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Thursday, August 4, 2022

Running the Mont Greylock Massif

I found this route on the Fastest Known Time website and it fit the bill for what I was looking for...20+ miles, about 6,000' of elevation gain and nearly all of it on singletrack.  The elevation profile, although smaller, resembled routes I've been training for like the Great Range traverse, The Pemi, or the Presi.  Also, similar to those routes, I've never set foot on these trails, so it'd be a total "onsight".  

From the map, I could tell it was an interesting route.  It travels across 7 summits and 2 rocky ledges, including the 4 highest "peaks" in Massachusetts, and is fairly well laid out (read: not super contrived). It also offers nice comforts for a budding trail runner like myself; it feels like you're in the wilds but crosses paved roads several times; offering many escape routes.  There is an easy water refill at the Bascom Lodge and maybe along Sperry Campground.  Lastly, with the large trail network there are other options so Katie can enjoy a day in the hills too.  

For those that haven't seen Greylock, imagine a big out of place mountain jutting out of the flats. Several  miles to its west are a smaller chain of mountains, the Taconics.  And to the east, Pioneer Valley rolls out towards the Deerfield and Connecticut Rivers.  

I'd focused on increasing my running miles since late March and this would be my longest run to date.  About 3 weeks earlier, I ran a 20 mile route in the Adirondacks that had similar vertical and was awesome but my overall pace/effort was less than I wanted.  For this run, I wanted to push myself at a strong endurance pace.  

I spent a little time sleuthing around on the internet and Strava but there wasn't much info on this particular route.  From what I did see, I got the sense it'd be less technical than what I was typically running and faster than my recent ADK run. I guessed my time would be somewhere between 5.5-6 hours, putting my pace somewhere between 15-16 min/miles.  

We drove up to VT Saturday morning and spent the day at Bromley, riding alpine slides and letting Jack run around like a wild man.  Then went for a short hike around Hapgood Pond and finished off the classic VT summer day fishing at the Pond. The weather was in the mid 70s and the humidity was low.  The forecast was similar for Sunday, but with temps slightly higher.  It seemed like perfect weather.  

Katie and I left the cabin around 6:40am and drove the 45 minutes south to the Haley Farm trailhead. By 7:40am we were ready to run.  Katie was running a different route but the first half mile was together. 

While we ran easy, warming up, the dim morning light was exaggerated along the western side of Greylock .  Once the trail shifted more uphill and became rockier we said our goodbyes and were on our own.  Katie would cross the summit of Greylock twice and we thought we'd see each other again around the 3 hour mark. 

When the Money Brook trail shifted to the north, I kept an eye out for the Mount Prospect trail. I had read a few reports this was easy to miss but I easily found it after a small dry creek crossing.  The trail starts moderately, traversing the lower apron of the hill but once it gets to a wide rocky ridge, it becomes quite steep.  From the trail junction it climbs +1,200' in just under 1 mile, hitting grades up to 40%.  

The temperature was cool and I hadn't realized the humidity but soon I became very sweaty and the air felt heavy and unrefreshing. Well this is not ideal, I thought to myself. 

My heart rate was rising into a tempo zone (around 155 bpm) and I held it there for about 23 minutes until I passed the summit cairn.  Was my heart rate too high? I thought.  Maybe but I'd like to put my fitness to test and see if I can get away with pushing the harder portions of this route in a higher zone.  In cycling, having my heart rate in Tempo for longer endurance events was never an issue but running I found it to be "just harder".  Plus I'm not a very fast runner but I can be competitive on the climbs. 

Mount Prospect's summit only offered a splintered view through the canopy but the ridge line out to Prospect Mountain (confusing right?) did have a few vista's looking down into Williamstown. 

Here I turned left onto the Appalachian Trail (AT) and was greeted kindly as the initial downhill was a beautiful section of newly maintained trail, complete with nice benched trails and swoopy turns. The trail continued very smoothly until I crossed the paved Notch Rd. and began the climb up Williams Peak. This climb paled in comparison to the initial climb up Mt. Prospect but was much more AT like in the technical aspects of the trail (rocky, erosion, etc.) 

Where the AT turned south there was a short descent and then another climb up Mount Fitch.  This climb was even less noticeable but the trail continued to be rocky and technical.  

An hour and thirty-five minutes into the run Katie texted, "at the summit of Greylock, no bears!".  Maybe I could catch her as she headed down the bellows trail? But at this point in the run I was struggling to find the flow state.  My achilles felt a bit beat up on my right foot from the initial climb and I could tell I wasn't getting quite enough water.  To make things more challenging, the perpetum seemed like it wasn't mixed well and sipping through the soft flask was really tough.  I tried focusing on the present moment but just couldn't find my groove. 

Once on the Bellows trail I felt somewhat relieved. Ah, familiar ground.  I've skied this countless times in the winter and at least I sort of know what to expect.  Well, it turns out the upper section of this trail feels a whole lot steeper in the summer than it does in the winter but the lower section near the lean-to was beautiful with its open forest, soft and flatish trail.  At one point tall delicate flowery bushes (weeds?)lining (not obscuring) the trail. 

It was beautiful but short lived. The out and back up Ragged Mountain was surprisingly a tough little trail and I'd guess, by the somewhat overgrown and blowdowns, that it's a less visited trail.   The upper section of the trail traces along the base of a 20-30' gray cliff that probably looks pretty gnarly in the winter.  The summit wasn't super obvious but I ran to the highest point and then backtracked to a view looking at the sunlit east side of Greylock.  Dang, it looks big and considering I plan to be up there in half hour, far away.


