As if readers haven’t realized, I am hitting my races in full strides this season. This one Rock-n-the Knob is one of the hardest marathons in Pennsylvania and might be the hardest on the east coast. Couple weeks ago I was at Virginia highest peak (Mt Rogers, not literally but was in the area of Skull Gap and Grayson Highlands, while running the Iron Mountain event) and this week, I had the chance of being on Pennsylvania 2nd highest peak (Blue Knob Mnt). This stuff doesn’t mean anything to me, but they are bragging points to show how badass my races were. This time I had 7000 ft in 26.5 miles with most of the elevation at the tail end. Backloading the run. I was looking for hard races for a reason to prepare myself for my December Devil Dog 100.
I enjoyed it for the challenge as well as the over all fun of running. I met old friends, made new ones, camped out. It was a lot of work but it was a beautiful weekend and well worth it. Thank you for all the food afterward too. Food was a bonus. My non-running friends asked me why I run so much, that’s why. I enjoy it.
This course ran like a 50k. The first place male finisher finished it just under 5 hours. Female first place was around 6:30. My time was 8 hours. My 50k normally takes around 6-7 hours. You can say this is harder than a 50k.
Coming in with the prior years experience, I learned to start slow, real slow. Last year I started still too fast and choked at halfway. This year was a lot easier for me to run. The climbs were still tough. I ended with sore ankles, quads, hip, and everywhere. Running hurts my shoulders too! I guess I ran while hunching over. They are the good pain mostly. Non runners were asking why!? Why put ourselves through the suffering. Somehow, they will prepare me for my next run. A lesson: no matter how hard I ran the week before, you only get a quality work out like this race, by doing hard runs. This was a hard run! A run I really need for — The Devil Dog.
We have a field of about 50 starters, and this was fewer than last year. A Small group. This year, I was the last person (third to last) by the time I got onto the trail. Everyone had left me, unlike previous years when everyone seemed to be in my way. (I think I said the same thing last year). I couldn’t believe I was slower or people were faster.
I ran for a long time by myself. It did not bother me. Oh, I found an iPhone, one of the newer ones (iPhone 13 or 14). A runner before me actually spotted it but she did not know what to do and was going leave it back on the trail. Someone called out to take it to the Aid Station, so I picked it up. Apparently it was dropped by one of the fast runners. He came back for it later on, like 15 minutes later. I was glad I did not have to lug the heavy phone for 6 miles to the first aid station. Not sure if he got on the podium later. He said, he would have dropped from the race if he couldn’t find it. I glad I did a good deed. I overheard him of being with the third place runner.
By the 3rd mile, I saw the first guy I could pass (Sean). He is a big guy but he was limble as well as powerful on his feet and he out ran me on downhills and such. To me, he look like three or four times my size, yet he was pushing up and flying on down hills. I always have the image of an (American) football player doing ballerina on the trail. What a sight. I was thinking how on earth he could move and moving so well. He passed me like a freight train. However, Over time though I reeled him in. I had no doubt I could pass him.
I caught up. He passed me back, but I waited till for another uphill and I was sure I could pass him for good. In front of him was a runner having bib 304. She was the last year last runner. She started walking on the flat portions. Soon I passed her too as my pace was still strong. I believe at this point in the race, you could walk to finish a 9-hr marathon, but you have to walk fast!
After her were two faster ladies. We pushed our way to the first Aid Station (AS) together. At the AS, I learned from my recent ultra races to be quick! I was in and out in no time. If you can’t beat a runner on the trail beat them at the AS transition. Be faster than them going out. I was out before the two women. They were still chatting from behind but they did not catch right up. One later did catch up to me, but she seemed to overly exerted herself. If you get a good head start, they might not able to catch back up.
Ahead of me were a couple. It seemed the guy was pacing the lady. I reeled them in slowly, gaining on them at every uphill over the next two miles. Soon I was close enough and they let me pass at one of the hills. Some asked why I did not pass them the moment I saw them?
One of the ladies from behind caught up and kind of ask why I did not pass the couple. My reasoning was, if they provide me a good pace, (pacing) why destroy that relationship or the pace. If it is not broken don’t fix it. If you follow someone long enough you will realize whether they could provide a steady pace or not. If they could, then use them. See, if I passed them too early, they would be strong enough to overtake me again. It would be a competition of passing one another. It wastes a lot of effort. I could end up draining myself. However, if they have relatively the same pace as me, then let them lead. Then I could follow and I could go at the pace I want without doubting if I were going fast enough for people from behind.
