Can You Conquer the Rock? Try This Tough Trail-Race Climb

Can you Conquer the Rock? This trail race held in South Carolina's Table Rock State Park has some epic views and challenging vert. 
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And it has all the feels of a small-town, grassroots trail running event. 

  • The 2024 25K Bear Crawl trail race had 134 finishers.
  • The Foothills 50K trail race (two laps of the 25k course) had 67.
  • 4 runners completed the “Dare You Double,” running the 50K Saturday and 25K Sunday. 

I opted for the 25k, which began at 8 a.m. on March 3, 2024, from the Pinnacle Pavilion.

While South Carolina is hardly local for me, I love finding:

  • Highly recommended
  • Well-established
  • Locally-run trail race events
  • And filling the days before and after with fun family activities exploring the region

Even better if the family road trip encompasses a grueling gem of a race like Conquer the Rock.
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Here's what happened...

Author leading a pack at the beginning of the race (Jay Baker Media)

Conquer the Rock is a must-do trail race for anyone seeking:

  • A mostly challenging, rigorous, technical course 
  • With lots of vertical gain and equal descent (see below for specs)
  • Full of boulders and hands-and-knees scrambling
  • With waterfalls and creeks
  • Single track consisting of brown dirt, rock, roots and some classic slick southern red dirt
  • Excellent course markings 
  • An extraordinarily FUN downhill single track finish (great for making up for slow splits on the climbs)
  • An easy, flat, approximately two to 2.5-mile pavement start (also great for making up for slow splits on the climbs/ technical portions)
  • With magnificent above-the-clouds views on two mountain tops (Table Rock and Pinnacle)
  • And a festive start/finish area 
Elevation profile for the Conquer the Rock 25k Bear Crawl

Race specs & course details for the 25K

  • 4,066 feet of elevation gain (that’s an average of 265 feet per mile)
  • 4,077 feet of descent
  • 15.32 miles, according to my Garmin fenix 6s Pro Solar sports watch
  • The climbing begins gradually…
  • The very steep and technical section begins sometime in mile four, where racers summit Table Rock, do an out and back, and turn around to come back down
  • By about mile 10 (more or less), racers begin climbing up to Pinnacle Rock
  • The course ends with about a four-mile descent that starts off technical and becomes less and less so as you get closer to the finish
  • Racers turn right off the trail to run up a very short (40 yard?) paved hill to the finish
A long technical section in the first half of the race

Most favorite & difficult parts of Conquer the Rock

Favorite part of the Conquer the Rock 25k Bear Crawl
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Three things:

  • The long descent to the finish, when I ran stride for stride with race buddy Philip right behind me, pushing each other to the finish
  • The views 
  • The laughably arduous climbs

Most difficult part

  • High steps, like the ones up the exceptionally technical middle section, can sometimes aggravate my recovered yet sensitive frayed hip labrums
  • Pace yourself. So I had to be careful not to overdo it and take the steps too quickly or with too much force. 
  • Crawl if you have to. I managed by using my hands to get up and over the boulders and by taking small, gentle steps as much as I could, sacrificing speed and propulsion for physical health and safety. 
  • Be patient. Taking the high steps delicately and slowly worked: I had zero post-race pelvic pain. Not to mention the 100 PT exercises I do on a daily basis for labral issues! 

😎Conquer the Rock trail race weather in 2024

  • 50 degrees, misty and cloudy at the start 
  • Sunny after a few miles
  • Sun glaring down on me on the mile-10 climb 
  • 60s and sunny at the finish 
  • 89 percent humidity 
Around mile four or five on the climb up to Table Rock

😭The trail-race fueling surprise

Twenty minutes pre-race, the bite valve of my two-liter hydration reservoir got pinched in the car door and drained itself completely of my CarboRocket 333 Half Evil All-in-One Endurance Drink mix.
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For three seconds, I silently panicked...

  • Then I ran to the check-in area to see what liquid fuel source was available. 
  • A volunteer pointed to the five-gallon dispenser of Lemon Tailwind Endurance Fuel.
  • First thought: Tailwind is what Courtney Daulwater uses, it’s gotta be good!
  • Second thought: Does it have caffeine? What if there’s too much caffeine?! 

