The Chattanooga 100 Miler and 10,000 feet of Climbing

David Yon, April 29, 2020

Compared to the marathon, relatively few individuals start and finish a race of 100 miles or more. Obviously, the distance is far greater than the marathon (26.219 miles) but that is only part of it. Most often, it means running through the night without sleep. Little things which must be endured for 60 – 100 miles become big ones at the same time muscles become fatigued and depleted.

So, exactly why did Heather York head north to Chattanooga, Tennessee in early March (before the quarantine) to run the Chattanooga 100 Miler? She has run the 50-mile event. No doubt she watched the media clip warning from 2020 winner Steve Baker as he exclaimed “anyone can run a 50K but there is so much that can go wrong in a 100-mile race it becomes so much more of a challenge.”

I asked Heather how she became interested in this race and in trail running in general. She and her husband, Bobby direct the GWTC Summer Trail Series (usually 4 races on single track trails through some of Tallahassee’s prettiest areas). She explained in response:

I consider my first trail race to be the Pine Mountain 19-Miler on December 5, 2015.  I still love that race and love running at Pine Mountain in Georgia. I came across the finish line with a smile shouting I was going to sign up for Mount Cheaha 50k.  Mount Cheaha was my first 50k.  I have also run Mountain Mist 50k, the Mount Mitchell Challenge 40 Miler, Rebecca Mountain 50 Miler, Chattanooga 50 Miler, Cloudland Canyon 50k, Table Rock 50k, and the Naturalist-Epic 50k.  I love mountain runs!

I have always loved being outdoors in the woods, in the mountains, hiking, camping.  You name it!  Trail running is a beautiful way to do it all!  I love the challenge of running a difficult course.  I have come to enjoy those long difficult climbs, because it is so much fun to let loose and run that long downhill on the other side

I started considering running a 100 miler after completing the Chattanooga 50 Mile race on November 30, 2018.  The course was beautiful and well supported.  I thought, if I ever run a 100 miler, this is the course for me.  

None of the races she listed are “mere” 50K or 50 milers. They are all tough mountain races. Let no one doubt Heather’s toughness.   However, after having run a 50 mile race, Heather was only half way to 100 miles.

A strong support crew is a must for 100 milers.  Heather certainly did well on that task as Judy Alexander and Beth Alexander (not related, but good friends) formed her team. They started strong:

I woke up Friday morning and was thankful to have all morning to relax, eat, and drive to the start after a good night sleep.  Beth and I found a local café for some delicious scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast that morning.  It was fun to start downtown running across the Walnut Street Bridge and along the Riverwalk for the first 5 miles.  We then hopped onto the single track.  Everything felt great. 

I spent a lot of time running by myself which was unusual during a trail race. The aid stations were well stocked.  Beth and Judy met me at many of the aid stations along the way.  I felt strong and prepared.  My goal was to run hard until the sun went down around 7:00 pm.  I have not run through the night before, but I knew I would slow down considerably then. 

I made it to the Cloudland Canyon State Park aid station around midnight.  Beth, Judy, and Bobby (my husband) were all there checking on me, getting some warm broth and food in my system.  It was cold at this point and I was freezing.  I sat down and warmed up.  Beth read through a few notes of encouragement and scripture verses that my friends in Tallahassee wrote.  It was so uplifting! 

And then… my hip started to bother me. I was looking forward to running with my first pacer, Beth. Beth was running the 13-mile loop down into the canyon and back out, climbing approximately 800 stairs!  What a friend! 

Remember that early advice about 100 miles being a long way and a lot of things can go bad?

Now every step transferred more pain from my hip to my brain. I started wondering whether I could finish the race.  I went through so many emotions – happy to be running with Beth, overjoyed to eat a bacon and cheddar quesadilla (so yummy). Those were followed by doubt, frustration, and other negatives. By the end of the loop I decided to drop out of the race.  It was through tears that I turned in my race number.  I had worked so hard. I hated to let anyone down.  Judy had put in so many training miles with me.  Beth had been so supportive during this and other races leading up to the 100-miler.  I just did not think I could run another 40 miles with the pain in my hip.  I think the most difficult part was knowing that everything else in the race was going so well. 

I never regretted my decision to drop from the race. I took a month off from running.  Three weeks ago, Judy went back out on the trail with me and I felt great.  I am looking forward to running another trail race, but I will probably stick with the 50k-50-mile distance.  I love being out on the trail spending a day in the woods.  I love the trail running community and each training run with friends.  

I met my husband at my first trail race.  JoLena Bryan was my first trail running partner on the local trails.  Mount Cheaha 50k was my first trail race.  I remember when I started trail running – I never knew people ran more miles than a marathon.  I learned that people ran 50k races and 50 milers and 100 milers in the woods, in the mountains, over rocks, through creeks, on single track trail.  I thought they were crazy. 

And now I am one of the crazy ones, but I think we are a special kind of crazy.