Rothrock Trail Challenge 30K, Tussey Mountain, PA

Elevation Gain: 5000+'; High Point: 2430'

June 7, 2009 - Another quality Craig and Jen Fleming event. Headed out to the race early to watch a beautiful sunrise over I-80 from the top of the Allegheny Plateau, a harbinger of the perfect day ahead. Met up with some of the Punxsutawney crew and shared some chuckles before the start at the Tussey Mountain Ski Resort at the pavillion on the golf course. Temperatures were already warming as the two hundred or so contestants gathered in anticipation.

The start was mostly level on gravel and pavement for half a mile to sort out the field by strength and ambition. I comfortably found my place in the top twenty before settling in on the first climb up the Spruce Gap Trail. The thousand-foot climb in the next mile would filter the walkers from the runners. While everyone had to walk some of this portion, still there were plenty of mildly-sloping or flat sections to run, so the climb did not seem too tough, though the humidity was clearly apparent already.

Rothrock Elevation Profile

We reached the top briefly to run a level section of the Mid State Trail before precipitously descending the dangerous Kettle Trail. I slowed here to exercise extreme care in my foot placements so as not to have an accident, while not contesting several "suicide" runners who would pass me here. While runnable, the descent was rocky and tenuous, a place where many others would discover that gravity can be scary, and clearly not the place to make time.

A marshy section muddied the shoes at the bottom before we took a turn and started up the next bump in the trail; this trail wound through the woods with good footing and close-in bracken, enabling me to keep a good pace slightly downhill to the first aid station. Several times on the course the trails would pick up a section of road to connect to the next trail; on each of these I was able to high step it and gain on runners ahead of me.

From the aid station the trail would follow an old road through the woods on mostly level and somewhat marshy ground for much of the next four miles. While we climbed about six hundred feet before descending to the next aid station it was not severe and my pace was good throughout, with only a few steps of walking near the top. When my watch reported that one hour had passed I had covered about six miles already. Given the hills and footing, six-miles-an-hour in any foot race is very respectable for me. I felt good and well within myself.

The day was heating up so I drank plenty. Another six-hundred-foot climb in a mile-and-a-half faced us immediately out of the second aid station. It seemed to be no problem as I rolled up over it. The rocks throughout much of the event were torturous, especially on the ridges. My feet felt bruised and were sore by halfway; the trail required good eye-foot coordination to negotiate successfully. I watched my step nearly the whole way, again, to avoid falling accidently.

The course came off the Mid State Trail gradually and allowed for a continued healthy pace. For awhile I took up with Jason Fritz, RD for the Dam Half event in the fall, and was able to socialize as the trail did not require as much focused attention. By two hours I had covered eleven miles before descending into Shingletown Gap across Charcoal Flats, maintaining a comfortable tempo for the most part.

Shingletown Gap is the signature section of this event. The trail takes a near vertical drop down the Shingletown Cliffs to the stream at the bottom. If it was just rocks it would have been fine, but the dirt was so steep you had to hold onto trees and rocks to keep from sliding down on your butt. Straight down I went, keeping my feet under me and my derriere in the air. My legs didn't suffer any over-extensions so I was glad to reach the bottom without incident. I imagine this descent was traumatic for many; hopefully no one was unrecoverably hurt.

After crossing a stream on a nice big log and visiting the aid station on the other side, the climb up out of Shingletown Gap proved every bit as tough as the drop into it. Here the trail turned into a boulder field - with a seriously vertical profile - for a mile. Aside from running through boulder fields up mountains in the west, I can't say I've ever seen anything like this in a trail race east of the Mississippi. While my legs maintained spring the entire way to the top, I can only imagine the grief this mountain climb must have caused many of the uninitiated.

The following trail across the top on Bald Knob Ridge was gnarly and severely beat up the feet. I lost a bit of momentum as I slowed to engage the rocky trail safely, but still hit fifteen miles in three hours. A large group of overnight backpackers raised a cheer as I passed. Once off the ridge the trail was more grassy and forgiving as we dropped into the last aid station.

Jason, another fellow, and I walked up the three hundred feet of the last hill, thinking it would be tougher than it was, before descending on comforatble trails toward the finish. While I felt fine, I backed off a bit for the last couple miles to enjoy the finish of a good day along a pretty stream under hemlock cover and to give my sore feet some reprieve... and to squat to take a nature break before finishing. The trail turned into the road we started on and I casually strode into the finish in 17th place of 195 in good shape and none the worse for wear. The only other time I raced 30K I finished under two hours; this event with its trails and challenges would take me twice as long... of course I'm twice the age I was for the first event... it stands to figure!

The beer and food were just fine after the event as there was ample time to socialize and share stories. Winner Frank Leiter had to scare a bear off the trail before he could pass and several others had snake encounters, but none of the rattling kind. I recovered quickly, so something I'm doing must be working!

Jedirunner - Larry Creveling
At the start of the Rothrock event