Monday, August 17, 2009

2009 Savoy Mountain Trail Race

With the 40th anniversary of Woodstock this weekend, it was only fitting that I celebrate by spending almost 3 hours in the mud on Sunday... It's hard to believe that one full year has past since the last time I wrote about this race. After last year's experience, I was pretty sure I wouldn't be giving this another go...but as stubborn as I am, I should have known that I'd be back for more. I headed back out once again to Savoy Mountain State Forest in Savoy, MA for the Savoy Mountain Trail Races (results). Last year, this was my first 'real' long trail race (well, long by my standards). If you don't remember how that went, please feel free to review last year's ramblings. This year, I'm in better shape going in, have been doing higher (slightly) mileage, and took the necessary precautions for being out in the woods for close to 3 hours (in other words, taking more with me than my singlet and shorts). Here's how it all went down...

Pre-race: I headed out the door at about 5:15am from Salem, NH and had a smooth ride (about 2:45) out to Savoy, with a pit-stop in Gill, MA at the Mobile station. I saw two guys there with Boston Marathon shirts on...they took one look at me in my 'short' shorts and dry fit shirt, hopping out of my bright yellow Xterra with running-related stickers all over it and I guess put 2 and 2 together... I chatted with them briefly about heading out to the race and they had indicated that they were ultra guys doing this as preparation for their next race. Since this was as 'ultra' as I get, I couldn't really relate. 50 min. or so later, I pulled up to the parking lot and saw some of the usual suspects that show to these WMAC races. I didn't really know a lot of people there, but quickly met John Peabody (RI- TNT) who is a friend of Scott Mason's. I also met some very friendly runners from NY and others who all at one point or another indicated that they had read my race writeup of the previous year on my blog. Pretty cool I thought, and everyone seemed to have enjoyed the fact, since they all showed up, it seemed as though nobody was scared off by my post :). I made my way over to registration, where race director Marty Glendon actually immediately remembered me and started giving me some friendly ribbing about last year's race and the condition I was in afterwards. Also, the nice lady who basically saved my life last year after the race, remembered me too and was amazed that I was back and also asked me immediately, whether or not I ate breakfast that morning :). After chatting a bit, I headed back over to the car to get ready.

I went with the Inov-8 x-talon 212's, as I was told that the course was actually muddier than last year. I couldn't imagine how it could have gotten any sloppier, but was definitely in for a treat. I also prepared two hand-held water bottle/gel carriers I bought the day before. I filled both with water and packed 3 gels in each, along with some gummy thingies I bought at Whirlaway the night before. I also threw 2 gels in my shorts pocket in the back. I wanted to make darn sure I didn't bonk like last year. In preparation, I had run the day before, in the River Trail in Andover, MA carrying one of these. It was the first time I had carried water and it was a little cumbersome I thought, since I am so used to just running shorter road races where this sort of thing is not needed....but I weighed the two options... 1) put up with carrying this bottle and deal with switching hands every so often, or 2) bonk and not finish. I made my way back over to the starting area and did a mile (half out half back) over the first part of the course...It was all coming back to me now...

Loop 1: After a brief talk about the history of the race, Marty lit what seemed to be an M-80 or something, which was louder than the cannon at the beginning of the Mt. Washington Road Race and we were off. Right before the speech, Bob Dion recognized Leigh Schmitt's accomplishments at Western States and everyone looked over at Leigh (whom I had never met) so I knew that there was one guy right there that was going to run out front. I also had a feeling that Brian Rusiecki was in the race (again, had never met or seen him) who has been winning a bunch of the WMAC races or running right near the top. Lastly, I was pretty sure David Herr was there as well, but I had only seen him a couple times and wasn't 100% sure it was basically I was now sure that there was a better field up front in this race this year than last.

The explosion went off and we were off. The 11 and 22 mile races go off together, but I knew that all the top guys mentioned above would be doing the full 22. Immediately, Leigh and Brian went out front and I tucked in behind them. There were 2 or 3 guys right behind me and we ran very tight for the first quarter mile or so. The trail doesn't take too long before it gets crazy. I stayed behind Leigh and Brian, who chatted back and forth about training and racing this past summer. It sounded, by what I could hear, that Leigh had been taking some time off from serious training. This only made me feel slightly better about my chances of running with him. I would say about a half mile or so in (by looking at the course map) Leigh and Brian ran a couple steps past a sharp right hand turn up a hill (by South Pond). I vividly remember that turn and wasn't surprised they missed it. I yelled real quick 'right guys' and they stopped and turned quickly, but I was already at the turn so I went up ahead. That was it. I led for he next 21.5 miles.

