Conquer the Rock 2024: Foothills 50K Race Report

The trail up Table Rock is brutal, rocky, and steep. The trail up Pinnacle Mountain is relentless and deceptive. Combine both trails into a loop, then do it twice, and you have the Foothills 50k: one of the toughest 50k’s in the southeast.

This past weekend, on Saturday March 2, 2024, I ran the Foothills 50k – a trail ultra that is part of the Conquer the Rock race series held at Table Rock State Park in South Carolina the first weekend of March. It’s a beautiful and brutal race put on by the South Carolina Ultra Marathon Club. This was my second time running the Foothills 50k. I last ran it 2 years ago back in 2022.

This post is my race recap (Strava link). I’ll cover the course and my race day experience. Let’s start talking about the course.

Foothills 50k Course

The route for this year’s race was a little different and longer than the 2022 route. There were three major differences between the routes:

  1. The 2024 course included the trail looping around Pinnacle Lake, the 2022 route did not.
  2. The 2024 course included the relatively new Mountain Laurel Trail, connecting the Pinnacle Mountain trail back to the pavilion serving as race HQ and eliminating about a mile of asphalt. The 2022 route made it’s way back to the pavilion by following the asphalt road from the Table Rock trailhead back to the pavilion.
  3. Lastly, the 2024 course was run effectively in the opposite direction as the 2022 course, summiting Table Rock first, then heading up Pinnacle Mountain before descending back down to the park.

These changes push the course up closer to the actual 50k mark while the prior course was a couple miles short of the 50k distance. In addition, the new route includes less asphalt, which is always a win for a trail race. The new route has perhaps 3 miles of total asphalt while the prior route had closer to 5 miles.

In describing the course, I would break it into four sections:

  1. Park roads and the Pinnacle Lake loop
  2. Table Rock out-and-back
  3. Table Rock to Pinnacle
  4. Descent from Pinnacle

Let’s take each in turn.

Miles 0-3: Park Roads and the Pinnacle Lake Loop

The first three miles of the race are the most runnable. The course starts at the campground pavilion. From the start, you first run the campground loop itself and then head into the park until you reach the trailhead for the Pinnacle Lake Loop.

Pinnacle Lake with boats in the foreground.
A view of Pinnacle Lake near the end of the lake loop trail.

The loop around Pinnacle Lake is about a mile and a half and is basically entirely runnable. There is a little elevation change, but the climbs are short. The trail is in decent shape and you can make good time while keeping your effort in check.

Water falling down the spillway at the end of Pinnacle Lake
The Pinnacle Lake spillway, visible as you complete the lake loop.

Miles 3-9: Table Rock Out-and-Back

At the end of the Pinnacle Lake loop the course heads across the road and up Table Rock. The first little bit of the route is a mix of running and power hiking, but by mile 5 or so all but the elite will be relegated to a power hike.

Sign for the Table Rock summit noting the elevation and GPS coordinates.

The climb up Table Rock is absolutely brutal. The trail is largely composed of boulders that you have to climb up and over – at times stepping up 2 feet or more. There are short sections that are so steep you’ll be on all fours. There are open face rock sections that may be wet and slippery.

A wet rock face with steps cut in.
One of the sketchier parts of the climb up Table Rock.

About 7.5-8 miles into the course you’ll mercifully reach the lookout point on Table Rock which serves as the turnaround for the Table Rock out-and-back. From the turn around point you’ll head back down Table Rock until you reach a fork in the trail at around the 9 mile point. The left fork goes back down the way you came up, the right fork goes over to Pinnacle Mountain. You’ll go right up Pinnacle.

Miles 9-11: Table Rock to Pinnacle

The climb up Pinnacle is hard, but not nearly as technical and brutal as the climb up Table Rock. The trail is mostly dirt and fairly smooth, much more conducive to power hiking at a reasonably quick clip. At times the trail gets quite steep, so don’t sleep on this section, it’s hard, but after climbing Table Rock the climb up Pinnacle provides a little relief.

The one thing that makes the climb up Pinnacle a bit demoralizing is that there are several false summits as you make the climb. At three or four points it looks like you’re reaching the summit, but upon cresting the climb you’ll see yet another higher summit further on and keep right on climbing.

Pinnacle summit sign showing the elevation and GPS coordinates

Finally, with little warning, you’ll find yourself summiting Pinnacle Mountain, the second highest peak in the state. From the summit you are rewarded with four miles of near-constant downhill leading back to race headquarters.

Miles 11-15.5(ish): Descent from Pinnacle

The first two miles coming off of Pinnacle Mountain are very steep. Runners who are strong technical downhill runners will be able to make good time. However, most runners will need 13 to 20 minutes per mile due to the steepness and loose trail condition. Loose dirt, leaves, sticks, and rocks making for somewhat treacherous conditions coming off the peak.

