My friends, race season started EARLY this year. Usually, the first time I cross a starting line any given year is March. The later the better. BUT, somehow I’ve talked myself into a really aggressive (for me) series of half-marathons this Spring. That means trial races to keep the base building interesting have to come earlier, and I need all the trail time I can get to build my skill set because you do not learn to cross creeks and climb tree roots on pavement. On to it!
The Race: The Rocks and Roots Trail Series is a 2-race series up at Alum Creek State Park in Delaware, Ohio. Available distances are 10k-20k-30k-40k-50k for the first race, with an option of a 50-miler available for round two. Runners can choose a different distance for each race date. I picked a 10k for Race #1 and a 20k for Race #2. Race dates this year were January 11th and February 8th.
My new favorite Hoody, my new favorite Balegas, my new favorite soft t-shirt. Or at least contenders for the “my new favorite” for sure – they’re really SOFT. Seriously though, there’s a HOODY in the swag! That’s cool. The full list included the hoody, a t-shirt, a handheld Amphipod, a pair of Balega’s and samples of Cliff bars & drink additive. Along with the finisher’s medal.
Including the processing fee – $97.20 total for BOTH races. Looking at the swag and organization/support – this is an EXCELLENT price tag on the race. Averaging less than $50 per, I’ve paid more for pavement 5k’s that had far less swag and were far less interesting, even with over-the-top themes.
The course is a 10k loop, so you go around as many times as you signed on with opportunities to take a break and access drop bags/porta potties in between. In the second race, they changed course for the 50k & 50-milers only – presumably bringing in some additional mileage to drop the number of loops needed. Race organizers had scattered some large speakers around the course to play music, which was AWESOME – particularly since it was tunes I like. :)
Right around mile 2.5 was probably the BEST AID STATION I HAVE EVER SEEN. This might just be a trail running thing or an ultra trail thing, but the aid station had M&M’s, gummy bears, pretzel bites, jujubees, other nibbles of varying sweet & saltiness. I think there were 3 different beverage options, but maybe more. OUT ON THE TRAIL! There was a man in a BEAVER COSTUME! Cheerful volunteers at the trail aid station as well as several points between. The main aid station – home base – was even better stocked. Amenities there included cookies, swedish fish, coffee, hot chocolate, and CHILI. There was a FIRE to get warm and more good cheer. Special bonus points for volunteers being sweet to my husband and my Fred dog while they waited on me.
Of Course: Because helloooooo, January! February! MIDWEST! The first race, there was some fresh powder on the trail. Seemed like an inch or so, loose and a little slick, but not terrible. The February run – if you watch the first 10 seconds of the video – all that gray they’re walking around on is ICE. ICE EVERYWHERE. The entire trail was covered in an alternating deluge of ice, snow packed hard into ice, 2-inch deep mud and a muddy-slush covering ice. While I’ve got some time spent on snow pack, my experience level running on ICE is ZERO. The trail itself had a bit of everything – a few flats, a fair amount of up/downs, several creek crossings, a few switchbacks. Nice variety.
Also in the videos – take a look at how many Team RWB Eagles are out on the course. My red shirt is hiding beneath some warm gear, but it’s there. I know there were members from the Cincinnati, Dayton & Columbus chapters. It would be an interesting tidbit to know how many different chapters were represented. Nothing like running to bring a group together.
My Day: Both days started at 4AM. That’s because Delaware, Ohio is around 2 hours away from Cincinnati, give or take. I had to get up crazy early! Race #1, I met my fellow RWBer Jeff and he drove both of us North, where we met another RWBer- Brian- that had picked up both of our race packets for us because he’s awesome. Jeff & I were in for the 10k that day and Brian was going for the 50k. Race #2 – Eric & Fred decided to come along, so we drove up as a family, meeting Jeff & the RWB crew at the park.
