Saturday, September 4, 2010

Chickamauga Battlefield Training Run

10-lb Parrott Cannon
I started this blog in January of this year, and therefore never published a recap of the half marathon I ran in at the Chickamauga Battlefield National Military Park last November. I looked back in my training log, however, and I did record little bit there. Before I write about my training run there today I thought I'd give you a taste of what I experienced last fall. Here are some excerpts from the first couple of paragraphs:

"It was a gorgeous day for a race.  Sunny and crisp.  We started out near the museum and made our way on a trail to the paved majority of the course.  About 1.5 miles in I heard a sudden movement in the woods on the left side.  As quickly as I could point at it, a deer ran across the road about 25 yards in front of us.  The doe moved so gracefully and so fast it was breathtaking.  You could just feel it.  We all let out big yells and cheers, and everyone chattered on about it for a few minutes.

At about the 4.25-mile mark we left the woods and came into a short, quarter mile clearing called Winfrey field.  The fog still hadn't lifted, and that combined with the cannon monuments made it a surreal sight."

I'm currently preparing for my first marathon - the Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon. A couple of months ago I was browsing the training section of the site and noticed the Chattanooga Track Club would be holding weekly training runs beginning in July. I looked at the schedule and saw that three of them would be on the race course. Knowing the confidence that comes with familiarity, I decided I would make the 3-hour trip at least one once.

I pulled into the parking lot about 20 minutes before the 7:00 am start and had a hard time finding a parking spot. Almost all of the 75 places were already taken. I approached a group of about 20-25 runners and tried to find out what was going on. A man by the name of Doug was giving directions to the crowd, but I knew I wouldn't remember all the street names. I asked who else in the crowd was running 18 miles, and hands shot up. I saw two guys across the group from me that "looked" like they might run the same pace as me and approached them. Steve said they were going to be running around 8-minute miles, but there was a risk that the other guy, Ryan, had a tendency to increase the pace. Even though it was a little faster than I was planning (8:15 - 9:00/miles) I decided to stick with them as long as I could. It was a crisp 61° with low humidity, and I was eager to get moving.

Shady running through the forest
We started out at a reasonable 8:40 pace the first mile, but after that settled in just under 8:00. Ryan and Steve appeared to be good friends and kept the conversation going. The miles went by quickly, and I drank in the scenery. There were plenty of deer lining the edges of the roads and the occasional rabbit. Everything about the course was as I remembered it. Even the fog hung just off the ground in the fields as we broke out of the forest.

The track club had things organized pretty well for the 9-mile double loop. At miles 3 and 6 there were water stops in the beds of pickup trucks, and at the start/finish there was more of the same plus snacks. It was a real treat getting to run without a humidity blanket and my hydration pack.

Ryan knew the park like the back of his hand and took us off the course on a short trail to keep things interesting. I was really surprised at how good I was feeling as we finished the first 10 miles at about an 8-minute average.

During our midpoint stop we were questioned by a park ranger about some food that had been left out near a club member's car. For some reason he singled me out, called me over to his truck and interrogated me. He wanted to know if it was my truck we transferred the food to, and when I told him it wasn't he asked if I knew whose it was. He was serious as a heart attack and very tightly wound. Later some of the other runners told me that the park service had it out for us. They didn't like how we took up all the spaces in the parking lot.

Huge open fields with monuments
We headed out for the second half and found the same pace again after the first mile. More cannons, more breathtaking fields, more monuments, more perfect running weather. Despite the warnings about Ryan, it was Steve that started to pick up the pace. Ryan was coming back from an injury and the two of us hung back just a little. After finally getting back together at an intersection, the three of us hit the homestretch and finished out with a couple of strong 7:30/miles. It was the longest run I've ever done at one time, and I was really pleased with an overall 7:54 pace for the day.

We stood around and chatted in the parking lot for a few and I gladly tossed a few dollars in the donations bag before I left. Unfortunately, I had to get going back my hotel to shower, change and check out within 45 minutes.

I returned to the park later and spent a couple of hours taking it all in and snapping photos. I stopped by the visitor's center and watched a film about the battles of Chickamauga (the Rebs won) and Chattanooga (the Yanks held it). I was then able to visualize where some of the battle lines were and followed the maps to see for myself where the soldiers faced off. One aspect I found impressive was that all the cannons in the park are properly positioned for battle. You can see right where the lines would have been formed.

A big thanks to CTC for the support, water stops and snacks, and to Steve and Ryan for making me feel like one of the group. I hope to make it back up again on October 23rd for one more run on the course before race day.


  1. Where's the "I love this" button? So nice to hear about the weather and the water stops (!?) and confidence in your long run. BQ or bust.

  2. Thanks, Drew. Had a great time last year, sounds like the training runs are just as enjoyable. That Park Ranger needed to go find Yogi and Boo-Boo and quit harassing the runners.

  3. What a great way to do a long training run. Scenic and good practice for the race. Really strong pace too Drew, well done!