Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Greylock Glen and Brave the Blizzard

It's was that time of year again where I travel out west to do the Greylock/Brave the Blizzard double header.  It's two snowshoe races (one in Adams, MA and the other in Guilderland, NY) that are part of the WMAC / Dion Snowshoe series.  I've done this double now, three times.  The first two years (2009, 2010) were with Dave Dunham.  This year, because of his latest injury, I made the trip out solo, but got to spend time with Tim VanOrden at Fay Farm in Bennington, VT between races, which allowed me to save loot on a hotel room as it is in the middle of both venues.

Saturday: Greylock Glen Snowshoe Race - Adams, MA (results).

I headed out the door for the 2:30 or so drive to Adams, MA and Mount Greylock (for those of you who don't know, is the highest peak in MA at 3489 ft). The Greylock Glen Snowshoe race is held in the Glen, which is the surrounding area (State Park) around the base of the mountain.  I was one of the first to pull in on this relatively mild day, weather-wise (for this race). After registering and waiting around a bit while others filed in, I started to hear that Tivo may not be making it due to illness.  Tim had told me the night before that he had a stomach bug but thought he'd be fine for Sat.  The closer to racetime it got, the more I started to figure he was not going to show.  Tim Mahoney, Ross Krause, and a few others were in attendance though, which was going to make for a pretty good group upfront.  I warmed up with Tim Mahoney (now sporting the new Dion racing gear) and Paul Bazanchuk on the roads and snowmobile trails around the Glen before heading over to get ready for the race.

As the race went off, I jumped right out to the front and put a decent distance on the field from the very beginning (but would need every inch of that lead later on)... The race started off on some nicely packed snowmobile trails, went over a small footbridge, and up a short, steep incline and crossed the road to the field on the other side.  Once past the road and onto the field (where last year's race had started and finished), the course hooked to the right and across the field in horrifically tough snow. It was more than a foot of deep powder that had only been 'shoed' in by one person (most likely Ed as he flagged the course).  I came to a near standstill on this section, as it was really tough to plow through. I figured it would get a little easier in the woods, and once you got into the single track in the woods, it was only the slightest bit faster, but not much.  It was really deep in the woods too and no one had been using the trails at all other than the RD who trekked through earlier to lay out the flags.

As I wound through the twists and turns, and up and down some challenging hills w/ some small switchbacks, etc. I found myself getting slower and slower and eventually walking on some of the really steep little climbs.  The snow was just too deep for me to keep running through it without slipping backwards.  I had the ice cleats on but it didn't matter.  You'd need 6 inch long deep cleats to get through that stuff in a running stride.  I built up a decent lead on the field, as I couldn't really see them behind me on some of the course due to the twists and turns, so I knew I was still doing alright...UNTIL I hit the major climb near halfway.  Last year, I was able to run the entire thing and out-duel Mark Miller, who ended up having to walk some of the climb.  This year, I almost had to walk the entire thing.  The snow was really deep and the one set of tracks I was trying to land in, wasn't matching my stride at all.  I was all over the place.  I tripped multiple times up the climb, only to land on my hands and chest in the deep snow.  All the while, Ross, Tim, and a couple others were mowing me down.  They were most likely able to step in a combination of my tracks + the RD's, and get by a little bit faster.  It was killing me just to try to stay ahead.  If I didn't have the lead I had, when I hit the hill, I would have been probably 4th or 5th at the top.  Ross was motoring up the hill and by the top, he had almost caught me.

As soon as you hit the top, you empty out onto a snowmobile trail that is just a long steady downhill (maybe a half mile or so).  It is an awesome thing to have after a climb like that.  The course at this point is well packed and you can run close to 6 minute pace on the way down.  I was all out trying to put distance back on Ross and the group.  By the bottom, I couldn't really see anyone behind me anymore and you empty out into a small field/parking lot (with deep snow again and one set of tracks) before dipping back into the woods for an up and down roller coaster of a single track.  The trail was again only one or two tracks in the snow.  I tried my best to keep a running gait through this part.  Eventually it crosses another road area and hits some nicely groomed snowmobile trails, where I was able to open it up.  I never saw anyone behind me during this part, but I kept looking back.  I also kept waiting for one more hill I thought was coming, but it wasn't in this years course (it was in last year's course because of the different start/end areas).  So in the end, I got lucky with no more crazy climbs ahead of me and I came down and through the finish in a relatively tight contest, with Ross not too far back and Chris Taft, who had also been running me down on the climb, right behind him.  Tim Mahoney (CMS) also had a tight finish with Ken Clark and the race for 6-9th place was extremely exciting to watch, as it was a 4 man sprint.  Erik Wight had misjudged the trail right before the last turn to the finish and had to come from behind to pass everyone in that group again to just outlean the guys at the end.

