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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

On The Rocks Trail Run Race Report - 15K

The On The Rocks Trail Run is now in its third year and it continues to evolve, this year offering 4 different distances: 5k (walk), 10k, 15k, and 30k.  It's held annually at Rocky Ridge County Park just northeast of York, PA, a town famous for its manufacture of Harley Davidson Motorcycles, York Barbells, and the original home of the York Peppermint Pattie.  My wife and I participated in the inaugural race 2 years ago simply because it was a local race that fit nicely with our training schedule for the (also inaugural) Hershey Half Marathon in 2010.  It was our first race ever, and we had absolutely no idea what we were getting into on so many levels.  It was a tough run with some bumps and scrapes, but we made it through and received our medals, less than 10 places from dead last.

Fast forward to this past Saturday, 8/18/2012...

I got up with the alarm at 5:30am: plenty of time for my pre-race routine, plus the 45 minute drive to York for the 7:30am start of the race.  Unfortunately, my routine didn't go as planned plus I forgot my breakfast, so I had to stop along the way to pick up a banana and yogurt.  I was now on my way, prepared to cut it close with an ETA of 7:12am, which is bit too close for my comfort.  To top it all off, there was a detour off the exit for the park, which delayed me another 6 minutes!

Parking and packet pickup went smoothly and I had my bib on and ready to go with 3 minutes to spare.  Without time to look into my race bag, I had to save that "Christmas Morning" goodness for after the race.

The start was pretty interesting logistically.  There were two different starting lines going in opposite directions on the same trail: one for the 10k and the other for the 15k/30k.  After the starting horn blew, we parted ways and us 15/30K'ers made a mad scramble down about a hundred foot descent to start the race.  This is the point when I first became extremely humbled as a mostly road runner transitioning to do more trail runs...

I've been doing considerably more trail training recently and figured I'd be ready for a race, but some of my fellow runners are just plain crazy!  I couldn't keep up on the downhill sections.  I'm not sure if I just need to "let go" and let my instincts kick in, but I really just don't feel comfortable going that fast on rocky, and sometimes slippery terrain.  Fortunately for me, I was able to sustain a run during 95% of all climbs during this race and passed quite a few others on the uphill portions.

There was one insane out-and-back section of just a few hundred yards that I would characterize as a "washout" trail: straight down the side of the hill.  It was a tough climb back up, but short.  I was very happy that this happened early in the race.

The next section took us through an exposed area with absolutely no tall growth.  The high banked turns for the bikes were fun to utilize as a runner.  The "bushy" growth was extremely thick and only 6-8 feet tall, giving a feeling of isolation on this winding trail even if other runners were only 50 feet in front or behind.

Aid stations were placed about every 2 miles, offering water, gatorade, some other drinks, pretzels, m&m's and other various snacks.  It was nice to see food offered for the 30K runners but like usual, I only take water and gels on a run (but no gels today).

A girl was setting a great pace in front of me for a few miles during the middle part of the race, until she took an ugly spill after tripping on a root.  I helped her up and confirmed she wasn't seriously hurt, then decided to continue on at the pace we had established.  Before the fall, she had mentioned she was doing the 30K and I'm confident she finished; she seemed like a very strong runner, but I didn't see her after I received the "are you sure you're okay?" confirmation.

By this point I was curious to know where I was from a mileage standpoint, but without distance markers on the course, my only option was to ask a fellow racer with a GPS watch.  Risking the fear of disappointment, I opted to stick with my mental mileage and keep on truckin'.  Around what I believed to be mile 8, I recognized that the course was roughly the exact opposite of the 8.3 course from two years ago, and I knew it wasn't far to the finish, with the exception of one last climb.  It was rough and I slowed down considerably; almost to a walk, but I couldn't justify walking with less than a mile to go.

Approaching the finish, I was pleasantly surprised to see the clock read 1:35 and some change, since I was expecting a time somewhere around 1:45:00.  It turns out my official time was 1:35:35, good enough for 12th place overall in the 15K.  Even while averaging over a 10 minute mile I'm happy with my time, given the significant rockiness of the course and the challenge presented by a few hills.

After the finish line, a young boy was handing out what looked like a mini fluorescent green purse (about the size of a cell phone) with a rolled up slip of paper in it.  This is when I realized that unlike 2 years ago, we weren't receiving medals for this year's race.  Instead, we got finishers certificates.  I don't do races just for the medal, but like many others out there, I really enjoy the feeling of them draped over my neck after crossing the finish line.  They're also nice souvenirs that usually possess a unique character of the race, something that bibs just aren't able to do most of the time.  I should note that at no point prior to the race was it stated that medals were to be handed out.  I simply had the expectation based on the race 2 years ago.  Interestingly enough though, there was a box of old medals near this year's finish line.

The post race food was served under a huge pavilion and consisted of generous quantities of subs, cookies, peaches, watermelon slices, donuts, chocolate milk, orange juice, and water.  At the point when I arrived, there was a good congregation of 10 and 15K runners seated at the picnic tables and chowing down on the goodies.  I got my fair share of water alongside two of my favorites: chocolate milk and cookies!

Sorry for the lack of pictures, but since one of the race rules was no headphones, I didn't bring my phone along for the run.  I may have to reconsider stashing it on future races regardless of the headphone policy for this purpose.  After all, sitting right against my skin, my Spibelt feels virtually weightless even when carrying a smart phone.

When I got home, I had the chance to check out what was included in the race bag which featured a technical shirt from Asics in bright yellow which will definitely come in handy on early morning runs!

In summary, here are some things about the race that...

I liked:
  • Easy parking and packet pick up
  • Cheap entry fee ($30)
  • Bright yellow Asics technical race shirt
  • Good selection of food and drinks at aid stations
  • Post race food
  • Nicely maintained, yet challenging trails
  • Well marked course, despite many turns (maybe 25 or so?)

I didn't like so much:
  • No medal
  • No mileage markers
  • Spectator turnout was pretty weak

As always, a big thanks goes out to the race organizers and volunteers; without you, races like this wouldn't be possible!

The next scheduled race for this guy is the Paine to Pain Trail Half Marathon just north of NYC in October - my first race in New York State - see you then!

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