Breakfast: 6am (4 hours till the start) – 24oz Green Smoothie; Kale, Banana, Blueberry, Dulse, Raw Honey and well water.
With the Empire State Building Run Up (the unofficial world championships of stair climbing) only 2 weeks away, my training has been fast and furious. Normally, I would take it easy leading up to a weekend with back to back snowshoe races, but with the ESB looming large I’ve had to push myself to the limit and beyond.
Needless to say, my legs were spent before I even toed the line in Adams, MA at the Greylock Glen snowshoe race on Saturday. Based on my performance on the steep climbs at the Turner Trail snowshoe race last weekend, I was not expecting a great result. The steep, mile long climb at Greylock Glen would be a quad buster and my quads were already busted.
This race was sure to attract a top field of athletes from around New England being the 3rd race in the highly competitive WMAC/Dion Snowshoe series. An ever increasing number of standout road and track runners have been showing up at these events looking to test their mettle in a new ‘running’ discipline. Shortly before the start, I spotted my CMS teammates, Jim “undefeated” Johnson warming up with top master Dave Dunham and trail powerhouse Tim Mahoney. Further surveillance detected 2009 Wildman Biathlon winner Ross Krause doing sprints on the road, clad in biking attire. Out of the corner of my eye I spied a pair of lean, efficient ‘gazelles’ swiftly approaching on their warmup. As they moved closer I recognized one of them as top trail runner and track standout Greg Hammett. They stopped, we shared hellos and Greg said “do you know Mark?”. I shook Mark’s hand and then it quickly dawned on me – This was Mark Miller. The same Mark Miller that won the New England trail running championships in 2008 and 2009 and has clocked 4:02 in the mile and 14:18 for 5k. My mind started to do quick calculations and concluded that I’d be lucky to crack the top 8 in this race.
As we lined up at the start, WMAC’s Ed Alibozek gave us the pre-race details – Follow the red tape, follow the yellow arrows, do not cross the yellow tape, and watch out for the bridge crossing – there are planks missing and you could fall through. Ready. Set. Go!
Race favorite, Jim Johnson burst into the lead with Mark Miller hot on his trail. Greg Hammett tucked in behind them and I moved into 4th. The pace was very fast. The bridge crossing proved to be quite treacherous as we danced on our snowshoes trying to miss the gaps and avoid certain injury, but yet maintain pace. Jim and Mark gradually pulled ahead. I could see them trade off the lead a good 20 seconds in front of me. Greg was falling off the pace, but was still 12 seconds ahead. Then we hit the climb.
The trail was steep. So steep that Jim and Mark were within shot put distance in front of me. Greg split the difference. Jim’s legs were working away at the mountain like two pistons firing. Mark was trying to hang on but could not keep up the run and started power walking. Greg saw this and started walking himself. I couldn’t believe my eyes. My legs were on fire, but I picked up the pace, not about to miss this opportunity. I knew the hill would be done in about 6 minutes, which is not much longer than the torturous 5 minute Tabata sets I’ve been doing in training. So I bore down, gritted my teeth and ran. I quickly caught up to Greg and passed him. He offered a breathy “Go Tivo!”. Mark was now in my sights. I was closing the gap quickly. As the trail snaked around a switchback, I glanced back and saw that Dave (King of the climbs) Dunham was making ground on me and closing the gap. I pushed harder. The trail got steeper… and steeper. My legs screamed. My stomach was doing all that it could to hold my green smoothie breakfast down. Then we burst out of the single track and onto a snowmobile trail – heading down. Mark was only 5 seconds in front of me and he was laboring.
Filled with a sense of excitement, I charged after Mark with all the speed my wet noodle legs could muster. Never had I imagined that I’d be sprinting after a legend like Mark in a race. One might imagine that running downhill is easier than running uphill. From a metabolic (energy required) perspective this is quite true, but from a muscular perspective it’s the exact opposite. The force of impact on the quad muscles while running downhill is SEVERAL TIMES the force experienced while running uphill. Downhills tear the quads to shreds as the muscles instinctively try to put on the brakes. In other words, there is no recovery for the legs. Mark kept his distance on me, but was not pulling away. Suddenly the trail pitched down at a slope of 35 percent or more. I launched myself down the hill with reckless abandon hoping to gain a few seconds on Mark who was far more cautious. When I reached the bottom of the steep pitch and the course leveled out, I did not. The intense gravitational forces of my blitz had compressed my legs and nearly drove me into a squatting position. I could not stand upright. My legs were done. I shuffled for a bit and gradually got my legs to straighten, but their strength was gone. I could hear the chatter of snowshoes behind me and then like the sound of a train going by Greg Hammett flew past. The race was nearly over, but I was really struggling. There would be no end of race kick. My wobbly legs barely got me across the bridge crossing as we headed back up to the finish line.
Jim Johnson crushed the field. Mark was nearly a minute behind him in second. Greg was third 24 seconds behind Mark and I was another 17 seconds back in 4th place. Despite a wrong turn, Dave Dunham posted a solid 5th. I was very excited to have hung on to these amazing athletes as long as I did. A 4th place finish in this field was a huge accomplishment. But the weekend was not over and come Sunday morning I’d be back on the shoes again to face off against an amazing crew of New York athletes at the Brave The Blizzard snowshoe race.
Post race: 4 bananas, 1 orange.
Results can be seen here: http://www.coolrunning.com/results/10/ma/Jan16_Greylo_set1.shtml
GPS course profile here: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/22480885 – Click the “Elevation” tab at the bottom to see the vertical profile of the course.