Rock/Creek’s River Gorge is a 10.2 mile race at Prentice Cooper State Forest. Nashville Running Compay‘s RunWILD: On the Rocks training group had been working towards this race since January, and I was so excited to bring everyone over to Chattanooga for the race, especially the newbies. The weekend started with picking up Phil, Duane, and Brandon on Friday. After a traffic jam, a pit stop for Phil’s new ride, and check-ins to our respective hotels, it was time for one of my favorite parts of the weekend – Lupi’s Pizza! A couple of slices and a few brews later, and it was bedtime.
The next morning was cool and clear – perfect race weather. We got to the start of the race with about a half an hour to spare. After gathering up our group for a “team” picture, I ran a nice warmup, said hellos to Jeff and Jobie (who graciously stood watch for my woodland bathroom stop), and took my place at the start line.
The race starts on a road, uphill before taking a left onto a rocky jeep road. This is always a fast start, both out of necessity and adrenaline. It’s pretty important in this race to get a good position early as the trails narrows quickly. I decided to go out a little harder early on than I usually would in such a race. I knew there were some super talented girls, and my plan was to try and put enough space between them early on. And it worked . . . for about 3 miles. From almost the get-go, I settled in behind Rock/Creek’s Samuel Hammonds at a really good but hard pace. Just before the first aid station, I heard Jeannette come up behind me, moving really well. She passed me, and I was able to keep her in my sights for a mile or so. After a while, however, I couldn’t spot the bright NRC jersey. I told myself to just run for time – shoot for a PR. I could tell by now that CR was way off (originally, this was my goal, but my lack of training over the last few months screwed me on that). By the time we reached the jeep road climb around mile 7, I was ready to hike but also ready for the pain that I knew would follow. This is the point in the race that I look forward to the most. It’s where the race essentially starts. It’s the point in the race that I mentally prepare for the entire previous 7 miles – looking forward to the pain, excited for the suffering to come. I hiked a little more than I wanted to, and after passing the 2nd aid station and hiking most of the switchbacks, it was time to rock ’n’ roll. I tried to turn the burners on as much as possible before the rock garden slowed me down. I had resigned myself to Jeannette’s win and was happy that it would stay in the NRC family. I may have thought briefly that I was going to burn my jersey since I had yet to win a race in it, but I swear that was just a fleeting thought.
Soon, the terrain became rockier and the trail darker. Rock garden time, baby! Shortening my stride, I made my way over the increasing-in-size rocks. As I looked up to get my bearings, I saw Jeannette about 10 yards ahead of me. I think I audibly exclaimed “holy shit”. At first, I thought she was having trouble on the rocks, but turns out, she twisted her ankle a mile or two earlier. After checking to make sure she was ok, I continued on. And then thought “crap, now I gotta run this”. Even injured, I knew Jeannette cold be strong enough to take me down. I had never really run through the rock garden, but you gotta do what you gotta do. I picked it up and hopped rock to rock as best as I could. Jobie, Jeff, and Conrad were somewhere along the way, but as I was trying not to die (or at least not bust my teeth out), I don’t think I even acknowledged them. After getting out of the rock garden, I knew it was about ¾ of a mile and that I needed to RUN. My legs felt like they had just run 98 miles though. If Jeannette hadn’t been so close, I probably would’ve just hiked. However, I forced my legs to go as fast as they could. I caught back up to Samuel, and even though I knew how far we had, I croaked out a “how. much. further?” “Half mile”. . . which sounded like 17 miles in my head. We crossed the jeep road, and I thought the next climb was the one to the finish. WRONG. Finally, though, I could see the arch and made my way across the finish line. I finished and wanted to die – I thought “Phil would be proud”. There was definitely no smiling for a couple of minutes. I was freaking spent.
Finishing time — 1:28: 37. First Female. Jeannette finished a couple of minutes later. I love winning. Like love it love it. Like love it more than anything (duh, I’m a Bama fan). But the win seemed a little hollow. This was Jeannette’s to win, and she even seemed on pace to break the CR if it hadn’t been for an ankle turn. The trail is a cruel mistress though – which is why I respect it, fear it, and love it.
Anyway, for the next hour and a half, we cheered on the whole RunWILD crew as they made their way through the finish. As much as I love racing, it’s just as fun to watch everyone else have a great race, or their first race, or their 12th race . . . especially this one. I absolutely LOVE this race. It’s probably my favorite race of all time. The course, the culture, having all of our crew down there, seeing all of our Chattanooga pals, all of it. I don’t think I could have asked for a better day. Big thanks to Rock/Creek for another awesome race, and HUGE congrats to our entire RunWILD crew!