I did what?!
Well, you are about to get a recap of my gumption. If you have been following this blog, you might be aware that my marathon replacement ended up being a 30K trail race out near Altoona, PA. My logic to not replace a marathon with a marathon was for mental sanity and to avoid the thrusting the same goals when they might not be as possible. After all not every marathon is the same. And after training for a specific marathon, finding one that meets the same set of requirements is not easy. But not wanting to waste months of training a 30K trail race was a challenge to utilize my training while knowing when the expectations have to be different. Anyways....
My race of choice was Rock'N The Knob. It was a first year event being held at Blue Knob All Seasons Resort. Sure, it was a 4 hour drive but seemed interesting with a challenging course. (See here and here). Being on a Saturday helped as well as super cheap rates to stay at the resort. Those factors told me to do it. I booked a room and worked out leaving work early on Friday. However, instead of leaving early on Friday, I ended up with a bonus day. Awesome! So instead of hitting the road around 1-2pm, I was on the road at 10am. Made it in good time too! I got to the resort and checked into my room. Oh that room.....lets say it did not feel warm and cozy. Sure it had a fireplace but the TV had no good reception. The office told me that TV reception was not so good recently. So I figured I would scope out the grounds. Mainly the indoor pool and hot tub. Yeah, those were not accessible. And when I got back to the room, I discovered the phone did not work. NOT GOOD! There was no cell service at the resort so having a room phone was something I was not willing to put up with. Thankfully, the resort switched my room and I got upgraded to a two bedroom that was everything I had hoped the first room would be. And yes, I got TV. So instead of wanting to check out, I got to settle in. Had a nice sleep too. And the fact, all I had to do was walk 100 yards to the start was really nice to help begin the day.
On to the race...
Now while, I would have liked a start before 9am simply because I had 4 hours of driving to do following the race, it was probably the best given the overcast and damp condition. I'm on a mountain so the weather is a bit different. Going to this race, poised an opportunity to run in a different manner than on the roads or even in the local trail races. After all, I was going to be gaining 4600 feet during the race for 9200 ft of elevation change. And since we started near the top, we were going down first before going up. All the runners lined up a few moments before 9 in time for the shotgun start. (Oh yes, they started it with a fired shotgun.)
We were off.
I immediately settled into a calm pace. I knew a trail run is not going to be as quick and that I knew running conservatively was in my best interest. Things felt smooth until we hit that ski slope. Or I should say near the top of the slope. Towards the bottom of the slope, the grade was comfortable but it kicked up as we got farther up. It was quite an experience going up for two reasons. The fog and the bag piper. Totally cool. As I neared the top, I could hear bag pipes playing. It felt so epic!!! Add to that the fog and it was a sight. I had managed to make it to the top first and I knew from there, I was likely on my own. I had been hoping to follow someone just in front but I told myself I can do this.
For the first 2.3 miles, I was running with a nice tempo. It was at this point, there was a big downhill with stone rock steps. As soon as I stepped on the first, I knew they were not going to be run down. They were slippery as anything. So running would lead me to injury. Run smart! Once they were done, the course became manageable. Yes, some parts were technical and included switchbacks which made it easy to get dizzy since leaves covered the real trail but keeping a pace was not too difficult.
Eventually, I hit the first aid station around 10K in. At this point, I was off to do a 4.2 mile loop. And the first part....up. This section included the first real hill to grind up. This was because finding the best part of the trail to follow up was covered with leaves. And when I say leaves, I mean leaves covered everything. Thankfully the course was exceptionally marked with orange ribbon. Once I got to the top of this loop, I was able to open it up on some downhill that was light on switchbacks. Of course, at the one point, I had to turn, I clip a root under some leaves and took a dive. Either by luck or subconscious skill, I was able to minimize the damage. Sure, I got scraped up some but I was not bleeding from anywhere so away I went.