The next mile or so is pretty straight forward trail with little up and down, out to the first water stop at 1.7. This water stop isn't very crucial in my opinion, especially on the first loop, but this year, they put the water stop across the trail so you could not run out onto the road too early. This wasn't the case last year, as it was on the corner and I ran right across the road and onto a trail I wasn't supposed to be on. A very good improvement this year and the volunteers at that stop were there directing the runners in the right direction. You hop out onto the road for a few seconds and then dip back into the woods. This is where it gets VERY muddy. Immediately, I noticed there was no way around any of the mud. It was right through and deal with it. This is all part of the fun and part of what this is about. I was liking it. Until about another half mile or so later, when my shoe got sucked clean off in one of the foot+ deep mud pits. I took the next step with bare sock and went straight down, but saw my shoe had come off but sat right on top of the mud. I grabbed it quickly and threw my foot back in and tied the lace tight (which I apparently neglected to do before the race began) and took a quick peek back. Leigh and Brian were coming and it looked like David was right with them. I hammered on and noticed that not soon after I came up to the area I went very wrong at last year. This year, there was an enormous tree down right where I took the wrong turn (twice) last year. I laughed out loud a bit and looked straight ahead and wondered how the heck I took the wrong turn at all last year. On I pressed.

It was up and down up and down, through mud, across little streams, along single track/double track, and 'barely' track trail until the first switchback that separates the long course from the short course. At this point I glanced and saw and heard what seemed to be 3 guys not too far back. I may have had a 60-70 yard lead or so by this point. The next part of the course is more of the same...more mud, more trails winding all around and up and down and eventually up to the 4.9 mile unmanned water stop, which is a bunch of jugs of water and some cups that had been laid out in the woods. I pressed on right by this, as I had my own water, which I had (up until this point) used sparingly. I took this moment to open up some of the gummies I was carrying and eat a few of those and put back some water. It was getting hot and I was feeling it a little bit, but was running very comfortable, all the while trying to realize that this was a LONG race and I hadn't even made it halfway through the first loop yet. If I started to feel it this early, I would be in trouble. I backed off a bit repeatedly when thinking of how much race was left. I also vividly remember most of the course from last year and knew what was ahead of me.

Not too long after the water stop, you cross through two areas of power lines, which open you up to the blazing sun. This was the hottest part of the course, as you scramble across a little bit of rock and tall grass, with no tree cover. It doesn't last long, but it does take some out of you. After crossing the second power line, this (in my opinion) is the toughest part of the course (especially on the 2nd loop). It is the beginning of the climb up to Spruce Hill (2566 feet). It is a continuous mix of VERY rocky up and down trail that really starts to get your cardio going. I had a few uphill climbs in here on the first loop that I had to walk on and off. Not good I thought, being the 1st loop...but on the downhill and flat sections, I was rocking along, so I knew I was still not 'bonking' yet and it was just the nature of the climbs that was getting to me (as usual). The last push up to the summit of Spruce Hill is a technical rock climb, straight up a rock face. I'm not kidding. You are literally stopping in your tracks and climbing with hands and feet, straight up. There is no running involved here. I don't consider this the toughest part of the course, because you can't run it, so you are climbing up, but recovering at the same time. At this point in the race, I looked all the way down and could not see anyone behind me. As I came up across the top of the summit, I quickly looked to the left at the spectacular views, but had no time to enjoy it. It is immediately back down. The climb back down is treacherous at first. It is back and forth down rocks and rock steps, with sharp lefts and rights that is essentially tree-grabbing and swinging down. It then opens up slightly, but is still VERY steep down. Near the bottom, the the trail connects with the previous trail on the way up, and if there are people on their way up, you can see them. I didn't seen anyone, indicating that they were already past that point and maybe up at the top already.

