Ran supported from Fontana Dam Visitor Center to Davenport Gap. Crew support was received at Rocky Top Summit, Clingman’s Dome, Newfound Gap, and Tricorner Shelter. Pacing was received from Tricorner out to Davenport.
The weather was dry and trail conditions were about perfect thanks to it being just past peak through hiker season. Temps in the morning were in the mid-40s to 50 with a cool breeze. By midday, it was relatively hot with temps in the low-60s. In the late afternoon the temps cooled off and clouds rolled in.
The target was to go sub 14 hours, but the legs just weren’t having it after the climb up to Clingman’s. A full run report is in my Strava activity.
I look forwards to seeing someone set the next FKT and would love to see someone go sub 14 hours. Find me on Facebook if I can be of any help, happy to share any beta I have.
Full Run Report
The SCAR for me has been an unofficial measuring stick of my trail running progression over the last 5 years. When my brother (Elias) and I completed our first SCAR in 2018 we didn’t know what a SCAR was, we just thought it would be fun to hike the length of the park in a day. After a freezing 24 hour and 50 minutes SOBO hike through the mountains in November 2018, we realized how much “fun” it really was. Crawling into the car at Fontana Dam I summed the hike up as “a dumb idea, never doing that again”.
After a few months, we began to think that missing our 24-hour target was motivation enough to give what we now knew as the SCAR another attempt. But we were not in any mood to spend that much time on our feet again, so we geared our training for a sub 20-hours SCAR. In May 2019, we hit the trail heading north from Fontana. By Derricks (mile 23.4) it was all I could do to hold on, I had developed a pain in my side that was making breathing difficult. So, I bailed at Clingman’s (mile 33.5) and retreated tearfully down the paved trail leaving Elias to continue on solo for a 19 hour 20 minute finish.
I allowed myself some time to recover and assess the events that caused me to DNF. By mid-summer, I had decided that a goal had been set and missed therefore attempt three was in order. Elias was up for it, so we completed a rough humid TN summer training cycle. In early September 2019, we toed the line again at Fontana. This time I hit the sub 20-hour mark, finishing in 19 hours 19 minutes. With a positive completion under my belt, I felt like I was done with the SCAR saying that I wouldn’t run it again unless I was pacing someone or (mostly tongue-in-cheek) if I was looking to set an FKT.
In the fall of 2020, after a successful Leconte Tour FKT (also ran with Elias), I began assessing if a SCAR FKT attempt was within my wheelhouse. An overly elaborate spreadsheet confirmed that the required splits were not only possible but a sub 14-hour completion might be achievable. So, I decided to dedicate 2021 to training for a fall attempt. A couple 50k races in the spring, followed by some trail and vert base work during the summer brought me into the fall ready to stretch the trail miles in preparation for an early November FKT attempt. Unfortunately, on my second to last long training run, I turned my ankle coming down to Davenport. Simultaneously ending my trail running in 2021 and delaying the FKT attempt for at least 6 months.
A long winter of road running and PT on the ankle had me back on trails and eyeing a 2022 spring attempt. To beat the humid summer weather, I circled late April/early May and got into a training cycle consisting of hill repeats on the steepest “trails” in middle Tennessee and long training runs targeting specific sections of the SCAR. This time things went smoothly, targets were met, and I made it through injury free.
After my final long training run, an out-and-back to Newfound from Davenport, I decided April 30th would be the day and headed into a 3-week taper. During the taper, I traveled up to the Smokies each weekend to spend low-intensity training time at elevation to help the body prepare for the altitude. This also allowed me to participate as a crew member in support of Jess’ SCAR and Bond’s Double SCAR attempts, which stoked my excitement and helped get me into the right mental space.
The week leading up to the 30th had the weather forecast for Saturday jumping from what would have been a perfect mid-40s day, to a solid day of rain with wind chills in the 30s, to finally a dry but warm day with midday highs in the low 60s. As anyone who has tapered will know, when we can’t go run we try to control whatever other aspects we can just to feel like we are still being productive. Luckily, I had a patient and understanding support crew who tolerated my constant questions of hypothetical changes to the day or start time or how either would affect the crew. Regardless of how much stress and thought I put into the hypothetical, by the end of the week nothing was changed from the original plans.
