Race: Reach the Peaks on 9/27/2020. This wasn’t an actual race (self-timed, start on your own, keep track of your own progress, no official results) but more of an event/challenge. In 2018, I walked this with my friend VM, but the course was from the Dan River, I believe the Green Heron Ale House, up to the Hanging Rock, and back. 10 miles round trip.
This year’s was all 5 major peak in Hanging Rock State Park, beginning and ending at the lake parking lot, and hiking/running to Hanging Rock (peak #1), Wolf Rock (#2), House Rock (#3), Cook’s Wall (#4), and the big daddy of them all, Moore’s Knob (#5).
Goal: Test my fitness on a difficult course through one of my favorite state parks! I estimated that a 3 hour finish for the ten mile event would be excellent for me, and 3:15ish would be very good.
Gear: I wore my new Oiselle crop top, tank, and shorts, paired with the usual Smartwool socks and Altra running shoes. My Osprey day pack contained a Camelback bladder with 2 liters of water, the remainder of my Maurten carb drink (~12 oz), snacks (GU, Clif shot blocks), first aid and space blanket. I also had my phone, and trekking poles. In hindsight, I had way more water than I needed, but I’d rather be carrying extra pounds than going thirsty, though there were several “aid stations” with water and snacks along the way.
Gut: I carb-loaded slightly the day prior (extra serving of white rice) and that morning, just had a piece of toast with strawberry jam. I didn’t want to have any tummy troubles! While driving, I sipped on the Maurten 160 drink mix (“hydrogel sports fuel”) and later during the event, I alternated between GU, Clif shot blocks, and even had a Honey Stinger waffle.
Weather: A near perfect 61* and partly cloudy.
Pre-Race: We returned from the beach the day prior–not ideal for me, as I don’t like to have back-to-back events (or too much travel), but thanks to early bedtime, I felt rested and ready to run hard.
Woke up at 6, and since I had everything ready the night prior (yay me!), I was able to get on the road by 7ish. The race packet pickup was at Danbury’s The Arts Place, and didn’t open til 7:30. When I arrived, I wasn’t the first one there, so other eager beavers beat me to it 🙂 I filled out the waiver, got my race number, and was shortly driving up to the parking lot by the lake at Hanging Rock State Park.
I did a quick stretch, got my gear on, and pressed start on my Garmin watch at 7:47.
The Event: I knew the first portion of the course, from the parking lot area over to the Hanging Rock, would be small uphill by the lake, then flat, downhill, and WAY uphill. So I told myself, start easy, start slow. But my excitement, as per usual, got in the way, and I started strong. There were plenty of hikers in front of me, and I just wanted to pass them to have more space and be more alone in the woods. I did start walking when I hit the Hanging Rock trail’s steep uphill, but anytime it was flat or downhill, I ran. Most of the uphills made my heart rate spike, so I tried to conserve energy and just power-walk the uphills.
My Osprey backpack is an awesome day pack, but for running… not so much. The comfort is there, but the water sort of sloshed around, and the noise of the sloshing became irritating to me. Another reason not to run I suppose 😉 I might need to buy a vest for trail running, instead of using a daypack.
Several trail runners were already descending, as I got closer to the top of the Hanging Rock.
Peak #1–achieved! I took a one minute breather, took in the view, and got going again.
Back down the trail, took a left onto Wolf’s Rock trail. I had walked this with my friend SL back in May, so I thought of her and our wonderful hike that day.
I passed a few hikers, but was otherwise alone–in the past, it would scare me a little to be alone in the woods, but I guess with all my practice lately (hiking the PCT last year, all the highpointing this year) I had no fears, and really enjoyed the solitude and listening to the sounds of nature (and my breathing).
Peak #2, Wolf Rock, appeared quickly and easily (~30 min from Hanging Rock):
Onto peak #3, House Rock, less than 20 minutes down the trail. The day was cool, quiet, and the sun and clouds sparkled in the distance:
After House Rock, the trail gets steeper, and narrow in some sections. I continued to have a blast, chugging along and enjoying all the views. I think my usual day-to-day life (sitting at the computer, working from home, with multiple interruptions from the family and the pets) provided a juxtaposition to this day’s steady motion, motoring along through the woods, focused on one task–reaching the 5 peaks of Hanging Rock.
