By Mike Norris
English mountaineer George Mallory once famously replied to the question, “Why did you want to climb Mt. Everest?” with the unforgettable one liner, “Because it’s there.” If I were to have been asked this question during the Lookout Mountain 50 Miler I probably would have said, “Because that’s where my car and the finish line are, and I am ready for this to end!” This race tested me like no other. A perfect storm of being undertrained, recovering from an injury, my own ignorance of the course and a little too much confidence in my abilities, left me a complete mess as I finally crossed the finish line 21 minutes before the cutoff.
The 12th running of the Lookout Mountain 50 Miler took place at Covenant College atop Lookout Mountain in Georgia, just across the state line from Chattanooga, Tennessee. The race offers three distance options: 10k, 18-miler, and of course, the 50-miler. The 18 and 50 start together and after about a mile of pavement through the campus, the outstanding single track begins. Runners pass magnificent bluff lines with breathtaking views of Chattanooga and the Tennessee River Valley below. This part of the course also passes through sections of the Chattanooga National Military Park, where the so-called “Battle Above the Clouds” was fought during the American Civil War. After the really technical bluff line running and descent down from Lookout, runners encounter some very runnable sections of gravel road and easy bottomland along Lookout Creek before a big climb back up Lookout to the finish line for the 18-mile course and the beginning of another 50k to continue the 50-mile course.
Runners continue through hardwood forests and more technical trail sections to the Lula Lake Land Trust aid station, which runners pass again on the return trip. After this aid station, the trail takes runners past the awesome 120-foot Lula Falls. From here, the course has some tricky trail sections complete with ropes to assist with scrambling up some very steep and technical, albeit short climbs. Once past these obstacles there is another runnable section along the ridgetop, once again with more breathtaking views.
This race was my first 50-miler and I must say, after completing two 50ks and making a 100-mile attempt, (I missed the cut-off at mile 78) I went into this race a little too confident and was humbled at Lookout. I could make a litany of excuses, but at the end of the day, my fitness wasn’t up to the test. This race is a true challenge when you combine all the elements of some really technical trail sections, one big climb, countless other climbs that have that cumulative fatiguing effect and of course, those runnable sections that can get you drawn into running a race you are not prepared for. All these elements combine to make for a truly challenging race.
This race is organized by the Wild Trails Running Club, and race director Randy Whorton and staff do an outstanding job. The course is very well marked and managed. So, if you are looking for a great 50-miler with outstanding aid stations, volunteers, a great vibe, and a personal challenge, then give Lookout Mountain 50 Miler a try.