Saturday morning at 5:45 am my mom and I rolled into the parking lot at Fontana Dam Visitor Center. With sunrise still 45 minutes away, the sky was dark, the air was cool with temps in the mid 40s, and the only noise was a whip-poor-will singing our arrival. A short warm-up and a stop into the bathroom had me standing at the east end of the dam, jittery with anticipation, watching the clock for it to hit the top of the hour. It had been a multi-year journey to get to this point, a journey I really didn’t fully comprehend at the start but now gave me an opportunity to test myself against 72 miles in the mountains.
The training cycle, time spent at altitude, and the healthy taper all paid off as I found myself moving easy in the cool morning air. By the time I turned off the headlamp at Shuckstack (mile 4) I was 6 minutes ahead of my plan, by Gregory Bald Trail (mile 8) 10 minutes, and by the time I was nearing Rocky Top and my first planned crew spot (mile18.3) I was 20 minutes ahead of my plan. This is not my typical style of running, I like to hit my splits and save any extra energy for the back half of the run. But I knew that I was heading for hot hours between Silers and Charlies Bunion, so I allowed the legs to move early banking time on the front-end that I could give back as needed in the heat of the day.
Elias greeted me on Rocky Top at 9:17 am with a dry shirt and fresh vest filled with Gatorade, water, and a full resupply of fuel. For the run, I alternated between Cliff Bars, LaraBars, Huma gels, and baked sweet potatoes. With the legs feeling great, I kept the stop to a minimum and was rolling over to Thunderhead before I knew it.
While the sun was now fully up, the air was still cool and a strong breeze was flowing across the ridge lines. I decided to continue my aggressive start which saw me down the technical terrain of Thunderhead and Brier knob, by Derricks, arriving at Miry Ridge Trail (mile 26.1) having increased my lead on my planned splits to 30 minutes. The undulating climbs up to Silers is where I began to sense that my plan may not play out as hoped. Each climb saw the legs get weaker and weaker. By the time I rolled over Silers (mile 29) I began giving time back. The sun was now high overhead causing temperatures to creep into the low 60s and I could feel my core temperature rising. But not to worry, I had banked plenty of buffer across the first third and it was now time to use it.
I eased the effort and allowed a couple of extra minutes per mile on the climb to Clingman’s. While I had spent time trying to acclimate to the higher altitude, I definitely did not fully acclimate to 6,000’ and I began to feel the effects on my breathing and stomach. But I made it to my next resupply at Clingman's (mile 33.5) at 12:23 pm where my mom was ready with a Gatorade, water, and a few gels to get me down to Newfound. I allotted 5 minutes in the running plan for each backcountry resupply, and I decided to take the full 5 minutes at Clingmans. This allowed my heart rate to normalize and for me to eat a few bites of banana and get some extra fluids in the system.
The trail section from Clingman’s to Newfound always seems to be more challenging than it should be. And on that day it was no different. While I felt I was moving efficiently and made it into Newfound feeling relatively good, I did give back a few minutes on the technical terrain that makes up this section of trail.
At 1:51 pm, arriving at Newfound (mile 41.5), I elected to extend my planned 10-minute resupply to 15 minutes, trading 5 banked minutes for some extra time sitting in the shade. Here I took a quick water bottle shower, did a full wardrobe change complete with ice water-soaked hat and buff, then slipped on a vest filled with the same fluids as before but now with only gels as the stomach was done with bars. The Newfound support crew of Elias, his family (Gabbie and their son and daughter) along with my mom almost made things too comfortable, having a nice sunshade set-up with chairs and snacks! While the Newfound resupply didn’t give me fresh legs, it did boost my spirits and sent me on my way feeling refreshed and still clinging to 16 minutes of banked time.
