This past Sunday, Father's Day, I made the trek up to Adams Massachusetts with my dad to run the Mount Greylock Half Marathon. I have been putting in a lot of miles the last three months, and felt like I was in the best running shape of my life coming into the race. However, being a true mountain race, I wasn't sure what to expect. How do 150-200' hill repeats correlate to a 3 mile, 2,300' climb? Not to mention the 10 miles of mostly descending. Am I ready for that? I was about to find out.
My dad and I got our first glance of Greylock as we drove through the nearby town of Savoy. It was mostly cloudy and cooler than expected up in the mountains. Greylock looked intimidating. I was in uncharted territory. We got a close parking spot, but already it was busy more than an hour before the start. We saw my brother Greg immediately. He was talking with fellow WTAC teammate Mike Crutchley and his friend James. We picked up our bibs and tech t-shirts. It was chilly in Greylock Glen - high 50's, cloudy, and windy. We retreated to my car for the next half hour. There were a lot of people now, and plenty of fit looking runners. Greg had pointed out a few guys in particular, and that was before we saw Derek Jakoboski (local RI runner and last year's winner) near the start area. Greg and I got in a short warm up on the end of the race course. More fast looking dudes were doing strides in the meadow. I hoped most were doing the short race (5K), but they had bibs with the half marathon color. It was going to be an interesting race!
A few weeks ago I had looked through the previous years' results to form expectations for my own race. I thought that if everything went right, I could sneak under 1 hour and 50 minutes. My brother thought that I should shoot for sub 1:55. I definitely wanted get under two hours no matter what. So I had my A,B,C time goals. I was also curious about the opening 3 mile climb. Greg put it in my head to not charge up it (how I usually run hills, albeit much smaller ones). I needed to keep it slow and steady. What does 3 miles of climbing feel like anyway? I didn't know what to think about the rest of the course. I knew I would have to descend fast down technical terrain. I just wanted to keep up a hard pace and obviously not fall.
Time to race. After chatting with those mentioned earlier and other local trail runners who made the journey, we lined up. I was in the 2nd row behind a woman with bib #1. The start of the race was very controlled. After a short field section, the trail narrowed to single track. My heart was pounding with anticipation of the climb. I tried to go slow and relax my breathing. The pace was so slow though, so I weaved my way up. As the real climbing began, I found myself in a nice groove, and passing more people, until I was in 3rd or 4th place. I felt like I wasn't working hard and feeling good. After a few minutes, a couple of guys went by me. I remember being in 7th place, although I wasn't concerned with my finishing place today. I didn't change my gear, and kept grinding up. The trail was as advertised: three miles up. Sometimes the grade would ease up and sometimes it was steep. I didn't dare look at my watch and assumed I had way more to go than I thought. Eventually, I took the cue from the runners ahead of me and power hiked certain sections. My legs were screaming for a break and hiking didn't really alleviate them. There was an extended flat section about 2/3 the way up. I tried to let my legs go fast here, but they felt like cement. It was an odd feeling. At this point, I had passed two people and was in 5th place. I could tell someone was right behind me gaining. Once the trail got steep again, I glanced back to see the same guy and also my brother Greg. I bet he hammered that easy section. I was convinced they both would catch me as the power hiking became more frequent. Soon, I was hearing a loud horn, which I assumed announced the summit to the runners as they went by. Wrong! There was occasionally one runner ahead of me that I could see on straightaways. On a more level section, I found myself now gaining on him. I hoped the end was near, so I was taking more chances with my effort. We reached an auto road crossing, and it seemed like we were really near the top now. In an "exciting" move, I was able to out power hike this guy. He countered again as we exchanged pleasantries. I was able to make one more pass and run the last of the climb hard enough to put some distance on him.
I had finished the climb! I think I was in 4th place. (uploading to Strava.com later showed my climb time as 35:38). Now what? It was a tad confusing and I definitely lost some time up here that you just can't recapture later in the race. I was on a paved road following sporadic cones and pink ribbon. At one point the course runs along a stone wall and I caught a half second glimpse of an outrageous view. Next thing I knew I was tucking behind sheds and maintenance vehicles. Okay, there's the first aid station so I'm still going the right way. I didn't stop for a drink at this point. I felt bad for the volunteers as they looked extremely cold. I followed the pink ribbons to a trail head and began a long steep descent on wet rocks. I wasn't seeing any more pink ribbons (the director said pre-race that it was very well marked with pink ribbon every 200 yards). I was not going as hard as I could. I was nervous I wasn't on course. Eventually, I was going slow enough that I could see the last guy I passed, and he was gaining on me. I felt better, but was still a little too cautious. As he moved very close where I could feel him, suddenly my brother Greg went flying by both of us. He congratulated me on my climb and darted off down the trail, assuring me we were going the right way.
