The inaugural Xterra Table Rock 15k is the first race ever held in the delightful Table Rock State Park. I have never done back-to-back races of any significance before, but couldn’t pass up what promised to be a challenging trail race near my home. I got a ride with co-worker, Aaron, and his friend, Tom- thanks, guys. The pre-race briefing was long but provided a nice overview of the race- the first 0.8 mile would be on road, then climbing over 2200 ft on trail for a giant loop up and over Pinnacle Peak, the highest stand-alone peak in SC. The course director promised beautiful views, life-threatening cliffs, minimal aid stations, extremely technical climbs and descents, and good course markings. He was correct on all accounts.
My primary goals for the race were to get a good workout, with an emphasis on running the uphills, even the steep stuff, and to try to win. I found myself in the front of the race immediately, with only one runner near me once we reached the trails, though he was gone by mile 2 (or, as the course mile-markers said, “Mile 2-ish”). Miles 3 and 4 were the crux of the climbing, each with over 700 ft gain. My Achilles was twinging a bit and my legs weren’t overly energetic, but they were responsive and felt good despite the never-ending ascent over rocks and roots. Best of all, they recovered very quickly any time the trail leveled off. After climbing 6 false summits and 2000+ ft in 3.3 miles, I reached the top of Pinnacle Peak at 3425 ft around mile 5.3. Giving my regards to one of the many park rangers spread throughout the course (often directing us away from cliff faces or yellow jacket nests), I threw myself down the other side of the mountain. The initial descent dropped over 1000 ft in the first mile over steep, overgrown, thorny terrain. Not the fastest downhill running, and I was content to run within myself. One very nice surprise was seeing a hiker coming up the other direction with a 4 foot long stick held in front of him- he had just cleared all the spider webs for the rest of the race!
I paused at Bald Knob Overlook at mile 6.3-ish for a minute to switch bottles (aided by another helpful volunteer) and enjoy the view. It is one of the few locations where visibility is not blocked by all the foliage. After a short descent to a creek, I started a small climb and was surprised to hear voices behind me. I glanced back to see another runner, Jeff Dixon, inquiring of a volunteer how far ahead I was. Surprised to see someone within 15 seconds of me, it really lit a fire under me. I had twisted my ankle rather severely twice during my last run on this trail, but threw all caution to the wind and ran with abandon. Down a rutted, rooty, rocky, winding trail with obstacles and constant 18 inch dropoffs, I pushed hard and the footsteps behind me quickly faded. But I continued my kamikaze descent, especially once the grade and technicality mellowed. I put 2-3 minutes on Jeff in 3 miles. Reaching the road, I upped the pace to 5:30 speed, glancing back to make sure my competition was not in sight. I ran the final .75 hard, crossing the finish line to a large crowd of cheers (for a trail race) in 1:43:28. My garmin put the course just over 10 miles with 3300 ft climbing/descent, and I finished feeling great. 2nd place, Jeff, was 5 minutes back, having lost several more minutes on the road. Marci and the girls had driven up- I always love seeing them at the finish and appreciate their support. After enjoying the post-race snacks and talking with other runners, all of whom finished with a smile on their face (even the ones with blood and dirt on their knees), I took a quick shower in the nearby campground and spent the rest of the day with the family swimming, picnicing, playing, and hiking in the park (during which I discovered Kinley loves hiking and hates, **hates** to turn around without seeing “what’s up there on the trail”- she even caught her toe on a root and did a full Superman face plant but still insisted on hiking higher and higher). The hiking was particularly interesting as I rarely move at a walking pace on trails, so noticed many more details of the lush surroundings. Park maps suggest it takes 10+ hrs to cover what I ran in 90 minutes, so I substitute slow observation for mass quantity. Fun day.
I really enjoyed this race, and was very impressed with the organization for a first time event. The course is picturesque and challenging, the markings were great (loved the “-ish” mile markers), there were lots of enthusiastic volunteers, and the finish line was enjoyable. My only feedback would be that putting a course map and elevation profile on their website and having a poster-size copy at the start could have answered a lot of questions ahead of time and greatly reduced the time of the briefing. But, if it fits in my schedule for next year, I would sign up for this race again without hesitation and encourage the RD to start more like it.