Elias escorted me up the first half mile out of Newfound ensuring that I got back on pace. The climb up to the Boulevard Trail (mile 44.2) had me a little concerned. I was still bleeding time and now this was happening on some of the flatter sections. But I found that my legs could still descend just fine, which brought me past Charlies (mile 45.7) and onto the first of the two “long” sections of the SCAR. The 6 miles to Pecks were the most mentally taxing of the day. There was still too much trail ahead of me at this time to confidently calculate if my new pace plan, power hike the hills then roll as fast as possible down the other side, was going to give me a shot at achieving my goals. But I knew that stopping was the only thing that would certainly end my chances. So, I just kept moving forwards, breathing, drinking, and forcing down calories at every 45-minute beep of the watch.
4:15 pm I sat at Pecks (mile 51.9) for a minute to collect myself, knowing the second “long” section consisted of 3 climbs and 3 descents, after that I would be at Tricorner, with Jeff who was going to pace me to Davenport. By Pecks, I had given back all but 5 minutes of the time I banked during the cool morning hours. But I knew if I could get to Tricorner without falling apart, then I could attack the downhills that followed. So, I got up, put some tunes on, and started to tick off the climbs. Each hill felt long but somehow shorter than I had built them up in my mind, and thankfully the legs continued to perform on the descents. While it wasn’t a “before I realized it moment” because I was fully aware of each step, I did make it through the last long section in better shape than anticipated. The temperature had also began to cool which at times had me considering pulling on my sleeves.
By 5:21 pm at Tricorner (mile 57.1), I knew that the sub 14-hour target was not within reach and talking with Jeff, as I took five minutes to resupply, he agreed. But he was very positive that the FKT of 14 hour 28 minutes was well within range. Having a pacer after 10+ hours of solo time on the trail was a tremendous boost to my morale. Just hearing footsteps behind me and having sporadic conversation breathed new life into the legs. Passing Mt Guyot and Old Black (mile 60), we were done with the high elevations and had only two climbs remaining in the run. With this in mind, I opened up the legs a bit too much on the long descent past Snake Den and down to Camel Gap (mile 63.2). This got my heart rate going and the sweat flowing in the warmer lower elevations. Starting the climb to Cosby, I found myself sitting down in the trail, telling Jeff I needed a minute.
After the heart rate calmed, we started to climb again and soon rolled over Cosby Knob (mile 64.5) and started the technical descent to Low Gap. I stayed more controlled on this downhill section which had me ready for the last climb of the day, 2 miles up to Cammerer. Jeff had done exactly what I needed and had delivered me to Low Gap (mile 65.6) at 7:03 pm with a shot at reaching my goal. As I heard Jeff’s footsteps grow distant behind me, I turned the tunes back on and emptied the legs. I knew Elias would be waiting on the other side of Mt Cammerer, I just had to get over the top.
At the Cammerer Side Trail (mile 67.7), the final descent lay ahead of me, 2 miles of hellish rocky steep terrain followed by 3 “easy” miles to the gravel road of Davenport Gap. As I started down, I was out of fluids but knew that I had 55 minutes to do 5 miles. If I hit my planned splits, I would get the FKT by 7 to 10 minutes. Rounding the big switchback below Cammerer, I came across Elias who literally and metaphorically took the weight off my shoulders. He took my now useless vest, handed me a Gatorade, and told me to hitch on. There was now a simple path forward, no need to look at the time, no need to question distance or pace, just stay on his heels and trust him to handle the rest.
With headlamps back on, we passed Lower Mount Cammerer Trail (mile 70), then Chestnut Branch (mile 70.9) then Davenport Shelter (mile 71.9). Rounding a final corner we heard cheers from the growing darkness then saw the support crew and those glorious roadside boulders that signal the end of the Smoky Mountains and the northern end of the SCAR (mile 72.8). The watch read 8:19 pm, 14 hours and 19 minutes since Fontana and less than 9 minutes ahead of the current FKT set by Luke three years earlier.
To sum up this run and the journey to this point, I think I’ve finally checked the SCAR box in such a way that I’m happy and satisfied. I would love to be a part of future SCAR/FKT attempts, whether it be sharing beta or pacing. But, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, at this point, I have no motivation to go after the sub 14-hour target. Thank you to everyone who provided support, beta, and encouragement along the journey. I couldn’t have reached my goal without it.