The next mile + is mostly all down. The fastest part of the course by far. It opens up to an almost fire road type of trail and the footing is 'OK' considering. I rocked down across the two power lines and you come to a sharp right hand turn at the 9.1 mile water stop. This one is crucial in my opinion, although I didn't stop there on my first loop. It is 2 miles from the finish and great for refilling your water if needed. There is also some food at it as well as a couple of volunteers. I passed right through here, as I still had water in my bottle, although not much. I had left my other full bottle at the start, and was going to switch out my bottles when I went through the halfway point. Right after the 9.1 mile water stop, there is a decent stretch of fire road. Some parts are actually OK and others are treacherous. There was A LOT of mud on this part of the road and at one particular point (the funniest part of the whole race for me), I came to what looked like a shallow puddle of muddy water that went from one side of the road to the other. There was thick woods on both sides and no room to go around it at all. There was a little lip on the left side that you can run on for only half way, and then you have to get down into the water to continue on. I actually remember this from last year and knew that water was WAY deeper than it looked. Boy was I right. I got to the end of the lip and took one step into the puddle and almost disappeared. The water came clean up to my 'bathing suit area'. I couldn't help but laugh. For anyone who could have seen it, it must have been like watching a cartoon. The water was at least 3 feet deep (and it was by all outward appearances, just a puddle in the road). After that, was another that wasn't as bad, and then a stream crossing that you had to step through (or scramble across a few large submerged boulders). It was rushing pretty good and was emptying into a small swamp. It was about 10 or so feet wide, so you couldn't jump it, but you could see right to the bottom. It was probably the same depth or a little deeper, than the previous puddle, but the water was crystal clear and COLD. It was actually refreshing, and good that it kinda cleans all the mud off you (for like 5 seconds before you hit the next part of the trail that is all mud).

After the end of the fire road, I looked back (this gives you the longest stretch you can see behind you) and I couldn't see anyone. It was like last year, but still I was running scared the entire way. I crossed over the power line again (as it switches back) and dipped back into a very dark and muddy section that has a continuous climb to it. This is a pretty tough slog and tough part of the course, but because you are in the last 2 miles of the loop, it doesn't seem as bad mentally because you are either close to the end of the first loop (when you hit it the first time) or at the end of the race (on the second loop). It winds up to another wider trail (almost road) that brings you back down to the start. Once you get up to the wider trail, there's a lot of downhill and you eventually come out to a section along Central Shaft Rd., where you can see the pavement and you know you are almost home. This is a huge mental boost. As I hit the pavement and made my way back up the road to the starting area, I took a few looks behind me (you can see maybe 200-300 meters at one point) and I didn't see anyone back there. There were a lot of people cheering, which was cool, as I made my way past the clock and stopped quickly at the water stop table to grab my full water bottle and leave my empty one. I had been somewhat conservative with my water up until that point, and had about an inch left in it when I had hit the pavement, so I opened it up and dumped it on my head to cool off (knowing I was just a minute away from grabbing a fresh one). Somewhere over the first loop I had also taken a gel. I just can't remember exactly where it was, but it was at a point where I was on a climb and had time to break it out. I came through half way in just over 1:22, which put me on pace for a sub-3hour run...but I knew my second loop would be 10+ minutes slower, just due to the nature of the race...

Loop 2: At the start of the second loop, I began to think a lot about the next few guys. I thought about how they were all ultra guys and predominantly trail guys and wasn't sure how they tackle races like this. The course was very technical and I wasn't sure that my quick first loop would hold up to maybe 2 steady loops that they may be running. I also envisioned that they may have been running conservative on loop 1 and would hammer loop 2. It's funny, all the things that cross your mind during long solitary runs like this...

By the time I hit the road after the first water stop, I started to really feel tired on all the uphill parts of the course. My pace would drop right down to a crawl as I made even the smallest of ascents. Each time this happened, I kept telling myself that I was losing ground and was going to be caught. I kept thinking over and over that if I could make it to the top of Spruce Hill, I could win it (having less that 4 miles to go at that point). But more and more, as I started to hit the muddy parts of the course from Tyler Swamp (the road at 1.7 in) my pace got slower and slower. I wasn't 'bonking' yet, but I felt close. I took more and more water and another gel...all the while looking back and waiting to see a jersey or two through the woods. Occasionally I thought I heard something, but in looking back, I figured it was either me hearing things in my diminishing mental state, or animals scurrying across the trail.

