While people from 38 states, British Columbia, Mexico and even Venezuela will be tackling a 50-mile trail race beginning and ending on the top of Lookout Mountain on Saturday, another hardy bunch will be running on the mountain's lower slopes in the 6.7-mile Wauhatchie Trail Run.
A Chattanooga Track Club release bills the Wauhatchie run from the Chattanooga Aboretum and Nature Center as "the toughest race" on the club's annual schedule, and it is unique in that starting times are set up to give all ages and both genders a relatively equal chance at finishing first. Females 80 and over will start at 9:30 a.m., and the last group -- 25-29-year-old males -- won't begin until 10:15.
Tim Ensign won for the seventh time last year at age 49, last overtaking 70-year-old Sergio Bianchini for the second year in a row, and moves up an age group for an extra minute-and-a-half head start Saturday. Only the overall winner and the top family two-person combo get official Golden Antlers awards in the $15-to-enter race, and Bianchini and his son edged Ensign and his wife for that latter honor in 2011.
Each participant is encouraged to bring a prize to recycle -- old T-shirts or other awards, and not necessarily running-related. The Wauhatchie race tradition also includes a collection of foods brought by participants.
The weather Saturday is expected to be cool but not frosty, but as of now there is a 20 percent chance of rain. In both races, precipitation would make a highly "technical" trail course slippery and treacherous.
Cleveland's Johnny Clemons won the 2011 Lookout Mountain 50-miler -- the longest race in the Rock/Creek Trail Series -- in 7 hours, 23 minutes, 4 seconds. Troy Shellhamer of Louisville, Ky., was second in 7:32:52 after winning the 2010 event in 7:42:23.
Connecticut resident Deborah Livingston was the women's winner last year in 9:16:2. For safety purposes there are strict cutoff times for runners to reach certain points, or they must drop out. Pacer runners are not allowed, but "safety" runners can start accompanying competitors at miles 34 or 38.5.
That race begins and ends on Covenant College property off Scenic Highway, and there also is a 10-kilometer option.
Registration for the Rock/Creek races ended Wednesday night, and packets can be picked up from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday at the outfitter's Riverside Drive location.
Online registration also ended Wednesday for the Wauhatchie Trail Run, but on-site signups will be taken starting at 8 Saturday morning.
"We had 131 runners last year, which was slightly above average, and we already have 85 pre-registered, so I won't be surprised if we get close to 150," race director Jim Steffes said. "In the 28-year history of this race, we've had as few as 80 but have reached 150 -- maybe even 160 one year."
Brian Costilow runs past the falls at Lula Lake during last year's Lookout Mountain 50-mile Trail Race. This year's race is Saturday.