Cooling off after a hot Rothrock Challenge
Any weekend of playing in Rothrock State Forest that I can walk away from, without any major injuries or horror stories...is a darn good one. If I also happen to have some fun in the process, well then that's just some gravy on top.
I went into the weekend prepared, but also conservatively cautious. I simply wanted to survive the Rothrock Challenge 30k race without incident, and wasn't aiming to make any major improvement on my 2011 time of about 3 hours 43 minutes. I just wanted to get through it and try to enjoy myself. On Thursday, the solid weather reports for Saturday started coming out and all warned of hot and humid conditions during the race. The prediction was low-80's and sunny, but also "muggy and sticky". Going in with this added information, I was even more content with simply getting through the course and not trying to prove anything. I have run the Rothrock Course dozens of times, but only once at a race pace. I knew first hand that when racing, it's much more difficult to navigate all of the rocks safely and it takes notably enhanced concentration. Just another reason to take it easy.
For the most part, I stuck to this plan, although I did push a bit harder than I probably should have during the first half of the race. I paid for it dearly over the last several miles though, and the fall-off came rather quickly, and with a mighty punch.
At 8:00 am when the horn sounded, I worked my way close to the mid-front of the pack rather quickly. The course takes the runners along some wide road for about 1/2 mile so that you can find a good spot to fit into before hitting the narrow single track. I found a decent spot somewhere about 40 people in. As soon as you hit single track you begin the Spruce climb. Ah yes...the lovely spruce climb, and Kettle descent. The hill combination that I have repeated at least 50 times during my preparation for the Barkley Marathons. I quite truthfully have nearly every step of this section memorized in my mind, and I made rather quick work of it...passing several runners in the process. About 1100' of gain in a little over a mile, followed by an almost 700' descent. I was wearing my heart-rate monitor (a new one too! - more on that later), and I quickly noticed I was getting well into anaerobic range, so I forced myself to slow it down a smidge and let other eager runners go on by. The temps were still moderately cool and the humidity was kept hidden by the fact that the sun was still behind some cloud cover. These conditions gave everyone a little extra false confidence, and many of us went out a bit too hard...myself included. I felt great though and figured why not take advantage of it.
At the start - ready to play!
A group coming down the Kettle Trail (Photo M. Jarosh)
Running along the rocks after finishing the Kettle descent
(one of the few "flat" sections)
I continued along the flatter run-able stretch out to, and along the Bear Meadows Wetlands Area feeling great and still basking in the decent temps. On the climb up to the Mid-State Trail around mile 6, I started noticing the temps rising and the sun hitting my back. I stayed careful with salts and water and continued riding the good wave knowing that my favorite stretch of the entire course was just up ahead. When I topped out on the Mid-State trail I picked up my pace and excitedly ran along the serpentine ridge-top trail. This section of the course is the most free of rocks and quite fun to run. Before descending from the ridge down to Laurel Run Rd and the aid station, the course takes you over a 1/4 mile-long exposed boulder field. I was extra careful in this section so as to keep my feet uninjured. So far I was doing well and wearing my beefier Cascadia shoes. My knee was also pain-free.
Coming into Laurel Run Aid Station after successfully
navigating the boulder field without incident (Mile ~8ish)
After the descent and aid station, I began the climb up the Sand Spring Trail and really began feeling the heat. My start-line energy burst was beginning to wane and gels weren't cutting it. Thankfully after summiting the ridge-line, the course quickly drops and follows down to Shingletown gap on a gradually descending and runnable trail. This year, the course was changed, so I got to run along a new trail that I hadn't seen before. It was a nice little change of pace and I ran the entire 1.5 mile slow-descent.
I made the short climb up to the Shingletown ridgeline, and then had a blast rock-scrambling back down to the gap. This is the steepest descent of the course and even has some ropes tied up in some sections. At the bottom, I crossed the log bridge, happily came into the aid station, and then began the most technical climb of the day....the "Shingletown Scramble". As far as total climb, it is not as much as the Spruce climb, but it is way steeper, and requires hand-over-hand boulder scrambling. It is a tough and taxing climb any day, but by the time I hit it during the race, the heat and humidity were dialed up to max. My nice wave of positive race juju had worn off, and I was starting to hurt. But...so was everyone else too. People were shutting down fast and I passed several runners just by speed-hiking. I figured by this point I was somewhere around 30th place or so. Earlier in the race, I was a fair amount ahead of my 2011 pace, but by this point, I had slowed down enough that I was almost exactly back on the same pace. Considering the heat, I was perfectly content with this. I was supposed to be actually having fun right?
The gnarly descent down to Shingletown Gap (Photo: D. Lister)
Coming into the Aid Station at Shingletown, about to
start the toughest climb of the day.