As I hit the first big switchback that separates the long and short course, I looked back and saw nothing and pushed on. There is some decent climbing in this section up to the water stop at 4.9 miles. As I hit the water stop, which had been untouched when I first came through, it was a disaster. All the jugs were toppled over and cups everywhere. I didn't stop, but did take out another gel (my 3rd) and had some of my own water. This was the start of the toughest part of the entire race in my opinion. The climb up past the two power lines and then to the scramble up Spruce Hill is TOUGH on the second lap. I walked ALOT of this, as my legs started to give out on me like last year. The main difference this time around though was that this year, other than on the climbs here, my body was holding together and I felt good...tired...but good. By the 4.9 mile water stop last year, I was toast. I was walking even the flat parts. This year, I was fine on the flats and could keep up a good rhythm. Through this section on the second loop this year though, I couldn't keep up the running on the ascents, as I had for the most part on the first loop.

When I hit the climb up Spruce Hill, I got to recover and felt like I actually climbed it faster the second time. I lapped my first runner here. After a mad scramble down the back side of it, I had two of my closest calls all day. One was right at the top of the summit as I started to jump down (there are a lot of sections where you actually need to jump down to the next rock or level), I missed the mark and almost went over the edge. Instictively, I lunged out and grabbed a small tree that was sturdy enough to hold me and I pulled myself back onto the trail. Not too long after that, I rolled my ankle for the first and only time (amazingly) all day. It wasn't too bad, and I was able to shake it off less than a minute later. As I came back down to the section of trail that shares the trail with the ascent, I ran right into Leigh and Brian. They were side by side going up. I quickly exchanged 'good job guys' with them and pressed on. This was the first assurance of how much of a lead I had, in probably 15 miles. I knew that they still had most of the climb up to the summit to go, and then a lot of the descent, which was multiple that was the first time I felt like I could actually win the race. That feeling didn't last long though, as I started to think about it and realized that I only saw Leigh and Brian...I didn't see I started to think that maybe David was ahead of them and he was up near the top when I saw the other two runners, and that wouldn't put him too far behind me... this was enough to make me think for the rest of the time, that Leigh and Brian were not in 2nd and 3rd place...but I pushed on and really worked the downhill all the way back to the 9.1 mile waters top. From the top of Spruce Hill (7.6 mile mark) onward, I was also out of water, as it was growing hotter outside and I was working a lot harder on the second loop. My plan was to fill the water up at the 9.1 mile stop, which would last me to the end.

As I neared the last water stop, I started passing a lot of the folk who were griding through their first loop. This helped me, as many of them offered encouragement as I went by and I, the same. It was also nice just seeing people out there, as most of my run was just me with my thoughts. As I approached the last water stop at 9.1, one of the volunteers was about 20 seconds up the trail and saw me coming, I yelled to him and asked if I could get my water bottle filled and he immediatelly yelled back to the table to get a jug ready. I had already unscrewed the cap and had the bottle ready to go. I hit the table and the woman had the jug ready and filled my bottle in literally 3 seconds as I grabbed one quick cup of water off the table, threw it over my head, grabbed the bottle and took off. It worked out perfectly.

The next part of the course was back long the fire road and through the waist deep puddles and stream. I didn't screw around this time and ran right through them (well, waded through them). At the end of the road, I was still peeking back to make sure that whoever was running in 2nd place was not closing. After the fire road, I continued to pass lapped runners who were all giving me words of encouragement. This took me back into the back side of the Tower Swamp area where it is very dark, muddy, and a steady climb up and out to the last wide trail back to the finish. I walked a good deal of the climb here and it made me a bit nervous, but each step I took was a step closer to finishing this race and that kept me going stronger than I was a few miles back. As I hit the last section of wide trail, the course flattens out a bit and then starts to rock down. The climbs were all over and I got my second wind. I started flying back down and eventually saw the road, to which tears practically came to my eyes. I passed a few more runners just as I hit the pavement and pushed on that last minute or so up to the finish line.

