Inaugural Thunder Chicken 100K Stage Races – Lisa Kennedy
Photo Credit: Marcus Janzow - Lisa Kennedy amidst Stage 2
The summer of 2021, I found myself on a women’s only group run, led by Shalini Bhajjan, founder of Terrain Trail Runners (TTR) and race director of several St. Louis-area trail ultras. I recall my conversation with Shalini clearly from that day, as she poured on about her excitement for a race, she was putting together for the Fall of 2022 that would be the area’s first 3-day stage race, starting and ending at Camp Wyman.
Camp Wyman is tucked away in the rolling hills of Eureka, MO, established in 1898 and connects to some of St. Louis County’s toughest and most beautiful trail systems. This made for a perfect hosting location for this 3-day stage race along with presenting an opportunity to give back to the Wyman Center for their continued work with young adults.
Photo Credit: Marcus Janzow - Start of Stage 1
Fast forward a year and half later I find myself at the starting line of the inaugural Thunder Chicken 100K Stage Races in Eureka, MO! Three days of racing encompassing up to a 100K in distance and over 10,000ft of elevation gain, touring three very different trail systems starting with Rockwoods Range Conservation Area, Greensfelder County Park and Rockwoods Reservation Conservation Area. To top all of this, Thunder Chicken 100K Stage Races is the first foot trail race of its kind to take place on some of these trail systems connecting all three parks over the course of three days!
Photo Credit: Marcus Janzow - On Course Stage 2
Stage 1 started on some woodland trails in Camp Wyman that connected to Greensfelder County Park as we made our way to Rockwoods Range on some glorious single-track trails. Once in Rockwoods Range runners were presented with some steep climbs and gnarly terrain, running through this section of the course required all of my concentration as I was easily distracted by the changing colors of the oaks and maples that set the landscape ablaze!
At the turnaround aid station, I was greeted by the familiar and friendly faces of enthusiastic TTR volunteers to give me just the morale boost I needed to make it back up the steep climb I had just descended. Runners then made their way back to Camp Wyman to close out day one at 21 miles with approximately 3,350ft of total elevation gain. I finished feeling tired and achy and asking myself, “how am I going to get up and do this again tomorrow, knowing that day two is 6 miles longer and steeper?”
Stage 2 kicked off with a beautiful sunrise and offered a grand tour of Camp Wyman’s grounds, leading runners through the trails on the other side of camp from where we had started the first day. This section included some big climbs and descents, taking runners past some old rustic cabins, around to a small frog pond and through an amphitheater before spitting us back onto trails connecting to Greensfelder County Park.
After cruising along on some flow trails through Greensfelder we then made our way out to Rockwoods Reservation on Greenrock Trail. This segment of the course was steep, single-track trails with lots of technical sections and rocks covered in green moss to keep you present, thence the name Greenrock Trail. With a quick stop at the aid station, I was on my way to tackle a series of very steep and rugged trails within the Rockwoods Reservation Conservation Area. As I made my way back to the aid station once more the fatigue from day one and the steep, technical climbs from day two had started to wear down on my legs. I topped off my water and prepared myself for the next 10 miles of rugged terrain.
I cruised back to Camp Wyman, having already hit 26 miles on my gps watch, I was sure it was all downhill to the finish. And then I turned a corner and bam, one last long climb. I cursed Shalini under my breath and power hiked my way up. At a little over 27 miles and 4,650ft of elevation gain later, my legs were now trashed. I went home to soak in an ice bath and hoped for better sleep.
Photo Credit: Marcus Janzow - On Course Stage 3
I woke up on day three eager to get back to Camp Wyman and join my fellow runners so we could all finish what we had started. Stage 3 was the shortest stage at 15 miles with an elevation gain of around 2100ft, but Mother Nature threw some rain at us adding to the challenge. I made my way to the starting line and could feel my hamstrings tighten up, but I was ready to run.
What made Stage 3 interesting was the course layout that included some fast flow trails along with few short but steep road sections as well as the challenging and rugged Mustang Trail in Greensfelder County Park. We sloshed and slid down the steep hills and cruised on the more rolling sections of the course.
Coming into the finish I was overcome with emotions! I felt in awe of what the human body can endure. I also felt overwhelming gratitude for this community of people that make these events possible and provide unending encouragement along the way, including race directors like Shalini that dream up these crazy adventures for us to test our limits.
Thunder Chicken 100K Stage Races is the latest of Terrain Trail Runners-STL events to challenge even some of the most seasoned trail and ultra-runners!
Photo Credit: Marcus Janzow - Lisa Kennedy at the finish showing off her new hardware!
Our blog writers are members of Terrain Trail Runners, local athletes just like you, who want to share their love and knowledge of the sport.