Must-Do Chattanooga Races in 2018!

You've set your new year's resolutions: get fit, stay in shape, eat healthier. What better accountability than a tangible goal you have to train for, like a race! Races provide an end goal to work towards, whether that's to run a fast a 5k or to run your first half marathon. A registration fee and date on the calendar are excellent accountability partners that will all keep you motivated to train and push yourself!

Whether you're just starting out or need a bigger, badder challenge, here are eleven races to put on your calendar for 2018.

1. Erlanger Chattanooga Marathon, Half Marathon, 5k, and Kids Race: March 2-4, 2018

This race will not disappoint you. Although a young race, over the past 3 years the city of Chattanooga has come out strong with cheering and support throughout the race. It is a blast running through the various neighborhoods of Chattanooga, and seeing everyone out cheering. There is a large expo the day before at the First Tennessee Pavilion, and there's always great race swag for participants. There is still plenty of time to sign up and start training, don't delay! Click here for more info or to register!

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2. Rock/Creek River Gorge 10.2m Trail Race: March 24, 2018

If you've always wanted to try a trail race, the R/C River Gorge is a fantastic chance to dip your toes into the trail world. The course has beautiful scenery with challenging a single track course through Mullens Cove loop at Prentice Cooper State Forest. For more info or to register, click here!

3. 65 Roses 5k: March 24, 2018

In it's 16th year, the 65 Roses 5k has raised about $1 million for Cystic Fibrosis. This year they are having a special guest, Olympian marathon runner Meb Keflezghi! You can sign up for the VIP ticket and have a chance to meet him in person, and it's all for a great cause! For more info or to register, click here!

4. Chickamauga Chase 15k, 8M, Walk, Kiddie K: April 21, 2018

This year will be the 50th running of the Chickamauga Chase, solidifying it as a Chattanooga classic, and must-do race for locals! This event has something for everyone, and we mean EVERYONE. From a road 15k race to a 8m trail race to the Kiddie K, this race is perfect for the running family. Road runners, trail runners, walkers, and kids will all enjoy a beautiful day of racing at the Battlefield. Not to mention the awards for the top finishers are Civil War bayonets!  For more information or to register, click here!

5. Chattanooga Chase 8k and 1 mile: May 28, 2018

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Photo by Varina Shaughnessy

Photo by Varina Shaughnessy

In its 51st running, this challenging and hilly road course shows no mercy until the fast, flowing, downhill finish. But let's be real, this race is all about the after party! In recent years, the Chattanooga Chase has been sponsored by local restaurants who have up'd the heigh of the post-race festivities, providing food and drinks to all participants and families. Join us for a fun race kicking off your Memorial Day. For more information or to register, click here!

6. Waterfront Triathlon: June 24, 2018

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Chattanooga is known for being a triathlon city with the Ironman 70.3, full Ironman, and in 2017, we hosted the Ironman 70.3 World Championships. If you've been inspired by all the men and women in space helmets on bikes, before you sign up for the full 140.6 miles, start with this competitive but friendly Chattanooga tri. The Waterfront Triathlon offers both sprint and olympic distances, perfect for a beginner triathlete, yet challenging enough for advanced racers. For more information or to register, click here!

7. Missionary Ridge 4.7 Mile Road Race: August 11, 2018

Another classic Chattanooga race in its 45th year running! This rolling course on top of the ridge has breathtaking scenery the entire route. In August, the weather is sure to be hot and humid, so stay hydrated, and challenge yourself to take on the ridge! For more info or to register, click here!

8. Cam Bean Memorial 5k and Kids race: August 25, 2018

Photo by Emily Lester

Photo by Emily Lester

In its 3rd year, the Cam Run 5k and 1mile is very dear to our hearts. Cameron Bean, a former Fast Break employee, was tragically killed while running on Moccasin Bend Road which is the location of the race. The 5k in the morning is open to everyone! The top 25 male and female winners from the 5k will have the chance to compete in the 1 mile event that evening as a part of the River Gorge Omnium bike race. Click here for more information or to register! 

9. Battlefield Marathon, Half Marathon, Kids Run: November 10, 2018

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A race through history! This rolling course takes your through beautiful Civil War battlefields and around historical moments, memorials, and canons. It's a great race to go after that elusive Boston Qualifier! Everyone can participate with distances from the full and half marathon to the Jr. Marathon. For the Jr. Marathon, kids log 25.2 miles throughout the year, and run their final momentous mile on race day. For more info or to register click here!

10. Sports Barn Turkey Trot

There is no other Turkey Trot in Chattanooga like this one. For years, this race has brought out before the devouring, football and food coma's start. Burn the calories before you eat them! Proceeds go to the Kidney Foundation of Chattanooga. Click here for more info or to register! 

11. Wuahatchie Trail Race

Photo by Kari Vradenberg

Photo by Kari Vradenberg

It's not just about how fast your are, but how old you are! Experience a different type of race with an age graded start. Each age group has a different start time that levels the playing field for a chance to win the Golden Antlers! The course is at  Reflection Riding Arboretum. Participant are encouraged to bring a white elephant gift for the prize table! For more info or to register, click here!

Honorable Mentions

There are SO MANY great races in Chattanooga that we've run out of room! These honorable mentions are more that the Fast Break crew loves and runs. Click on each one for more info or to register.

Good luck with your fitness goals this year! 

Holiday Gift Guide for “That Person” in Your Life

For all "those people" in your life- that crazy relative who runs 10 miles before presents on Christmas day, the friend that spends 30 hours a week swimming, biking, running, or the co-worker who blazes trails during lunch breaks- those people who you never know what gift to give them at Christmas, we have a made you a guide! Here are our suggestions for "that guy" or "that girl" in your life. 

