Thursday, December 30, 2010


Lookout Mountain 50 Miler Race Report-


Troy Shellhamer- 12/2010

I tripped and took a nasty fall in the first mile just trying to keep up with the blistering pace that Josh Wheeler was setting up front. The first ten miles or so, my eyes were watering from the sting of the cold and my vision was blurred. My heart was in unchartered territory for a fifty miler at 170 beats per minute. There were maybe 6 of us trying to keep up, and over one hundred others behind from all stretches of the country. We were failing at keeping up with Josh. As we gasped for air, we managed to chat and BS with one another as we struggled to chase down the leader, who was increasing his 5, 10, 15, 20 minute lead at every aid station. Prior to the race, I watched an interview with him, and he said he usually tries to guage his competition by starting with an unmanageable pace in the begining. He eases into his true race pace after several miles once he's broken some of the field.

The course was beautiful. It was supposed to rain for several days before the race and on race day, but the forecasters were mistaken. The course stayed dry, and although covered with leaves and strewn with rocks, roots, and boulders, the singletrack trail was still in top shape. The course for the Rock Creek Lookout Mountain 50 Miler is the most entertaining and beautiful course I have run. The first ten miles are on the northern side of Lookout Mountain, and you run along and on cliffsides and bluffs overlooking the Tennessee River Valley for miles upon miles. Around mile 16 you start the biggest climb of the race, back up to the start/finish line at Covenant College atop Lookout Mountain. You reach Covenant College around mile 22 and then head to the Lula Lake Land Trust, where you are blessed with the chance to run by Lula Lake Falls.

Troy Shellhamer

After running by Lula, you climb the steepest stretch of trail, which actually has a rope on the climb up to help gain your footing. It's about as steep as any stretch of trail I have ever seen that didn't require actual hand over foot rock climbing. You then twist and turn and climb your way through some tightly wound singletrack near a mountain stream to Long Branch Aid Station. From Long Branch you run a four and a half mile loop, and then return twelve miles to Covenant College for the Finish.

... So, back to the race!

It's mile 22, and we've just finished the biggest ascent of the race. I managed to pass quite a few runners and take third place on the climb despite gastric issues, which forced me off the trail several times to expel various fluids and foods from every hole in my body, I held second place for a moment, but lost it during another explosive excretive episode. My stomach was in great shape though coming into Covenant at mile 22. Stephanie, my crew, had my fluid bottle ready for handoff at Covenant College so I could blow though the Aid Station. This bottle swap was much smoother than the first in which I managed to run off with a full bottle of EFS, but no Powerbar! Otherwise, this race held the fastest and smoothest aid I have ever expereinced in a race thanks to a great crew. While switching bottles and grabbing Powerbars at Covenant I nabbed second place from David Worth whom was at the Aid Station. I had a great chat with David while climbing up to Covenant. We talked about the Appalachian Trail which we had both thru-hiked in previously and it made the time fly. This was shaping up to be one of the most social races I had run in the last few years, and it made it that much more enjoyable. I was also glad to have the chance to run for a few moments with Kevin Boucher from Chattanooga whom I raced with last year as we talked about various Ironman courses to pass the time. This is what trail races are all about! It's always so much fun to go back to races and catch back up with the other runners!

The climb up to Covenant College had finally thinned us out, but it was still the closest race I can recall. I came into the Long Branch Aid Station at mile thirty-four holding second place still. I had closed the gap to Josh Wheeler whom holds the course record. He was now only three or four minutes ahead, and he had lost his 20 minute lead. I didn't care though. Miles thirty-four through thirty-eight were some of the most pivotal miles in the race. Taking it easy for this little four and a half mile loop was the most important aspect of my race strategy. My plan was to take it painstakingly slow and easy throughout thirty-four to thirty-eight and then use my renewed energy levels to pound out the last twelve miles of the race faster than everyone else while they were hopefully slowing down, worn out from their efforts to get to mile 38. I did exactly what I had planned. Coming back into Long Branch Aid Station at mile thirty-eight point five, I felt better and more energized than I had felt since the start, even more surprisingly, no one passed me on that four point five mile stretch. This was very shocking, because only several minutes seperated the top seven guys coming into Long Branch at mile thirty-four.