This couple though were able to stay on my heels till Quitter Row AS (final 10k). They were strong runners. Actually, I did not know they were behind me till we came into Quitter Row together. And that was at mile 20. They followed me for over 15 miles. Lesson: I thought I was smart in using people but people ended up using me right back!
After passing them, I came to Brian and a 65 year old guy. They are stronger runners than those I passed. Of course. I was now with seasoned runners. So I chased them for couple of miles and was not being able to pass easily. This portion had the first big uphill “Teal is Real”. Soon we came to the 2nd AS at Pavia. Dang, both of them were super quick with the transitioning too. I thought I was good but they bested me. It seemed they didn’t need much of anything. They beated me out the station. When you are competing with a 65 y.o., they are experts at reducing every wasted second on the clock. Brian was nice to say goodbye and said he will see me in a bit. He knew I could catch up.
It was on downhill but still took me a while to catch up to them. They were only a minute or two ahead, yet they were far enough. I was not able to pass them because they were strong runners. I learned Brian was the same guy I encountered last year at the creek (where I threw up, “I nettle do it again/Beaver Dam”) and he gave me the needed encouragement to get me back on track and to finish the race. Last year, he ended up not making the cut himself to finish the last 10k of the course. Memories from that race came in. Brian talked a lot.
On one hand, learning that he did not make the cutoff had me a bit worried since today I was running at his pace. However the 65 year old guy said he finished around 8 hours and that boosted my confident a bit that I was with the right crowd. This was their third time too. I felt likely, we were faster than last year at that point in time.
We arrived at Raven Rest (AS3) (not sure it it should be Raven Nest). After this, we had the hardest and longest climb in my opinion. I beated them on a climb and so arrived a little early and got out the AS before them this time around. I grabbed a bag of food-to-go I thought was a bag of chips and accidentally took all the station’s fish crackers with me. Sorry! Some might think that was a strat, but I did not mean to.
I have gained a couple minutes. I could hear them talking in the back. Brian found a snake. In my mind, good. Go check out the snake and let me get couple more minutes ahead of them. He did. I saw him stopping and peeking to the woods. I did not see them again till Quitter Row (AS 5).
By mile 15-17, we started to catch some half marathoners. This is always what I like to do. We are doing the full with an hour headstart but we ran 10k more by this time, by catching up to the half marathoners made me feel I was back on the course pace. The half marathons we passed were all walking, whether uphills or downhills.
Brian commented that the half marathon’s sweeper was here at this point in the race last year as they made this climb. So we were earlier than the sweeper this year as the sweeper was no where in sight (the sweeper is my friend Aaron, and he was sweeping again this year). We had two hours to get to the next station at Heavenly Hairpins. I pushed ahead. The climb was tough but it was not like last year when I was seeing spinning stars and blacking out and then throwing up from heat exhaustion. This year, I was only sweating profusely. I made sure I continued to drink and eat my fish crackers. I got the whole bag of them. I reached to the Heavenly Hairpins AS, with an hour to spare. There I caught up with more half marathoners and a couple of the marathoners. It made me happy, I felt I caught up to the bulk of the race by now and no longer in the tailend group. I was leading them. Being in the tailend had me worry about being cut. Now I was with the good crowd. We were only 2.5 miles away from Quitter Row and I was an hour well ahead of the final cutoff.
These two miles were probably the most fun in the entire race. We got to run down a ski slope and ran back up and then ran down a probably black diamond rated slope. It was too steep even to stand on, not sure how people ski down it. I remembered the first year, I had to slide down on my butt. Then we had to climb back up on the scrambling trail, which was not really a trail (I need a sherpa) but more like mountain climbing back up on your hands and knees. I was wearing road shoes that had the treads worn down, so it was super exciting trying to get a grip of the trail.
