River Gorge 21M Trail Race - Chattanooga, Tennessee
Elevation Gain: 4547' ........ Elevation Range: 1375'-1917'
March 19, 2022 - Another classic Southeastern event running the Mullens Cove and Pot Point Loops in the Prentice-Cooper Wildlife Management Area just outside Chattanooga. The highly technical single-track loop trail boasts magnificent bluff views of the Tennessee River, as well as cascading streams lined with rhododendron and towering hemlock. It was my first time running a race near Signal Mountain and the rock climbing opportunities along Suck Creek and it did not disappoint. This was one of the more scenic venues I've enjoyed since moving south.
After sleeping in my car within range of the race, I was up early making sure I could find the remote start deep in the recesses of these remarkable Tennessee gorges. The 0730 start saw fifty-some of us heading into the cusp of dawn onto quickly descending single track trail to immediately drop down the sandstone crevice shown at right. The trail was rocky, winding, and wet, and I was tight, unresilient, and sleepy. My start was slow, even labored, as I struggled to carefully negotiate the shifts in terrain. I quickly found myself in the back of the pack - perhaps even the last person - within a mile of the start.
I resolved to be patient and enjoy the adventure without expectation or a need to push to keep up. On this day it would take 8 or 9 miles before my body was limber enough to run more confidently, so I bided my time attempting to hold to a 15-minute tempo on the undulating course as it wound up and down and back into forth around the watersheds that led steeply down to the ribbon of Tennessee River in the valley to our left.
It was a spectacularly beautiful run along the slopes of the steep hills hundreds of feet above the river, mostly just below the ledges, but sometimes up and over their dominating outcrops of worn sandstone. It was a cross-country runner's dream, and I was really enjoying it. Even though I dressed with two layers, I was cold much of the day with temps in the high 40's and a steady chilling morning breeze. There was not much sunshine all morning, but it was an otherwise perfect day for chasing trails.
I stopped counting the streams that we crossed; there must have been 60 or 70 times we had to tip-toe or leap over wet rocks and splashing water to keep our feet dry. At the end of the day, my socks were still dry as I successfully negotiated wet and muddy spots and streams throughout.
My confidence grew as the event proceded. After running alone for most of the first two and a half hours, I finally started moving on the field, pulling back and handily passing 9 runners over the course of two miles around the halfway point. I hit the 12-mile aid station in 2H 50M and continued to rumble to the finish without pulling back any more of the field ahead of me except for one runner near the end. I sense that something I have changed in my supplementation has helped with my endurance and strength as I was strong and unlabored right to the finish line.
Given the rolling, technical nature of the course, especially the long stretch of talus and boulders we had to dance through a mile before the finish, I was satisfied to have been able to finish slightly under five hours and hold a 15-minute pace, especially on the back half of the loop. It was an excellent day, but also a convincing reminder that I am no longer competitive at events requiring leg speed. I've saved the WMA map below to remind me to return and enjoy it again when I have time to stop and enjoy the views.