The Beast of the East: StumpJump 50K

The start of the StumpJump—one of the premier ultra-runs in the South
The start of the StumpJump—one of the premier ultra-runs in the South Rock/Creek
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Known as the "Beast of the East," the Rock/Creek StumpJump 50K is classic Southeastern trail race with some attitude. The altitude profile is a substantial 9,000 feet of elevation change, and the rocks and roots are never-ending. The trails of Signal Mountain and Walden Ridge tend to be like that—they are challenging, they are technical, and they're downright gorgeous.

Now in its 14th year, the StumpJump typically sees around 500 or so amateur and professional athletes take to the trails to test their mettle. Just over ten years ago, in 2002, this event only saw 64 finishers. Its growth over the years is a direct result of the fact that the course is seriously one of the best around, and as race founder, Matt Sims, says, “It's a rite of passage into the ultra world” in the Southeast.

Nathan Holland enjoying himself at the StumpJump 50K
Nathan Holland enjoying himself at the StumpJump 50K Rock/Creek

The race starts amidst a tapestry of fall color, fanfare, and excitement at Signal Mountain High School. It takes runners around the gravel trails in Shackleford Ridge Park before descending on ATV roads to meet up with the Cumberland Trail at Mushroom Rock. Runners then descend sharply into Suck Creek Gorge, cross the suspension bridge, and begin climbing out of the gully up to a nice, fairly level plateau. After this section, they tackle a wicked steep and technical descent to Suck Creek Road and Aid Station 1.

After the road crossing, runners head across the road, up the stairs, and onto some sweet singletrack until they reach Indian Rockhouse—complete with rock steps, metal steps, and plenty of Tennessee mountain stone to hold your attention. The Rockhouse is AS 2 and begins the 10-mile Mullins Cove Loop section—arguably one of the most breathtaking sections of the course.

The next few miles take runners across small creeks and rock formations before reaching Snooper’s Rock, the home of AS 3 and the best view of the Tennessee River Gorge on the entire course. There’s a slight climb to Tower Road, followed by a downhill to the Hemlock Branch water-crossing.

A twisting and winding section is next, with several small water crossings as you pass Mullins Cove Overlook heading for Haley Road and AS 4. From there, it’s up the cove, as runners head toward Short Creek and traverse the Rock Garden. Finally, there’s a climb back up to Mullins Cove Loop parking area and AS 5 and then a downhill back to Rockhouse and before eventually returning to the school.

Runners will hear music and cheering long before they see the finish line.

The StumpJump doesn't lack in scenery.
The StumpJump doesn't lack in scenery. Rock/Creek

What to expect with StumpJump 50K:

  • A gorgeous, diverse course with excellent scenery—The course itself is a great blend of runnable and challenging trails with stunning Tennessee River Gorge views, rock features, hemlock, laurel and rhododendron forests, rich fall foliage, and refreshing creek crossings.

  • Heat—Although the race is held in early October, it can be quite hot and rarely cold. Plan on heat and humidity and hope for cooler temperatures. Prepare and plan to use electrolyte replacements during the event. Staying hydrated is key.

  • Rocks—There will be plenty of these. They can, and usually are, slick at all times—even if it's been dry, they can be slick; if it's been wet and rainy, they will be very slick. Pay attention!

  • Climbs—A few very tough ones.

  • The Finish—The section around the school is a final special kind of torture. Runners get close enough to the school to see it 5 or 6 times and to hear the music at the finish as well. And then the trail runs parallel to the school in the woods just behind it and the finish seems to elude them.

  • A great event—The StumpJump 50K offers some of the best trail running in the Southeast in a well-organized event staffed by excellent volunteers.

One of the few sections of the StumpJump without many roots or rocks
One of the few sections of the StumpJump without many roots or rocks Rock/Creek

All in all, the StumpJump is one of the premier ultra-runs in the South. Whether spectating or competing, you'll likely never forget the natural beauty and insuppressible excitement that this staple event has come to be known for.

This year's race will take place on October 3, 2015, at 8 a.m. 

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