We reached the Quitter Row AS. This was the race “last” cutoff. I was still an hour ahead. It was named such because here is the place if you want to quit, you could because this was the start/finish for the race and it is tempting to do so. I came in with a runner, and he said he was feeling nauseated. We had him sat down. I told him, no need to rush out, but try resetting and when he is ready go out again for the final 10K, do it. I told him last year, I was there till the cutoff, and still had two hours to do a 10K and I finished the race. Finishing at this point is doable.
However, he was young and inexperienced. I asked if his crew/family is there, he said yes, I handed him off to his wife. However, she seemed to be unprepared to help him, only told him about don’t quit. They were standing around. I understood no crewing or pacing in this race, but I know the race rules could be bend a bit. If a runner needed help, go help!
In my mind, he should be given a chair, and wrap in a towel, get him warm up or cool down, freshen up, take care of his food/water/feet or whatever, then get him back out. He himself did not know what to ask either. I would ask for a gatorade. Get some fluid in him. Reset his system.
He ended up dropping. I had no time to evaluate his condition, so I did not encourage or wait on him to go back out, since I didn’t want him to stuck with 6 miles feeling miserable out there. He had to make that choice himself. If he was more direct (assertive) and committed, I would be more than willing to help him as I did last year with Jenn. Personally, I felt if he reset himself, and with a pacer, he would definitely finish it.
I had three hours to do the final portion so even if I walk, I would still be finishing the race. As I ran, I thought back on the last year race. Jenn and I were so strong here. We blasted out the station and then flying down hills on this portion last year. This time, I was by myself and I was taking my time. There was a group of 5-6 behind me but I was always leading them. They were within earshot but I couldn’t see them. I could hear them but they were usually a good distance away to pass me. I got to Throat Punch AS. I swallowed some chocolate covered coffee beans and off I went. Three time the volunteers cheered me as they thought I was about to set off and each time I ended staying some more for their food. I stayed a bit longer here because I knew a tough climb ahead. I did not set off until I heard the group pack being near and there were cheering in the back. Off I went with a bunch of coffee beans in my mouth.
I had maybe couple more miles to go and it was mostly an uphill climb back to Blue Knob where we would finish. The climb was much easier than I remembered. Granted this year, I was not cramping up like last year while scrambling up. I got through the Soul Sucker. I had cramps earlier while descending to Throat Punch, but now they were under control. Also I got plenty of energy from the AS to prep for the climb. I also did not have to wait for my partner like last year, when I waited 4-5 mins at every hill for Jenn. My only concern was to hold off the “wolf” pack that was chasing me. It was mostly for pride. I don’t mind if they beat me up the hill, but I hoped to do better than them.
The finish was anticlimatic. I got to the top with 15 minutes left on my target finish time. My closest competitor was maybe 5 minutes ahead, and I could not close in. There was maybe a mile of trail left. Soon I saw the road and I sprinted in, finishing before the 8 hour mark.
The rest of the afternoon was waiting for the rest of the pack to finish. I thought they were on my heels. The 65 y.o. guy came in like 10 minutes after me, which is still quite close. I couldn’t go to greet him because I had awful cramps in both legs for an hour or so. Finally a fellow runner helped me on my feet and my cramping then was gone. I felt much better, I could run and move again. I then was able to change into my clean clothes and had a good meal as well as join in the celebration with the rest of the runners.
The group that was chasing me came in spreading over the last hour. During the run, I felt they were on my heels. Some took my advice of not rushing the final 10k. I remember everyone I passed. It was good to cheer them as they came in.
Sean, the big guy showed up on the road with less than 2 minutes left on the clock. Seriously, I did not expect him to finish but he did. We saw him with the sweeper from far away. Everyone jumped up and rushed to the finishing chute cheering. We were hoping he would arrive before 5 pm, when the race would close. We were on edge whether he would he make it. Sean was splinting to the end with the sweeper right behind. He made it in as the final second on the clock expired. (They actually turned off the clock ahead of 5 pm, and so some were wondering if he made it in). He did. He earned it.
Take away – Why do I love running, going on trip, and doing these kinds of things every weekend? The full answer deserve a blog post, but the short version is, because I love it. It is exciting. It gives me a story to tell. To me, it is a good experience. I reread my last two year posts. Weird my memory has changed a bit even though I can remember a race for a long time and relive them. Even if I forget, I have it written down here. If it is not too boring, I might attempt to write a longer version.