Your Over Prepared Triathlete Friend:

Your absolutely crazy friend that signed up for the Chattanooga Ironman or half Ironman without ever running a mile in her life! (I thought she said she hated running!?) Along with some mental help, here is what to get them this Christmas to encourage them across that finish line! 

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  • TYR tri top: $65, $26 (60% off!)
  • TYR tri shirts: $72, 28.80 (60% off!)
  • Trigger Point STK: $35
  • Nathan Mirage Pak: $20
  • Swim Cap: $8-$14
  • Goggles: $15-$30
  • Nathan Quick Laces: $8-$10
  • Fast Break Boco Gear Visor: $25
  • Goodr glasses: $25
  • SunBum sunscreen lip balm: $4
  • Nutrition
  • Properly fitted shoes, bring them in to get fitted!

Your Super Into Fitness Girlfriend:

Your girlfriend crossfits in the morning, yogas in the evening, commutes 15 miles by bike to work, and runs a 5k race every weekend, and wins. Oh, and she teaches 2 spin classes in her spare time. But don't let her biceps intimidate you from getting her the perfect gift! A girl can never have too many athletic tights.

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  • Fast Break workout tank: $20, or 2 for $30
  • North Face Sports bra: $45, $36 (20% off!)
  • Nike Leggings: $75, $60 (20% off!)
  • Nathan handheld water bottle: $35
  • 13.1 Swiftwick Socks: $14, Buy 3 pairs, get 1 free!
  • Asics headbands: $20 $12 (40% 0ff!)
  • Goodr Sunglasses: $25
  • The North Face packable gym bag: $55, $44 (20% off!)
  • Properly fitted shoes, bring her in to get fitted! It'll be like a fun date! Or just give her a gift card, shoes range from $100-$160

Your Instagram Famous Trail Blazing Brother: 

You text your brother at 8am on a Saturday and he finally responds 6 hours later when he's done with his trail run. Chattanooga is full of endless trails to explore and waterfalls to find whether running, hiking, or biking. Give him the gift of a hydration pack with an iPhone holder to continue getting those epic pics!  

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  • The North Face Rain Jackets: $180-$250, $144-$200 (20% off!)
  • Fast Break tee: $20, or 2 for $30
  • Nathan or Camelback Hydration Packs: $90-$150
  • Wool-Based Swiftwick socks: $14-$22, buy 3 pairs, get one free!
  • Fast Break Trucker Hat: $25
  • Goodr Glasses: $25
  • Garmin Fenix5s: $600
  • Picky Bars: $2.75each, buy 3 get 1 free!
  • Properly fitted trail shoes! Make sure they get the right fit and trail shoe for their needs by bringing them in to get fitted, or giving them a gift card, trail shoes range from $100-$140.

Your Sweet Grandma Who is "Over Materialism" and Just "Wants Love" for Christmas:

OK Grandma.... quality time it is! Make it a special, pain free time, with a pair of specially fitted walking shoes (and Powersteps, if needed). Her feet, legs, and hips will be comfortable and well supported. She'll be ready to spend all day with you! 

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  • Properly fitted shoes, bring her in to get fitted, or give her a gift card $100-$160
  • PowerStep Orthotics: $40
  • Sockwell Compression Socks: $25, Buy 2 pairs get 1 free!
  • Nike 3/4 zip Pullover: $65-$85, $52-$68 (20% off!)
  • Saucony Boston Pant: $65, $52 (20% off!)
  • Trigger Point Nano Foot Roller: $25

Your Little Niece or Nephew Who Never. Stops. Moving:

While sweet, charming, and perfect in all those photos your sister posts on social media, your nieces and nephews only know how to run in circles screaming Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer while at your house. Give those kids an outlet through a new sport! (Or send them home with Energy Beans for your lovely sister.)

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  • Fast Break kids t-shirt: $20, or 2 for $30
  • Goodr sunglasses: $25
  • Timex watch: $55-$80
  • Asics kids socks 3 pack: $12
  • Goggles: $15-$30
  • Nike backpack: $16-$18
  • Emoji Sneaker Balls: $5-$10
  • Blinky lights: $10
  • Properly fitted shoes. Bring them in to get fitted, or get them a gift card! Kids shoes range from $65-$100
  • Jelly Bean Sport Beans: $1.29

 

Good luck with all your Christmas shopping! We are always available to help (or vent to)! 

 

40 Years of Fast Break

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This story begins in 1977.... 

Once upon a time, there was a dark age in Chattanooga's history when no running shop existed. If local runners wanted good running shoes, they had to drive 2 hours to find them. Dick Dillard, a faithful morning runner (6 miles, 6 days a week, with his 6 friends), was tired of the gas cost and long drive just for a pair of shoes. Determined to save our city, Dick opened his own athletic store, ushering in Chattanooga’s golden age of running-based enlightenment, prosperity, and fitness. 

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In May 1977, Dick opened the original Fast Break Athletics under the franchise Athletic Attic at Eastgate Mall. The business quickly grew, morphing into an all around athletic gear store. Over the course of the next 10 years, Dick opened 6 more locations in Tennessee and Alabama to meet demand. 

In 1980, our beloved Joey Howe joined the Fast Break team, as a fresh faced teenager.

But working with a franchise was not his long-term dream. Dick broke away from Athletic Attic in 1995 and closed down all stores but one, the original Fast Break. To financially survive, Dick had to let go of all employees except Michael Green. Joey went back to his cobbler shop, repairing shoes and keeping a close friendship with the Dillards. 

Dillard explaining footwear
Dick Dillard taught me everything that I know.
 - Gandhi 

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With only one store to manage, Dick decided to go back to his original passion and sell only running and walking shoes. He loved helping people learn a new, healthy lifestyle.