When I got back into the aid station after coming out of the loop, I asked how far second was behind. There was not any certainty so someone said 1-2 minutes. I was not sure that was right because I could not see anyone on the sections that allowed me to view behind me for a distance. But still, this was effective enough to make me push a little more. This lead me to probably my best climb of the event. It was also the longest road stretch. For around 1.5 miles, I was on a winding road that had a nice steady climb that REALLY allowed me to see competition below for a good distance back. I didn't see anyone so I figured my lead was bigger than 2 minutes. Mentally, I was hoping to have 10 minutes up knowing that I was now near 12 miles in and in the last portion of the race is 2/3rds of the climbing as most of my downhill running was over.
I hit the last aid station (13.5 mi) in 1:47. Right on pace for finishing around 2:30. However, I was about to run what is easily the hardest stretch of terrain I have ever been on. And little did I know it but my pace was about to SUFFER! Out of the station, the course hits a mountain trail that was literally running on edge. Once again with the leaves, the path was tough to see. This made running difficult as trying to keep a good pace required some strong posturing to keep balance. Otherwise, I was going to go down a hundred feet easy. Getting through that gave me a bit of relief EXCEPT....
I was now about to climb close to a 1000 feet in less than 9/10 of a mile. I was sort of ready for the climb but not with what the course was about to throw at me. This climb had switchbacks, stone stairs and fallen trees. All of these factors made it impossible to find a good running pace or even power hike. Any time I did get some momentum, I would hit a tree that I would have to climb up and over. I was began to grow concerned with my lead and my abilities as a trail runner. Going in I knew things would be technical and I am feel I am a fairly good technical runner but this was uber! Have no fear I made it through this section. I figured anything after I could really get back at a good pace. WRONG!!!! After a small stretch of some good trail, I exited front the wood line near the old ski chalet only to encounter switchbacks that had SHARP rocks jutting through the fallen leaves. Finding the best part of the trail to use for footing....HARD! So pace didn't pick up. On the bright side, I was still in the lead. Of course, I thought I was closer to the end than I thought. I knew 2:30 was out the window. I hoped for 2:35 and then 2:40. Neither were going to be accomplished. Looking at my watch at this point was just frustrating me. I kept plowing through and finally out onto some road.
At the end, I crossed the line a little after 2:46. I would say I did the last 5.1 in 59 minutes but the course was a long 30K meaning on the upside of 19.2 miles. So while not as horrible a pace in the last stretch, the final portion really crushed my pace. However, I was glad to be done with that was the hardest race ever.
Immediately after finishing, I was handing my award and prizes meaning I was free to leave. That was good for me since I had a long drive ahead. I did give myself sometime to recover and watch the next few places come in. 2nd came in 11 minutes behind with 3rd, 7 minutes after.
Pizza was available but since it had pepperoni on it, I was unable to have any. Sad because I hoping for some but it was not a huge deal. I hung out for 1 1/2 hours after talking to a few people before hitting the road.
Following a long drive I was glad to be home. Today I managed to run 8.5 miles but definitely feel yesterday's race. That last 5.7 was ridiculous! When I say it was the toughest thing I have done from a race standpoint, I mean it.
Am I glad I did it? YES!!!! I pushed my limits. And I have since checked similar race results to find my time was not bad at all. Not superstar level but enough to let me know I didn't run a bad race. I ran smart and rather speedy. This means I just need to do some more technical work out in the Wissahickon near my house. Only decision I wondered if it would make a difference..shoe selection. I went with the LaSportiva X-country instead of my usual Inov-8 Talon-X 190. My reasoning was the LaSportiva would allow some more speed. I think they allowed that but I think I might have had better traction with the Inov-8's. Never know and I think both are great shoes so definitely not going to lose sleep on this race.
At the end of the day, I found a good race to push my limits in a marathon-esque way. Parts of the weekend could have been horrible due to lodging but the resort did me solid this stay. Would I stay again? Not sure. Too much of a hit or miss in rooms. However, the rate was great.