Lance, the photographer that comes at the races from Allegheny Trailrunner, sent me my pictures from Rock The Knob. I am not a fan of race picture but found this one particularly funny and captured a great time, just before eating some hills.
Lance take the pictures and post them for free. If you like what he is doing, consider a donation – having great picture for free is amazing, making a small donation on a voluntary basis is better than the usual rip-off of company such a marathonfoto.
Thanks again to Lance for capturing such a moment.
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.
On April, 4, just one week before Forget the PR 50K, I ran the Dirty Kiln half-marathon. This race is organized by the Allegheny Trail Runners and is either a 5-miles or a half marathon. As last year, I did the half-marathon. The race is a basic 5 miles loop plus an additional 8 miles. Each loop as two stream crossing and of course, a lot of mud. Some hills are very challenging as well so that it might be better to walk them.
The 2014 edition was epic in the sense that the weather was really windy and cold. The 2015 edition was way better: not so much wind, some sun but still a lot of mud (and so, fun)! This was then supposed to be a great run. The race is organized by the Allegheny Trail Runners group, a non-profit that supports local charities. So, instead of going for big events that are rather big money makers for a company or an individual, this race is organized by trail lovers to benefits people in need. Very sweet.
Last year, I booked a crappy motel in the Altoona area to stay before the night. The bed was terrible, did not sleep so well and I had pain in the back. I decided that this year, I will take a better place and chose the Hampton Inn that includes a breakfast. That was a good idea, especially because they provide basic runner food for breakfast (peanut butter and bagel anyone?), which was perfect: no need to pack anything, the breakfast is availability when you wake up so you do not have to worry about that aspect.
There is no race expo or packet pick up before race day. The race starts at 0900 so you have plenty of time to get there and get it. The packet contains a tech t-shirt, your bib and chip. No fancy stuff inside but for $35, this is already more than enough! If you do this race, be there at least 10 to 15 minutes before the race starts to make sure you get your packet and put your chip on.
The race is a 5-ish loop plus an additional 8-ish loop. You run mostly on single-track trails with very muddy spots. There are also stream crossing. The first loop is not very challenging or difficult without any high elevation. So, this is a great warmup. The second loop is more challenging with a good elevation and a lot of steep hills. So steep that you will have to walk them and not run them. If you run it and plan to finish in less than 2:30, it is wise to start in the beginning of the pack. Many people will not let you pass them when being on a single track trail because they just do not listen to you. I was stuck in the beginning by two persons that discuss and never heard me when trying to indicate that I wanted to pass them. So, just try to rush the start to avoid that.
The race is marked with flags so it is difficult to lose yourself. Also, as you do (more or less) the same loop twice, this is easy to remember where you passed before and you can easily recognize parts of the race. Be careful to keep track of the flags, otherwise, you can get lost on the trails.
The race offers also a great view when doing the second loop and being on top of the hills. Being there on a sunny Saturday morning offers a wonderful scenery. While the view is great, it seems that some folks enjoy the view but not the silence. A dude was stupid enough to bring a portable speaker in hit bagpack (or whatever he brought on the trails) put his music on while climbing on the trails. Earphones are forbidden for safety reasons, but heck, when you cannot bring headphone, what is better than annoying everybody with a bigger sound system? Let’s just bring the phone with a portable speaker (or just use the phone speaker, who knows). Seriously, what is the f*ck!ng reason you would like to take your radio on a race? Who takes a speaker when going on a trail race and experience the nature? And why putting your music on a speaker to bother everybody around you? (private message: dude, if you read this message, stay home with your speaker and enjoy your music alone and just enjoy the nature when going on the trails). If possible, I would just suggest to the race director to forbid any listening device: if you go on the trails, this is not to reproduce your gym environment with a lot of electronic equipments. Otherwise, just stay at the gym and watch Discovery channel when exercising: the benefits will be similar. This is just unfortunate to have a dude like this on such a great event.
In terms of support, there are volunteers on the course to guide you and help you to cross the streams. There is an aid station on the course with water/gatorade and gels. You can also take water after the first loop. So, in total, you get 3 potential stops to get water or gels. The volunteers are very (very) friendly and helpful and make sure you stay safe on the course (especially at the stream crossing). Again, all the race is very well organized and accommodates beginners or experienced runners.
Once you are done, you get a wood medal and a bottle of water. There is also pizza and snacks provided to all runners. Unfortunately, no beer as in Rock’n The Knobb (the other race organized by the same non profit) that might be a better idea, especially if you are driving right after. The state parks typically offers showers if you want to be clean before going back home. The race pictures are taken by volunteers and available … for free. Yep, nobody that tries to take your monthly income for 3 pictures of you! Sweet, isn’t?
Let’s do it?
Heck yeah, as long as you are able to avoid the obnoxious dude that carries his speaker when you explore the nature, this is definitively one of the best race in Pennsylvania and I do not see any red flag that will tell you not to do it! First of all, this is pretty cheap ($35), fun. There is a lot of mud, which can be challenging. Then, there is pretty steep hills that will also change from your usual workout. The support is very good and volunteers are very friendly as well. Also, the race pictures are available for free! And finally, all the profits goes for a charity. So, there are definitively no reason for not going there!
Thanks again to the Allegheny Trailrunners group for organizing this race. So, far, Dirty Kiln and Rock’n The Knobb are among the best races I have done. Pretty cheap, very friendly and supporting charities, this is a fantastic non-profit and I hope you’ll get a chance to experience one (or several) of their races!
This was the beginning of a week-end, the first race that was a good shakeout before going to finish a half-marathon and cheer friends. I went to the Rock’n the Knob 5 mile race on Saturday, 13 and … it was a blast!
This race is organized by the Allegheny Trailrunners, the same folks that organize the Dirty Kiln. Needless to say, there are putting all the necessary attention and care for making a great event. For $20, you get a great race with scenic views, a tee-shirt, great company and a complete refuel at the finish with the beer brewed for the race! What else could you ask for?
If you plan to stay next to the race, you can get a studio located at a walking distance from the start for $50/night. Great deal to make sure you are on time but also get a place to get a shower after your race! The place itself is old but at this price, you do not really care. On the other hand, the food offered by the local bar is not so great and you might want to pack your own food. Typical bar food, nothing to write home about.
The race starts at 0930 for the 5miles whereas the 20 miles starts earlier at 0830. You start on the trails on technical and rocky paths. Something that will excite many trail runners but will sound not so appealing to many others. The weather being rainy, it was easy to potential trip and fall so that you have to be careful and watch out where you put you foot. The 5 miles course alternate moderate hills. Around the finish, you go over a ski slope, which is big challenging down hill section.
The course is well marked with flags and punk ribbons. I missed some signs but the likelihood you get lost is very low. On the 5 miles option, there was only one aid station (at mile 2), which was more than enough. The 20 miles option has several with snacks and other food.
At the finish, you get an untypical medal (a bottle opener!) and some great company. Also, once you are done, you can replenish with beer (a local brewery – Railroad City – brews a beer for the race – a nice pale ale!), sandwich, pizza and pastries.
This was definitively a great experience. Unfortunately, as I was running the next day, I did not want to overexercise and thus, selected the 5 miles option. Considering all the aspects and the logistics, I will definitively be back next year and make the 20 miles option. The scenic view, the fantastic support from the trail runners community justify going for such a distance. Finishing so quickly was frustrating. I wanted more and continue this beautiful journey.
If you are looking to run on trails and never did a race from these folks, check out their next race, Sweat for Vet but also consider running Dirty Kiln or Rock’n the Knob. Fantastic experience guaranteed.