Monday, June 17, 2013

Race Report: Mt. Greylock Trail Race

Mt Greylock image from

Any day that you get to run over a mountain is a good day in my book.  Back in my carefree/jobless days, running (or run-hiking) mountains was my favorite activity.  I figured it was time to see if I can run one fast.  So, yesterday I trekked to the Commonwealth's highest peak, 3488' Mt. Greylock, meeting Matt and Aaron for the Greylock Trail Race, 13.5 miles up and then gradually down the mountain.

At 1200', the staring line sat nearly 2300' below the summit at mile 3.  After a jostling start to get position on the narrow trail, I picked my way upwards in about 5th place, with Matt and Aaron just behind.  The trail soon became steep and the pace was a crawl.  I'm a lousy downhill trail runner (bad footwork, bad ankles) so I took advantage of the climb to bank some time, taking over the lead about 5 minutes in with the eventual race winner, Derek Jakoboski.  Nice guy, this Derek was, and we pushed hard, mostly working together and taking a few power-hiking breaks where running seemed silly.  I had no delusions of winning this race-- if I had, I'd have needed to put several minutes on everybody on the climb.  Reaching the summit (and mile 3) in 33:30, I told Derek to head on down without me, that I was a bad downhill runner; I don't think he believed me until I started down at mile 3+.  He bombed past me like a cannonball at a pace I couldn't fathom given the terrain.  I picked my way down, content to see if the time cushion I'd gained on the 3rd place runner (Stephen Granger-Bevan) would hold up.  Derek had said something like "I can't believe we made the climb before him, he's a seriously fast guy", so I wasn't surprised when Stephen caught me a mile later on some rough downhill.  (He won 7 Sisters this year.) Content to battle down the mountain in 3rd, I was happy with my footwork until about the 1 hour mark (no mile markers) where I slipped in a stream crossing and sprained my left ankle.  I sat down for a few seconds, gauging whether this was the annual Ligament Tearing Event that I'm infamous for, or just a (rare) mild sprain.  I walked for a minute or two; jogged for a few minutes; and was back up to 90% race-pace after about half a mile.  Clearly it wasn't too bad, but I'd lost at least 2-3 minutes already.  This would matter quite a bit very shortly, because Matt passed me.  I told him I was a bit hurt, and yelled "Go get 'em, but when the trail flattens out I'm gonna hammer back to you".  I wasn't sure I could hammer at all with the ankle sprain, but I did manage to get him around 1 hr 10 minutes, after the worst of the technical descent.

Battling your friend and training partner over the last 34 minutes of a race is a rather equal fight because you know each other's weaknesses.  My achilles wasn't bothering me at all and my ankle was holding up, so I pressed hard, probably sub-6 minute pace on the flats to catch him.  We ran together for a few minutes before I pulled away, putting a 30-second gap on him at about 1 hr 25 min.  I surged a bit on the flats and held my ground on the downhills, making sure to land flat on my bad ankle.  I maintained this for perhaps 10 minutes, until 1 hr 35 min.  Matt and I both assumed we'd run 1:40 or faster, so we thought this was the final battle, and I thought I had this in the bag.  3rd isn't 1st, but beating Matt on the trails would be a coux for me, so I was dismayed as hell to find that we still had a mile+ to go, all of which was downhill.  We hadn't figured that the course-- being wetter than the ocean-- would be slow this year and that we wouldn't run 1:40...therefore we were not very near the finish. Matt blew past me like a wrecking ball and I hung onto him with as much fast footwork as I could muster.  We arrived at what was clearly about 200 meters to go, Matt having a 5 second advantage, and me closing.  Then The Dog arrived.

The narrow trail was about to open into the finishing field, and the finish line was 100 meters beyond this point.  Matt had a few good strides on me; my ankle was swollen; but my legs felt good and I gathered for a final sprint.  The Dog, as we'll call him, was a big boy, and he was excited to see us.  He slipped his collar and chased Matt down the narrow trail towards the finish.  When he stopped in his tracks, I collided with him at top speed, sending us both tumbling, and me cursing.  (The owner was very nice and apologized profusely.) I got up and limped in for 4th place in 1:44 and change. Years from now I'll probably say "I would have beaten him", but really, I'd give Matt 60/40 odds in that sprint, so no complaints here.

Pros: 1) great course 2) I don't suck at trails anymore 3) Without the ankle roll I *may* have been in contention for 1st or 2nd, as the winner was 3 min ahead of me at the finish. (Though I imagine, if challenged, those guys would have outrun me on the downhills near the finish, as they did up top.)

Cons--1) My footwork is still bad enough that I get hurt trying to keep up with these guys.

Go hike this mountain, it's great!! Until next time....


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