River Gorge Trail kicks off Rock/Creek series

photo Competitors in the River Gorge Trail Race have 10.2- and 6.5-mile options on the Mullens Cove Loop in the Prentice Cooper Wildlife Management Area.

Shifting a February race at Southern Adventist University to September means the River Gorge Trail Race on March 23 is the calendar-year kickoff for the Salomon Rock/Creek Series, which included more than 3,000 runners for its eight events in 2012.

The River Gorge, which has 10.2- and 6.5-mile options on the Mullens Cove Loop in the Prentice Cooper Wildlife Management Area, already is 74-percent filled for the longer race, Mark McKnight said Wednesday.

He's the marketing director for Rock/Creek Outfitters and a board member of Wild Trails, the local nonprofit organization that benefits from the trail series for its trail building and maintenance efforts.

Already to 72-percent capacity is the three-part Chattanooga Mountains Stage Race set for June 14-16, with an 18-mile course on Raccoon Mountain on Friday, a 22-miler on Lookout Mountain on Saturday and a 20-miler on Signal Mountain that Sunday. A big chunk of the world-renowned StumpJump 50k on Oct. 5 from Signal Mountain Middle High School also has been booked.

The other races are the Scenic City Trail Marathon and Half Marathon on May 18 on Raccoon Mountain, the Still Hollow half marathon and 10k in its second year at Enterprise South Nature Park on Aug. 10, the Southern 6 Trail Race and Kid K at SAU in Collegedale on Sept. 15, the Upchuck 50k on the Cumberland Trail on Nov. 9 and the Lookout Mountain 50 miler with a 10k option on Dec. 14. That one originally was announced for Dec. 21 but was backed up to get it away from Christmas, McKnight said.

All of them except the Upchuck are open for registration at www.rockcreek.com. The November race will open in late summer and fill quickly.

"The Upchuck is kind of a culty, underground thing," McKnight said of the grueling point-to-point singletrack race that takes competitors on big climbs and descents. "We'll open it, and it will sell out in one day, typically."

The six-kilometer Southern 6 was moved by mutual interest from winter to a more colorful time of year, McKnight said.

"A number of things went into that," he explained, "both from Southern's end and from ours. For one thing, we are just getting back from our big trade shows, and putting sponsorship together and gearing up for it was a little hard. Plus the weather is very unpredictable and usually cold in the middle of February -- we have had temperatures below freezing -- and that's not conducive to the families and beginner-level runners we like to target for that race.

"We've moved it to a time when it's so beautiful around here."

Although it now falls just three weeks before the StumpJump, which requires a huge amount of work from the trail series crew, the university provides much of the logistical needs for the Southern 6.

"By design we've created a variety of distances, all the way from the kids 1k in association with the Southern 6 up to 50 miles," McKnight said, "and we try to move races around to different trails because there are so many beautiful places to run around Chattanooga. And the courses range from easy to very difficult."

In 2014 the maximum length for a series race may double. McKnight said a 100-mile course is "in development."