Rothrock 17.2M Trail Challenge - Boalsburg, PA
Elevation Range: 1300' - 2416' ............ Gain/Loss: 3752'
June 9, 2018 - I fit time into my otherwise loose schedule to return to Rothrock for its tenth running. I liked it before, but had forgotten just how much I loved the rocky challenges on this course. I was here the inaugural year, running a good race to finish 17th of 195 finishers in 3:52. Nine years later the finish clock would see me run nearly a minute faster to finish 73rd of 278 finishers. Pleased that the old bod is holding the line, but amazed with the shift of logistics over the years. Again, I walk away feeling like I had an excellent race, but the rewards of toeing the line and meeting the challenge have waned for me across the years. The first time around was shared with many friends; this time I knew only the winner who I high-fived in passing, an old friend of my age, and the race director who I didn't even get a chance to speak to. The sport is evolving and perhaps I am as well... sensing that I may be looking elsewhere to get my chuckles soon come.
Arriving early on this sunny 62 degree humid morning I had an hour to prepare before the start, so headed off up the road into the park for three miles or so to warm up the machine. Arriving back at the start with a few minutes to spare, my shirt and cap were already soaked from the light effort and damp air in the woods. Rehydrating with some water and downing a Red Bull I joined the others to run up the road for the first half mile before getting into queue on singletrack. It seemed like most of the field sped ahead of me on the road as I ambled along at my usual measured pace. I've done too many of these to get excited at the get-go. There would be time to exercise my strengths... and there was.
After a mile or so, walking in queue with the rest of the herd I began to do what I do best - climb. After the first mile I pulled people back for the rest of the way. Some would pass me on the down hills at first, but I would pull them back again before long. In the end it is probably accurate to say I pulled back more than one hundred people and maybe only had one guy beat me to the finish. So it was a good day in terms of strategy and making use of what remains of my skills to my best advantage.
The first ascent, after a few switchbacks, climbs straight up more than a thousand feet in essentially a mile. While there was some openings for running, it was mostly a long power walk weaving through and passing those ahead of me. I had passed a bunch of folks by the time I hit the top running the open flat with good strength through sunshine and blooming mountain laurel. It was a pretty day and my legs were ready for anything. Some raced past me to the water stop at the bottom of the hill, but were left behind on the next climb.
I climbed strong and descended conservatively until a level road before the first aid station, then took off. Thereafter, there wasn't a hill that forced me to walk much and I started to race down the hills with abandon as my confidence in the health of my knees grew. After a year of babying the healing meniscus of both knees I have come to believe I am 99% healed and can safely return to bombing down the steepest of descents without too much caution. There is still a bit of runner's knee on the left and a peroneal tendon strain on the right, but otherwise, all systems were solid.
I continued to gain momentum down the cliffs of Shingletown before the second aid station and the climb back up the boulder field on the other side, where we spotted a young rattlesnake under a rock. There was no exhaustion in my legs as I powered up the four-point climb and continued on across the top at an aggressive run to leave many more good runners behind. The rocky trails were very much to my liking and played into the strength of my infamy of "Dances With Rocks". I was loving being in my element and excelling once again.
The last climb out of the third aid station seemed to hamstring most everyone but me. Handily rolling up over the grade I picked up a couple of trains along the way for awhile before dropping those giving chase. The final couple miles of descent were pure pleasure, screaming down steep trails, dancing with the rocks and roots, rolling past everyone in front. Even in the final half mile on the road I downshifted to pass four more people before the finish. It was a good day. Measured, confident, and solid. I was very surprised the time was not faster. While consistent with my first go at this course, my finish time did not reflect my overall performance.
Matt Lipsey easily won in 2:23, averaging five minutes per mile faster than my effort. Most impressive. Awesome talent. Didn't see Matt after the race. Headed out after having a couple Straub beers and washing the sweat off my face in the lake. Didn't even eat the usual unappealing fare. My legs didn't hurt, my feet didn't have a single pain, and I was walking straighter than those around me. Got into the car and drove home on what continued to be a beautiful day. Maybe I'm too old for this stuff. Maybe my peers have gone by the wayside and I just don't fit in with this upcoming crowd anymore. Again, more and more, I'm thinking the time is ripe to make a new plan.