Fire On The Rocks 10K | PA Trail Dogs | Pennsylvania
I usually have a standing rule. No races in the winter. It’s not that I don’t run in the winter I just like to choose the conditions in which I run instead of running in whatever winter throws at me on race day. The one winter race I remember signing up for prior to this year, the weather ended up being so bad that our whole group that was planning to go didn’t even attend the race. A DNS. Did not start.
Running In Winter
I used to take winters off entirely from running. But over the years I have started running more and more in the colder months. I especially run a lot in winter if I am training for something. This year I am training for a spring half marathon where I would like to set a new PR.
So at this point in my running adventures I have run a fair amount of half marathon or longer events. So the distance itself isn’t really the main challenge. The challenge is training hard enough and consistently enough to achieve my goal of a new half marathon PR.
To help motivate myself to run consistently I actually committed to some winter races this year. I ran a winter race series of 5k’s. One every week in January hosted by the Finger Lakes Running Club. Then I ran my first ever snow shoe race in February, also hosted by the Finger Lakes Running Club. And the last winter race I signed up for was a trail race that our friend convinced a couple of us to do.
A Winter Trail Race
I love trail running. It is my preferred variant of running. But I have never run a trail race in the winter.
As luck would have it this would not only be a winter race, but it would feature all the winter conditions one could imagine. Snow covered trails. High winds. Active snowstorm with snowflakes blowing into your face and eyes.
I can probably count on one hand the number of times I have run on trails when they are actually covered in snow. I’ll hit the trails if it is just frozen ground. But covered in snow, especially if it is deep, is just not my jam.
Race day was a pretty wintery day. Active snowstorm as we rose to start the day. Myself and a friend braved the 2 hour drive that became 3 hours driving in the snow storm in order to take on a new event. Neither of us had run this race even been on these trails before.
New events and new trails really are the best.
We finally arrived for the Fire On The Rocks 10k. Picked up our bibs and our swag, nice new race shirts. Way to cold and short on time to go back to the car I just put my new shirt on under my jacket. Pinned my bib on. Then secured my Kahtoola Exospikes to my trail shoes.
First snowy trail race. We were told there would be at least one steep climb. The extra traction seemed like a good plan.
The race starts off with about a mile on a park road. I like running on a nice flat for a bit to warm up before the inevitable climbing. Before too long the runners take to the trails into the woods.
Aside from the road section to start and finish the course is dominated by single track. The best kind of running trails. It made for difficult passing especially in the snow. I am not particularly fast, but there were times I would have liked to pass but when you can’t see what leis under the blanket of white off the beaten path it seems unnecessarily risky to pass. It’s not like I am in contention to win the race.
Before long the climbing begins. For the first third of the race the trails are just continuous climbing punctuated by two steeper climbs with some descending after. Upon completing the second initial steep climbing section there is a nice descent that takes the runners back down to about the same level as where that climb started. Then the real fun begins.
There is a significant stream crossing. The stream is wide enough and the water deep enough that feet were definitely getting wet if you crossed by foot. However, there was a tree across the stream that runners could try to walk across to get to the other side without getting wet. Most runners when I got there were choosing to cross atop the log. This was slowing everyone down and creating a bottle neck.
I can be both inpatient and stubborn. I didn’t really want to wait to take my chances with the log across the stream. If I could encounter it moving along at my own pace maybe I would give it a shot. But just having to wait just to have a chance to try and cross on the log was making me antsy.
I have huge feet and I do not have great balance. Not ideal for trying to cross a significantly wide stream atop a log. I have run through freezing cold water on trails in cold weather before and knew I could take it. If I tried to cross atop the log I ran the risk of having to hop of mid-way across due to losing my balance and getting my feet wet anyway. Or I could end up completely falling into the stream and getting drenched. That did not sound fun and pretty much sealed it for me.
I made my way around the long line of people waiting for log access and forded the stream on foot. It wasn’t terrible. And I know that more than one person fell off the log and completely into the water and got drenched. I am glad I did not add to that statistic. Eventually I ended up getting passed by several of the people who waited at the log, but that wasn’t really the point for me.
Warm It Back Up
The middle of this race is dominated by a really steep and long climb. There is about 500 ft. of elevation gain in this climb. There is a long section of this climb where there are ropes tied around trees to use as hand holds as runners ascend the slopes. I for one am glad those were there. I don’t know if they are 100% necessary but I found them very helpful. The plan was to bring my trekking poles with me to the race, but I decided to leave them in the car. This is the section where I wished I had them. They seemed like they may have helped but I am not sure.
After that long tough climb there was an awesome descent. It was nice and steep and fast. I decided to take it easy and just enjoy the ride. The wind was blasting the snow into my face and I could hardly see. I didn’t need to risk turning an ankle just a couple weeks out from my goal race. I need to get back on this section of trail in more ideal conditions. It would be a fun run.
There is one more climb up a levee. Atop the levee there was a beautiful winter scene of the lake. But it was a winter storm in full effect. Wind and driving snow. The view was nice, but I wasn’t sad to get off the levee along the lake.
Find The Finish
Then it was all a nice gradual downhill back to the finish. Hop back on the same road where the race began and get back to the start/finish. The only downside to finishing along the road for me was that the longer I was on the road the more the Exospike traction on the bottom of my feet were hurting. With nothing softer to bite into the spikes were creating pressure points on the bottom of my feat. My feet were getting sore, but I was just takin it easy getting to the finish line in one piece.
I finished the course in a decent time for me. Done in 1:35:49 for the 6.36 mile course according to my watch. I’ll take it. I had so much fun out there in the snow covered trails. I honestly wasn’t sure if I was going to like it.
Then getting back to the finish line and gathering around a nice big fire with the rest of the trail community was nice. Hot coco and a shot of fireball felt good to help warm things up as well.
Connected with my friend and chatted with the crowd around the fire for a while. Then we headed to New Trail to warm up with a few beers and some food.