Lookout Mountain 50M - Lookout Mountain, Georgia 4,4

S/F Elev:  2200'    Min Elevation:  650'   Max Elevation:  2200'     Elevation Gain: 6300'
December 20, 2014 - The final adventure of the year was forecast for a forty-degree
all-day hard, cold rain. I love it when the forecasters are wrong. In two days time
the forecast did a 180-degree flip-flop and we were given a perfect day for racing with
no precipitation, temperatures ranging between the high thirties and high forties.  I
get lost at ultras generally at least one time for half the trail races I do.  For this one
I got lost finding the race, even with GPS, and barely arrived before the start.

Quickly dressing and taking care of business, I was surprised that I wasn't chilly at 
the 37-degree start from the campus of Covenant College atop Lookout Mountain on
the Georgia side.  At the break of dawn at 0730 on this near shortest day of the year
a few hundred of us started immediately through a narrow single track section before
a short run through campus and onto the single track Bluff Trail that would run south
below the crest of the ridge for several miles before dropping precipitously through
the woods all the way down to the valley below.

It was cool looking out across the lit up city of Chattanooga beneath a thin line of morning light on the horizon. This area is steeped in history as the Confederacy used the ridge for their ramparts to bombard any river traffic below. A great struggle occurred here ultimately to see who would control the high ground. The Union would ultimately prevail. I cannot run through history without feeling its rich emotional charge resonate through my bones.

The endless rock walls and formations along the Bluff Trail as we danced our way
along the rocks was worth coming here, even if the rest of the day was boring.  Every
chance I could afford to take my eyes off the trail, I was looking up at the rocks,
imagining how I might climb them, looking at problems, and dreaming of returning
with some equipment.  I didn't bring along my camera or I might have returned with
a ridiculous number of photos.  All the pix here are stock pix of the area, with leaves,
from the Internet.  They still give an good idea of just how spectacular it all was.
I did not bring a camera to stop and take pictures because I came to race.  I didn't
come to make friends along the way; I came to race.  It has been a hard year with
so many injuries and a multi-month battle with enterovirus.  A finish here was
important.  One begins to question whether they can still measure up to the distance.
I wanted a good effort and wanted to walk away with the age group win.  I would
accomplish both objectives, but could not have imagined just how much I would enjoy
running this challenging, beautiful course.


This event had everything I enjoy about trail running - I mean EVERYTHING.  Probably
one of the prettiest courses of any 50-miler I have run anywhere, it had a mix of
challenges to hold your attention.  If I have one character fault in regard to this
sport it is that I can get a bad case of mental ennui if the course fails to entertain
me.  On this day the course had my rapt attention, keeping me short of going WOW
all day.

I had prepared adequately to do fifty miles through the mild early winter at my home
in North Carolina.  Aside from a back injury, my legs were ready to be tested. When
I got some running room I opened up a longer stride and pressed on the pedal.  I
love to run fast.  The trails slow me down, but they are my favorite place to train and
race.  I sometimes envy those with younger legs, but I have earned the limitations of
my old legs and would not wish that I could go back.  For much of the day I
got into my all-day shuffle, rolling up hills, then down again, winding through the
mountain laurel and hemlock stands or open woods.  Deliberate enough to prevent a
fall.  It's the falls that cause most of the injuries, so I take greater care to watch
every step these days.  Despite the highly technical nature of this trail I did not hit
the ground once.  No skinned knees.  No blood.

The streams and waterfalls were striking.  The water was deep, clear, and green.  I
found myself thinking about fishing.  For the most part the trail was dry, except for
three stream crossings and a swampy crossing.  The course follows two loops.  The 
first starts at the mountain top, drops to the valley, then returns over an arduous
climb back up to the start/finish by 22.5 miles.  This I accomplished in 4:07:29, at a
surprisingly quick tempo, given the dramatic terrain change.  The balance of the 
course follows an out-and-back with a lollipop on the end.  I started the second
part with a good head of steam, pushing the pace and outdistancing those I had
been running with.  Eventually I dropped back in my tempo as fatigue set in.  While
the first 35 miles were at a quickend tempo, the final 15 miles were steady and
strong with hardly any walking - just slow, steady relentless progress.  My legs 
showed not soreness whatsoever, but the rest of me was tired, like I could really
use a nap.  As there was not much jockeying for position at the end of the day with
other runners, I just found my own natural tempo and stayed there without hurry.

After the final aid station at Lula Lake I put extra effort into running the final 8 miles
to race the sun to the close of the day.  I always see better without a headlamp, up
to a point, so I wanted to get as far as I could before I had to light the lamp.  With
the quickened tempo I caught most of ten people who seemed to be fading.  I was
aiming for a sub 11-hour finish, but would take whatever I would be given.  Without
having to walk on the milder terrain I finally caught up to several other runners with
their head lamps on.  Once it gets dark, the pace slows with the loss of depth
perception.  There were ten or twelve of us in queue as we headed into the finish,
bobbing lights, one behind the other.  The messy swamp I had avoided trashing my
shoes in on the way out was unavoidable on the way back.  With a half mile to go
there was no choice for anyone except to muck it up and trudge on.  

One after the other, we ran to the light of the finish.  My time of 11 hours and 14
minutes was satisfying enough.  I was the first person in my age group, so bagged
some additional swag before grabbing a couple hefty sandwiches and heading back
to Atlanta where we would be having Christmas dinner the next day with family.  It
was a perfect day all the way around.  While it was a huge boost to my lagging
confidence, I am still resolved to give up running these distances.  Stop while you are
ahead in the game.  I have 100K and 68-mile tough trail efforts remaining yet this
winter.  The Lookout effort demonstrated to me that I should be able to measure up
to the significant challenges that lie ahead.  Thereafter, I plan to yield my place at
the start of the longer ultra events and stick to 50K and under.  I like to think it is
a conscious decision for reinventing where I am in life, as opposed to a response to
the slippage of aging.  The excitement is still there, however.  The fires within still
burn hot.  I am anxious to return to Bandera in three weeks and do it again.