Tivo ended up arriving to watch the race and film it (but we may never see the end product ;) ) just as we got underway.  He was able to get the race as it crossed the road at the beginning and then filmed the finish.

Special thanks to Farmer Ed for putting on another great event 'out west'.  I had a great time (even though it was a bruiser!).

Photos used in this entry by Bob Birkby and Berksire Sports.

Top 10 (CMS in Blue)
Place Name Age Time
1 Jim Johnson 33 35:07
2 Ross Krause 31 36:13
3 Chris Taft 30 36:21
4 Tim Mahoney 31 38:32
5 Ken Clark 48 38:38
6 Erik Wight 51 40:54
7 Richard Teal 32 40:55
8 Jeff Dengate 33 40:56
9 Paul Bazanchuk 56 40:57
10 Eddie Habeck 33 41:13
71 George Boudreau 41 1:13:10
78 Total Finishers.

After the race, Tivo and I headed north to his humble abode in Bennington, VT.  We hung out for the afternoon at 'Fay Farm' (his family's massive c.1790 farmhouse).  I watched Tim eat all sorts of healthy crap as I sat and ate my pretzels and drank my chocolate milk.  It snowed for most of the day and the scenery was beautiful.  A very relaxing afternoon (as opposed to what DD and I usually did between these races the past couple years).

Sunday: Brave the Blizzard Snowshoe Race - Guilderland, NY (results).

Sunday, Tivo and I left Fay Farm and headed over to Guilderland, NY (just north of Albany) which is about a 45-50 minute ride.

We pulled into the parking lot of the school and immediately noticed the impressive number of racers and volunteers at this event.  The Albany Running Exchange puts on a great event here and it is a really fast, normally well groomed course that doesn't suit good climbers like DD very well..but for guys like Tim and I, it's a track meet.  Tim was obviously giving this one a go, despite his stomach issues over the past couple days.  We registered and quickly got out to run over the first and last parts of the course to get familiar with it before the race went off.  This was the third year I've done this race and it's the third time the course has been slightly different (a common occurrence with snowshoe races).  The field where you start and finish was loaded with deep snow, but it wasn't quite as bad as Greylock as far as the footing..but not great.  The trails in the woods however, were well packed by snowshoers already (and most likely Josh Merlis and his crew, who put on the event).  I noticed before we turned around, that the course goes left once you get to the main trail that was the basis for the near out-and-back course of the past couple years.  Tim told me they must have gone back to the course they had a few years ago where it went left and up around another field at the top before heading back down into more of a loop course, using many of the same trails as before.  It sounded good to me, as it meant you aren't passing by people going in the opposite direction, later in the coruse (and on a tight, single track trail). We headed back up to the start for a quick change and got ready to rock.

I had some nerves about this one, I admit.  It is the first race I have the option to 'three-peat' at this year.  I've won this race in 2009, 2010, and now this year was looking like it would be pretty tough. The only other race I had the opportunity to 'three-peat' at was Savoy and I got smoked there by David Herr and Brian Rusiecki in August.  I was hoping this wouldn't be another failed attempt at getting three 'W's in a row at the same race.  Looking around, and seeing Josh and Tivo and some others on the line (including a couple from Greylock, the day before),  I knew it wasn't going to be easy.  It's also a very fast course, so it was anyone's race to take.  Tim told me right before the start that there was a 2:27 marathoner in the field and pointed to one of the Albany guys... I jokingly said back to him 'what do you think I am?'... But I admit, that concerned me.  Anyone that can run that quick in a marathon, obviously has some endurance and could definitely give anyone a run here.  The commands were given and the race was off.

