One of the things that draws people to the sport of trail running is the camaraderie that exists between runners. We are not just competitors, we are runners challenging ourselves and nature. In this spirit, we seek to lift each other up mentally and physically. We want to celebrate those who have run the race before us and appreciate their willingness to participate again. We take comfort in the fact that if they have returned, it can be finished.
Craig Kelly is one such person. He has completed the StumpJump 50k a record 11 times—let that sink in for a minute. I was curious as to what has driven Craig to participate in this grueling competition, not only with those around him, but against himself and nature, 11 times.
Craig was gracious enough to answer my questions via email. The exchange follows:
Where do you live?
I live in Huntsville Al. The military moved me here in 1994. Coming from Hawaii it was a difficult move, as in Hawaii there was a run every weekend that you could do, and I wasn\’t sure what opportunities there were for that sport in AL. I learned about the Huntsville Track Club (HTC), joined that, and then started enjoying running in this area. Huntsville was better than most places the military had sent me, so I retired in 1997 after serving 27 years. I really didn\’t start running until I was in my mid thirties. While stationed in Germany I started Volksmarching. You may know of that sport. All through Europe each village or town has an annual distance event that they put on to promote their area and to encourage outdoor activity. The Internationaler Volkssportverband (IVV) is a multinational body that administrates and sanctions each event and issues an event book and a kilometer book in which the participant receives a stamp for each event completed and the distance recorded. As each book is filled the participant is awarded an incentive medal which becomes more elaborate as more events are completed. I found that I could complete more books by running the courses, so I guess that is where I really got into running. I found that it was really enjoyable.
The StumpJump was in its infancy the first time you ran 11 years ago, how did you hear about it?
I\’m note sure how I heard about the Stump Jump initially, but I\’m sure it was thru the HTC some how. I didn\’t run the inaugural event as I either didn\’t know about it or I was doing something else that weekend. I do know that I was running some events in Chattanooga i.e. the Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon and the Chattanooga 1/2 marathon. I have always enjoyed getting up early in the morning, driving to Chattanooga, and running in some great foot race.
How did you do that first year?
I ran my first StumpJump the second year it was held in 2003. I recorded in my record book that there were 76 finishers. That sure has changed. I completed it in 6:34:17, #34 of 58 men, and 38th overall. The next year was my best time in this event. I ran it in 5:57:25.
Why did you come back the second year?
I came back the second year because I really enjoyed the course, the scenery, and the fact that there were only a few runners. I was doing something that many other runners didn\’t do, i.e. run a trail race through very challenging course. I had run in the race every year since the first one except in 2011 when a pulled Achilles tendon stopped my running for about six months. I got back to it in 2012. It was then that I noticed that no other runner had ran as many StumpJumps as I had and I wanted to be the first. So that was my goal for 2013. Last year I achieved that, but it was close completing the race in 8:57:39. It was as hot as I ever remember it being.
Why are you coming back for your 11th year?
I get caught up in the moment each time I sign up for a race not remembering how difficult it was. My family gives me hell for running races such as the StumpJump telling me that I\’m too old… But each time my competitive spirit overcomes their concerns and I sign up again. After all I am the course leader each year!
How have you trained for this year\’s run?
My training is not probably the best that will ensure that I\’m super competitive at each race. I generally run one or two long distance events each month from SEP thru MAY or JUN. Weekends that I don\’t have an event that I\’m running I generally pick a course similar to the one I am registered next. I always go the to the gym on WED to do strength training. I concentrate on the major muscle groups of my legs and lower torso. I guess that if I had a coach I could do better, but currently I\’m just doing what I think is or is working for me. I do know that I\’m finishing a little bit higher on the leader board on the races I do run, but that might mean that there are just fewer runners in my age group as I move up the age group categories.
How do you think trail running, in general, and StumpJump, specifically, have changed over the last 10 years?
The StumpJump surely has changed in the thirteen years it has been held. It has gone from using the schools restrooms to portalets. When the field has increased by hundreds things have to change. Randy Whorton has said that he wanted to make the StumpJump the biggest 50k in the country and I think he is very close or has achieved that. Other than the big increase in the field of runners I think that the organizers have tried to keep the race on a personal level for each runner. They are well organized, have very good aid stations, and pretty good goodies for the runners. Over the years I have been running organized trail runs I have noticed a big increase in the participation and the number of races being held. Trail running is one sport that pits you against nature and your ability. I think that trail running challenges each participant physically and mentally that street racing doesn\’t. Don\’t get me wrong, all competitive running either street or trail running requires mental and physical preparation by the participant to enjoy and complete that for which they are entered.
How has your training over the last few years changed?
Personally, as I age, I have backed off of the training miles I used to put in and generally rely on the next race to keep up my ability to compete. In my off weeks I try to run a 10-12 mile course once a week that has hills and some trail just keep the tone in my legs. Otherwise I use my off time to recoup and regenerate from my last competition.
If you could give a piece of advice for a runner in his or her first StumpJump 50k, what would it be?
The StumpJump is a very challenging course. I think that runners running for the first time find that out pretty fast. I don\’t know how many novices sign up, not having run a 50k before, and still complete it. I\’m sure that some will never run another trail race again or are hooked on doing another. First time StumpJumpers should have honed their skills on a less technical course before they risk injury and possibly mental anguish for not having the ability to finish a 50k of this magnitude. I have to admire anyone who can run these type of races for it does take a lot of planning, training, agility to successfully complete them. I have to hand it to those fellow runners who run the 50 mile, 100 mile, and endurance event. The longest distance I have ever run is about 36 miles.
I hope that you didn\’t find this to be too verbose or boring. I\’m just an everyday runner who is kind of hooked on this sport. This year thus far I have records of having completed 139 marathons and 50 ultras. With all of my smaller events I guess that I have run more that a few miles, gone though several pairs of shoes and shorts, and nursed lots of aches and pains. I have been blessed with good health and the opportunity to do all of this. I always try to encourage younger runners I encounter in races to \”come on you can do it\” and tell them how well they did.
Thank you, Craig, for continuing to come out and compete in our race each year. We look forward to seeing you next year as well.