Some runners climbing the Shingletown "Scramble"
Another view of the "Scramble" (Photo M. Jarosh)
Looking back down the "Scramble" (Photo M. Jarosh)
After the endless climb up to the ridge, I was finally able to start running again as I made my way down the slow descent back to the Sand Spring trail. This section went ok, and I was able to run, but I was no longer having fun. I was ready to be done and all I could think about was getting to that finish line and jumping into the nice cool pond. The following climb back up the Sand Spring Trail to the Bald Knob ridge-line was the most difficult of the day for me. It was only about 500 feet of climb, but I was completely sapped by this point and the heat had a full grip on me. I hobbled my way to the top very slowly and once on the top I had to actually stop for a few seconds to gather myself. I was in terrible shape. I gradually got my gears going again as I knew I had a nice and smooth downhill ahead up to the last aid station on the front side of Laurel Run Rd. The two miles to the station went by painfully slow, but once there I felt much better knowing I had only one climb remaining and then a nice 1.5 mile descent to the finish. I filled up a full water bottle, poured almost half immediately over my head, and quickly started power hiking the final 400' climb up to the Fire Tower Rd. At the top, I gathered myself quickly, downed my water, and ran like hell with whatever I had left all the way to the finish. I passed several people in the process and when I came across the finish line, I was utterly and completely spent. Seconds later I was where I was dreaming I would be for the 5 previous mile...neck-deep in the refreshingly cold pond. It was glorious.
Making the final turn to the finish line,
while somehow pulling off a 7:30 mile
Talking with Dave Lister at the Finish just before hitting the pond
So entirely exhausted, I couldn't even stand up straight.
In absolute heaven
When I finally checked all the stats, I found that I finished in 3 hours, 39 minutes (about 4 minutes faster than in 2011). This was fantastic considering how fast I shut down over the last 5 miles. I placed 25th overall, and somehow managed a way-too-high average heart-rate of 165 during the race. Overall, despite the misery I was suffering through the last several miles, I was very pleased with how well I managed to do, how much I was able to run (even on some of the climbs), and how my body held up. I was also thrilled to have made it through unscathed, and with both feet unharmed. I did have one scare when I caught a rock on the final descent, but managed to catch myself before wiping out completely. The immediate dip in the cold water also helped to quickly heal my legs. I have been recently experimenting with cold baths following long runs and have noticed that I experience almost no muscle soreness the following day if I soak in cold water for 15-20 minutes. By last night I had no residual leg pain whatsoever. This was quite a different experience than what I had in 2011, when my legs were trashed for almost a week.
Results: Rothrock Challenge
You are probably wondering what's with all the Garmin stat stuff. Well...let's just say that John has a new toy...and boy does he love it!! When REI posted their Memorial Day sale last weekend, I couldn't resist and I finally splurged on a running watch. I've wanted a new heart-rate monitor watch for a long time, but I've also wanted a GPS watch. I was tired of carrying around my big handheld unit on runs and hikes, and with the REI sale (combined with my dividend check), I finally gave in. I wanted something with 20+ hour battery life though and wasn't ready to spend $500 on an Suunto Ambit or Garmin Fenix. I decided to instead keep my trusty Casio Pathfinder as my altimeter hiking watch (which never needs a battery replacement), and buy a Garmin Forerunner 910xt as my running/ultra watch. So far, I absolutely love it. Not only does it track everything, but I can also upload directly to runningahead as well as garminconnect. I even have the iPhone jack that allows me upload directly through my phone without having to use my computer. Super convenient. So far, I am simply loving the watch. Last week during my easy runs, I ran against virtual partners, learned more about my sporadic pace than I ever have, and even discovered that most of my standard routes are actually longer than I thought! I also noticed that the despite the 5 great years I've gotten out of my trusty Polar RS100 heart-rate monitor, that the Forerunner seems much more accurate and consistent. The Rothrock race was a great test of battery life. I turned off all audio alerts and extraneous features (leaving on vibration), and even with the paired heart-rate monitor running, the watch was still at 86% charge after almost 4 hours of use.
The new toy. Garmin Forerunner 910xt (and heart-rate monitor strap)
Anyhoo...on to today....
So after yesterday's foray into Rothrock, my legs felt so good in fact, that I actually did something I never would have thought possible. I ran a second race this morning. Yes you read that right. This morning was another free Tussey Teaser race in Rothrock, and I decided to see how'd I do. There was no way I'd be racing, but I wanted to do a moderate length run today, and I figured an organized group run would force me out there. The teaser was the 10.5 mile Treaster Kettle out-n-back leg, a perfect distance for what I was shooting for today. So at 8:30 this morning, I reluctantly lined up, wearing my more padded Hokas, and ran all 10.5 miles along the forest roads without any issue. I ran a comfortably snappy pace, but not too fast, and had a great time. When I got home, I again sat in an ice-cold bath for 20 minutes, and my legs feel completely fine now, just a few hours later. Crazy! Needless to say, I'm looking forward to a few days off :-)
So all in all, I had a successful weekend playing in Rothrock (both days!), and came away injury free, and full of great memories. I could have certainly done without the heat on Saturday, but I guess it just made the post-race swim even more delightful. Glass half-full right?
Here are the details from today
Oh and one last thing; a little walk down memory lane. I found this old photo from my 8th grade cross-country running days. The pic is from a meet we had at a place called "English Road", which I think was in Greece, NY. That's about all I remember. What I love about the pic is that while several of the other kids look to be jogging or even walking up this tough hill, I'm running...and running hard. I think I will keep this picture handy for all those times when I'm feeling particularly un-motivated and have convinced myself to "just walk that hill" :-)