Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Raccoon Mountain Race Report

The inaugural Raccoon Mountain Marathon, Half and Relay was held in Chattanooga, Tennessee this past Saturday. I knew I wanted to run this event as soon as I heard about it. It was to be part trail, part road, the race website and Facebook page had a fun, low-key vibe, and it was organized by Run Chattanooga, a major local running club. Since I’m choosing my full marathons selectively, I registered to run the half marathon. And then I added another event on Sunday to make this a double half marathon weekend.

I flew to Atlanta on Friday and drove to Chattanooga. I’d be returning to Atlanta after Raccoon Mountain to run the Georgia Half Marathon and then fly home. Getting out of Atlanta during rush hour proved frustrating, and it took me about an hour longer than I planned for the drive to Chattanooga. I went straight to The Terminal Brewhouse, which had good beer and conversation at the bar, and was located next to the historic Chattanooga Choo Choo, an old train terminal and inspiration for the famous song, which is now a hotel. After dinner I made my way out of downtown to Lookout Mountain and checked into my hotel for the night.

My beer sampler at The Terminal Brewhouse

On Saturday morning I wanted to get to the Raccoon Mountain packet pick-up early since I knew there would be limited parking at the start/finish area. I ended up getting the last space in the first parking lot; I was happy. Our packets included a long-sleeve cotton shirt with an awesome Raccoon Mountain logo, and our bib. Nothing fancy, but I loved the raccoon logo on the shirt. But, uh…there were no safety pins. I didn’t need them, but others did. Oops.

I had about an hour to relax in the car before the race started. Then I meandered over to the port-o-potties and to find fellow Marathon Maniacs and Half Fanatics. We took a few pre race photos of the club members. There were other interesting people to photograph, like the guy with a taxidermy raccoon on his shoulder and the ladies with the awesome raccoon knee socks.

Some of the Maniacs and Half Fanatics
Loved the socks these ladies wore!

Front and back of this guy with his Rocky Raccoon

I hadn't seen Diane in a while!

Awesome outfit on this Maniac

With no fanfare at all, we were off! And we were going uphill on the road (this drone video provides aerial footage of the start, and then a bit of the finish). In the first mile there was quite a steep uphill portion to get up to a flat road around a reservoir. From this view, it was beautiful. I fell into pace with fellow Half Fanatic Cindy and we ran the race together.

Shortly after the start

At the top of the first hill was a magnificent view of the reservoir

Selfie from the reservoir road

After a few miles we entered the first trail. I like trails, but they definitely slow me down. I’m not able to run them with abandon like the trail fasties. I’m very careful with my footing over the roots and rocks and through the mud. These trails were single-track and pretty, even if we could see some industrial TVA facilities through some of the trees. They were not the most technical trails I had run, but they did have some challenges and it was necessary to use a little caution. I stumbled a couple times, and was able to catch myself, but then I eventually fell once. It wasn’t a bad fall. I landed on the fleshy part of my hip on a soft dirt trail. Nothing was skinned or scraped, nothing twisted or broken, just a little soreness. I was able to pick myself up quickly and keep going.

Cindy on the trail

Passing Ed on the out & back section

Margaret, Diane and her friend on the out & back section

This is me taking the photo above

Another selfie with a mountain view from one of the trail heads

This race alternated between road and trail, but always kept making a clockwise loop around the reservoir. The full marathoners would complete a second loop going counter-clockwise. There were a couple out & back sections, so it was nice to pass friends on the course. Even the road portions were hilly and challenging, with exception of the flat road directly along the reservoir.

The Run Chattanooga folks did a great job supporting this race. Each aid station had fluids, multiple flavors of Gu, fruit, candy, salty snacks, and anything we might need. I loved finding Cheese-Its at one of the aid stations. That’s one of my favorite real-food snacks on a race course; much preferable to me than pretzels.

The mile markers were unique

A unicorn at a very well-stocked aid station

The weather was great for this race, but in the last few miles I was fatigued and a little warm. I started out tired, short on sleep, and after having a busy, stressful week, so that didn’t help. I was really wanting to be done and to eat a real meal. Cindy and I stuck together and got it done. We did have one issue with a poorly marked trail turn. Shortly before we headed out of the woods and back onto the road to finish, some of the full marathoners were coming back into the woods going in the opposite direction. There was one spot where the directional signs were confusing, pointing one way for half marathoners and first-loop full marathoners, then another way for second-loop full marathoners. But the signs were not clear as they were placed and we went the wrong way for a short distance. Soon, a couple of the full marathoners pointed us in the correct direction, and it wasn't too far of a back-track. But at that point in the race, when all we wanted to do was finish, it was frustrating.

Last view of the reservoir before we got to the last trail section.

And, finish, we did! As we ran back past the parking lots, there were some spectators and finished runners cheering us in, and we ran to the somewhat anticlimactic finish line to collect our medals and our coonskin caps. There was no electronic timing, so our times were recorded manually. I finished slow for a road half marathon, but faster than my last trail half. I was happy about that, especially because I knew I needed to perform well the following day in Atlanta.


At the finish with Cindy wearing our medals and coonskin caps

The swag

That's Raccoon Mountain in the background

The post-race spread was nice. They had a full picnic with burgers (even veggie burgers), sides and sweets. There were mason jars for us to fill with water or any number of soft drinks. I wasn't able to stay because I had to get checked out of my hotel and get on the road back to Atlanta.

I did have a small disappointment with this race. I was drawn in by the promise of a coonskin cap at the finish line. In my world, a coonskin cap would have been 100% faux, so that’s what I assumed I would be getting. Well, the hat portion was faux, but the tail was real. I hate to think of the raccoons who gave their tails for these hats. I should have known better, with this race being in the mountains of Tennessee. There was no false advertising on the part of the race organizers, just false thinking on my part. Still, I hope they will consider doing 100% faux hats next year. Otherwise, no complaints!

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