I came through in 2:53:58, which was 24:02 FASTER than I ran last year (3:18:04 last year) over the exact same course. Now, last year I got lost for a couple minutes (maybe 3 total) but still...that is a huge change and I credit it entirely to not going out as fast and to drinking water (and nutrition) as I went. No doubt about it, staying hydrated is what did it. I finished up really strong and didn't need anywhere near the amount of food and fluids as I did last year...I also didn't need to be carried back to my car for an hour + nap either. I am amazed that I was able to average sub 8 minute miles (thanks to a quicker first lap) and run 7:50 pace over this course. I can't imagine a regular trail race getting much sloppier than this race. Did I have fun though? You bet.

Leigh was next through in 2:59:54 and Brian was close behind in just over 3 hrs (3:00:17). David was about 12+ minutes back in 4th place. It looks by the splits, that David was right up with Brian, a few ticks in front of Leigh through the first loop and then either backed off on the 2nd loop or ran into a 2nd loop similar to what I experienced last year.

Splits: 22.2 Mile Trail/Mountain Race - 2:53:58 (7:50 pace)

First 11.1: 1:22:20 (7:25 pace)
Last 11.1: 1:31:38 (8:14 pace)

Top 10 Overall out of 41 who finished the 22 miler.

Place First Last Age Town St Time (lap 1)Time (lap 2) Time GT %

72 people finished 1 loop (11 miles) and 15 people did the 4 mile (short course). A decision was made before the race, to award GT points to people in the 11 mile course and to also allow people who were going to do the 22 to stop at 11 and use that time. It looks like 27 people who signed up for the 22, opted to just do the 11.

Post Race: After the race, I had a couple of hot dogs, and a few pieces of watermelon, hung out and chatted with some of the folk who had finished up the 11, and talked with Brian about his race. Then we took a walk down to the beach on North Pond for a dip and to wash the inch-thick layer of mud off my person. We were joined by Leigh, and I got to talk with him for the first time... both are good guys for sure. I walked around and snapped a couple of shots of the start/finish area, got a little more to eat/drink, chatted with Bob Dion for a while about the upcoming snowshoe season and the new racing shoe Dion has for this winter, and then hit the car for the 2:45 ride back east.

One funny thing about this race is that aside from a weekly series (like the Wakefield Wed. night races or the Fudgicle series in Tewksbury), this is the only race I've ever won twice. I've only been back racing for 2 and 1/2 years, but still, I thought it was interesting that I haven't done that other than at Savoy. I have a couple of 1st and 2nds at races, but never two 1st until now.


  1. Great race JJ beating Leigh at his own game! Very fast time too. I understand that course is brutal.

  2. Thanks Dan. I'm certain Leigh was still recovering from WS100 and a cutback in mileage...but felt good to be in front of those guys who are VERY good trail/ultra runners. Brian and David too...

  3. Nice work dispatching my buddy TW :)
    He's put the hurt on me plenty and he had no excuse.

    PS Hope I done got all my spellin and grammer proper fer dis one.

  4. Having come in dead last at 7+ hours, it was nice to read about the event from the winner's perspective :) Very nice!

  5. Hey Tim, at least you were there picking 'em up and laying 'em down. You beat all us lazy arses that didn't have the will to show up!

  6. Thanks Tim. I praise anyone for even showing up to that race. Very tough slog out there, but FUN! Good work on just even finishing the 22. Lots of people opted to cut it in half, which is still an impressive feat in itself! I hope your feet feel better than mine do right now :).

  7. After Soapstone, I can't say I'm surprised you won. That's some great marathon training for you. Go run 3 hours on the roads and tell me how your legs feel. How do you legs feel? My legs never hurt much after Savoy, it's all so soft on those trails. There would be tightness from all sliding, but not much leg pain. You really need to try some of the other trail races. Savoy is a poor fit with your road speed; I think you would really enjoy some of the fast 10 mile races.

  8. Congrats again winning the race! It was so exciting to meet you before the race. Hope to see you in Central Park races in the near future.

  9. Thanks Takeshi. Likewise. You all ran fantastic over that tough course. Great meeting you all and best of luck with your running! If I make it over to your area, I'll be surely talking about it on here before hand :)

    Ben, I sent you a rant-free email...don't be afraid to check it :).