Monday, August 23, 2010

Savoy Mountain

Turn back the clock to last weekend (8-15)....missing race report...

Coming off of the Cigna 5k on Thursday (8/12), a 10.5 mile trail jaunt with Classy Tilton on Friday (8/13), and then Bridge of Flowers 10k on Saturday (8/14) out in Shelburne Falls, MA, I decided to head over to one of my  summer highlights and a race I just can't get away from...I guess it was because I almost died at it two years any case, I decided to go to this even though I was pretty beat.  The Savoy Mountain Trail Race (results) out in Savoy/Florida MA is a 22.2 mile jaunt through very muddy, rocky, rooty, and grown-in trails in Savoy State Forest in western Mass.  It is part of the WMAC Grand Tree series and I first did this race 2 years ago (2008). Back then, it was my first jaunt at a serious trail distance (although some reading this may think that 22 miles isn't all that is still pretty far for me...and 3+ hours is a long time for me to be running, given what I typically do for races and training.

I'll let you do some catching up on your own, regarding my past jaunts here (2009 and 2008 respectively). For now, I'll talk about this year's race and the joy and pain that ensued.  To start off, I raced twice in the previous 3 days going into this race, and even though I am kind of used to racing frequently, this race is really NOT the race you want to have as the encore to a triple bill of racing.  This race takes a lot out of me and really is not to be taken lightly at all.  I kept this in the back of my mind during the previous couple days of racing, but couldn't let it affect me during those shorter, faster I kept telling myself that I'd deal with it when Sunday came...well, Sunday definitely came, and I barely showed up for it.

After my trip out to Shelburne Falls on Saturday for the 10k, I continued to drive 1+ hour southwest to Stockbridge, MA to visit with Kristin, who was out at the Kripalu Yoga Training Center for the month of August, getting her certification.  I arrived there probably around 1:30pm and was WIPED. I spent about 3 hours laying in the grass on the grounds of the center, trying to get some sort of rest.  I had a horrible headache almost the whole day and was basically a walking zombie, I was so tired.  We walked around a bit, saw some of the trails and scenery on the property, and grabbed a bite to eat.  When I left at 8:30pm, I had no place in mind to drive to other than the state park, where the race was the next day.  I had no place in mind to actually stay for the night.  I figured I could find a spot somewhere and just sleep in my car.  I should have done that...but I was so tired (I actually felt borderline sick and hungover), I stopped at a couple of local motels in Lenox, MA to try to get a room. Everyplace in the area was booked because of some film festival at Tanglewood, so I ended up finding one place that had one available room because of a cost me an arm and a leg to stay because of the timing, and I actually talked them down about 60 bucks, but still ended up paying $218 bucks for one of the dirtiest, smelliest rooms I've ever stayed in.  It was a real kick in the pants, but I had no choice other than to sleep in my car (and I probably should have done that).  I literally got my key, walked in the room, shut the door, and laid down on top of the bed. I didn't bring anything in with me or even get under the covers.  In the morning, I jumped up and headed up about 50 minutes or so to Savoy for the race. I felt like I had been drinking all night for some reason...just a horrible headache, dehydrated, lethargic, etc...

When I arrived at the state forest, I started to get my second wind.  I ran into fellow CMS teammate John Pajer and John Peabody (TNT) and started to feel a little better about being at another race that weekend.  I really loved this race the past 2 years because of the difficulty and epic nature of just finishing this thing... Even though I had those other races planned, I really didn't want to miss this and figured I'd just give it a go...whatever happens happens. I knew Brian Rusiecki (Vasque) was running and would most likely wipe the forest floor with me, but that was fine with me...I just wanted to get this done again...maybe with some luck, I'd be able to steal one, but I wasn't going to hold my breath. After signing up, packing my handheld water bottles with gels, and a short warmup with John, it was over to the line for the start.

As the cannon (yes cannon) fired, we headed out and Brian immediately took the lead.  I felt terrible right away, but figured I'd just try to stay put behind him and see what happens.  There was also another, younger guy with us for quite a while.  A couple miles in, he indicated that he was running the 11 (the half distance race that runs  in conjunction with the 22 miler).  Shortly after the 2+ mile water stop, Brian accidentally went straight and then hooked a right on the road, when you were supposed to hook an earlier right and stay on the trails.  I yelled up to him, but he didn't react fast enough. When he realized, he hooked back through the woods and got back on the trails with us, but now was in 3rd place.  I took the lead there, which was eerily similar to last year, when a little before that, Brian and Leigh Schmitt missed a turn, which put me in the lead (but for good).  I decided to just keep plugging along, up the muddy, rocky, grassy, rooty trails and run my race for as long as I could.  It would stay that way for about 6 more miles.