I only buy my running shoes at Fast Break Athletics.
 - Abraham Lincoln

At the time, only one employee would work at the store all day, so the store would close down 10 minutes every day for Dick or Michael to walk across the street and buy a sub sandwich. 

In November 1996, a store space became available on Frasier Avenue, blocks away from Dick's home. He couldn't imagine driving by someone else's storefront, right by his house every day. So he moved Fast Break to North Shore. 

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Fast Break continued to grow, hiring on more staff and bringing back Joey! Michael sealed his forever spot at Fast Break when a shop lifter tried on a pair of shoes at the new store then ran out the door without paying. Michael and a police officer ran him down to get the shoes back (and arrest him). 

In September of 2009, Dick sold the store to the Winchester brothers who brought in their own enthusiasm and new personalities, aiming to continue to support the local Chattanooga running scene. It was Zach Winchester and Joey who hired on Alan Outlaw in July 2010 after a freak food processor accident left Alan immobile. Alan brought killer 80's dance moves and a deep passion for helping others enjoy running. In 2011, Fast Break moved to the current location on Cherokee Blvd.

Through the years, Fast Break has watched the running world change from just a handful of walkers, runners, and joggers to an entire community of men, women, and children running, racing, and exercising for the love of the sport.

And through it all, Fast Break has never run out of shoes!

Fast Break wants to continue to support our Chattanooga running family through the coming decades, so we are upgrading again to a new store just 2 blocks down on Cherokee Blvd! (More on that to come so stay tuned!)

As a thank you to everyone in the Chattanooga community who has run with us these past 40 years, we are throwing a Fast Break birthday party!  Join us this Friday, November 3 for our 40th Year Celebration! 

The force is strong with this… running store.  - Han Solo

Must-Do November Events and Races in Chattanooga!

We hope to see you at these upcoming events, races, and group runs! 

Fast Break 40 Years Celebration

November 3, 2017 - 7PM - Fast Break Athletics 19 Cherokee Blvd
Fast Break is celebrating 40 years! Join us for food, live music, drinks, and a good time! For more information check out the event page on Facebook.

Battlefield Marathon, Half Marathon, 5k

November 11, 2017
The rolling course is extremely beautiful and takes you on a tour of historical moments, memorials, and canons. Everyone can participate with distances from the full and half marathon to the Jr. Marathon. Click here to register or for more info!

Sportsbarn Turkey Trot

Thursday, November 23, 2017
Sportsbarn East • 6148 Lee Hwy Chattanooga, TN  37421

Chattanooga's classic Turkey Trot! This is always a MUST-DO RACE on Thanksgiving day! This is a dog and kid friendly event, there is something for the whole family, and thats what Thanksgiving is all about, right?! To register and for more info, click here!

image from http://gratefulgobblerwalk.org/

image from http://gratefulgobblerwalk.org/

Grateful Gobbler

Thursday, November 23, 2017 - Coolidge Park
Walk for an awesome cause on Thanksgiving day with your family! 100% of the proceeds of the walk will go towards the Maclellan Shelter for Families. This is an emergency homeless shelter for families. For more info about the walk and to register, click here!

Fast Break Group Runs

As always, we have our weekly group runs! These are for everyone, all levels and abilities. Come run with us! For more info check out our website! 
Track Workout - Mondays 6:30pm
Road/Trail - Tuesdays 6:00pm
Long Run - Sundays 7:00am

Battling the Plantar Fasciitis Monster

Many people have experienced the terrible, awful pain of plantar fasciitis. Once the pain train starts rolling, it feels like it can’t be stopped. If you have experienced this, you understand how desperate one can be to find relief from heel pain and a way to get back to walking and running normally.  

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If you aren’t really sure what we’re talking about, here’s a short quiz to find out if you have plantar fasciitis: 

  • When you step out of bed, do you yell in pain then perform the “morning hobble” dance to the bathroom?
  • Do you find yourself telling co-workers about this knife like sensation in your heel?
  • Have you seriously considered walking on your hands?
  • Is “ouch” the first word out of your mouth when you stand up?
  • Are you reading WebMD articles about heel pain and looking at buying some ridiculously expensive shoe contraption to stop it?
  • Does a sharp pain makes you scream at the beginning of a run, but disappears a few miles in?
  • Have you made an appointment with your doctor to find out how much it is going to cost to amputate your foot?

If you answered yes to any of these, unfortunately, you have diagnosed yourself with plantar fasciitis. Some people struggle with the pain on and off for years, which is why it’s so important to catch the pain early on.

Local physical therapist Rebecca Wykle talked with us about what exactly is happening in the foot when plantar fasciitis pain flairs up and how to treat it before it gets too bad. By following a few basic care treatments, you can help the foot heal on it’s own and avoid getting to the point of seeing a therapist.

WHAT IS THE PLANTAR FASCIA

It’s a really thick band of strong connective tissue that runs from the base of your toes down to your heel. It helps support the arch of the foot.

WHAT IS PLANTAR FASCIITIS?

When there's extra tension being put on that plantar fascia band, inflammation occurs at the attachment at the heel bone. So what you feel is a really sharp stabbing pain at the bottom of your heel in the fat pad. It's typically worse at the start of the morning when you first step down.

WHAT CAUSES PLANTAR FASCIITIS?

Numerous things, but the root cause is usually that the area is being over used. Usually it can occur when you do something you don't normally do, or change up your routine. Did you recently add mileage to your training schedule, or go on a trip to Disney and walk a lot more than usual?

Here are a few factors that can put you at risk: tight calves, excessively walking around barefoot, standing all day on non-supportive shoes, weak hips, over pronation, and obesity.

HOW DO YOU TREAT IT?