I was out relatively quick but not crazy.  Tivo was right with me and there were a couple others, including one guy who did take a few steps ahead of me before falling back pretty quickly.  By 45 seconds to a minute into the race though, Tivo and I were together up front and there were no takers.  Everyone else was way back.  The course start was different (to me) in that it goes around the entire field once first, dips into the woods a bit, does a small loop, then dumps back on the field, cuts across, and goes up the small, steep hill into the woods for the main section of the race.  By the first little part in the woods, Tivo and I had a huge lead.  Tim asked me how I felt as he was right behind me and I gave him a one word answer, 'awful'.  I did.  I felt sluggish and tired.  I got OK sleep at Tim's house, but the tough race on Saturday really took something out of me.  I actually felt stiffness and heaviness in my legs. Normally I don't feel that way after just a couple of snowshoe races.  As we cut across the field and up the hill into the trails, Tim and I both looked back and Tim said 'No Takers' and he was right.  From that point on, and for the next 5-6 minutes or so, it was Tim and I winding through the trails and then up onto the new field section.

As I made the climb up into the field, I started to put a little bit of distance on Tim and his footfalls and breathing was getting quieter and quieter.  Towards the end of the field loop, I had a decent lead and tried to keep building it from there.  The course is a great mix of fields, wide snowmobile trails, single track, and decent little hills.

From about halfway (the course was 4.16 miles) onward, I could only see Tivo on the very long, straight sections of trail.  I kept plugging away but by about 21 minutes or so, I was really starting to slow down.  I was having trouble staying loose and was just in finishing mode at that point.  There was some pretty strong headwinds on the long, straight trail section before the course heads back to the finish.  I had some problems staying on the trail during this part as I was beginning to run sloppy and the wind was blowing me around.

Once I got up past the volunteers and turned onto the last stretch, it was just some twisty, rolling single track left before you pop down onto the field again for the finish.  As you approach the field, you can begin to hear the music and the announcer.  It's a good indicator you are getting close, but it seems to take a while because of all the switchbacks in the trail.  As I came down onto the field, a photographer from the local paper was there taking pictures.  I flashed the 'three' at him as I went down the hill and across the sloppy last field section to the finish.  I was really happy to have picked up a third win at a race in 3 consecutive years.  It's not really something I think about often, but for some reason, after Savoy, I began to think about it after I figured out what races were left that I had won 2 times in a row.

Tivo came in in a strong 2nd place, even with the bad stomach, and Josh Merlis was just outkicked by a local high school standout (Connor Devine) who had to catch up to Josh and outlean him at the line in really deep, sloppy snow.  It was another exciting finish.  Josh went down face-first as he crossed the line.

Writeup from the Daily Gazette.

Top 10 (CMS in Blue)
Place Name Age City State Time Pace
1 Jim Johnson 33 Salem NH 29:42 7:10
2 Tim VanOrden 42 Bennington VT 31:08 7:31
3 Connor Devine 17 East Berne NY 32:51 7:55
4 Josh Merlis 29 Albany NY 32:51 7:55
5 Gary Fancher 49 Windsor NY 33:47 8:09
6 Thomas O'Grady 25 Latham NY 34:19 8:17
7 Jeff Dengate 33 Brooklyn NY 34:21 8:17
8 Ahmed Elasser 48 Latham NY 34:42 8:22
9 Ken Clark 48 Somers CT 35:02 8:27
10 Brian Northan 35 Guilderland NY 35:37 8:35
155 George Boudreau 41WareMA1:06:5216:07
207 Total Finishers.

After the race, I cooled down for a bit around the school area and then headed in for the awards and to chat with some folks before heading back home.  It took me just 3 hours to get home (including stopping for gas).  Not a bad ride.  I was home in plenty of time to unpack, unwind, and watch the Pats get smoked.  My first full Pats game I watched this year (probably due to all the hype before the game)...that's what I get for watching I guess...maybe I should keep boycotting the Bruins, since they seem like they are doing alright without my attention.

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