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Crisler’s Grit and Grind: Conquering the Upchuck 50K Trail Race


Read all about Crisler's experience running the Upchuck 50K on the Cumberland Trail, from Sale Creek southbound to Soddy Daisy.
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Photos: Crisler Torrence

When you mention a race that starts off with the promise of a burger at the end, it’s hard not to be intrigued. But the Upchuck 50K Trail Race isn’t just about the post-run feast; it’s a gritty, grassroots event hosted by Wild Trails, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting trail building. For Crisler, it’s becoming an annual fall challenge that combines scenic beauty, camaraderie, and a whole lot of running.

"I had spent the previous Saturday helping to chainsaw logs out the trail and it was empowering to pass logs that I knew I had removed from the trail, so that kept me feeling good and pushing along."

The race unfolds along the Cumberland Trail, from Sale Creek to Soddy Daisy, taking runners through a relentless terrain that includes five river gorges (in order of appearance – Rock Creek, Little Possum Creek, Big Possum Creek, Big Soddy Creek, and Deep Creek). Each gorge introduces its own set of challenges – steep gradients, rocky terrain, and the perpetual navigation through fallen leaves that seem to devour your every step. But amidst this demanding landscape lies the allure of breathtaking scenery – trailside bluffs, picturesque creek crossings, and a myriad of flora and fauna that paint the surroundings.

For Crisler, this wasn’t just another race; it was a journey marked by camaraderie and determination. Starting with a slower pace alongside a friend, the race strategy was to gradually pick up speed. However, as the miles progressed, so did the challenge. A bothersome knee, a pesky downhill, and the physical toll of the course began to test resolve.

"The aid stations are minimal, there are only 2 - so you need to make sure you have plenty of water and calories. I ran past the first aid station at mile 8 and knew there was a long, smoother runnable segment ahead and was making great time and feeling good.

After Little P is a monster of a climb but the climbs were going well for me, it was the downhill that I was hating. The second aid station was a quick re-up on water and back to running on smoother trails for a bit.

The time of year is a big factor, the trail is always littered with leaves, in some sections, it feels like they swallow your shoes and you are just guessing what's beneath them as you try to move as fast as you can across rocks, roots, and what lies below."

The camaraderie continued as Crisler stuck by a friend, sharing the trail and stories until the last quarter of the race. The empowering feeling of surmounting trail obstacles that were previously chainsawed, by Crisler the previous Saturday, fueled the determination to push forward.

Amidst struggles and shared moments with friends, the course led Crisler towards the final stretch – a descent into Soddy Daisy. Battling personal limits and the agony of an aching knee, the determination to finish remained undeterred. Even as a fellow runner overtook in the final moments, Crisler’s spirit remained resilient, finishing the race in 6 hours and 48 minutes – the slowest yet for Crisler, but an accomplishment nonetheless.

"The course is scenic but there is never enough time to enjoy that - plenty of trailside bluffs, sections where the trail parallels the creek or crosses it on beautiful bridges, there are some big trees right along the trail and always cool flora and fauna. This was the driest year I have done, so my shoes actually stayed dry. Most years, I'm usually getting my feet wet at the base of a cascading waterfall and a for sure wade across the creek where it's usually calf-deep."

The finish line wasn’t just a marker of completion; it was a celebration. Surrounded by friends, cold beverages, and that coveted burger, the sense of achievement mingled with laughter and cheers for those still finishing the race.

Looking back, Crisler reflected on the journey, vowing to return for another shot at the Upchuck 50K Trail Race. As always, there’s the promise to train harder for the next round, but the camaraderie, the challenges, and the satisfaction of crossing the finish line are what truly make this grassroots race an annual highlight. After all, it’s not just about the run; it’s about the shared experiences, the resilience, and the unyielding spirit that define the Upchuck 50K Trail Race.

The Upchuck 50K race was held on Saturday, November 11th, 2023. The bus left for the start of the race at 7:30 am, and the race started at 8 am.

Head over to Wild Trails for more information.