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Stop walking around barefoot. Wear a shoe with cushion and support around the house. When you wake up in the morning, instead of stepping down and stretching out the plantar fascia, slide into a pair of shoes with support so that you won’t tear or strain the tissues. Socks with sandals are cool, right!? We carry Oofos and PowerStep sandals, which both provide support and relief, come check them out!

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Stretch your calves. The plantar fascia is connected to the achilles which is connected to the calf. Poor ankle movement and tight calves can have an affect on the feet. Stretch your calves several times a day, holding for 20-30 seconds for 2-3 times.

Strengthen the foot muscles. Strengthening the muscles of the posterior tibialis and the little intrinsic muscles can help support the foot. You can do that by sitting on a chair and picking up marbles with your toes or scrunching a towel with your toes.

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Use pressure to massage the foot to relieve the pain. There are two ways to do this: one, freeze a water bottle half full of water and roll your arch over it. This won’t fix the problem, but it will relieve some of the symptoms in the short term. Two, find a small ball like a tennis ball, or, even better, a massage ball and roll the ball under your arch and, if you can, around the heel. Starting and ending the day by rolling your feet is a good practice to get into regardless. By getting the pressure under the plantar fascia, you're working out the trigger points without trying to make changes to the plantar fascia.

Strengthen the muscles around the hips. When hips are weak, knees drop in and feet over-pronate. If you're over-pronating (heavily turning inwards when you walk), you're increasing pressure on the plantar fascia. So if you can strengthen the hips and the chain above the irritated area, you can relieve the pressure from the plantar fascia. Good exercises for the hips are clam shells, hip abductions, laying on your side doing leg lifts, and side planks. Make sure the hips are squared and stacked so that your glutes and core fire.

Wear correctly-fitted, supportive shoes, for both running and everyday wear. Wearing hard shoes, or no shoes will only irritate the problem area. Shoes that are too small or too flexible will not allow the plantar fascia to heal. It’s worth the time, energy, and money to be fitted for a good pair of running/walking shoes. You will notice a difference. Of course, we are here to fit you for shoes at Fast Break Athletics!

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Wear an orthotic that supports the arch. If needed, additional support under the arch can be useful for holding it up so to relieve the tension from the plantar fascia when you step on it. At Fast Break, we carry the PowerStep. It is semi-flexible, and still allows your foot to go through its full range of motion, all while supporting the arch and relieving heel pain. We carry these for both running shoes, and casual shoes or work boots.

Wear a plantar fasciitis night splint. Although it may look like a torture device, have no fear! A night splint keeps the foot dorsiflexed while you sleep, allowing the plantar fascia to heal in a stretched position to avoid the searing pain in your first step in the morning. We also carry these at Fast Break.

CAN I KEEP RUNNING?


This depends on how severe your case of plantar fasciitis is. Rebecca thinks that it’s pointless to tell a runner to stop running, so she aims to only keep a runner off his or her feet for 1-2 weeks if they absolutely need it. But it all depends on the body, feet, and person. Give your feet some rest while you do all of the above, then ease back into running.

If you have done all of the above and still struggle with heel pain, consult your doctor about seeing a physical therapist to assess if there are weaknesses in the body or other factors that could be prolonging the pain.

 

Stop by the shop if you have any other questions about plantar fasciitis!

Spectathletes Guide to Cheering on a Tri

SPECTATHLETE (n.): A person who, without interfering, watches and cheers for athletic events of all levels with remarkable enthusiasm. Often found on the sides of roads employing numerous props such as horns, vuvuzulas, pom-poms, silly hats, silly children, face paint, cowbells, posters, or large foam hands. These fanatical spectators are often characterized by a determination to hit every spot to cheer on their athlete and hoarse voices from excessive yelling.

E.G. - "Those daggum Chattanooga spectathletes done bought up all the cowbells, and now we don't have any for old Bessie to wear!"

A local spectathlete in his natural habitat.

A local spectathlete in his natural habitat.

Spectating a long distance triathlon requires training, preparation, dedication, and energy. Your athlete might be swimming, biking, and running all in one day in a short period of time, but you have to be in all the right places at the right time saying the right things, balancing waving your foam finger, giant sign, pom-poms, and cowbells all at the same time, then yelling at the top of your lungs only to watch your athlete for twenty seconds or less. But without your support, your athlete could have a rough day. Your encouraging words could bring them out of a funk, they could lift their spirits to soar to the finish line. The stakes are high. Are YOU cut out to be a Spectathlete?

Here are our pro-tips for all aspiring Spectathletes:

WAKE UP EARLY. Beat the crowds. Offer to drive your athlete if they need it. This may mean rolling out of bed at 4:45 am and sherpa carrying his gear to the T1 or T2 (transition 1 or 2). Make some coffee, plaster a smile on your face, and embrace the experience!

KNOW THE COURSE. Take some time the week before to look at the race course and plan the spots you want to cheer from. Notice where roads are closed and where you can or can’t walk. You CANNOT move barricades, so plan before hand your method of movement. Know your athlete’s split time goals, then plan to arrive early and stay later at those spots to make sure you see them. For a half distance triathlon, add 15-20 minute windows. For a long distance triathlon, add 30 minutes.

PACK FOR THE DAY. Just like your triathlete has all her clothes, socks, bike, goggles, and food planned out, so must you. Create a checklist and pack the night before. You will need a costume, cowbells, tutus, pom-poms, air horns, electrolyte mix, water, food, chair, posters, beer, ice, music, speakers, and possibly a tandem bicycle. It’s going to be a long day and there will be lots of downtimes, so pack a book to read or cards to play as well.

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CHEER FOR ANYONE AND EVERYONE. There will be lots of waiting for your triathlete. Don’t stand there quiet and still as the others zoom past. Cheer for everyone! All motivation is helpful! Pick out specific people and yell them on. “Hey dude in green, you’re doing great!” “Yellow shoe girl, keep at it!” “Look at that girl, she’s still smiling! You’ve got this!”