The first race was slow going, more from lack of experience than anything else. I am only starting to learn how to navigate obstacles such as creek crossings with slick banks or muddy, steep downhills. So these made interesting snow-covered challenges for me. Plus, I’m still very cautious about my right knee in these situations even though it’s rarely bothering me now. I took things as slow as I needed to and I had decided up front to be happy with the day no matter the clock time. It’s about learning and adding skill sets. I was particularly impressed with myself about this sliding thing I did in a side-plank down a muddy hill. Because ninja! Jeff, usually a little faster than me, wasn’t feeling great, so we were keeping pace with each other using run:walk and pushing each other after about mile 2. By mile 5, we were both ready to be DONE! – and getting thirsty. We’d both opted not to carry anything since a 10k isn’t anything new to either of us. Another lesson: a 10k with obstacles can take you just as long as much further distances sometimes and you need water over time as much as over distance. Next time, carry water. I finished feeling proud of myself for managing the terrain well and ready to eat.
The second race – UGH. Excuse my language, but FUUUUHHHCK. Race #2 was the same loop. A completely different beast, but still the same loop. I’d signed on for the 20k – so 2 times around. Twelve miles was a bit of a reach for where my training was at, but I planned a 3:1 approach and was excited about everything but the 4AM wake up going into the race. This time I brought my Camelback 1.5L Mule for water. Then we got there – and SO MUCH ICE!!!! It just never stopped being icy. Except for where it was muddy. No traction to be had except on the fringes of the trail. I tried to stick to my plan and was successful for a bit, but even with a much shorter stride I was sliding all over the place and felt like I was barely moving. The 2.5-mile aid station felt like it was 4-miles away to my legs. By the time I reached the actual 4-mile point, I was cussing every time I slid and my mental game was gone. I realized that I was getting lapped. It was NOT. A. GOOD. DAY. When I finished the first loop at my worst time for a 10k EVER – seriously, 40 minutes SLOWER than the one where my knee injury had me come in dead last, I was in a horrid mood. It was time to call it quits. My body felt over 6 miles like it had been beaten for 12 and I didn’t have another loop in me. After watching several people wipe out, I was afraid of going back through again tired as I was. As I put it to Eric, I might’ve had another 2-3 miles in me, but definitely not 6. If I thought the first race was hard, this one was misery. Jeff had completed his 10k and gone. Brian was working on another 50k to go for a buckle. Our friend Mark was doing 30 and taking off for his final lap when I came in off of my first. Race #2 brought with it another shirt and another finisher medal. A huge helping of humility.
Snacks and fire with the husband and my furry sidekick helped lessen the blow my ego was taking until it was time to head back to the car – and my dry bag of clothes – and my thermos of chicken broth. No joke – chicken broth is a magical elixir after that kind of run. Taking my time with getting changed, I realized that if we gave it another 10 minutes, we would probably see Mark in the home stretch of his final lap (the parking lot is next to the trail for a minute at that point) – and so we cheered him on as he passed by. Yes – Mark ran about 5 miles in the time it took me to eat cookies and change my clothes. Then we pulled out of the parking lot for the 2-hr drive home, most of which I slept through. It is still amazing to me how two loops of the same course can feel so different. Race #1, I still had some energy left for lunch in Columbus and the ride home. Race #2 – I was plum worn out!
The Ending LIne: While the races were hard, I can’t deny that I already caught myself thinking about how I’d like another shot at them next year. There’s no doubt that the course was a great learning experience for a beginner like me to work on water crossings, steep creek banks covered in ice & mud, hill work. A reminder to carry water even if the distance seems manageable without it. The people organizing and volunteering were AMAZING and obviously cared a great deal about putting on a quality event. The price probably barely covered the swag and set up. And frankly, it was worth the 4-hour round trip – and will be more so if I do it again next year with more experience and training to run a longer race.
The Next Race: Officially, my next scheduled race is Run The Bluegrass on March 28th. I’m planning on the whole 13.1 distance this year and will be back to teach yoga at the Griffin Gate the morning after the race. If you haven’t heard of it, go check out the site – and that INCREDIBLE MEDAL they’ve designed this year! ( & pick me as your Race Ambassador!)
BUT – it looks like the DIrt Days series is kicking off on March 14th with the Run for the Green 5k, so I might have to fit that in. C’mon – 2 calve-deep creek crossings! Sounds like a great opportunity to learn something. :)