But it was too late to fret over details.
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It was Tailwind or nothing, so I filled the two-liter reservoir and prayed for the best.
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Thankfully, it worked well and tasted good. I’ll probably start using it regularly!
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I also consumed:

  • a mini Larabar 
  • four squares of dark chocolate
Topo Ultraventure 3 trail running shoes, women, size 7.5

Testing out the Topo Ultraventure 3

Not only did I use a new fuel, albeit inadvertently, I also wore a brand new pair of shoes, intentionally: 

Racing in a completely new-to-me make and model of shoe?!

  • Risky, I know. 
  • Against a major golden rule of racing, I get it. 
  • Sometimes, though, rules are meant to be broken. Besides, I ran two miles in them the day prior, so I wasn’t going in completely blind.
  • Nor am I prone to blisters or hot spots. 
  • Plus, from the first moment my feet slid into them, they were OH SO COMFORTABLE, like the Altra Lone Peaks but with more cushion and support. 

And guess what?
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Throughout the race, the Ultraventures felt comfortable and performed well on both the extremely technical ups and the super steep, rocky downs, as well as the (very few) flats.
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I’m looking forward to covering more miles in them!

Turning off the trail portion to finish (Photo/ Grey Harder)

Why I chose the Conquer the Rock trail race

  • Friends recommended it.
  • It didn’t overlap with our son’s extracurriculars. 
  • It was a good excuse to visit friends in Asheville, a city near and dear to my heart. 

And once upon a time when my boys were very young, I had the idea of running a race or Fastest Known Time in every U.S. state. 

  • This one gave me South Carolina, making it the 10th state in which I’ve run a race. 
  • I’m not sure if I have that goal anymore, but it sure is fun to take our kids to new places. 

Things I’d do differently

  • Maybe I could’ve shaved some time by not fumbling with my phone to take photos. 
  • Nah… I’d still take photos. 
  • Perhaps if I ever run it again, I’ll skip the pics. 
  • On another note, I may forever bring my bags of fuel to every single start line.
Author finished second place female at the Bear Crawl 25K Conquer the Rock trail race series.
Author, far right (Photo/ Eric Harder)

Bear Crawl 25K trail race results

  • Place: Second overall female 
  • Time: 3:20:02

Said the race director as he lovingly announced the podium: “...second female, at the ripe old age of 41…” 
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Thank you for the compliment - chalk one up for middle-aged moms! 

Post-race high (Photo/ Grey Harder)

Trail race training tips from a middle-aged mom

For anyone interested in how a full-time working middle-aged mom trains for something like Conquer the Rock 25k, here is a brief, undetailed outline:
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January:

  • 12 days of running, three to 8.25 miles
  • 12 days of backcountry and cross country skiing, one to four hours
  • 6 days of strength training with weights, 15 to 60 minutes 
  • 2 days of snowshoe running 
  • 2-day family backpacking trip
  • 1 day of ice skating with kids
  • 31 days of some combination of yoga, mobility and/or meditation, 15 to 90 minutes 

February:

  • 18 days of running, three to 12.4 miles (all but one run on trails)
  • 8 days of strength training with weights, 15 to 60 
  • 2 days of backcountry skiing
  • 1 mountain bike/trail run duathlon 
  • 1 mountain bike ride
  • 1 four-on-four basketball game 
  • 1 coed, all ages 45-minute dodgeball game
  • 29 days of some combination of yoga, mobility and/or meditation, 15 to 90 minutes 

Three days before the race: 

  • 45-minute early morning weight training
  • 7-hour drive to Asheville, N.C., with husband and sons (ages six and 10)

Two days before the race: 

One day before the race:

Trail race swag

Racers receive: 

  • Socks 
  • Finisher's medal
  • A bag of protein powder (I opted out)
  • Stickers 
  • Post-race pancakes (I opted out) 
  • Tailwind at the start if needed - thank you!!! I was saved from a terrible race, bonk, panic attack and/or DNS because of this!
  • An optional t-shirt with additional purchase at race registration (I opted in)
Conquer the Rock T-shirt.

Final thoughts on Conquer the Rock trail race series

If you live within driving distance, run this race. 
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If you’re looking for a fun city to explore, stay in Asheville, N.C. - it’s only 65 minutes north of Table Rock State Park, S.C. 
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Thank you to all the kind and supportive volunteers and staff.
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Congratulations to all the runners who Conquered the Rock!

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Brynn Cunningham
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41 Followers
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Trail runner, ultrarunner, white water boater, cyclist (mostly MTB), swimmer, triathlete, cross country and backcountry skier...

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