MAKE SIGNS. Words of encouragement whether on signs or posters or notes in your athletes shoes the morning of are a great way to show support. Holding up funny, large posters are a good idea, as long as they are nice. Sometimes humor can bring a good laugh during a long stretch of suffering. Posters like “Worst parade ever!” are a great idea. But avoid phrases like, “You look great.” No, they don’t. They’re covered in sweat and salt and working their hardest, but this isn’t their best look. Rather, encourage them with, “You are strong! You are brave!” or “Keep going! You’ve worked so hard for this!”  

A big no-no is signs and cheers that involve distances. You don’t want to write or yell, “One more mile to go!” when there’s actually 1.2795 miles to go. Athletes count down every foot of a race. Don’t lie or create false hope. Phrases like “you are almost there!” or “so close” are unhelpful. Use general positive affirmation instead.

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CHEER FROM THE SIDELINES. Don’t get into competitors’ faces. Don’t high five unless you know them well, and never jump in front of a competitor! Stay on the side of the road. If you want to be seen by your athlete, wear a big T-Rex costume. Such costumes are also helpful for life in general and receiving a maximal number of high fives. Embrace life. Be a T-Rex.

MAKE SOME NOISE. Pack those cowbells, bring out those loud speakers, buy a giant drum! Sometimes a fast beat is a perfect pick-me-up during the run when there’s more time to listen to it. During the bike, cowbells are a great option to be heard as the bikes whiz by.

TEND TO IMMEDIATE NEEDS POST RACE. When your athlete finishes, he may have temporarily digressed to baby hand signals and giant smiles. Help him up, give him a huge hug, walk him to a chair, hand him water (or a beer) and offer to get his gear. He will be smelly, salt-caked, sweaty, and generally not fit for human contact, but plaster a huge smile on your face (once again) and be excited that he finished!

BRACE YOURSELF FOR ALL THE EMOTIONS. Once words return to her brain, your athlete will want to walk through every single second of her day. Sit down, listen well. She just spent months training for an event that ended within hours. Her body is exhausted and depleted. There may be laughter, tears, snorts, and lots of snot. But stay by her side, listening and appreciating her story of conquering a race.

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You're all set! Gear up and get out here this weekend to cheer on Worlds IRONMAN 70.3 in Chattanooga! Cheer for our own Fast Breaker Seth as he competes! Pull out them cow bells!

Chasing Olympic Dreams: One Runner's Battle for Olympic Glory and Life Itself

CHASING CHILDHOOD DREAMS

Childhood dreams start with a flame of inspiration, and while most die out or take new forms, sometimes the flame is fanned and pushed into a fire that drives an entire life. For Brandon Hudgins, that childhood dream was to compete in track in the Olympic games. But he never expected to get sick. 

Back in high school, Brandon had sat in front of the TV and watched Alan Webb break the four-minute mile with his stunning time of 3:53. One day, he knew, that would be him. His dream led him to run track and cross country at Winthrop University. But during his sophomore year, at age 21, barely into a promising college running career, Brandon started suffering from debilitating “joint pain, breathing problems, hearing loss, extreme fatigue, sinus infections, bloody noses, night sweats, circulation problems, and kidney issues.” Something was not right. It took a team of doctors six months to diagnose the autoimmune disease known as Vasculitis, or more specifically Granulomatosis with Polyangiitis. In short, Brandon’s immune system attacks some of his own organs. The disease halted his running and threatened his life, but it didn’t stop him.

Brandon Hudgins

At the present, Vasculitis does not have a known cure. When he was first diagnosed, Brandon went through numerous rounds of chemotherapy and injections. “They’re basically trying to reset my immune system. They destroy all my B cells, where my problem is. But since it’s not perfect, [the medicine] kills a lot of other cells in the process… so then I’m on drugs cause I’m on drugs,” said Brandon.

LIFE’S HURDLES AND HELPERS

Brandon was forced to stop running the rest of his college career to treat the disease. He described his early twenties battle with Vasculitis as “an emotional roller coaster,” the highs and lows of hope and despair that any life-threatening sickness can bring. However, his body was eventually able to recover enough to allow him to complete his remaining two years of NCAA eligibility running for Appalachian State in Boone, N.C. while gaining his graduate degree. It was in Boone that Brandon first ran into, or technically against, the late Chattanooga pro-runner, Cameron Bean, who was running for Samford University at the time.

Cameron was known by his friends and family as having a good heart, pushing people to live healthy lives, follow their dreams, and “just go for a run.” But Brandon’s relationship with Cameron did not start out so smoothly.

“We hated Cameron because he was who he was,” said Brandon. “When that guy is on the other side of the fence, kind of like dogs, you're barking at the each other.”

But when Cameron eventually moved from Chattanooga to Boone to join the professional running team Zap Fitness, Brandon and Cameron realized they had a lot in common and became fast friends.

“I actually got some grief from the older guys [on my team] who said, ‘I can't believe you're hanging out with him!’ And I was like, ‘Sorry he's actually cool!’” Brandon said. “Of course, he eventually, always, won everyone over who he came into contact with.”

Cameron’s enthusiasm for life and perpetual encouragement to everyone to always be their best played an influential role in Brandon’s life as he was becoming a faster, stronger runner.

Before finishing grad school, Brandon ran a 3:45 in the 1500 meters, pushing him closer than ever before to his Olympic dreams. But soon after graduating and returning home to work, Vasculitis struck again. Brandon struggled through back to back relapses in 2012 and 2013. Hardly able to get out of bed on his own, his running dreams seemed to have finally come to an end. At one point, in total despair, he threw all his running gear in the trash can.

