Sunday, October 21, 2012

Mt. Toby Trail Run 2012

This was a really nice trail race on an excellent mix of terrain types, with many minor hills and one really big (~2 mile) climb. And it starts only about 25 minutes up the road from me. I felt fantastic almost the whole way, and it was absolutely ideal weather for a fall trail race. There were fewer competitors than I'd have expected, but there was a flat 5K just down the road that drew hundreds of runners, so it's not too surprising.

The start is at a small pavilion area in a wooded town park in Sunderland. It's all nicely low-key. Everyone gathers together and before you know it you're off, flying down the dirt access road. After a short stint (maybe half a mile) on a paved road, you head back into the woods on a well-shaded jeep road and just keep steadily climbing.

Some sections were rather muddy, but in general the course was pretty dry and easy to navigate. All the turns are well marked, which is a good thing because (much like in the Holyoke Range just to the south) there are quite a few unsigned intersections along the way. As you cruise along, the bulk of Mt. Toby looms off to your right and occasionally pops into view through the trees.

Several miles into the race, the route transitions onto a narrower, single-track hiking trail, and soon you go up and over "Cranberry Ridge," a low northern spur of Mt. Toby. On the other side, you pop out onto a wide dirt road and abruptly turn south (it's probably easier if you just look at a course map). You stay on this dirt road all the way to the summit (it's the access road for the fire tower there). It stays mostly flat for about a mile, with a few gentle rollers, but then you start to climb the mountain. I slowed to a fast hike on the two steepest grades, but only for about a minute each. I tagged the summit fence somewhere around 59 minutes in.

After chugging several very welcome cups of water offered by a volunteer, I started back down. Initially, I passed a pulse of people on the final part of their climb and nodded to each and said "good run" and such. I was surprised how quickly that crowd thinned out, though. I guess this race really doesn't seem to attract that many slower runners. Anyway, the descent: it's very easy to get going really fast here, and the steepest parts put you in slight danger of falling off the planet. I trusted in the training, though, and thankfully my quads caught me every time (it's so easy to imagine a face-plant happening here, though). One girl passed me at lightning speed just before the bottom, but I caught her again on the flats. After that, I passed a few more people and then fell in line behind an older guy who was going almost exactly the pace I wanted to be going. I ended up being right behind him for over a mile. I felt like I should pass, but I couldn't quite muster the energy at first. When finally I did, I think it was more because he slowed slightly than anything else. I apologized to him at the finish. Weird little etiquette quirks we runners feel.

The best part was realizing I felt good in the final miles and just opening it up some more and flying along trails through the woods. I remember smiling and thinking "this really is what it's all about." I caught a few more runners before the end and finished feeling really strong at 1:56:51.

One minor quibble with the race direction: the website said FIVE water stations but there were only three (at miles 2, 7, and 12), and they didn't tell us that at the start. Not having those waters at miles 5 and 9 was a fairly big oversight, especially since they would have helped with prep and recovery from the big hill climb portion. Oh, also, the website said that restrooms would be available at the Town Park where the start/finish is. Guess what what wasn't available at the Town Park? Hello, woods...

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Monroe Dunbar Brook Trail Race 2012

I loved this race. Tucked away up in a scenic, relatively remote corner of northwestern Massachusetts, the Monroe Dunbar Brook Trail Race is 10.5 miles of very hard trail running, with around 2,000 feet of climbing in the first five miles. I had to slow to a hike on plenty of the steeper sections. There was also some very tricky footwork on part of the descent (especially the mile or two just after the summit of Spruce Peak where it's steep and there's lots of leaf-covered roots and mossy rocks). But overall it was a total blast. Plenty of places to open up and race, two bridgeless stream crossings (one ankle-deep and one knee-deep), and beautiful fall weather. My finishing time was 1:47:34. Excellent peeps, too. At the finish was a fire and a keg, along with a fantastic assortment of treats and grilled stuff. Jen came and ran the 2-mile short course; it was her first running race ever and she won a prize -- pretty freakin' sweet!

I'd highly recommend this race to anyone who loves trail running, as long as you're mentally prepared for what you're getting into. It's no walk in the park.

Here's a pretty good map of the course.

Dunbar Brook