Upchuck 50K

Participating in yesterday’s Upchuck 50K trail running race in Chattanooga, Tennessee, was a great end to the trail running season. This was a low-key/no frills race, but it was just perfect. Debbie overcame a 13+ minute deficit at the 18-mile mark to take the win. She ran a fine 5:39:05 and finished fourth overall in a field of 60 runners.

Early leader, Ashley Arnold (Carbondale, Colorado) faded to third after succumbing to the distance and unseasonably warm temperature. Arnold’s time was 5:59:51. Natalie Sims (Signal Mountain, Tennessee), the 2008 winner, also led Debbie at the 18-mile mark after they exchanged positions a few times during the early part of the race. Debbie moved past Sims at the second aid station, but Sims eventually finished second with a time of 5:46:08, after also passing Arnold.

On the men’s side, Matt Davies (Cleveland, Tennessee) took the overall win in 5:13:20. Brian Williams (Knoxville, Tennessee) made a late pass on the final section of the course to finish second in 5:31:31. Arnstein Prytz (Wulguru, Queensland, Australia) was his victim, but finished a strong third in 5:32:15. We had a great time comparing course notes with Prytz, who like us, ran the 2008 Six Foot Track Marathon (actually 28+ trail miles)  in the Blue Mountains of Australia. Six Foot is equally as rugged, though the climbs were less punchy than Upchuck’s, according to Debbie and Prytz. Also, Six Foot has a fair amount of dirt road, whereas the Upchuck track was a lot rougher.

Debbie and I have both done enough races when the deficit grew as the race went on (e.g. Six Foot)!  So, to have a game-plan (pace, hydration, fueling), to stick with it, and to have it pay off, was extremely satisfying. Staying fit enough to run this distance in mid-November isn’t easy, especially when it has already snowed in New England, when our kids are sick, and when we have traveled a lot in recent weeks. I returned to my Sherpa Dad duties, driving the team car, navigating the back roads of Soddy Daisy, changing diapers, handing off bottles, and monitoring the finish-line playground.

Our Ironman World Championship trip to Hawaii was less than a month ago and this weekend, we schlepped our kids and gear through several more airports. As much as I my brain wanted to be out on the trails with Debbie, my legs would have revolted. After all, the deal was that this trip was her turn to have some fun in the woods. We came south for this race and we got great late fall southern weather with a mid-day temperature of more than 70 degrees F with warm sun.

It was cold in the morning, when the 60 competitors loaded up on a school bus for the ride to the 8:00 A.M. start for the point to point race. Debbie sought this race out several months ago when searching the Ultrarunning Magazine race calendar for a challenging 50K. The magazine rated the Upchuck a 3/4 (terrain/surface), though Deb did the math and would score it a 4/4 given the 5000+ feet of elevation gain.

Upchuck is part of the Rock/Creek Trail Series and benefits Wild Trails. The race gets its name from a funny story about two trail running buddies, Chad Wamack and Matt Sims (Natalie’s spouse), who enjoyed fun runs on this section of the Cumberland Trail. Wamack, Sims, and Jonthan Mobley (Executive Director of Wild Trails) were the race directing engines behind this year’s edition. Despite the low-key nature, the trio and their small team of fellow volunteers did a fine job with the start, two aid stations, road crossings, and the finish. Upchuck is a major contrast from their really big race, the StumpJump, which drew over 700 runners this past October.

The Cumberland Trail is a really cool feature in Tennessee’s landscape. Debbie described the Upchuck section as super rugged with lots of stone steps, bridges, and leaf covered rocks. She spied several great rock climbing spots. She was so excited to come to this race and she was even happier to finish first. It wasn’t a deep field, but she had some good competition and she got to spend half of the day in the woods. A true trail runner would be jealous of that alone.

The kids and I made it to both aid stations at miles 8 and 18. We watched most of the runners come through the 8-mile mark and knew that it was going to be a long day for some. It was already warming up and the hilly start of the race took its toll. Debbie was more than seven minutes behind Arnold at the first aid station, which was proof that the leader went out hard. Sims was right with Debbie. With 10 miles between the first and second aid stations, and another 13+ miles between aid station two and the finish, the runners needed to carry a lot of food and water. Debbie had done her research and was prepared. Her unwelcome bonk at last month’s Bimbler’s Bluff 50K, signaled that as a breastfeeding Mom, she would need to take on extra fuel.

Sims eventually passed Debbie before switching positions again at the 18-mile mark. They left aid station two together a solid 13 minutes behind Arnold. It is hard to tell if the deficit grew more because there were no other checkpoints until the finish. Arnold raced away from the second aid station running hard along the road section. I knew that if she maintained that pace, she would grow her lead. Nevertheless, Debbie was determined when she refilled her hydration bladder at the aid station. She and Sims took off running, which was a good sign. Debbie says it wasn’t long before she was pursuing Arnold alone, having left Sims behind.

After seeing Debbie leave the second aid station, I managed a diaper change for our daughter and then headed to the finish at the Soddy Community Chapel. We played on the cool playground and avoided serious (but not minor) injuries on the old-school carousel, while waiting for the finishers. The first three men came in and then I spotted Debbie rounding the final corner on the last little road section. I was shocked, but stoked. Her smile was huge.

Our most excellent trip had just gotten even better. My immediate reaction was that Arnold must have taken a wrong turn and gone off course. After seeing her cruise through both aid stations, I never would have thought that she would have lost a lead like that. As it turns out, she wasn’t the only runner to fade badly.

Unfortunately for Arnold, her wheels must have come off somewhere around the 20 mile mark. Debbie says she passed her around mile 27 on a boulder scramble section loaded with switchbacks. Arnold eventually finished 20 minutes down, so it was a 33+ minute swing in 13 miles. That’s trail running! It goes to show that you can never give up. I’ve cracked like that before and I don’t wish that type of suffering on anyone. Both Arnold (Leadville) and Sims (Tahoe Rim) ran 100-milers this past summer, so maybe Debbie was fresher.

For Debbie, the result is an excellent morale booster headed into the off-season. She has big goals for 2011 with a post-nursing return to the 50 mile and 100 mile distances.  She has big goals now that the child-bearing years are behind her. Child-raising isn’t much easier, but at least her body is going to be free to permanently return to a post-kids condition. 2010 was a transition year that has just ended on a strong note for her.

We discovered a wonderful new trail running community in the Tennessee/Georgia area. We heard that North Carolina has a thriving scene too. Before tackling some of the big western races again, Debbie thinks she might make a few more trip south to explore this fantastic new terrain. The trails are similar to the ones we love in New England. Upchuck, with the exception of two minor road sections, was all singletrack. That is what she prefers and it plays to her technical trail running strengths.

The southern hospitality was very good and we want to return for more.

Race Results

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