“It’s humbling,” Brandon says. “I didn't always handle it very well. I've gotten a lot of diseased induced anxiety and depression problems from it.”

After his third total relapse in April 2013, still weak but feeling better, Brandon decided to return to Boone. Life had been good there, maybe the disease’s relapses were environmentally induced. Cameron and friends helped him get a job at a resort where Brandon worked as a valet while figuring out what was next in life.

His body was returning to health, but beside short, recreational run, Brandon was no longer training, no longer chasing the dream. He was at a crossroads in life. Did he move on and coach high school track, or leave the running scene completely? Then, one morning, Cameron and an old teammate from Appalachian State invited Brandon on a run that would change his life’s course.

The three young men started out at a decent pace, but soon they had kicked it up a notch to a speed that Brandon had not tapped into in months.

“It was the first time in so long that I could remember not just enjoying the run, but feeling like a real runner again,” Brandon said. “I wasn't running with a shitty engine or feeling closed off. It was probably one of the most pure runs I have done my entire life.” They closed up in the last five miles, pushing the pace, stretching Brandon’s physical limits. But he was able to hang with them. His body had not forgotten was it was like to push hard and open up. And it was at the end of that run with Cameron that Brandon realized he missed it. He couldn’t desert his lifelong dream to break four minutes in the mile and chase the Olympics. So he decided to give it his all.

THE TRAGEDY AND THE COMEBACK

Brandon remained working at the resort so that he could train with a coach. His health stayed strong, with only a “minor hernia surgery” that took him out for a few weeks, nothing compared to the years of non-running from Vasculitis. He trained mostly by himself for the 1500 meters distance. He eventually became the 448th American to break the four-minute mile barrier. Always supportive, Cameron was there to cheer him on, one of the last times the two would see each other.

Brandon Hudgins running a sub-four minute mile.

Brandon Hudgins running a sub-four minute mile.

That October, while at work, Brandon got the text from Cameron’s girlfriend that he had been hit by a car while running on Moccasin Bend Road in Chattanooga. “We had no idea how serious it was,” said Brandon. Two days later, they learned that Cameron had passed away. Brandon called Cameron’s Zap Fitness coach and fellow runners to give them the news.

Devastated by the loss of his friend, Brandon knew that Cameron, maybe more than anyone else, would have wanted him to continue trying for the Olympics. He raced several months later at the Furman Elite Meet and brought his 1500 meter time down to run 3:38, finally qualifying him for the 2016 Olympic trials.

“Cameron helped me to live my life better, after his death. He always kept things light and away from the anxiety,” recalls Brandon. “I probably would have done better at the trials if he had been there to keep my mind from being anxious.”

For as he got closer and closer to the trials, the depression, anxiety caused by his health issues during the past almost ten years started hitting Brandon, hard.

“Instead of that being an asset, instead of using that as a tool, I felt the weight of everything I had been through on the starting line,” remembers Brandon.

At the Olympic trials in Oregon, Brandon ran a 3:43 in the 1500 to progress him to Friday’s rainy semifinals. Runners were tumbling down on the wet track, forcing Hudgins and the other competitors to hurdle over them. In the semifinals, Brandon finished ninth in the first of two heats, ending his 2016 Olympic trials.

“I handled the trials so poorly emotionally,” Brandon says. “I wasn't able to super enjoy being there. I knew I was in much better shape than how I performed, and that happens to a lot of people on that stage. But that was also my first time ever on a big stage like that. I wasn't really mentally equipped to handle that pressure, plus all the self-imposed pressure that I had put on myself.”

With much disappointment but with his eyes already set on the 2020 Olympics, Brandon left Oregon to join the Bean family weeks later in Chattanooga to celebrate the life of his friend in the inaugural Cam Run 5k and Magnum Mile. After finishing second in the 5k, he circled back around to high five every runner through the finish line. Then later that night, he swept the field in the mile, the event Cameron had won just one year before.

 
Brandon Hudgins competing at the 2016 Olympic Trials in Oregon.

Brandon Hudgins competing at the 2016 Olympic Trials in Oregon.

 

STILL CHASING THE DREAM

This past January, Brandon experienced his fourth relapse of Vasculitis. But this time he was more prepared to fight the emotional and mental battle.

“I've learned a lot because of all that,” Brandon says. “I have to ride it out a little more and stuff, like being involved with the Vasculitis Foundation and having all these people invested in the journey, has helped keep me on solid mental ground.”

Recently sponsored by Skechers, who has supported him through the ups and downs of his disease these last few months, Brandon plans to resume training for the 2020 Olympics once his strength and health returns.

Brandon published his first book last Tuesday that covers the mental and emotional struggles he has faced and pushed through over the past ten years and continues to push through to achieve his childhood dream of Olympic glory.

Brandon Hudgins talking at a camp through the Vasculitis Foundation.

Brandon Hudgins talking at a camp through the Vasculitis Foundation.

“I want people to find their passionate desires in life that can lead them to be really dedicated to something and achieve a goal,” Brandon said. “I think when you have those things it makes all the other obstacles you go through easier to tackle and manage. Really at the end of the day, I want to inspire people to chase their dreams and don't let their circumstances dictate them.”

Brandon plans to resume training once his health has fully returned after this last relapse. The hurdles this time come in the form of injections of the drug Rituxan every six months to fight his B-cells. He will be done with the treatments and free of drugs for one and a half years before the 2020 Olympic trials. There are still times and goals that he wants to achieve before he ends his running career.

“I basically don’t want to grow up,” said Brandon. “I still have that childhood dream.”

 

Join us at Warehouse Row on Friday, August 25 from 5;00-9:00 p.m. for the Cam Run 5k packet pick-up and the chance to meet and talk to Brandon about his book.

