rest of the race. While the rest of the course wasn't as breathtaking (ok, some of it did leave us short of breath), there were some beautiful views out there as well (there was one ridge that I wish we had been on in daylight, it looked like you could see forever).
Interesting numbers, there were 138 runners who started, 75 finishers for a 54% finishing rate. DDR started 16 runners, 9 finished for a 56% finishing rate, so we are slightly above average. The only reason we got as many finishers is because of the support we had on the course, either for each other as runners, or by the outstanding and out standing in the rain and cold support crew we had. If anyone doubts that, find the photo of Marcela with her feet in baggies, she gave her shoes and socks to a runner.
"The strength of the pack is the wolf"
The pre-race activities need to have a few comments, for those who weren't there. When DDR does a major trip, things can get "interesting". There were two good options for lodging, Team Ninja for the most part took the more expensive option of an AirBNB close by, a lot of us stayed in the bunkhouse. Robin and I were the first to arrive, when we got there we discovered that the bunkhouse had four rooms, and one was completely empty, so we took it over as DDR HQ. By the time we were all there, we had myself, Michael, Robin, Chris, Martha, Billy, Nikki, Agustin, Marcela, Rolando and Nash bunked there. We loaded everyone (but Chris and Michael, they hadn't made it yet) into two cars and headed to the race briefing. Driving into Chattanooga, Agustin decided to liven things up a bit and mooned the second vehicle (poor Mike, he's going to have to replace that window). The other car looked like they were going to answer in kind, but decided against it (unlike them, our car would have posted photos).
The race briefing was held at a very good outfitters (Rock Creek, if you ever need anything and are in the area, check them out), after which we hit the worlds s l o w e s t sandwich maker at Whole Foods and stocked up on extra food. During packet pickup the 100 milers were given fanny packs with a shot bottle of whiskey and a condom just in case it got real cold. We get back to the bunkhouse, Michael and Chris had arrived, and the one empty bunk was filled by a runner who had no idea what he had gotten himself into.
Friday morning, 8AM race start gave the 100 milers time to sleep, and then overthink their choices a couple of times before the gun went off. The first few (3.5ish) miles were on the road, followed by maybe a mile of trail and then the descent into the canyon. I spent most of that time running with Tehra Wieck from Austin and Jill. We were following Robin and Melissa, with the main DDR pack was close behind us and then the rest strung out behind them. On the climb out, I was at one of the landings and could see the DDR pack with only a few other runners around; so I decided to return a favor to Agustin and mooned them (never let DDR out without adult supervision, just don't do it). Fortunately, they were far enough away that they didn't get blinded by the whiteness. We made it to the main waterfall, got a couple of photos and then headed out. Once we got to the top of the climb, I started running with the DDR pack. At this point it was Agustin, Mike, Arturo, Ben and I, and we would stay together for about 60 miles (expect for Ben, who dropped off pace and spent the majority of his time with Rolando).
The four of us kept a good flow going to most of the race, not pushing hard at all on the runable sections, and power walking the climbs. There was one section where I decided to stretch out my legs, and Arturo came with me for about a mile; but once we did that, we just waited on the group and rejoined. There was a good switchback downhill on the course, Arturo commented on how nice it was; I pointed out that we were going to have to go back up it on the way back. We also hit a section that was obviously designed for the mountain bikes, it was hard to keep a rhythm and we were not looking forward to that on the way back, especially since it was getting muddier as time went on.
Interesting thing about Georgia mud, it is very polite. While we hit some slip and slides, the mud wasn't sticking to our shoes. During the 60 miles we covered as a group, each of us hit low spots, but the strength of the runner is the pack - so we carried on. My low spot was leaving the Parking Loop aid station on the return. I was tired of being cold and wet, but wasn't going to drop off the group. About 6 miles later we hit the "rope" section, I can understand why the RD didn't want us to descend it in the dark. Going up it was fun though, and helped get me back into the game.
After the turn around, we got to see the DDR runners who were behind us, they looked miserable but happy at the same time. Yup, they were suffering, but they were still moving. I think seeing each of them helped keep our group moving as well, just knowing that they were still there.
During this time, we were met by the combined might of the DDR and Team Ninja crews at every aid station that they were allowed at. Nothing beats being cold and wet, hitting an aid station and being handed a warm Krystal burger during a race. At one point I needed something out of my float bag, which Nikki (she had dropped after 12 miles and was crewing) had in her car. Michelle became a bag holder as I rummaged through it (BTW, the UD "North" bag is perfect for crew support races, but it does have two pockets that can lose items). Marcela was there applying Tiger Balm as needed, Billy, Martha and the worlds supply of Ninjas were at hand for anything that was needed as well. This is how we managed as well as we did.
"Running is a solo sport, but we never are alone"
At about mile 73 I started to get a bit shivery, and decided that I needed to pick up the pace to warm up, so I went off the front at a brisk walking pace. I figured that, if the pack wanted to catch up, they could. This is where it got "fun", it included the switchback section from earlier, which let to a foggy ridge line and as one of the storms blew through. I heard a massive crunch from a tree coming down, followed shortly by a smaller branch hitting the trail 3 feet from me. Once the sun came up, I wanted to dump my main headlamp (RD required a headlamp for the entire race, I had a light one for daytime) at the next aid station. This station was crew only, so I figured I'd throw it to Nikki, grab food and keep going. I got there, there was no DDR or Team Ninja people there. I figured (sadly it was correctly) that they were out making a pickup and didn't worry about getting rid of the light. After what seemed like forever running through the cold wet fog I made it to the bunkhouse aid station, grabbed my dropbag and headed inside. I needed to get spare clothing from under my bunk. As soon as I stepped in Nash, took care of getting me everything I needed (I just added a Salomon running jacket) and then told me two words that I never thought I'd hear: "Robin dropped". At that point you could have knocked me over with a feather. After the shock wore off, I headed out for a long walk.
I finished the trail section, which was very rooty and rocky with the plan to keep it safe, and then hit the road where I saw a sign that read: "Finish 2 miles". This was the same section that was 3.5 miles on the way out, but I was so brain-fogged I believed it. One of the things that Sean did for this race was to use the same setup as UTMB, which includes predictions as to when a runner should hit the aid station. When I became overdue, Billy headed out to find me, and met me with about a mile to go. We walked for a bit, and then I started running, walked up the final climb and then finished at a run. All the DDR/Ninja runners/crew were hanging out at the line, and it became a party.
Congratulations to all who finished, it was a tough day in the office, especially Arturo and Rolando who got their first buckles (and Rolando was able to go home). Nash, Pam, Christoph, Marced, Nikki your day will come, no doubt about it. Jill, this one wasn't your day, but Zion is coming. As for Robin dropping, remember what she did the next race after her last DNF - I pity the fool who gets in her way.