Sure enough, we immediately crossed a road with pink ribbon and a few spectators. I shouted out to Greg to go catch the leaders and he was quickly gone. The trail now was narrower and more technical, but not as steep. I was making my way down with the other guy in tow. I felt like I was slowing him down so I let him pass. He told me that I needed to be "looser" on the descents in this race. This was good advice and appreciated to hear from a stranger, especially because I knew I wasn't pushing myself hard enough. I stayed close to him for the next three minutes, and soon found myself wanting to go faster. I announced my intention to pass, and he graciously encouraged me on.
I was hammering and soon I didn't hear him anymore behind me. Sometimes the trail would spill out onto an old jeep road, and I'd really let me legs go. At some point, I decided to check my watch and possibly eat a GU. It was at 57 minutes! I still had a long way to go. I ate my GU and then popped out onto a wide dirt road that climbed up. It was the first climb for miles.
I made good work and soon reached the 2nd aid station. I stopped for a drink. The kids there asked if I had a twin in the race. I laughed, never have been mistaken as Greg's twin before (he is a twin to my other brother Glenn). I said he was my younger brother, and they made a comment about not letting the younger brother win. I assured them he was faster than me, but they told me that maybe today would be my day to beat him. Probably not, but this pumped me up as I motored off.
This section of the course was lonely. It was an overgrown technical single track that was on rather even terrain. There were no pink ribbons. I could see a few sets of shoe prints in the mud and I assumed I was on course. But the doubts crept into my mind. I was all by myself and somehow I had convinced myself that I wouldn't see another runner for the duration of the race (if I was still going the right way). Again, I was losing time that I couldn't earn back later. I reached a "T" intersection with no ribbon. Not a good sign. I went right (down hill) rather than up. That was my best guess. The trail was dropping steeply now with plenty of big rocks to negotiate. Uh oh - what's that? There was a new runner now behind me. I didn't remember this person being near me on the initial climb and clearly they were descending very well. This was another motivating moment for me. I picked up my pace and was now hammering the descent. The woods opened to a meadow with great views. I still didn't see any ribbon, but there were a couple of spectators and a cameraman. I was flying through here and emerged in a parking lot. The third aid station was here, and the volunteers had to stop me from going the opposite direction. The guy behind me now was with me as we stopped to get water. He said that we were on pace to clip 1:50. Nice! I was surprised to still have my "A" goal time in play.
The course was now on a double track that was at times gravelly. It was downhill for quite some time. The guy was descending like a champ and I had no chance of sticking with him as I was going all out. The sun was now peaking through the clouds and I began to feel warm at times. Eventually, the trail began to climb - an easy to moderate grade but sustained. I was doing well, climbing hard. I had determined to give it my all until the end. I hoped I would catch up during this ascent, but this was not to be. Once the trail crested and began going downhill, I never saw that guy again. The trail was getting rockier and I felt like my body was going to rattle apart as I sprinted down it. My legs were in decent shape for this point of the race. Unfortunately I caught a glimpse back on a turn and saw a new runner gaining on me. Ugh! I'm not sure why I was so upset. I knew that I didn't have this sort of training or experience under my belt. A couple of minutes later the inevitable happened and I was passed. We exchanged "good job" 's and that was that. I couldn't see this guy very long. I believed I was now in 7th place. Could I even stay in the top 10?
The trail continued to descend, and very steeply at times. The trail was rather wide though, so I could maintain crazy speeds. I hoped that I didn't fall. It seemed like the right place in the race. My legs were now tiring. Steeper and steeper the trail went down. Surely I was near the end? I kept thinking any moment I would recognize the end section of the course I ran as a warm up. I kept checking my watch, but I didn't know how much was left. I also would glance back to see if anyone else was going to run me down. At least the pink ribbon was prominent so I could keep the hammer down and not worry about staying on the course. At one point I passed a kid walking on the trail - was he in the race? Finally, I reached the last stretch of trail that I had run earlier. I knew I had about two minutes left, but unfortunately my watch had ticked to 1:50. I tried to keep up the hard work and then sprinted the final stretch of meadow to the finish line. My time was 1:51:38. 6th place overall.
So close to my "A" goal. I was happy with the way I ran the race, except for the spots where confusion caused me to slow down. I think if I had run the race before I would have had a great shot of 1:49 on this day. I found my brother and dad, and then limped to my car to change. We hung out in the meadow for a while, chatting with other runners and eating. It was then time to hit the road for the long journey back. What a great challenging race. I'd love to come back next year and get that sub 1:50!