 

 

Following Hardrock Dreams: an Interview with Ryan Meulemans, a Local Chattanooga Ultra Trail Runner

Hardrock 100 mile race is notoriously known as one of the hardest ultra-marathons in the United States. It attracts running legends like Kilian Jornet to race across the Colorado mountains. Runners can only enter Hardrock through a lottery. This year, one of our own Chattanooga Fast Breakers made it in and placed 33rd overall. We sat down with Ryan Meulemans to hear about his race.

HOW DID YOU GET INTO RUNNING?

I've always been into the outdoors and have enjoyed the outdoors in many ways, shapes, and forms. I originally started with hiking and backpacking. And then was really into fly fishing for a few years. It was an evolution of enjoying the outdoors. In my early 20’s, I smoked a pack of cigarettes a day, ate like #&^%, weighed 200 pounds. I got into exercising. I was like, I have to go to the gym and like bla, bla, blah. I quit smoking and all that. But the gym wasn't for me. It wasn't fun. So I started running on the road 2-3 miles, cause that's all I could do. But then a couple of buddies were like, "We go out and run trails." I hadn't been doing it much, but I liked hiking and backpacking in the Smokies. So that's just how I got into it. I wasn't really a runner until I became a trail runner. That was probably a little over 10 years ago.

Everything in my life is to the frickin extreme. It's just how I live, it's my personality. Everything is to the max. Running for me isn't any different. I got into it. I enjoyed the trails and it was one of those things, where I was having a conversation with some guys, and they were like, "Stump Jump is coming up." And I was like, "What's Stump Jump?" At that point I was really only comfortable with 10-12 miles. I thought about it for a few weeks, and decided that I was going to do it. I had 1 year to train for it. I did it and finished and liked it. And that was my first ultra.

I want to be in the woods. I want to be out there on the trails, and the cliffs and the streams and bluffs. That's why I do it. So I did Stump Jump a couple of years in a row. Then I started adding other races and 50ks became not that big of deal so I started doing 50 milers then 100’s.

Photo contributed by Ryan Meulemans

WHEN DID YOU START DREAMING OF HARDROCK?

I kind of like those more mountainy races. I had always had it in my head that Hardrock was the pinnacle. If you look at the race course, you can make an argument that it's the hardest thing in North America and definitely one of the hardest things in the world.

I put my name into Hardrock for about 5 years. There is a short list of races that the Hardrock race directors deem worthing or hard enough to do Hardrock. The list used to be bigger but it has shrunk down. I would get a qualifier every other year, put my name into Hardrock every year, and wait and see. And I wouldn't get in. But last December, luck of the draw, I finally got in for 2017.

I was ecstatic. You find out over Twitter. You're sitting there watching the lottery hitting refresh, refresh, refresh. I was picked in the second batch of names. It was like a band-aid had been ripped off. The lottery started and 5 minutes later I was in! But I didn't have any fear. I knew what I was getting into. I definitely wanted the opportunity to do it. So my name got pulled and I was all in.

 

WHAT WAS YOUR TRAINING LIKE?

My last 3 years of running have been FatDog 120 [in British Columbia], Western States, and getting ready for Hardrock. So I went back and looked at FatDog, which was great, and looked at what I had done. Even though FatDog is longer, I knew I probably needed to dial it up for Hardrock. So I just went about my plan with a nice build up. Every other Saturday as [a race] gets closer is the really long run. I’ll go do a 45-50 mile run, then the next Saturday 12 miles, then the next Saturday 45-50. So for these types of races, like a Hardrock or FatDog, the only chance you have is to go to some place like the Smokies to find 5-6 mile climbs. With a race like HardRock, you have these really long climbs and descents to train for. And there's nothing like that around here. So I'd go up to the Smokies around Friday afternoon and camp and run.

 

HOW DID YOU HANDLE THE ELEVATION?

I went out 2 weeks in advance. My sister lives in Denver, so I drove out. Got to Denver on Friday afternoon, camped in my truck. Got up Saturday morning, put in 18 miles up and down some 14ers. And I was beat. Elevation kicked me bad! I was like, “Ok, this isn't good. I'm really fit and I don't know how I could run 5 more miles.” So I was a little nervous. I went out again the next day for a shorter 15 miles or so. Took Monday off. Then my sister and I went out on July 4 and did 4 14ers in 1 day. It was up and down, up and down. It was pretty good. That day I felt better. That was Tuesday and I could feel it coming together.

I drove to Silverton on Wednesday. I went out on Thursday for a 20 miler, and I felt good. I went out again 1 week before the race and still felt good, elevation was good. I knew when I was going up 12 to 13 thousand feet and I was talking that things were going to be ok.


WALK US THROUGH RACE DAY.

Photo contributed by Ryan Meulemans

I slept like a baby the night before. Not sure why. The race starts at 6am on Friday morning. I felt good. The race starts and everybody is in a group. You run through town and a couple miles in, the first thing you do is run through a creek crossing. So your feet are wet the entire time after that. That was probably one of my biggest fears, that my feet would be wet the entire time and, knowing how technical the course is, I was wondering if I'd just wear my feet out with blisters. Luckily, feet were solid. I changed my shoes and socks one time at the half way point and was good to go. I didn't glide my feet, bandaid my feet, nothing. I rarely have foot problems, so if I do, I don't understand why cause I rarely do. But feet were wet the entire time.

So you go up the big climb and everyone's together and all strung out in a huge train. And the day gets started. The thing about Hardrock is that you have to remember the whole entire time A) how hard you worked to be there and B) how long it took for you to get in. I would come to the top of climbs and look around and be like, 'Oh my god, this is awesome.' It's truly the most beautiful running course I've been on. I was totally engaged the entire time. Any hundred mile I've ever run, you get into these stretches where you're just like, “This stretch sucks. I can't wait for this to be over.” But at Hardrock, that never happened.

