5 min read

Rachel Carson Trail Challenge - 2018

Rachel Carson Trail Challenge - 2018

Back in June of 2018 I tackled a big race of mine for that year, the Rachel Carson Trail Challenge. The trail itself is a gem, but the event brings a whole different level of fun.

While I did take this on as a race last year, I won't make this much of a "race report" but more of a dive into some of the details that make the RCTC fun, challenging, and different with some data to back it up.


The Rachel Carson covers 36 miles of gnarly trail in an urban surrounding. Quite unique. The event is not actually a race but a challenge that takes place on the first Saturday after the summer solstice. There are some people that try to go as fast as possible and compete with one another for that first position (also known as a race), and others that hike the whole thing and enjoy the challenge of the trail. The hiking challenge is what the event started as, while the recent influx in trail and ultra running is likely what has caused more runners to take on the challenge.

Every year, the course switches directions. In 2018 it went from Harrison Hills Park to North Park, but will go the other way in 2019. In doing so, it changes the venue for the finishing picnic (both finishes are equally awesome) and the time at which the major hilly section comes up during the challenge (beginning or end).

Notice the roller coaster fun prior to mile 16

I think this course offers a perfect amount of stream crossings, fairly runnable sections, enjoyable technical ascents and descents, and well placed checkpoints (aka aid stations). An interesting thing to note is there is never an extremely long climb. Maybe some hills that close to 400-600 feet of vertical gain, but nothing over 1000'. What makes these climbs fun is they are short and steep and will really suck the energy out of your legs! Then once you're up you have to come back down.


Along the course, there are multiple aid stations/checkpoints to get some food, water, and check-in at. It's easy to get carried away with the amount of food to take, but I would suggest you probably shouldn't eat an entire meal.

The event's page has a good overview of how each aid station is spaced apart and the distances between. I wanted to map it with my own data, but can't figure out how to do that at this point. Instead, here's a link to this year's event page with a map.

What I am most interested in is which section of the course is the most daunting, will take the longest, and will hurt the most... all of those go hand-in-hand together.

Again, keep in mind, the year I am referencing for the RCTC is 2018 and the direction was Harrison Hills --> North Park. In 2019, the direction is reversed and the downhills become uphills.

Harrison Hills 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Bull Creek Road 7.3 7.3 1 1200 1480 8.4 -6.9
Agan Park 14.1 6.8 2 1728 1633 11.3 -9.4
Log Cabin Road 20.8 6.7 3 1118 1179 6.3 -8.7
Shaffer Run Road 28.1 7.3 4 1404 1301 7.9 -9.9
North Park 35.2 7.1 5 1146 890 6.3 -6.5

You can study the above table or digest the graph below to help understand some of the topographical challenges that lie and wait in each section. Each segment is has different memorable areas, and can be made, only worse really, by the amount of rain and number of feet that have covered the ground previously (potential for mud).

The hipster-deep-V

Personally, my favorite area is along the hipster-deep-V around Burtner Road. It's at mile ~5 on the graph above. It's a steep descent with some exposed shale that makes for sliding on the way down, then turns into some roots and mud to finish the downhill. Once across the road, it's a long uphill that can get really muddy!

What does this all tell you? Bull Creek to Agan Park will hurt your legs the most, up and down, and Shaffer Run to North Park should be the flattest and fastest (it was not for me since I was out of gas)! I am not a fan of the approach to Agan Park along the road (or leaving Agan Park in 2019) as the road is winding and with a narrow shoulder. Not much to do there but get through it as quick as possible while keeping an eye out for cars.

Personal Data

Since I ran this last year wearing my watch capturing all the data, I can plot a few more things that may or may not be interesting. This is more a reflection on how I performed and how I slowed down as the course beat me up. Basically I slowed down as time went on (thus why my HR slowly decreased) and my power (think of it as effort) also decreased but spiked during climbs.

There are other metrics that could be explored... but the real question is, should they be? The enjoyment of the challenge goes beyond what power meters, watches, and a few photos can capture, so its best to take it on for yourself. With that, enjoy a few snippets taken while out on some runs.