Stump Jump 50K Race Report

How about that view?

Stump Jump runners, you know the one I’m talking about. Trottin’ along that bright green, over-grown, thin single-track ridge, just’a ’bout one mile before “the loop” portion of the lollipop course – stops you dead in your tracks, huh?

“wow. nice.”

The view makes the mountains look huge, and the river look cool as those ridge temps rise, and once again you’re reminded you why you love the trails so much.

Welcome to Stump Jump.

Fancy 50K

Stump Jump has more of a marathon feel. Lots of big name sponsors, thick swag bags, expensive product giveaways, and flawless race management. Not to mention a slew of runners from all over the Southeast – many of whom have made this race an annual deal.

It’s easy to see why.

The usual local speedsters were there – Todd Henderson, Marty Coleman, the Whortons, Youngrens etc… and the race certainly carried a strong runner-family vibe that made post-race chillin’ very comfortable.

So you think your special?

I guess I am so cocky, living in my own head of la-la-land, that I don’t believe I need to ever recover. Like somehow, even though I am still a newbie, I don’t need to take recovery seriously.

But, since September 7, after completing my first 100-miler, I have succeeded in avoiding rest almost completely. Instead, I found myself:

Well, the PR wasn’t gonna happen. People who know the course quickly assured me of this fact, which only made me feel silly and stupid; but worse, I really had no business running a 50K at all right now – with or without all the ridiculousness I’ve been involved in over the last 30 days.

I wasn’t recovered.

So there, I got it out of the way. I had to say it, but I won’t dwell on it. The race itself deserves much more than me droning on about my idiocy regarding my over-training, lack of rest/recovery, and obsessive disorder to run myself into the ground.

Pun intended.

A first time in the Tennessee mountains

Surprisingly, this is the first ultramarathon I have run in Tennessee. Chattanooga is a cool little town, with some rugged mountain trails, and I sort of fell in the love with the place from packet-pickup, through our night on the town, and on into the vibe at the race start.

I rode up Friday night with Jason Rockman, a local speedy dude, and after swinging by Rock Creek Outfitters to gather our race packets, we headed to out for a pre-race meal of bone-in ribeye steaks and salad …and one, …well, maybe two, micro-brews at Big River Grille.

Ready, Go!

Standing in the dark, crowded parking lot, as the race director was shouting out the last of the race announcements, he asked, “how many people are running their first 50K?”

Lots of hands raised. Like, about of a quarter of the group…

“God help us all”, was his last comment.

And with that, we were off.

First trip up “the stick”

The race course is shaped like a lollipop.

Runners head up “the stick” of the lollipop which begins with some trail that seemed to probably be part of a high school cross country course. Well manicured, with some tiny gravel mixed in, and gently rolling.

This is a good place to pick up the pace early if you’re feeling strong because the trails in the first handful o’ miles are double-track wide and not-too-technical.

The “easy” part ends after the first aid station, and runners are presented with a very fast, technical descent, followed by a steep ascent, before yet another very fast and technical descent. Some of these descents were hairy when negotiated with quick feet, and a couple of times I felt the fears of a misstep.

After aid station 2, Suck Creek Road, the “stick” of the lollipop becomes a stretch of rocky, ridge-running, which presents a bunch of vast, gorgeous views – but don’t take your eyes off the trail for too long or you’ll become acquainted with it up close – and with a thud.

Loopy in the loop

The loop part of the course felt very different to me. It was darker, gloomier …felt more remote; and for the most part I was really enjoying it. A few hills, but nothing crazy, and although the feelings of over-training were rapidly descending upon me, I was in trail running heaven.

Then the rocks came.

er, boulders…

There was this ridiculous boulder field that during any other time, I might of thought of as cool; but not at that moment. All the pains experienced during, and post, my Superior Sawtooth 100-mile race, were coming back to visit me – and coming back hard and strong.

I might be wrong, but to me, it seemed this boulder field was at least a mile long if not longer. My legs took a beating both from slippin’ ‘n jacking them on other rocks – to – simply tweaking and cambering my ankles and feet in odd stepping contortions from one rock to another.

Again, normally, I’d love this, so I’m sure others probably liked this stretch, but in pain, it made for a difficult challenge.

Then, of course, comes the notorious 17th mile climb.

A steep dirt road makes for some interesting foreshadowing. Once runners take a sharp left off the dirt road, the trail gets even steeper, heading straight up.

It’s tough.

But it’s still not as steep as the climb out of… well, I’ll get to that inna’ minute…

After that welcome summit, runners get a little more single-track, forest running, to finish the 10.5 mile loop.

Back on “the stick”

This stretch at the end of the loop, to Suck Creek Road about 4.5 miles away, was some painful running for me. Although we had run it the opposite direction in the beginning, it seemed at lot longer with 21 miles on the legs.

