My original plan was to do a semi long easy run over the weekend in preparation for the Rock Creek Scenic City Marathon on May 21st. However, when Mark Mason mentioned that he might go up to Cumberland State Park to do a 15k trail race, I decided that this would be a good tune up before next week’s race. This was just the 2nd running of the Byrd Creek 15k, and I didn’t know anything about the area or the course. I also don’t have much experience in distances less than a 50k, so my expectations weren’t very high, but it would at least make for a good tempo run. Because the race start is less than two hours from Chattanooga, Mark and I decided to drive down the day of, making for a very early wake up call. We left in plenty of time only to be stopped on the interstate for at least 20 minutes when a Suburban in front of us literally burst in to flames minutes before we got to where it was. We waited impatiently as the fire truck arrived and put out the fire, watching the minutes tick away and fearing that we might miss the start. Thankfully, it ended up not taking as long to get there as we thought.
After registering and talking a bit with the rangers about the course, it was time to head to the starting line where me, Mark, and about 50 other runners waited for one of the rangers to say “Go”. The first .5 mile or so is on pavement and goes down a pretty steep hill before entering single track. Mark always goes out hard, so I made it my goal to stick with him. When we hit the trail, I remember thinking how bad it was going to hurt to run back up that hill at the finish as well as how there was no way I would be able to hang with Mark if he kept up the current pace. There were mile markers along the course, and we passed the first one in 6:53 which may not be fast for some but is definitely a much faster pace than I can maintain for a 15k. We did slow down a tad and I tried to find a pace that I felt I could hold. The trail was absolutely gorgeous because all the plants have come alive and are in full bloom. I had no idea what to expect as far as terrain or climbs, so I just took everything as it came. The first 4 miles were fairly rolling with some pretty tough hills but nothing too awful. A lot of the trail was covered in soft pine needles, making for a near perfect running surface. However, there were a few rocky sections that were slicker than snot due to the recent rainfall, and I almost bit it hard on several occasions.
Mile 4 to 5 was mostly downhill and was a much needed break from the constant up and down we had been running. Somewhere around here there was also a small wooden swinging bridge across a creek. If you have ever tried to run across one of these, you know it’s comical. Each step is different with one sending you bouncing two feet in the air but not forward at all and the next shooting you forward like a rocket. This is by yourself, so imagine what it’s like with 10+ plus runners on the larger swinging bridges! From here, the trail steadily climbed back to the top of the ridge before descending once again. I passed the 7 mile marker and the second water stop where we turned on to a different trail to take us back to the finish. It ran right along a creek, so it was relatively flat but covered with roots, making it the most technical section thus far. I was taking such little steps to hop between the roots that it felt like I was in some kind of obstacle course or football drill where you have to step in those big tires. Around mile 8, we climbed one last time on the trail and ran for maybe another .5 mile before popping out the road for the home stretch. I remembered the hill that I had to make it up but it didn’t seem so bad since I knew it was at the end. After cresting the hill and making a right turn, I could see the finish area and came in at 1:12. A few minutes later, I found out that the boy who won intended to run the 3.6 mile race but took a wrong turn and ended up doing the 15k by mistake. My hat’s off to him for running a great race, even though it was about 3 times longer than expected J It was also his first trail race, and after speaking to him for a while, I’m pretty sure he will be back for more! All in all, this was a great, small town event put on by some very hard working rangers. The course is beautiful and challenging, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for cool low key race.