The trails at Hanging Rock are well-marked with various colored blazes, so I never felt lost. I had both the map from the event, and a map saved to my phone. Plus, I had memorized the turns so I wouldn’t miss any!
On the 2nd of 3 out-and-back sections (the Hanging Rock section was the first), I saw the same trail runners coming back. It was comforting to see familiar faces, and I felt like we were all rooting for each other.
I came to peak #4, Cook’s Wall, less than 20 minutes after leaving House Rock. I would say I enjoyed this section the most of the entire event. It was new to me, and the views at Cook’s Wall were absolutely spectatular:
I chatted with a few guys while I took my only real “break” of the day, about 4 minutes to eat my Honey Stinger waffle. I knew that peak #5, Moore’s Knob, was going to be difficult climbing, and also it was several miles away.
I would say the other 4 peaks constitute “part 1” of this event, and the Moore’s Knob section was “part 2.” I was at 1 hour, 40 minutes at this point, 5 miles in, and had the most arduous climb left.
But first, to descend about 500 feet.
I found the turn to Chesnut Oak trail easily, and spent the next two miles descending. I followed the race markers, which pointed the way up to the campground area. I laughed to myself, thinking that many of the campers still laid in their tents and campers, sleeping, while I had been awake for hours, and already covered 7 miles of rocky, mountainous terrain. Such is the satisfaction of early morning runs.
The trail stems off the camping loop’s pavement, and I was back to familiar territory–Moore’s Wall Loop Trail. I hadn’t been up here since the meteor-shower spectating with the boys back in August (and that blog post is unfortunately still in draft form!) The trail first goes down some steps, to a small stream, then it’s up–and up and up!
My trekking poles became essential, as I struggled up the very vertical trail. My heart rate climbed as well, so I had to take several mini-breathers. I long for the day that my aerobic system is so good, I can just power up a mountain like this one, without struggling to breathe. This mile felt long, very strenuous, and I experienced so much joy and relief when finally reaching the top!
The time from Cook’s Wall to Moore’s Knob: 1 hour, 13 minutes. Whew! No wonder I was spent. At least the final portion was mostly downhill.
Again, my trekking poles saved me (this time, saving my ankles and knees), so I was able to descent pretty quickly to the campground. I passed a lot of hikers, many who asked, How far to the top? I didn’t want to lead them to believe it was an easy climb (nor crush them!), so I said, it’s quite a bit of hard climbing. I felt so accomplished to have the 5 peaks behind me!
Back to the campground, back down the hill, crossed the little creek that feeds into Hanging Rock Park Lake, ran alongside the lake (after answering a few ladies’ question on the route–they had missed the turn up to the campground), and up and down a final few little dips/hill. I did my best to sprint in to the final “finish line.” Virtually no one was around, so when I crossed in 3 hour, 19 minutes, and change, I had to cheer for myself. WOW, that was hard, but so much fun–an exhilarating Sunday adventure!
I gave my body a huge THANKS, since I had no pain in my feet or legs–just soreness from the 2,500 feet of climbing 🙂
I had a volunteer take my photo:
I took a few selfies, forgot to stretch per usual, and was on the way to get my patch and free ice cream, back at the Stokes Art Place.
This patch was hard-earned, but felt so amazing to get, after several years of thinking about this event.
The chocolate peanut butter ice cream was the icing on the cake of this trail run/hike/climb to the 5 peaks of Hanging Rock State Park!
Results: No official results for this one, only my Garmin results, and my hand-written times on the Reach the Peaks pamplet.
Recommend: Yes! This was such a fun adventure for me. Three hours in the woods and mountains is just what I need to feel at peace with life right now. I love being out in nature, and Hanging Rock State Park seems to be my happy place. Will definitely look to run this again.
Next Up: Not a lot of events going on this year (only virtual)… so next up is the Peachtree 10K, on Thanksgiving Day, which was rescheduled from the 4th of July in Atlanta.