Photo contributed by Ryan Meulemans

 A friend of mine had introduced me to my friend Joel whom I had never met before Hardrock training. My friend said we ran the same style and pace and we might want to run together, so we did. We did some training runs in Tennessee together and really hit it off. We had talked about it at the beginning that we should share some miles together since we're a similar pace, with the complete understanding that if either one of us hits a low point the other one is leaving and that's the end of that. There's not going to be any "we got to stay together type deal." So I caught up to Joel at about 12ish miles into the race. Him and I started rolling together. Just enjoying the day, just a beautiful Friday morning, just having a great time. And as with any Colorado afternoon, it starts to get dark, and the skies go black, and we look over at this mountain range, and we're like, "Oh $%*&! That doesn't look good!" So the temperature drops and a huge hail storm comes in, pea-sized hail. I have a hood on but it's killing my ears where it's hitting. Of course I had my Fast Break trucker on, but regardless, we were getting pummeled. I looked back and Joel's legs were bleeding. I finally yelled, ”Dude, we need to take cover." It started thundering and lightning. So we got into the willows and hunkered down for probably 10 minutes. It seemed to be moving out, and I was getting really cold, so we had to start running again just for that purpose. Fortunately, the storm was moving out, but the streams were now all flooded. It was intense, but that's part of the Hardrock deal! Joel and I rolled together through the night from 12 miles to the town of Telluride, which is at mile 72.

A great part of the race is an aid station section called Kroger’s Canteen. It's a very famous aid station. It's up on the top of a mountain in a nook. They built platforms there. Scott Jurek’s up there serving something to eat. We knew going into it, that one side of it was still completely snowed in. So in pitch blackness, we start up these snow pitches that was just like climbing a ladder. You put your feet in and use your trekking poles, and you've got your head lamp and you're just climbing into nothing. Straight up. It would go and pitch out, and then keep going. There's 3 pitches to the top, then you can see the aid station, and they're all yelling at you to climb. I was like, "Dude, don't fall. It's not going to be good." So super cool, but definitely one of the sketchier things I've done in my running, and I've done some pretty crazy spots.
 
In the middle of the night, we started down to the next descent and got into the town of Telluride, and grabbed what we needed at the aid station. It's 4:30 in the morning. It's getting close to sun up but not quite there yet. It's mile 70 and everything feels good. So we start out of Telluride, me, Joel and his pacer. And I don't know what happened, but I could not get out of first gear. They were leaving me in the dust. I lost all my momentum. I was really struggling to keep up with them. So finally I said, "This is it. It's that spot. You've got to go. I can't keep up."

Photo contributed by Ryan Meulemans

Looking back, I think I got a little low on calories. There's definitely something with altitude. I don't think I ate that much for 100 miles. I never had a gel. I don't like gels. I ate Shot Bloks. I'd ate quesadillas and burritos at aid stations. I think Joel was at a really good pace for probably 20 miles prior and it burned me just a little bit, so it hit later. It probably would have been better to back off, but I didn't. But there's no regrets. It was all still fine. It was a very difficult climb. It was a section of the course I had not seen. And looking at the profile, I think mentally I thought it wasn't going to be that bad, and then it was really bad. It was one of those ones where you're just going and there's 3-4 false summits and you think you're there, and it's not the top, and you get to another peak, and it’s still not the top. And I had all that going on mentally of my buddy leaving me and my pacer not keeping up (that’s another story). It was a lot. I think if you run 100 miles and don't have one low energy spot, you're really good. I felt low for a couple of hours, but once I got to the top of the climb, the sun was up, I was good. I bombed down into an aid station. I ate, had a cup of coffee, had a breakfast burrito and it was golden after that.

So I finally got to the top of that climb. The sun came up, and that's always a boost. That's a thing about 100 milers. There's always that time around 4:30-5:30 in the morning where you're tired and then the sun comes up, and I always get a huge boost. So after that, it was good. It was still a grind and very difficult. I was on my own all the way to the finish. Joel was always just ahead of me. He ended up finishing nearly an hour ahead of me.

I had seen the final 20 something miles of the course. We had done the final 20 miles the week before. So I knew after that low moment, everything else I had seen. I knew exactly where I was. I knew every climb that I had to do, which is both a blessing and a curse, to get the finish.

I got to the top of another climb, which is super hard, straight up. I'm digging, climbing, rocks are sliding right under me. When I got to the top of that climb which I knew would be really hard, I was like, "Ok I got this. Lets finish." I was at 85, had 15 to go. It was 10 in the morning on Saturday. I was golden. I had waited a long time for this. And the race had been great. I was in and out of the last couple of aid stations and then on to the finish. When you get to the finish at Hardrock, you kiss the rock. It felt great. I didn't feel destroyed at all. I felt really, really good about it.

Photo contributed by Ryan Meulemans

 YOU'VE FINISHED YOUR DREAM RACE. WHAT’S NEXT?

Hardrock is definitely a race I could see myself doing multiple times. I've done it one direction, now I have to do it the other way, since they reverse it every other year. I will probably put in every year. There's so much about it. Silverton shuts down the week before the race. It's a serene atmosphere leading up to such a big event.

 

Photo contributed by Ryan Meulemans

WHAT WAS YOUR BIGGEST TAKE AWAY FROM YOUR FIRST HARDROCK?

I think one of the biggest things that hit me at Hardrock was during the pre-race briefing, the race director, Dale Garland, announced who has done this five times, ten times, etc.  One guy had done it twenty-five times. Then he said that only 700 something individual people have only finished this race in the whole world. When tomorrow's race is done, there will be 780 or whatever. But only 750 or so people in the world have completed Hardrock. And I was like, I have to be one. I have to be 1 of those 750, that's why I'm here.