The Best of Both Worlds: The Urban/Nature 10k

A lone racer near Stringers Ridge
A lone racer near Stringers Ridge Ry Glover
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If you’re looking for a fresh new challenge for your running, the Urban/Nature 10k Race most assuredly delivers. Held on October 11 at 8 a.m., the race provides the perfect opportunity for road runners to begin exploring the joys of trail running and trail runners to excel on smooth roads.

The race begins and ends at the scenic juncture of Coolidge and Renaissance Park under the Market Street Bridge in downtown Chattanooga. The course initially winds downriver along the riverfront then continues through Renaissance Park. Leaving the park, runners make their way through the bungalow-strewn hills of North Chattanooga and into the Stringers Ridge Preservation Easement.

The road portions of the race offer a combination of flat, fast running and a few short, but steep hills. The trail portions on Stringers Ridge—a 92 acre urban wilderness park secured through a citizen based effort—features easy to moderately technical multi-use trails, as well as a Civil War cannon placement and spectacular views of the city. From an overlook on the course, you’ll see the Northshore area, the Tennessee River, downtown Chattanooga, and Lookout Mountain beyond. Because the race is held mid-October, the changing leaves and the diverse scenery make it one of the most beautiful courses around. 

Joey Howe of Fast Break Athletics says one of the most unique aspects about the race is that you start in the middle of town, and within 10 minutes, you’re in the woods. Employees and owners of the store participate each year both as runners and volunteers. In fact, Alan Outlaw, local runner and Fast Break co-owner won the event in 2013. He uses it as a last tune-up before the 7 Bridges Marathon one week later and as a way to support many of the participants of Fast Break’s running training programs.

“The best thing about Urban/Nature,” Outlaw says, “is that you get warmed up on the road before you hit the trail. When you come out of the woods and back onto the pavement, you’re looking for the road runners to catch you so you have to keep up your intensity.” The result is a race that makes you enjoy the beautiful surroundings as you work toward your goal of finishing.

The starting line of the 2014 Urban Nature 10K
The starting line of the 2014 Urban Nature 10K Urban Nature 10K

Another unique characteristic of the race is that the Urban/Nature 10k is a no frills event. You won’t get a T-shirt or any swag, and awards are minimal. Only the first through third placed men and women will receive awards; it’s the course that makes it worth it. Another plus is the low registration fee. It costs $5 if you register before September 11, $15 from then until October 8, or $20 on race day.

Randy Whorton, executive director for Wild Trails, says the event was designed to be low-key and fun: “We’d like to see families out there, so we set the fee low so it wouldn’t break anyone’s budget. Participants are welcome to donate more. All of the entry fees, sponsorship dollars, and proceeds go to our partner, The Trust for Public Land.” So in addition to running an enjoyable course, participants are helping perpetuate the creation and maintenance of wild places in the Chattanooga area.

Wild Trails was influential in forming this fantastic race that mixes the best of both road and trail running
Wild Trails was influential in forming this fantastic race that mixes the best of both road and trail running Urban Nature

The idea for the course came from a collaboration between Whorton and Rick Woods, the director of Trust for Public Land. Before Stringers Ridge was a city park, Whorton and Woods thought a fundraiser would be a great avenue to raise money for the trail systems. Parking was limited near the park access points, however, so they settled on a half-road/half-trail option, directing runners through the park and then back downtown. When Wharton began planning the course, he kept in mind the beautiful views available from Stringers Ridge as well as from Coolidge Park where the race begins and ends.

The completion of the actual park took almost three years and represents the collaboration of organizations such as The Tennessee River Gorge Trust, the City of Chattanooga, and The Trust for Public Land. Currently, SORBA Chattanooga, Wild Trails, and various other organized and individual volunteer groups perform trail maintenance. The trails are used by hikers, bikers, and trail runners on a daily basis. Trail runners are among the most prominent to make use of the park, so it is only fitting that the Stringers Ridge trails double as both training grounds and race venue for the Urban/Nature 10k.

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