Race Report: Lookout Mtn 50 Miler

December 17, 2022 was the Lookout Mtn 50 Mile race organized by Wild Trails in the beautiful and historic Chattanooga National Military Park. This race is particularly special because this is the only time during the year this land access is granted without permit, win-win!

The morning started off like an other race day, with nerves and a sudden anxiety to poop quickly. Pre-race nutrition consisted of an Kodiak Cakes frozen waffle, 2 hash browns, a turkey breakfast sandwich, and lot of coffee. Admittedly not a great breakfast, but alarmingly better than most pre-race meals. It was a cold December morning as expected, so layers were decided on: tights and long sleeves. I knew running in wool tights would be a risk for 50 miles but I had run in them 25+ miles a few times so I was confident in the choice. Spoiler alert, clothing was perfect!

Runners in a race

As it was time to approach the start line, with the fun about to go off, Coree and I raced to the start line to get in front, barely in time in felt like. Holy shit, I was about to run my first 50 mile race! BANG!! Gun goes off, the switch flipped, and I ran. We got out in front of the pack and started looking at bibs. We had 18 mile runners and 50 mile runner, adorned with white and green bibs respectively. It was clear we were certainly pushing the pace pretty aggressively for a 50 mile race, but we soon backed off the speed and settled into a comfortable trot. The group for the first 12 miles was tight, being me Coree and Mason, the eventual winner, cruising and talking together as we ran.

“Land, pop, skip, ouch!”

Leaf cover was over all very manageable, but naturally in the one area it was bad was the area I rolled my ankle pretty badly. We were running downhill and I planted my heal first on that fateful stride. Land, pop, skip, ouch!!! That one hurt and now I’m walking. I was dropped quickly, urging my group to run ahead and go race. I was the idiot you can’t put his feet down correctly, not y’all. I hobbled down the trail for a good while, being passed my person after person. After about the 5th person I decided I needed to start running or drop the race. I wasn’t going to walk the next 35+ miles just to finish, I wanted to fucking run. So I ran, the ankle held up, so I picked up the pace. It certainly slowed me down, but it wasn’t giving out on me so we soldered on. I pushed the next few miles really hard and wouldn’t make it to Coree and the leader until mile 31. But finding Coree and Crew Chief Dan at the predetermined spot was a huge relief. I needed to see those guys in that moment because my hopes of running the race mostly with my buddy had disappeared when I rolled my ankle. But there they were. I ran up to Coree, “How you feeling buddy?”

Coree responded, “I feel like shit.”.

“Ok good, me too, what do you say we go finish this thing together?”

… and we did. Slammed a Redbull, threw in a nicotine pouch (ask me about my theory), and we were off! The second half of the course had far less leaf litter, making foot placement an afterthought, which was welcome after the ankle scare. Each aid station was a godsend after mile 35, and I think there were maybe 3. The stops were fast and efficient, only slowed by me taking my sweet time with the food. Having Coree in these moments was amazing because I got to see how he prepared before, during and after an aid station. These little things are what separates close races, and so found that out first hand this race. As we came into the final aid station, we knew we were in 3rd place.

Runners on a trail
Just climbing the hill!

A few miles back we decided, “Hey we started this thing together, let’s finish it together.” This went against both of our previous beliefs about ties, after all, we are both hyper competitive and sorta crazy… but we are also friends so… mutual compromise. Anyway, at the last aid station I managed to drink boiling broth, destroying the inside of my mouth, but at the time I gave zero fucks. I was in so much pain after 46 miles that I didn’t give a shit if I couldn’t taste again, we needed to finish this thing. But here came Kyle, bounding across the bridge and into the aid station. That was it, we need to move, let’s go! So we ran, I was confident we’d hold on.

But fucking Kyle… just trots on by. We exchange pleasantries, laugh a little… I was devastated once he kicked past us.

I just heard Coree say, “Let him go, we are staying at this pace, we are good.” In my head I’m like, “ummm, sorry but we didn’t just run 47 miles to mail it in the last 3!! Fuck this!”… but there is the inexperience of a person running there first 50 miler to someone of his caliber.

See, he knew exactly what was about to happen, he knew the course. I was simply following blindly moving my legs as fast as he said to go. And then there he was, Kyle. He came to the last hill, he was walking. We came to the last hill, and it was time to make the move. We just kept our pace up the hill, we are strong climbers so this was the plan all along. I was thrilled. I was learning!!!

That lightbulb went off and I was floored by the calm nature at which Coree approached that very last section of race. We came to the hill, it was almost over. But my legs were shot. I was on the verge of bonking and I had no more fuel, water, or anything. I hollered at Coree to hold up and give me water… that’s where I was at. He stopped and helped me, we kept trucking along. He could have dropped me in that moment, leaving me to bring up the rear in 4th or 5th. He didn’t, I recovered, we finished it together. We had gotten 3rd place, finishing 3 and 4 but just deciding we collectively got 3rd. I’m my heart, I was 4th 😂

But, there was some drama at the finish and we didn’t get third. We were “passed” by someone who cut the course by nearly 2 miles at least. We didn’t know where this guy came from and never saw him… but the race directors were certain we were 4th and 5th. It wasn’t until the day after that everything got “settled”, but it was certainly interesting to see that all play out. 

We found out that the guy who got third had cut the course and was ultimately disqualified… Sucks to suck. Our podium finish was damped by the fact someone couldn’t follow course markings, or willfully did… I will never know because the GPS data from this mystery runner was made “private” on Strava… Oh well, moving on!

two friends
Coree and I doing our best to keep warm

The race experience from my first 50 miler was one I’ll never forget and one that has propelled me to chase bigger dreams and harder races. I know that with the friends and community around me, anything is possible if I put in the work. So here’s to the next 50 miler and the races after.

What an experience!

-Francesco Sunseri

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