John Kelly Wins Lookout Mountain 50 Miler, National Title

12/18/2017 - 19:47

Signal Mountain, TN resident Aden St. Charles top female, leads all day long, finishes strong in 9:25, to win national championship.

By Kris Whorton

DSC03474-S.jpgCHATTANOOGA, TN — Because Lookout Mountain 50 Mile, 20 Mile, and10k takes place in mid-December, it's a fair bet the weather will be iffy, but this year, it was dry and perfectly clear — a beautiful day to be out in the woods. Yes, it was cold, in fact, the pitchers of water and sports drink at the early aid stations developed ice but that didn’t keep 179 runners from starting the 50 Mile which was this year’s Road Runners Club of America Ultramarathon Championship.

Lookout Mountain 50 Mile has had an interesting history due to weather. In 2008 in its first iteration, the race was a 100k, an incredibly wet 100k. The start/finish area was in Lula Lake Land Trust, a gorgeous property with spectacular trails and a great grassy area for parking and congregating. The race was shortened to a 50 Mile in its second year, and copious amounts of rain made an appearance again. By the third, the venue changed from Lula Lake Land Trust to Covenant College and its plentiful parking lots. The 10k was moved from the Land Trust to Covenant College’s cross country park. A few changes occurred on the 50-mile course in the ensuing years, mostly small shifts due to rain, and a 21-mile race was added in 2016.

With the opening of the new connector trails between Covenant College and Lula Lake Land Trust, this tenth anniversary seemed like the perfect time to modify the front portion of the race from near 21 miles to near 19 miles so more of the new trails could be included. The entire race is predominantly single track trail with spectacular bluff views, a lovely waterfall runners pass twice, creeks, rhododendron and hemlock forests, and even a section devastated by a tornado in 2011. The trails were probably in the best shape possible because it was dry all week and the race director used a leaf blower to clear 30 miles of leaves.

The sun came up as the race started and the runners didn’t seem to mind the cold, clear skies. The course descends from Covenant College to the Bluff Trail, which it follows to the north brow and around the front of Lookout Mountain before descending to the first aid station at Craven’s House in the Chattanooga and Chickamauga National Battlefield Park. Runners then dropped to the base of the mountain on lovely, densely wooded rolling trails to the second aid station before following Lookout Creek to Skyuka Springs, the start of the 3+ mile climb back up the mountain. After crossing through the start/finish area (where 19 milers call it a day), the trails wind their way to the Land Trust and Long Branch before returning to the finish area prior to the 13:15 cutoff.

Winner John Kelly of Rockville MD, who finished in 7:27:44, ran the race previously and placed third in 2015. Kelly said of Lookout 50 Miler, “The event and the course, really typify what I love about trail and ultrarunning. It's a great, low-key community of people putting on a well-organized race on a course with incredible trails and views. And it's great knowing that the proceeds from the race are going back towards those trails.”

Kelly started the race after fighting a stomach bug he caught from his kids, but, putting a positive spin on it, he added, “In a way that forced me to run what was probably the smartest race I've ever run. I didn't let myself chase people at the start and go out too fast. I ran my own race, held a pretty consistent effort, and didn't take the lead until around mile 28.” Indeed, recent (November 2017) Upchuck 50k winner Bob Adams was in the lead from the second and through the fourth aid station before Kelly took the lead in Lula Lake Land Trust. Although Kelly misjudged the distance he had remaining and ran out of steam (and water) with 3 or 4 miles to go, he managed to hold on: “It was thrilling to come through the chute. That was the first time I've ever actually broken tape before,” he added. Kelly not only won the race but also won the 2017 Road Runners Club Of America Ultramarathon National Championship.

DSC03915-M.jpg In the women’s race, Signal Mountain, TN resident Aden St. Charles (the female 2017 Road Runners Club of America Ultramarathon National Champion) led all day long. She finished strong in 9:25. Ultrarunning legend Nikki Kimball of Bozeman, MT took second and won the Masters' title as well. In 18 years of ultrarunning, Kimball has missed the occasional race due to several ski and bike-related fractures and surgeries, but an April 2017 season-ending accident/injury kept her out of racing until Lookout Mountain 50. “I am so grateful to be able to run again,” Kimball said, and “I felt like all 50-mile runners were royalty when I found out [Randy—the RD] somehow managed to take every leaf off the trail for the final 30 miles!” Kimball added that her “humbling and personally challenging year” highlighted her “absolute love of running and our ultrarunning community … the wonderful runners, volunteers and staff at Lookout Mountain 50!” Clarksville, TN runner, and Wild Trails’ event regular Amy Mcintire finished less than a minute behind Kimball.

The weather held for the day, which was probably the best anniversary present a 10-year-old race could hope for.

Brandon Smith of Asheville, NC ran an impressive 2:17 on the 20 miler and first female finisher, Jessica Marlier of Chattanooga, TN took fourth overall just 17 seconds behind Smith. In the 10K, 2016 winner Garrison Wheeler of Signal Mountain, TN finished in first place again (with a nearly 4-minute faster time) and Brann Fink of Ooltewah, TN won the 10k.

Wild Trails thanks its sponsors—Fleet Feet of Chattanooga, Spring Energy, Norspring, The North Face, Chattanooga Track Club, Chattanooga Brewing Company, Long Branch Residential Preserve, Covenant College, and Patagonia—its amazing volunteers who generously offered their time and talent, family members and spectators, and most importantly, the runners, for supporting this event and the trails Wild Trails works to build and maintain.

Complete results:

Top photo: L-R are Bob Adams, John Kelly, Luke Paulson.

Next photo: L-R, Aden St. James, Nikki Kimball.

Photos by Kellye Tilford, Lavender Roots Photography, for We Run Chattanooga and Wild Trails.

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