Pigs don’t slop in the mud as much as the participants of the 2016 Rocks and Roots Trail Series. For the fourth month in a row, I ran a marathon or longer race.
Rocks and Roots is a local, Central Ohio race series of 10K, 20K, 30K, 40K, and a 50K in January and February. And February also features a 50M, for which I am totes registered. Is wasn’t “just another race”, but I already ran the Bigfoot 50K a month earlier, so the distance didn’t intimidate me. Relentless forward progress.
Background of Rocks and Roots 50K
I first learned about the trail series a year ago, way before I wanted to enter a trail or ultra race. But this year I had it planned that I would enter the 50K and 50M, and get my ultra buckle. Although it’s an ultra, and those things have elevation, this is central Ohio where elevation is measured in hundreds of feet, not tens of thousands. I viewed Bigfoot’s ubiquitous rolling hills as ample training for this endurance stanza.
The champion of this month of preparation was not running (although I did at 18-day consecutive stint running before the Friday of the race), but my bike, Paula, and her trainer. I’m not joking. The goddamm bike did more for my (cross) training than running did. My quads – both! – hurt like a motherfucker after Bigfoot. The force of pushing your feet into your shoes hurt like a motherfucker, for days. Like, really deep pain. In the category of “I might as well buy it now, because I’m going to eventually”, I bought a bike trainer the week after Bigfoot and was riding ASAP. My word, instant recovery! From the pressure of my compression cycling shorts to the beautiful burn of the ride, the pain in my quads was nearly all gone by the following weekend. In addition, cycling powers my glutes and hamstrings, acting as anabolic steroids for the “power” of my running. And for those who don’t know, a bike trainer, or turbo trainer, is a contraption that attaches to your bike so you can train in Ohio during the icy, snowy, blistering cold winters.
I had a bunch of runs, in a row. Apparently running everyday makes me stronger because I did it 18 in a row without a problem. I said “Eff this” when I woke up the Friday before the race. That eight hours of sleep felt good. Mmm.
Rocks and Roots Prep
The race is a hair less than half an hour from my condo, which makes it really nice being able to sleep in my comfortable queen (bed) the night before.
Fleet Feet puts it on, which is bitching because you get awesome swag and support for the race (you even get race track, which is rare for an ultra). I picked up my packet Saturday, then actually visited the course since it’s only ten minutes away from the shop.
It was wet that Saturday. I knew it could be a fast 50K, ha, because of minimal elevation. It has a good amount of sliiight rolling hills and only a few actual hills, and even then they’re probably only 120 feet. And water crossings! You know it’s a real ultra when you get to forge a
I packed my 2L Camelback with a handful of Gus and a couple Clif Bars. Mmm, Cliff Bars. That may have been overkill, because you’re never running that far away from the start/finish aid station and the aid stations they have in each loop. But I like to be overprepared. I’m the one who going backpacking with a laptop. And by backpacking, I mean oversees not Appalachia.
Rocks and Roots: The Race
The course was wet and probably FUBAR the day before the race. That night, it rained and rained, and rained while I drove there. When I got out of the car to use the portapotty when I arrived, it had stopped. Hoorah! It was upper-40s at this time. I chatted up some people before the race: the 30K, 40K, and crazy 50Kers were starting at 0800. It’s fun to hear about people’s stories and how a 50K is the shortest race they’ll enter this year. It wasn’t the beards and tats of Bigfoot. It was more of middle-aged runners. Average Joes.
The funny thing about the begging of the race is that immediately on the course from the parking lot lies a puddle. A puddle. We’re going to be, well, me, running for over six hours through mud, standing water, and water crossings and we’re worried about a puddle at the beginning. I guess we want dry shoes for thirty more seconds.
The first mile or so are rolling – more like plains, really – hills of grass. While they still were grass. I try to lay up on the gas at the beginning of races, especially ultras. Although not everyone is running the 50K, a <10:00 pace would win it. And by ~20 minutes. Where I’m going with this is that everyone forgets it’s a long race.
I start picking off people because I got tired being behind people I know I should pass. That contradicts the previous paragraph, but I know I can run a 10:00 50K, on good ground. The course is curvy, very curvy. People are slipping and sliding through the twists, turns, and “hills”. The course’s trail is okay through the first loop. Before everyone’s trail shoes ravage any traction. I do follow a few runners for a mile or so. More to keep myself from going out too fast. Soon, I pass them and run alone. I ran alone a lot. Except for the last two miles, I ran without anyone in sight for over half of the course. Hey, my mind’s a little foggy from my running a 50K and me still on a runner’s high while I’m typing this out. Life is good.
So much of the course is a blur. Twists and turns. Sliding on mud. Overcast day. Around 0900 it starts to snow. Winter wonderland. It was picture perfect from the view looking at it from inside. In it, it’s cold — the race ended with the windchill in the teens — and wet. Very wet. Very pretty. Think of fresh snow sitting perfectly at attention on every branch, leaf, and log. Absolutely gorgeous. I think about it for a few moments. Then I remembered I was in a slip-and-slide race.
There are 10K north and south loops. For me, it went NSNSN. After one round, the course looked like bulls went through it. Instead, 140 pound grown men did. We’re warned on the Rocks and Roots site of at least one water crossing. At the beginning of the race I made a smart ass remark about all of the water crossings. Apparently, the humor was lost. Oh well, I passed the killjoys.