I felt comfortable and my legs were holding up 'ok'.  For a while, I kept looking behind me and didn't see anyone.  I had a pretty large lead and started to actually think that maybe Brian's 100 miler he ran not too long ago was still in his legs and he was content with just running his own race back in 2nd.  I actually started to think (although obviously prematurely) that this just may be my first ever race where I'd get 3 wins.  That all came to a grinding halt when I hit the climb up to Spruce Mountain.  Somewhere near 8 miles, you start to climb up a pretty good switch back and then a hand over hand climb up to the top. Right as I was starting to climb up the steep face of the summit, I peered back to see that Brian and the other guy were pretty much caught back up and now right behind me!  After miles of being all alone, I guess I really took it easy on the climb and took those guys for granted.  I thought I really had an easy win if I could just keep moving, but now realized it was not even going to be close.  I did a lot of slow climbing and some powerhiking to get up there and those guys were just hammering up the ascent to run me down.  I reached the top first, but barely.  I then started to hammer the downhill, which is a pretty dangerous mix of switchback, jumpdowns, and very rocky, eroded trails.  As fast as I would rock the downhills and straightaway fireroad sections, I'd look back and still see Brian back there, equally hammering the faster sections.  I built back a little bit of a lead, but knew it would not last.  It was basically a lost cause (I was actually humming the Beck song 'Lost Cause' during that part of the joke)... I knew I could probably get to half way in front of Brian, but that would be it.  I briefly thought about calling it quits at half way, in the lead, for which I would have gotten 100 points (they announced before the race that the 11 loop would get the same amount of points as the 22 this year and that you did have the option of bailing at 11 and getting GP points).  I figured I could easily do that, but then would feel guilty and have that 'what if' feeling afterwards...I also didn't think it was fair to the guy who was behind me for the first couple miles. I had told him I was running the 22.  I thought it would be rather unsportsmanlike of me to do that, seeing all that was happening to me was that I was getting tired.  I wasn't hurt and knew I could finish...I just couldn't finish that wasn't enough for me to actually go through with it and declare the 11 mile race when I came through half way.  In the back of my mind, I was kind of hoping that Brian would do that, and that I'd have an easy run over the second loop without him behind (or in front) of me.  I came through the half way point first, grabbed my second bottle off the table, and started the second loop.  I looked back and saw Brian maybe 30 seconds back and knew it was only a matter of time (if he didn't stop at 11).

I should have known better, as this kid is one of the best ultra guys around...he wasn't just going to do the 11...but I played those games with myself.  As I ran the first couple miles of the second loop, I kept looking and didn't see him.  I kept thinking that he may have actually stopped at 11 and felt a little better for a while...but I started to get that same awful feeling I had 2 years ago.  I started to bonk on the slightest of uphills and started to catch myself walking on the ups and some of the straight sections too.  On and off walking, with 8 miles to go is NOT good in this race.  I also became aware that, unlike last year, I wasn't eating or drinking enough. In 2009, I had 2008 fresh in my mind and really kept up with hydration and nutrition during the run.  Because last year went so well, I forgot about the plan that actually worked for me (eating and drinking regularly, BEFORE I get into trouble) and just figured I was past all that and could just grind this out....once I started to bonk, it was too late.  It was probably 4-5 miles in, that I turned and saw Brian now coming up behind me.  My fears were realized.  He didn't stop at halfway and was now running almost twice as fast as me (or so it seemed).  I kept a pathetic pace ahead of him for as long as I could, but he eventually was right up behind me, so I moved over and wished him well.  He graciously offered me a gel and asked me if I needed anything...I declined (as I had all the gels still in my water bottle) and watched him roll on and out of sight.  It didn't take long for him to disappear.

Once I hit the second climb up to Spruce Mountain, I kept looking up and through the woods but he was long gone.   I thought there may be a slight chance that he'd come back, but figured it was a long shot.  I powerhiked a ton on the second loop and figured if he was keeping up any sort of run/jog up the climb, he'd be minutes ahead of me at the end.  I kept looking back, fearing that someone else was running well and would run me down, but never saw a soul.  I got up and over the mountain and started to feel 'OK' as I hit the descent.  I worked the straight, fireroad sections on the way down, hoping I would catch a glimpse of Brian, that would breathe life back into my race, but to no avail.  He was long gone.  I still found myself powerhiking up easy climbs that I had run without issue on the first loop.  That is depressing, but it's the nature of this course.

