The beginning of September is packed with a lot of good races in Pennsylvania. For road runners, this is the time to qualify for Boston at Erie, a pretty flat race where you can qualify for the race of your dreams (or not). For trail runners, there is the Groundhog Fall 50K and Rock’n The Knob. I did the Groundhog 50K last year and the 5 miles variance of Rock’n The Knob. It was time to try the 20 miles course of Rock’n The Knob then!
This year was really special: it started to rain during the first hour, so, as there are a lot of rocks over the course, it was easy to fall and get injured. On my side, I got lost on the course and got plenty of wasp/bee bites on my legs and back. But it was good.
About the race
The race takes place in Blue Knob State Park around Claysburg in Pennsylvania. As all the races from Allegheny Trailrunners, this is well organized and really affordable, about $45 for the 20 miles. For such a distance on trails, this is a pretty good deal.
Also, Allegheny Trailrunners negotiated a block of rooms on the race site. You can get a room for $50 a night, which is very appreciated and cheap, especially if you share the room with friends.
How to get there
From Pittsburgh, this is a 2 hours drive. I took part of my Friday off to be able to drive to the race site. The plan was to get there very early to rest and sleep. The previous week had been hard with no consistent sleep and pain coming back on my knee and pelvis. But as most plans, this one was a miserable failure and other priorities takes over. The result: I stayed in Pittsburgh for a while, eating ice cream, discussing with friends and finally arrived on the race site around 7pm.
Once I got there, I took the key of my room, walked around, ate a couples of sandwiches, had a couple of beers and finally went into bed for a long deserved night of sleep. My knee was cracking when walking and my pelvis was still hurting. Ouch! All I had to do at that point was to hope it will magically heal within few hours.
For sure, when the phone alarm rang in the morning, I had only one wish: staying in bed for the next few hours, watching TV and sleeping. But this was not going to happen: I signed up for this race and there was no way I stayed in bed. Not after driving 2 hours, it would not make sense to drive 2 hours again without even trying. The race starts at 09:30am, so, you have the time to prepare. I got my packet, get back in my room, sleep few more minutes. And finally made it to the start. I then see familiar face: Lance from Momentum Photography (who takes pictures on the course for free – please consider making a donation to him for his support to the trail running community!) and all the folks from the North Park Trail Runners (Mark, Tim, Julie and Mike). At that time, the usual pre-race anxiety started and I was not feeling like running 20 miles. I was considering asking to switch to the 5 miles but at that time, it was too late to ask. It was time to go.
But after the race started, I felt better and the anxiety was soon replaced by a feeling of confidence, that I was actually able to make it. The course was rocky but it does not really matter: I train on such terrain almost every day. I started to stick with one girl that was shooting to be the first female. But around mile 2, we hit a yellow sign “do not cross“. Probably a bad sign: we went off course and had to come back on the road. This made me run an additional 1.5 miles, which is mentally hard to accept in the beginning of the race. I had to make up the time lost and speed up. Unfortunately, I was then caught on single track trail with people slower than me and it was difficult to pass them.
This then triggers a question: why people do not move on the right when you say “on your left”? Why are they doing anything but going on the right? I got many behavior: the person with the headphone saying “oh, I did not hear you“, the one that thinks she/he is alone in that race and then they “oh, you scare me!” or the idiot that thinks that “ON YOUR LEFT” means he has to move on the left.
Hey, there are runners for dinner
So, after passing few folks, I hit the aid station at mile 7.5. I wanted to limit my time at the aid station and go ahead. But just about a few meters, there was a wasp nest and I got bites all over my legs and back.
This. was. painful.
I did not really understand why there was no detour, this could be a hazard, especially for people having allergy. I figure the organizers were probably not aware of it when trying the course and putting signs and markings.
The nightmare was not finished: we had to pass twice this area. Yes, this was dinner time for our insect friends and runner’s legs was the day’s specials. When passing for the second time, I decided to avoid the area and go on the road to find the aid station. The dudes at the aid station took a picture of me, probably believing I was cheating but there was no way I got more bites on my legs: this is a trail race, not the Tough Mudder, I am here to have fun on the trails, I did not pay to suffer like an idiot.
Even if this is not life-threatening (unless you are allergic, which is another story), this is very inconvenient. The swap stings trigger a reaction and make your skin very itchy. Every person reacts differently but I was not able to sleep the night after the race, even with medication (ibuprofen, sleeping aid, anti-itch cream). It took two days to come back to normal – I can’t imagine how it was for people having stronger reaction.
After passing the 11 miles aid station, I thought it will be easy: just about 9 miles to go. But the second part of the course is more difficult than the first part. I continue to run for a while and did not stop.
Then, I hit the next aid station. I look at the food and gels available. The only brand available was Honey Stinger. Best. Race. Joke. Ever.
I saw Lance which took some pictures of me (and was feeling like a rock star) and finally took off. But the real climbs were waiting here: at mile 16-ish, there is a very steep hill that is almost not runnable. You have to power-hike this section for a mile or so. This was not expected at all, especially considering the conditions (very rocky and slippery after the rain).
Once you are at the top, you have just a mile or so to go to come back to where you started. I crossed the finish line in 3:47, which was better than what I expected (the goal was to finish under 4 hours). I was also 3rd in my age group, and so, was happy with the race, especially after being lost for 1.5-ish mile or so.
The post-race party takes place close to the finish and includes food and drinks. Railroad City Brewery (a local brewery from Altoona, PA) makes a special beer for the race, which is a nice reward after running 20 miles. You can stay warm inside, have a nice time with your friends there and look for the results (there are posted and updated often).
Should I do it?
If you are looking for a good trail race, this is definitively a very good one. Challenging climbs, wonderful course, very affordable (compared to many road and other trail races) there are many reasons you would like to do it.
The wasp/bee thing was clearly not expected and a potential issue for people being allergic. I do not think the organizers knew it was there on race day and I strongly believe that they would re-route the course to avoid it if they knew it was there. I hope nobody was seriously hurt during the race.
The Allegheny Trail Runners group definitively putting a lot of good races in Pennsylvania and this 20 miles version just confirm that fact. I did not take part of the Sweat for Vet, the 10K climb race they organize in November and I am excited to do it this year.
- Allegheny Trailrunners: http://www.alleghenytrailrunners.com/
- Race results: http://smileymiles.com/2015/RES15%20ROCKIN%20THE%20KNOB%20TRAIL%20RACE%2020%20M%20OA.htm
- Race on mapmyrun: http://www.mapmyrun.com/workout/1165115349
- Race on garmin connect: https://connect.garmin.com/activity/896378529
- Discussion on GPS data difference