Although the North Loop at water crossings, although stream crossings and a fuckton of puddles were more like it, the South Loop has the creek crossings. The first had a rope to assist you across (this wasn’t a rapid, so I’m not sure it was entirely necessary). There was a guy from the race there, presumably directing traffic. Apparently I knew what I was doing that he didn’t say anything other than “Nice job, buddy!” whilst taking a brief pause from his call. Then rope continued up the “hill” on the other side. It was not for the elevation as much as the traction. I don’t know how much more traction my trail shoes had over my racing flats at this point. At least I wouldn’t get their beautiful, bright colors dirty. After the race, one runner said he knew it wasn’t going to be a “fun time” race when he saw rope. I got a chuckle out of that meme.
The Loops seem to go on forever. Maybe because running at a 12:00 pace seemed fast at this point. So many twists and turns that it mesmerized me for at least one day. I went to sleep with the image of me slowing down, slipping, and grabbing a branch to prevent me from falling over, again. I hit the deck hard, at least twice. The first time came from me cutting hard left off a wooden bridge.WHOOSH. I flew as I landed on the soft, muddy trail. The second was within two miles from the end. I tripped over a stump, which looked like the mud I’ve run through since seemingly the beginning of time, and landed HARD on logs. My knees. Of course I’m the one who finds a way to hurt my knee, non-IT Band related. That was just one case in many of me cussing in the woods. Those are the two times I remember hitting the deck hard. That doesn’t include the countless times I slipping and fell because of ueberly muddy terrain. I’d fall on my ass walking up and down. At the end it was easier sliding downhill than anything else. Some people even “sledded” down hill. Might as well. You’re already dirty AF.
I don’t know where all the water came from, but apparently some sadist put out garden hoses on the South Loop. There were areas literally under water. Standing water. It was crazy. It wasn’t really a physical big deal because you’re already as wet as a fish, but mentally it taxed you. Slush, Slush.
The last two loops were the most mentally challenging because you knew you could finish. Eventually. But it would take a long, long time to get there. I could feel my legs’ support system being taxed from slipping ever so slightly on each landing. This isn’t a little mud that if you’re water you hear a squish, and maybe see water come up, out of the ground. No, this is full didn’t-there-used-to-be-grass-here mud several inches think. I don’t think Rob Krar about run a sub-10:00 mile after everyone went through the course. There simply wasn’t any traction. I literally ran parts of the course half as fast the Columbus Marathon because my Altra Superiors couldn’t gain traction. I have a hard time believing it was possible outside of something extreme, like those spikes you wear on your shoes while ice climbing. Rocks and Roots? More like Mud and Water.
As mentioned, it was a chore going down hill because you have no traction. You could hang on to the baby trees along the trail. You could sit and slide. You could risk falling face-first into the mud by actually running. The best was to get up the hill was to sprint them, at a baby’s pace.
I drank less than a liter of water during the course. It just happened. It was cold, so I wasn’t losing too much to the weather. I had a Gu and two Cliff Bars. I simply wasn’t running fast enough to need much fuel. The race honestly felt like a 31 mile long run in the mud. It didn’t tax me like a race. I’m not that fit on the trails. Your muscles burn from running, but cease the moment you stop. A 50K LSD.
I finally finished. Many didn’t. And by didn’t I mean you missed the mandatory cut off. So, you ran a 40K instead of the 50K. I finished 6/17 in 6:39. An hour slower than Bigfoot. The Rocks and Roots last January produced 41 finishers with people finished an hour faster than our slopfest. That’s why I said it’s a “fast” 50K. Strava said ~150 ft. of elevation (LOL); Garmin said ~700 ft. Garmin for the win. Only two women finished this year. That surprised me. I can’t wait to see the trail next month. It’ll be very hard to finish before cutoff if it’s that muddy again. Crazy muddy.
I’m ambivalent about my adventure of the Rocks and Roots. The course it very nice, runner-friendly (they said it was made by runners), but I didn’t care much
for how slow it ended up. Had Bigfoot been like that I’d still be running it. I’m used to going after fast times on the road. Ultras are much more about the experience of nature and you get there when you get there. No two ultras are the same. You can’t compare times. You generally can compare fast marathons. The elevation profiles may be slightly different, but there’s no elevation clause to them. A couple, who finished just after me, started the day running the 50K and ended up only being able to complete the 40K because they missed the cutoff. I spoke with them; they were not disappointed about the cut off. It was that kind of day.
I didn’t run until the Thursday after the race, although I was on my bike everyday, including race day. Very helpful for recovery! And that was a 6 mile 6:50 brick run that I felt almost out of my body. Killer run. Again, 50K LSD. I could have run 50M that day, with better traction. I felt great.
My next race is the Rocks and Roots 50M February 7. Same course, but I start at 0600 – with a headlamp – and ~20 miles longer. No big deal, right?! I’ll need to plan my nutrition more careful for the 50M edition of Rocks and Roots. I’m running the Glass City Marathon in April in Toledo. Boston attempt! I’ve already started the Pfitzinger >70 plan. #speedkills