I saw some casualties on this stretch.

Runners sure can bellow some pretty unique noises during a good bust-ass, and sure enough, I heard a familiar, yet one-of-a-kind, loud grunt, followed by a thud.

Rounding the corner, I laid eyes on a bummed out guy sitting on a rock, rubbing and cringing from a calf cramping dirt dive.

I just have to say, that the climb out of Suck Creek Road is just plain, east-coast-no-switchbacks hard. I was woozy and walking up the mountain like I was drunk.  The beginning and end of this section, to the 28 mile point, is really, really steep and I had to use my hands to finally crawl up and out to that last aid station.

A little surge to the finish

The guy I rode up with is completely opposite, but when I realize I am within five miles of a finish, I tend to find some new found energy and extra pain threshold.

I started to push it a little for much of the last stretch to the finish, running strong, and passing a few people who snipped me earlier.

I crossed the finish line in 7:17 disappointed, very tired, loopy, and hungry.

And that was it.

Nothing glamorous.

No nutty experiences.

No Spiritual awakenings

No new friends.

Just a solid realization that I am significantly over-trained, under-nourished, and in need of rest.

The Stump Jump 50K is a top-notch event, perfectly run with awesome swag bags, giveaways, and post race experience; but this is the lamest race report I’ve ever written.

I guess that just happens sometimes.

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Christian… really enjoyed (and surely will benefit) from reading this account. I’m headed out for my first Ultra at Stump Jump 09 this weekend. Someone sent me your race report as terrain prep. But reading through lots of other posts – especially the Cascade Crest 100 and Sawtooth 100 posts – made me realize that not only are Ultras insanely difficult, they are my next true love. Being a runner for many years and reading your accounts – physical and emotional experiences – brought me to tears a few times. It’s not about the destination, it’s the journey. Thanks for reminding me of that.

See you this weekend in TN. I’ll be the slow one wearing running shoes. The one questioning, but never ever doubting, my motives.


I hear good things about this race every year, thanks for the great post. this is on my list to do one year.

Thanks for the race report Christian!

I wanted to respond to Robin’s comments about the aid station running out of water in the 2007 race. We made a decision on the ground that day to continue with the race despite record high temperatures that forced the Chicago Marathon to close mid-race. We did this because we felt that we had enough supplies to keep us going throughout the race.

We enforced time cutoffs for safety and closely watched the runners’ condition throughout the day. Our only other alternative would have been to cancel the entire race, leaving over 300 people disappointed.
We used over four times the amount of water we used in the previous year at the Indian Rock House aid station. I assure you no event can plan for a 4x increase in water use.

I realize that we disappointed a few runners- we estimate about 10 people came through that station while we were out of water. When it looked like we might run out of water, we encouraged people to wait until the next aid station a couple miles later (because their location was not nearly as remote). We sent a volunteer down to the nearest store for water, and that water came as quickly as possible, but given the remote location took over an hour to show up.

We now know that we have to limit runners’ water use at that particular aid station to drinking only. Many people were using the water to cool off. The water at that aid station all has to be backpacked in because of the remote location, and it’s simply not possible to get enough water down there for everyone to pour a cup over their head. This year we brought far more water than we used, and we also provided water rags to help people cool off without using the potable water.

I read your race report and I’m sorry you ended up having to be pulled off the course. I hope you’ll try the race again as it only gets better every year.

Sounds like a good run. I haven’t been on a boulder field for years, and for some strange reason, haven’t missed them. :)

I considered doing this with some friends, but decided on Pumpkin Butt this weekend instead. I guess we’ll see if I made the right choice.

Thanks for the post race update. iMULTISPORT was out there too with cameras rolling and post-production of a video is underway.

Till then, amuse yourself with other race videos taken on parts of the Stump Jump course.

Robin & Rick:

Yea, in my head, I’ve canceled everything up to ATY. I say “in my head” because I am well-known for changing my mind and acting spontaneous, but I really hope I can take some time to rest and recover.

FATS 40, MMTR, Pine Mountain — all on hold.

I saw your name on the email list for the FATS 40 Miler this weekend. Sounds like you need a rest though.

I’ll be running that on Sunday after running the New River Trail 50K Saturday. Eeek.

Did this race last year. I agree that this is a top notch event with some of the best swag around BUT I am sad to say that last year they ran OUT OF WATER at two very important stations which then caused me and others to go into “shut down mode” and our race ended at the marathon point.

Never once did the director acknowledge the mistake of this happening and after several emails we wrote this race off of the books for this year.

You are right that it is not a course to PR on but one of the most beautiful courses nonetheless. And that rock garden…. that was a challenge.

Now rest for MMTR!!!! You are crazy insane! See you there:)

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