I have been thinking about going out to Table Rock State Park and running the trails there for a while now. It’s a beautiful park that’s only about 40 minutes from my house and the trails there form a triangle, perfect for running a loop. Seems I’m not the only one to notice this, the Xterra Trail Run Series is holding a race there on August 20th.
I’ve been out to the park before and hiked the Pinnacle Trail a couple of times. For some reason I had never actually hiked the Table Rock trail. So, while my son was here last week we hiked it. I wanted to see just what I might be getting into. It’s a fairly short trail, about 3.5 miles to the summit. It’s the 1700 feet of elevation change that makes it challenging. I took a couple of pictures while we were hiking, if you haven’t been out to the park I hope they give you a taste of what it’s like.
So, after having hiked the Table Rock trail i figured I’d give running the loop a try. Friday morning I had to drop my wife off early at work for a conference and this worked out perfectly to allow me to get to the park just as it opened. With the temperature near 80 degrees at 5:30 in the morning I knew I had to get out there early. When I arrived I had to wait a few minutes for the park Ranger to show up and open the gates and I followed him in. I parked near the trail head and geared up; Hand bottle with electrolyte mix, Nathan bladder with water, a few GU’s, and phone with armband for music and GPS tracking(track here).
The start of the trail has a combination of asphalt sections and rock stairs. This leads you past the waterfall pictured above. Both the Table Rock and Pinnacle Mountain Trails follow along the Carrick Nature Trail for a short ways(map here). The first mile or so is pretty easy as far as trail runs go, clear wide paths, gentle elevation change. There is enough room on this part of the trail for two people to run side by side. Almost as soon as you depart from the Carrick Trail this all starts to change.
The Table Rock Trail begins to gain elevation and narrow pretty quickly. For most of the rest of the run the trail is close to single track but with lots of places where one could pass another runner. Most of the elevation gain on this trail happens in the next 2 miles, about 1500 feet. I found very few runable stretches on the way up of any significant distance. I found myself using the short stretches of somewhat flat trail to catch my breath for the next set of rock stairs. For this run I took a left onto the Ridge Trail at Panther Gap instead of the right that would have taken me to the summit of Table Rock.
The Ridge Trail continues to climb from Panther Gap. This section is not nearly as well traveled and is very much single track through the woods. As I passed the crest of the ridge I was able to pick up the pace and run more as I headed down into Mill Creek Pass. Being the first person out that way of the day I was treated to many spider webs across the trail and encountered a couple of snakes as well (nothing poisonous). When I arrived at the trail junction for Mills Creek cutoff I took it. I was pretty tired already and knew I still had a ways to go to get back. This very narrow path brought me down to the Pinnacle Mountain Trail in short order.
The Pinnacle Mountain Trail is a bit longer than the Table Rock Trail and the elevation change is not nearly so dramatic. As a result there are far fewer rock stairs and much more runable. Not too fear, there are plenty of rocks and roots on this trail to trip you up. I managed to keep myself to only one faceplant and a couple near misses. By this point I was pretty darn tired. The relatively cool morning mist had burned off and the temp was rising. This kept me moving forward. Near the end of this trail and along the other side of the Carrick Trail the trail crosses back and forth over a stream several times. There are large rocks and a couple of foot bridges to get you across dry for the most part.
The run came in at just over 7 miles in 2 hours with 1700 feet of elevation. Since the Xterra race is a 15K, or 9.3 mile race, I didn’t cover the exact course. As of now I cannot find a published course, but I can guess. If I had continued on the Ridge Trail all the way to Pinnacle Mountain I think I would have added about a mile and some change to my route. On top of that i have to assume that the race will not start right at the trail head as this would be way too cramped a trail to try that on. So, I’m guessing that the race will start and finish about a quarter mile from the trail head and include the Pinnacle Mountain portion I omitted.
I’m still on the fence about running this race. It is billed as “South Carolina’s Toughest 15k.” There is no doubt about that in my mind. I’m hurting from my shorter version of this course. Registration is still open for 12 more days, so I’ll think about it.