Chattanooga Mountains Stage Race a big hit in its second year

In an area that is already fairly-well known around the state of Tennessee for running events, Randy and Kris Whorton went a step further as far as the meaning of "cross-country."

The two helped head the Chattanooga Mountains Stage Race - a three-day, 60-mile event ran at three different venues and a part of the Rock/Creek Trail Series. The stage race was the fifth of nine events being put on by the Rock/Creek corporation, and the proceeds of the event went to benefit Wild Trails, a 501(C)(3) organization dedicated to the use, expansion and promotion of trails in greater Chattanooga.

The contestants went through a grueling stretch of races, running 18 miles on Raccoon Mountain the first day; 22 miles on Lookout Mountain the second; and 20 miles on Signal Mountain the third and final day. Daniel Mueller, a 25-year old who ran for the University of Rochester in college, won all three races, although the challenges became greater as the event wore on.

"This is just an event that humbles you," Mueller said. "Anybody who thinks they're in good shape can be brought back down to earth running in an event like this. You use all of your muscles running on the different terrains, and by the third day, you're reduced to a hobble."

The various courses took the runners through creeks, up stairwells, down long, gravely hills and through woods. Staying upright seemed to be a challenge, as Mueller admitted he "took a fall" around the 1-hour, 30-minute mark of the Lookout Mountain race. He also noted that he didn't expect to wade through ankle-deep water that same day.

The Whortons gave the option for participants to run all three days, or to pick a particular event to run in. Randy Whorton estimated that while 160 started each day, 112 to 115 ran and completed all three days.

"Once you get to that third day, that's the hardest," he said. "You've got a lot of people that have been busted up by all three days of running."

The Chattanooga Stage Race is one of only three stages races in the United States. Another one takes place in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, while another takes place in Mountain View, Ark., and is called the Three Days of Syllamo.

The Whorton's vision for the race actually came from the Europeans, who put a lot more stock and pay more attention to the races than Americans had in recent years. Whorton noted that one European event is a seven-day race that covers 31 miles a day.

The numbers for the event improved from last year to this as well. Seventy-eight members signed up for the 2010 event, while that number doubled this year.

"They did a good job of fostering us while we were here," Mueller said. "There was good weather; the courses were well-marked.

"It was like a running vacation."

Out-of-town runners were lodged at The Crash Pad in Chattanooga.

Randy Whorton expects there to probably be even larger numbers when the event takes place in 2012. He had a ringing endorsement from Chattanooga resident and Rock/Creek team member Daniel Hamilton, who ran collegiately at King College in Bristol, Tenn.

"This event was better than any NCAA cross-country meet I ever ran in," he said.

Added Whorton: "Hopefully this is just the beginning. We're going to try to improve on this and make it better every year."