Monday, August 19, 2013

2013 Savoy Mountain Trail Race

After two unplanned, family emergency trips to MDI in one week (it's a 6-7 hour drive, one way), it's nice to be back in the Berkshires now. Or the foothills of the Berkshires. Or wherever one wants to conceive of Williamsburg being. Time to get back in the groove of race photo shoots and training for my first 50K ultra (only one month to go until Pisgah!).

Jen and I got home around 2 AM on Saturday night and then got up about 4 hours later to make the relatively quick drive out to Savoy for the Savoy Mountain Trail Races. I did the long course (15.7 miles) and Jen did the short course (4.6 miles). The longer one is part of WMAC's annual Grand Tree Trail Race Series. The route was new this year. I'd never run it in the past so I can't compare directly, but in my opinion this new route made for a really fantastic race. There's a hand-drawn map of it posted here.

The first few miles of singletrack near South Pond were the hardest for me, as there's a lot of roots and a bunch of those little low, cut-stump knobs that hurt like hell when you inadvertently kick them. It wasn't all that difficult and the ascents were fairly gentle, but you have to be very mindful of each step or you're likely gonna end up doing a painful mid-race faceplant. I was surprised that many of the intersections were completely unmarked, reminding me of some of the more confounding junctions in the Holyoke Range. This could be a tough race to scout out before it's flagged. 

After the first water station (at mile 2.7), the climbing got a little steeper but it was still pretty manageable and no one walked. A guy I was running near joked that it was "too runnable" and he'd like to rest a little bit by hiking some on the climbs. I mentioned that the trail reminded me of the nearby Monroe-Dunbar trail race, except the climbing was less brutal since it doesn't come in one giant 3-4 mile ascent; he said he'd been thinking exactly the same thing. During this section, the lead woman runner put the rest of us to shame on the downhills. She was so incredibly fast and surefooted, she'd zip right past us and disappear ahead while I much more carefully placed each footstep, not wanting to roll my frustratingly weak left ankle again.

At one low spot, a few foot-wide wooden stumps dotted the way through a mud puddle, as if daring a runner to test the slipperyness of their flat surfaces. I took the bait and promptly slid off, nearly tweaking a groin muscle as my shoe splooshed way deeper into the mud than it would have otherwise. Lesson learned? Probably not.

Just after the second aid station, at mile 5.4, the trail briefly gets MUCH steeper for the final ascent of Spruce Hill (2,566 ft.) and I even used my hands a little bit. Then suddenly we popped out on the peak and there was a fantastic view out across the valley below to Mt. Greylock. I'd been climbing next to the lead woman and she pointed along the rest of the Hoosac Ridge to the south and commented how sweet it would be to just go that way and keep running. No argument there. There were a few more vistas just to the north and then the trail plunged back into the woods again. 

The next 5 miles of the race were by far my favorite part. The course follows the Hoosac Range trail for 2.5 miles to a parking area on Route 2, where you then turn around and come back. There are fun rises and falls along the way but the footing seemed significantly better (with far fewer mid-trail roots) and for the most part it's very runnable. Even the grade along the mile-long drop down to Route 2 was gradual enough to make for both a very pleasant descent and mostly runnable ascent. The trail junctions in this section were all well-marked, too. There's a nice map here on the BNRC website.

It was nice to pass the competition in front of and behind me coming the other way in this section. Everyone was really good about making way for each other, even in the narrower spots. By the time I'd gotten back to the mile 11 aid station I was all alone. The guys handing out water and snacks there said there was a sizable pulse of runners just ahead of me but I never saw them again. My energy levels flagged slightly in the next section and my sweat-drenched t-shirt began to chafe around my neckline a little bit, but for the most part I felt pretty good. My lack of training the week before didn't hurt me too badly, it seemed. 

The final 1.9 miles from the last aid station are almost entirely downhill, with one short climb in the middle. This section is roughly divided into two parts: a roller-coaster descent of steep, smooth ledges and gravelly flats along Old Florida Road and a longer, more soft-footed descent along the lower part of the Blackburnian Trail. The race eventually finishes at a slight incline along the road into the North Pond beach area. My final time was 2 hours and 55 minutes, good for a mid-pack 26th place finish (out of 66 runners).

Afterwards we took a refreshing dip in the pond and enjoyed a bite at the amazingly bountiful post-race pot-luck barbeque. To anyone who ran this race in the past and got turned off by the mud of Tyler Swamp or the lack of sweet ridge running, definitely give it a try again in 2014; the new course is aces!

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