Near mile thirty-eight I had recovered from the psychotic pace Josh had opened us up with, and it was time to light it up for the last twelve. I blew through the thirty-eight mile Aid Station once again as Stephanie had my bottle and my Powerbar ready for a fast handoff. I realized this would be the first fifty I've run without taking a single minute for a break. I was heading out of the aid station and saw Josh Wheeler. What?!~

Josh had his arms around someone, who was helping him back to the aid station. My face was contorted in shock! How could this be?! What was happening?! Josh was dropping because of gastric issues. He didn't look so hot. Josh had run an unbelievable race last year covering the near 7000' elevation gain in a course record setting time. He is a machine of a runner. He had opened with a demoralizing pace to guage his opponents, but now he was blown and I was taking the lead. I felt good too. Could this be mine?

I forced every climb up to threshold and sprinted the flats, I wanted this race. I imagined my competition closing the gap to me, and envisioned that every climb I could widen the gap if I just endured the pain. Embrace the pain and widen the gap became my mantra. This was supposed to be a training race after recovering from the effort required at The Pinhoti 100, but I was in first and I wasn't going to lose it. I ran back by Lula Lake Falls and experienced its beauty. I knew the way back home, and was familiar with the course. My energy levels sustained and I felt no abnormal aches or hints of injury. I was originally worried about some shin pain I had experienced since Pinhoti six weeks ago and I didn't want to injure myself during this race, but I guess I was recovered and back to 100% post a light training month. Only twelve miles though and I was in first. I was hammering and it would be hard for someone to catch me, and I made sure I didn't ease up. I stayed in the pain threshold.

The beauty and diversity of the course kept me entertained and I found myself at the finish line. I couldn't believe it, my first ultra victory after placing third in almost every run this year! I was wondering if I would be full of emotion, dead tired, or what?! I was just happy and excited. I wanted to call friends and family, but more than anything, I wanted to thank my crew for an awesome job done and cheer on my friends who were about to finish! The finish area at the Lookout Mountain 50 is in grand scale. With the generous sponsorship titles, it is party central, with a large blow-up finishing arch, and many of the sposors have tents set up to show off their product. I waited at the finish line for second place, Chris Petit, to come in and cheered him on. He must have run a wise race because he finished really strong. David Worth came in third, and I was glad to see him finish such a great run, since we had encouraged each other up the Covenant College climb talking about the outdoor industry and the Appalachian Trail. We stood on the podium, and I finally took the top step. A perfect way to cap the race!

For a month before the race I wasn't sure how it would end up. It was supposed to be a training race. I didn't even know if I would finish. I was fully ready for this race to be my first DNF. Training ever since Pinhoti in November had been haphazard at best because my main focus was getting back to 100%. So I ran when I felt good, and took it easy and backed off when I felt sore. My biggest weeks were all less than 75 miles. It all worked out though. I didn't get to train much on the monster climbs at Jefferson Memorial Forest because I was nursing my shin back to health and in place I ran on the easier trails at Cherokee. I didn't get to run my standard 32 mile training runs as my body couldn't handle it after Pinhoti. I focused on Recovery. I changed my footwear too. I went to Quest Outdoors three days before raceday and grabbed my old favorites, the La Sportiva Crosslites, which I hadn't been training in much recently as they are primarily a winter shoe.They performed magically and I'll be sticking with them for the Louisville Lovin' The Hills 50K, sponsored by Quest, which is next on the race calendar. For now though, I'll sit back, relax and recover. There's no sense putting in junk miles and not recovering. I'll relish this first victory for a moment and try to remember how it happened... Hmmnn...and then duplicate it!