I look forward to the Rothrock Trail Challenge each June, arguably one of the most technically challenging trail races in Central PA. It's a great litmus test in my training progression as I prepare for the week of insanity when I will be enduring the 26-28 mile Bald Eagle Megatransect at the end of September, followed by a max effort at the Oil Creek 100K the following weekend. The location outside of State College, PA, is filled with rocks, roots, and ledges, but despite the technical nature and elevation gains, it is among my favorite events. This year, I had hoped my training would lead to dramatically improved times indicating I was farther along in my preparation for the season than last year.
I entered the race with a specific training mindset - I did not care to necessarily set a personal best,
but rather I wanted to maintain a consistent, steady pace from start to finish. Specifically, I wanted to find a pace I could endure without walk breaks or without bonking and struggling to complete the last 4 miles in some sort of death slog. I wanted to feel as though I could keep going by the time I crossed the finish line. I guess what I was hoping was that I could maintain a strong effort over the entire distance with no ebbs or low points. And if I could shave off a little time from last year's finish, then that would be a bonus.
So what happened? I shaved ten minutes off my previous time and also shaved a few fibers off my patellar tendon when I came barreling down the gravel road toward the finish line. I had essentially broken into a max effort pace from the end of the trail all the way to the gravel road, and with the finish line in sight, I was stretching out and pushing hard. I had made it! I accomplished my goal. I ran a very tough, technical course without stumbling, falling, or bonking and maintained a very disciplined, steady, and strong pace. I was feeling great!
40 yards from the finish line, it happened.
I remember pushing myself hard and looking up at the clock at the finish line. At exactly the moment I recognized that I might have improved my time over last year, my left foot snagged on a rhododendron root sticking up among the small rocks on the gravel roadway. There was no time to break the fall; I had just kicked into a finishing sprint (well, to any observers that's what I thought I was doing, anyway) when the foot caught, and I went face forward with my right knee taking the full impact of the fall. I managed to roll, did a quick assessment to see if anything was broken, couldn't really feel anything, responded with something stupid when a few onlookers asked if I was ok, and hobbled across the finish line.
I'm not sure if it was the fall or effort the last few miles or a combination of both, but when I crossed the finish line, I was primed to hurl. I also felt the blood dripping down my leg, and when I looked down, I ascertained that a few of the cuts could be rather serious.
Fortunately, great guy and Wicked Genius of the Megatransect David Hunter was on site. Dave is like part of my trail running family and a guy who embodies the sheer joy of running out in the woods and over boulders and into rattlesnakes. He took a look at the knee and helped me get my bearings. For some reason I suddenly felt very wiped out and I toyed with the idea of losing consciousness. Not sure why, but I had suddenly become very dizzy and somewhat disoriented. I grabbed some drink and a little food while Dave assessed the knee, cleaned it out, and recommended a visit to the local ER.
I'm not sure what was more embarrassing - wiping out so close to the finish after picking my way through the entire race without falling, or the fact that despite my improvement in race time, I didn't move up significantly in position.
Ultimately, I accomplished my goal and in retrospect, I could have pushed harder in spots along the course and could have probably shaved more time off my finish. But that wasn't necessarily my goal. I do think the overall competition was much faster this year but I still have much work to do before October.
I just wish it would have happened anywhere but on the easiest segment to the finish!
As a side note, the most painful aspect of the injury was not on the kneecap where most of the stitches are, but on the bony protrusion of my tibia. Even now as I compose this blog almost 2 months after the fact, the tibia at that point is more than double its normal size. Range of motion is fine but after a long day of running it can be very tender. It's very manageable, but I admit I cringe at the prospect of falling and hitting that same area again.
Looking forward to next year's event. This time, the goal will be to complete the last few hundred yards without stumbling.