Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Rothrock Challenge

Road into aid station 3. Lister, Marshall, Kimmel and I.
 I love the sound of rain on a metal roof. In fact, it is one of the reasons that I put a metal roof on our house. Friday evening the heavens opened and the cacophony of sound overhead was deafening. I sat there, enjoying the sound, and also wondering what this was doing to the trails in Rothrock State Forest. The Rothrock Challenge was Saturday and there are sections of the course that are always wet to begin with. Bear Meadows is always swampy and this rain was certainly creating shoe-sucking, runner-eating mud. Oh well, the best thing to do is to embrace the weather you are given and go with it. There would not be any effort to keep my feet dry Saturday; I was going to enjoy wallowing in the mud.

The day dawned cool and overcast. Temperature was ideal in the mid-50s with some wind and clouds. I drove the half hour in to Rothrock and got there about 7:00am, an hour before the race start. After getting my number I relaxed in the car until about 15 minutes before the start. After a 5 minute warmup I went to the start and waited with the other 350 runners for Craig Fleming, the RD, to start the countdown. My plan was to go after it today and see what I could do this year. Last year I ended up in 8th place but I hadn't run too hard from the start.

The race started and we were off. The first half mile is on road so there is some time for the mass of people to thin out a bit before hitting the single-track and the first brutal climb up Spruce Gap. A group of 3 runners, including last year's winner, local runner Jacob Loverich, and last year's 2nd place finisher Jason Bryant, broke out in front with a larger group of us following. We hit Spruce Gap and thinned out even more quickly. I got passed by a couple runners part way up, including the first place woman. I was disappointed to see that it wasn't Meira Minard, but thought she would still have plenty of time to catch up. Towards the top of the climb I passed a couple of the guys back and fell in behind the first place woman. Not far in front of her were two other local runners that I am often chasing, David Lister and Eric Marshall.

Me and David.
We finally reached the top and started the rocky, steep descent that is Kettle Trail. I just tried to keep vertical on this descent (the rocks were wet and slippery) and then took the sharp right at the bottom onto Longberger Trail. I felt good and was trying to push myself a little. I didn't pass anyone and we kept our order going into the first aid station at Bear Meadows. The next stretch around Bear Meadows was the wettest. Some of the "puddles" (most of them were too large to call puddles) were fairly deep and there is no way around them because the Rhododendron are close on both sides. It was kind of fun splashing through these and I let out a whoop at one point.

After the climb out of Bear Meadows we joined the Mid-State Trail and occasionally I could see the first place woman in front of me. After awhile I suddenly came across Eric Marshall. He was trying to fix some of the trail flagging (Eric does a lot of the work on helping to maintain the trails and set up the race) and said that someone must have pulled some of it down. I had noticed that we were in a section that wasn't as well marked as this race normally is. I suggested there wasn't much he could do at this point and to just tell them at the next aid station. He ran off in front of me and I tried to hang onto the back of him.

David and Me.
We soon hit the next descent and I was able to catch glimpses of Marshall, Lister and the first place woman on the way down. We got to the bottom and all ran up the short stretch of dirt road to the second aid station together. I filled up my water bottle and headed up the trail after Lister and the first place woman. Eric stayed and was telling the aid station volunteers about the trail marking situation. I felt a little guilty about passing him while he was trying to get the trails fixed but I figured he would be back on me shortly.

After another climb we started the long descent into Shingletown. I still felt good so I started pushing it. I passed the first place woman and Lister in one dash and then pushed a little more to try and put some distance between us so that I could get out of sight. Eventually I couldn't see them anymore so I kept hammering. We climbed up above Shingletown, followed the ridge for a little while, and then started the steep descent into the 3rd aid station. It was then that I heard something behind me again and turned around and saw Lister not far behind. I tried to hurry, took a wrong step and careened off the trail into the boulders. Luckily, I was able to keep my footing and not crash, and I recovered and got back on the trail. At the aid station I stopped to refill my water bottle and David dashed past and started the ascent up the boulders of the Shingletown cliffs.
I just can't shake him!