The best views on Pinnacle Mountain can be seen from a rock face about a half mile down from the summit.

Eventually things smooth out. The trails become much more packed and the grades become much more gradual. The last two miles of the course are extremely runnable if you’ve saved your legs.

Miles 15.5-31: Do It All Again

Finish the loop. Head into the pavilion to refill on fuel and fluids. Then leave comfort and run right by your parked car to head out for round two.

There’s a reason the Foothills 50k has a high drop rate. It’s very hard to voluntarily opt-in for round two when you could very easily hop in your car and go grab a burger instead.

My Raceday Experience

I drove up to Table Rock State Park with my running buddy Alex. I left home at 5:30 AM. We arrived at 7 AM and had plenty of time to get checked-in and ready to go by the 8 AM start.

Three runners ready to start the race.
Me, my running buddy Alex, and Alex’ sister. Ready to go!

The race started at 8 AM on the dot and away we went!

Back in 2022 I took things out way to fast, blew up, and the second loop was absolute misery. This year I was focused on keeping things controlled during the first loop. While I definitely worked very hard during the first loop, I did a better job of pacing.

The day started very cloudy and the turnaround point at the end of the Table Rock trail offered surreal views of mountain top islands floating in a sea of clouds.

Distant mountain tops poking above low lying clouds

I moved steadily but controlled throughout the first loop. I reached the Pinnacle summit feeling strong and made good time on the four mile downhill back down to race HQ.

I started the second loop feeling great but forced myself to keep the first few miles controlled as I ran the road section and loop around Pinnacle Lake. I knew the second time climbing up Pinnacle Mountain would be difficult so I tried to save what energy I could for this crucial part of the race.

The second climb up Table Rock proved to be as difficult as expected. I progressed slower than my first time up the mountain, yet was working much harder than I was during the first climb. However, I kept things steady and kept moving forward and managed to complete the climb in decent shape.

By the time I reached the summit of Table Rock I was pretty spent and as I approached the turn around my foot caught on a root and I went down hard. Thankfully, I managed to find one of the few clear sections of trail to take my fall and only collected a small scrape and bruise to my right knee. I took the fall as a warning and really picked my feet up for the rest of the race.

My knee with a small scrape and some dirt collected during a fall.

My pacing and fueling strategies (more on fueling in a bit) paid off and I continued to feel strong as I made my way over to Pinnacle for the second time. During the second climb up Table Rock and during this stretch I managed to pick off several runners who were struggling to varying degrees. I can say from experience that passing folks late in the race is way more fun than watching a steady stream of runners go by late in the race as I did during Cloudland Canyon 50k a couple of months back.

During the latter half of the race the skies also cleared and the views from Table Rock and during the descent from Pinnacle were amazing.

Table Rock in the distance
Looking back at Table Rock from Pinnacle Mountain

In the second half of the race my left knee started to tighten up during the descents and during the long descent from Pinnacle it became a little bit of an issue, particularly on the first half of the descent where grades are pretty extreme. During the last two miles of the run I was dealing with modest knee pain but felt strong and was able to open up my stride a bit and make decent time.

I came across the finish line moving well at 7:53:21. Good enough for 25th overall out of 67 finishers (and 92 starters as there were 25 DNFs).

My Race Nutrition Strategy

During this race I relied entirely on Precision Fuel and Hydration products. I took in 6 of their big-ass 90 gram gels, two 30 gram caffeinated gels, and eight packets of the 500 PH electrolyte drink mix. If you do the math, that means I took in about 744 grams of carbs (90 gram gels x 6, 30 gram gels x 2, 18 gram drink mixes x 8) in just under 8 hours, or about 93 grams of carbs per hour. That translates to around 3,000 calories.

That’s a lot of carbs and a lot of calories. I managed to get this much down by putting drink mix in nearly all my liquids and by taking down carbs in gel form every 30 minutes all race long.

This is also way more than I’ve ever managed to get down in any prior race and I think this was a huge part in why I found myself putting down some of my fastest miles of the day during the last 3 miles of the race.


This is a great race. I really love it. It’s a true test of trail running experience, skill, race strategy, and strength. It’s beautiful and brutal and a little bit crazy, and I can’t get enough. I’ll be back.

I’m really pleased with how my day went. I have had a lot of injury issues over the last year, so my training wasn’t as strong or consistent as I would have hoped. I still managed to run strong and improve my pace-per-mile by 30 seconds compared with my 2022 race at a time when I was much more fit than I am today. So all-in-all, for me, the 2024 Foothills 50k was an unqualified win and I offer my unqualified recommendation that you check it out if you want to suffer in the southeast the first weekend of March 2025.

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