In the section of the course, shortly before you come up to the last trail/road section before the finish, there is one more climb, after a footbridge, that I remember vividly from 2008 and 2009. During these two sections, both years, I thought my race was done.  It's a deceivingly hard climb, late in the race.  Both years, I figured, after walking most of it, that I would be caught easily, but wasn't.  This year, I hit that section and kept thinking that the only guy in the race that was going to beat me, was already ahead of me, so I wasn't worried about it, until I turned around and to my absolute shock, saw another runner now right behind me!  I almost died when I saw him. Out of nowhere....he was also cranking.  I'm talking 5 times faster than I was going...It was so unbelievable, I actually thought maybe he was an 11 mile runner who started late, or a 22 mile runner who missed the start and he was on his first lap.  But it wasn't. It was David Herr, who is a VERY good ultra/trail/marathoner who is always dangerous on these mountain and trail races.  At first, I didn't recognize him and because I didn't see him at the start, I didn't know he was in the race.  Had I known, I would have been thinking about him the whole time... As he went up past me, I said 'nice job man'...and then recognized him and said 'is that you David?' to which he replied 'yep' and then that was it. He was gone. I'm talking GONE.  He was cranking easily under 7 minute pace, and I was walking.  When I came up to the last road/trail section, I could see him way in the distance....We had only 6-7 minutes left.  What a kick in the pants...but that is racing.  I mustered up a running stride and tried to catch back up once the climb was done, but that was legs were, and had been trashed from the 2 prior races, and I was just too damn tired to go any harder.  I swallowed my pride and accepted the fact that I got smoked by 2 very good trail/ultra runners who are much much better than me at these longer grinds anyways.  The fact that I was able to beat them in 2009 was probably a fluke.  I had a good day last year, and maybe they both had bad ones.... This year, it was a complete roll reversal...

As I saw the paved road through the trees, I knew I was close and got that 'oh thank God' feeling as I came out of the woods and pushed up to the finish, about a half minute back of David and a few minutes back of Brian, who KILLED this course.  To my shock, I was about a minute and a half FASTER than last year....even after bonking bad on the last loop.  I was a little bit faster on the first loop, than last year, and I guess held it together about the same on the second loop, even though I felt much worse this year.  I think the weather had a lot to do with it.  It was much cooler this year, which made for some fast times.  Brian ran nearly 10 minutes faster than he did last year, and David absolutely killed his time from last year.  When I saw who had beaten me and what our times were, I knew that I actually ran probably better than I should have, given all the circumstances, and realized it was a pretty good day. I didn't get the win, but I did get it done. I ran faster than I had before, and I finished!  I think it's always going to be considered a good day when you can go through the halfway point of this race and be able to finish the entire thing.  A lot of folks decided to call it quits at half way, and only 36 brave souls actually finished the entire thing.  I guess there is only one thing I can say now, after finishing this again for yet another year...I can't wait for next time! :)


2010 - 2:52:32 - 3rd OA (results) ** felt worse than 2009.  Didn't properly fuel or hydrate along the way.
2009 - 2:53:58 - 1st OA (results) ** much better... drank water and preemptively fueled up. Felt really good.
2008 - 3:18:04 - 1st OA (results) ** Almost died.

For anyone thinking of doing this race in the future, check out Jay Kolodzinski's Youtube video of himself doing last year's start to get a VERY good idea of how this race plays out.


  1. Nice write up as usual Jim.
    Some year if we have an unseasonably cool day for that race I may try it.

  2. Thanks Paul... tough to pass this one up...regardless of how I feel going in... definitely a memorable race...

  3. Jim, you may not have gotten the W this year but you did bag a PR. Nothing wrong with that!

    Sometimes we forget in the heat of battle, but in these long races you have to eat before you're hungry and drink before you're thirsty.

    I hope to see you out there one of these days but the way I'm feeling it may not be until SS season.

  4. Nice report and great race. Brian and David are as tough as nails on those kind of courses. Way to keep plugging on!

  5. Hey Jim,

    Congrats on the 10k PR! Going to run Hartford again this year. I'd like to do Baystate one of these years. Im shocked you got my brother to race cause I haven't been able to! See you on the roads.

  6. Thanks Dan & Greg... Making me think twice about Pisgah...

    Pat, I was trying to light a fire under Casey's rump...I doubt he's running baystate :)... By my count, he's only raced Rhody this year...that's gotta be an annual low in races for him since he started!

  7. I enjoyed reading your blog. It is so detailed and the photos are great.
    --Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forward. ~Soren Kierkegaad
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