Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. Rothrock was back in June. It’s been a busy year. I haven’t been on top of my race reports lately. But, now that I keep hearing folks are already signing up for next year’s Rothrock Trail Challenge? Thought I’d do a quick write-up on one awesome, you-should-definitely-sign-up-for-it, trail race.
The Rothrock Trail Challenge (race start above) is a 30k mountain running race held down in the wilds of central Pennsylvania not far from State College – a.k.a. ‘Happy Valley’ – home of Penn State University. Here are three basics for the uninitiated. First, 30k is “only” 18 miles. Until you route the course over steep, rocky terrain (it ain’t called ‘Rothrock’ for nothing) up and down multiple (6) mountains. Don’t let the 30k thing fool you. There’s a reason this race has been on La Sportiva’s Mountain Cup Series for several years. Second, here’s an important analogy: mountain running is to trail running as trail running is to road running. Think you’ve been running hills? Make sure you’ve been scrambling on all fours up steep stuff. Over boulders. For 1,000′ at a time. Third, there aren’t too many communities out there better than the PA Trail Runners. These folks are super friendly, laid back, accommodating, and sadistic – putting on some of the gnarliest trail races around with a smile on their face and a beer waiting for you at the end.
Since I was set to race the Escarpment Trail Run (with over 10,000′ EC in 30k) in July, I figured Rothrock (with approximately 8,000ish’ EC in the same distance) would be a good barometer in preparation. And, since there were roughly a dozen Rochester peeps headed down for the race, I figured it would be a good time. I was right on both fronts.
Rothrock lived up to everything I thought it would be. It was different than I expected (not as intensely steep as I anticipated), but it was definitely challenging with less runnable terrain than I thought there would be (rocks, rocks, and more rocks, plus more rocks – that’s the trail at mile 13 pictured above). And I loved every minute of it! Knowing what I know of mountain running terrain, my goal had been to take things conservatively and finish in under 5 hours. Which I did. I took a few spills (below). Hard, scary, “oh $@*# I need a helmet!” falls. The worst was while I was pushing the pace on the last, long rocky downhill when I clipped something and ninja rolled through a rock field landing in the woods. Took a bit to catch my breath, make sure I hadn’t broken anything (2 bruised ribs), and go on my way. I also fell and dislocated a finger around the 10k mark. It popped back in. It’s a course that will wake you up if you don’t pay attention.
The course is unbelievably gorgeous. As you can tell from the elevation profile (below), there are a few long, steep climbs. 1,000′ pitches of steep rocky trail up followed by ridgeline trails and then 1,000′ drops back down are the norm. Connect them with singletrack so rocky it’s barely runnable (across mountain streams through fern valleys and beautiful groves of mountain laurel) and you have Rothrock. Add to that awesome volunteers, great aid stations, and a well-marked course that ends at a cold mountain lake (with beer on tap and the local volunteer fireman’s company manning the BBQ pit), and you’ve got a keeper of a race.
It may not be until next June, but registration for the 2015 running of the ROTHROCK TRAIL CHALLENGE (click for link) is now open. Go sign up. You can curse thank me later.