I followed quickly and caught up with him. We chatted as we climbed, but I was concentrating on my line up the boulders and soon pulled ahead of him. This climb kicked my butt the first year that I ran this and I bonked at the top. I felt pretty good this year and was able to start back up pretty quickly at the top. I knew David was right behind me so I was pushing pretty hard. Of course I ended up kicking a stone really hard with my right big toe and bit the dust. I was able to catch myself with my hands and didn't hit the ground too hard, but my toe definitely hurt. I scrambled back up and continued on. Every time I looked back, David was right there, about 10 yards behind. I could not shake him, and I was pushing pretty hard. I didn't know how long I would be able to keep this up.

A descent off Bald Knob, a run along the creek, and then an ascent back up to the top, and he was still there. It seemed like I could put a little ground on him on the climbs, but it wasn't by much. I was not walking much of the climbs at this point, because I didn't think I could afford to. A quick descent followed by a short climb brought me into the last aid station, with David about 20 yards behind. I didn't stop for water this time (I had a enough left in my bottle) and started right up the last ascent. I had been hoping that this was steep enough that I could walk a lot of this but when I got on it I realized that I should be running most of it or I would be giving away time. Darn! I had been pushing pretty hard for awhile now and was ready for a break, but I realized there would be no more breaks until the end if I wanted to have a chance against David. He has generally owned me in races, especially at the end, and I wanted a chance to come out on the positive end for once.

Last climb out of aid station 4.
I was not gaining ground, however, and when I started on the last descent he was 20 yards behind me and slowly gaining ground. I ran as hard as I could, on the edge of losing control, but darn him, he was still there. We got almost to the bottom and I yelled back to him something about giving me a break but he was relentless. This was exciting, I have to admit, and I have rarely been in this close of a competition at the end of a long trail race. We hit the pavement for the last half mile and he was right behind me. As we started up the gradual incline of the road, he pulled up beside me and I complimented his running, all the while trying to think of the appropriate strategy to beat him in the end. With 1/4 mile to go, I didn't want to lost touch with him, and he didn't seem to have enough left to bury me, so I hung on. I thought that I'd wait until we make the turn with 100 meters to go and then pull out everything that I had left. We hit the turn and I bursted with everything that I had left. I quickly gapped him and just kept sprinting until I crossed the line.

Sprint to the finish.
I kept running while taking off my watch and timing chip, hit the dock of the lake and jumped into the lake. As I was going under, I realized that I was out of breath and needed to breathe so I opened my mouth and tried to breathe while I was under water. Big mistake, obviously. I took a mouthful of lake water, panicked a little and tried to get to the top as fast as I could. I came up sputtering and coughing and breathing hard. Eventually I got my breath again and got closer to the shore where I could stand. I just stood there in the water, bent over, and trying to recover from the sprint and the water in the lungs.

After a minute, I walked over and shook David's hand and congratulated him on a relentless race and a fun morning. I was surprised that I had come out on top this time, and that I felt so good and had so much left at the end. After the failure of Massanutten, this one felt good. This is one of the reasons that I love trail running. The competitors are good people, overall, and it has been fun competing with guys like David (and women like Meira) this last year, even if they have kicked my butt most of the time. They are fun to run with and fun to compete against. This is also a great, well-organized race, and the Flemings and volunteers are to be congratulated for the great job that they do.
Tired, but happy.

Speaking of Meira, she ended up having a tough day and took a big spill early on and injured her back. She did finish but was unable to successfully defend her title. Jacob Loverich was able to successfully defend his men's title. I finished in 4th place, about 15 minutes behind him. I changed clothes, got a massage, ate some good food, took advantage of the Sheetz truck, and then watched as some of my friends came in, one after the other. It was a good day for me and gives me a shot of confidence going into the Laurel Highlands 70 miler this weekend. Thanks to Jeff Lister and John Fegyveresi for the photos.

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