Now the slog back up the Bellows trail.  Again because I've skied up this so many times, I wasn't concerned with this climb but knew the upper switchbacks would be tough, they always are.  And again I found myself in tempo heart rate.  

The AT to the summit of Greylock was surprisingly (and busy).  On skis, at least in my mind, this section is more or less a traverse with no noticeable climb besides the silly shenanigans by the road.  In the summer it was fairly steep and I found my HR stayed in the upper z2/z3.  The steepest sections in the winter were rock steps now and I was extremely happy when I got to to Joe Dodge warming hut.  

Katie had been texting me to tell me she was again at the summit and asked if I was nearby, I could read the messages on my watch but my phone had gone into emergency mode (too many pushed buttons in the vest?) and it wouldn't be unlocked for 15 minutes.  She texted my Garmin in reach asking if I was ok, and while I wanted to see her and tell her more, I only really had the energy and focus to respond "yes". 

At the summit of Greylock, I ran by crowds of people that had driven to the summit, they stared at me as if I were Bigfoot or some circus act. I guess being covered in sweat and looking like I'd been running around the mountains for 3 hours was a bit of a surprise for most; why run when there is a road you can drive up?  My phone was still locked, so no celebratory photos either.  I got to the Bascom Lodge and asked a couple cyclists if they knew where I could fill bottles and they pointed me in the right direction.  And at that point, Katie hollered for me and came running down towards me chipper as ever.  

At this point, I was likely already beginning to bonk due to the lack of water and my jammed perpetum bottle and her energy was exhausting.  She helped me fill bottles and gave me a cookie.  We ran the next few minutes together on the AT continuing south and then again said our goodbyes again.  

Typically I over analyze routes and know every nook and cranny, today I went in pretty blind but on paper, this 3-4 mile section looked pretty tame, not much elevation gain and mostly downhill but in reality it was much harder.  The "flat sections" were twisty and rocky with ups and downs and the downhill was incredibly steep in spots.  For whatever reason, I figured this section would be fast and slightly "auto pilot'ish" but in reality it took me much longer with an avg pace around 17 min/mile and was mentally taxing. The twists and rock hops were constant and again my mind couldn't settle into the zone.

About 3.5 hours into the run, I'd been pushing myself nearly harder than I ever had and my mind/body still couldn't settle into that flow state I love and rely on.  I felt bonk'ish, dehydrated and just more frantic than normal.  I was obsessing numbers and trying to race to a pace I'd only guessed at.  It was stupid really and I knew it.  I told myself, run your own pace, fuck the other times, slow down, eat and drink.  I ate a the sugar cookie Katie gave me and for a bit of time, it helped.  

Just over 4  hours I crossed the paved Rockwell Rd.  The trailhead and parking lot were busy with day hikers and picnic folk.  I continued south on Northup Trail.  The trail began as nicely mowed grass but soon became more of an overgrown lonely trail.  When I turned onto the Round Rocks Trail at about 16 miles I was trashed and in full-on bonk mode.  My mind was fucked, my heart rate seemed uncontrollable, I felt super slow, and my body was tired.  My trekking poles were used more to keep me upright than to propel me forward as I flailed up the trail.  

Was this it? Am I done?  I thought of the last steep section I ran down at the "Jones Nose", knowing I'd have to hike back up that and then the long traverse back towards the summit of Greylock along the CCC Dynamite trail.  Ugh, that is so far, I'll never make that.  

My body was tired and my mind, my bodies best friend, was trying to save itself and trick me into quitting.  I've been here before but it's been a long time, maybe 6 or 7 years?  I fought against my mind, "Slow down, fuck your schedule eat and drink as much as you want."  I pulled out a Picky Bar and at the entire thing, I gulped down water and slowly crept down the trail.  My watch showed a pace of 42 min/mile at one point.  Whatever, I don't even care, just keep moving.  

Eventually I closed the lower loop on the Round Rocks Trail and was now climbing my final big climb, back up "Jones Nose".  The lower section is easy but fully exposed to the sun and the combination of uphill and sun was tough.  I looked up the trail and saw a birch tree and thought, get that far and if you need to, you can lay in the shade.  But when I got near the tree, I could kept moving.  

I kept pushing and soon found myself back in the shadow of the trees.  It felt great to be out of the sun but here the trail was significantly steeper with grades up to 38%.  Here I told myself, keep on going and when you get to the CCC Dynamite Trail junction, you can reward yourself with music/headphones. Looking back at my performance on this climb, it wasn't terrible, at the time I felt like I was barely moving but my pace/time were exactly on point with my goal time.  Amazing really. 

At almost 5 hours into this run (18'ish miles) I got to the CCC Dynamite Trail.  Awesome, I can listen to music.  I pulled out my headphones and my phone but my mind was so dumb I could hardly figure out how to put in my ear buds and get music playing.  I felt like I needed to pee to and that made things more confusing.  I'll skip the pee and just get the music going.  

I put on an old Phish show, 12/30/97 and began running.  At first the music was too much for me and it almost hurt my brain more.  I lowered the music a bit and swallowed down a caffeinated gel.  From my brief review, I knew this section of trail was void of any climbs and relatively flat.  It was relatively flat but still more technical than I'd anticipated.  There were several small brooks that offered a trickle of water and I wondered several times, should I stop and filter more water?  But I never did.  

After 23 minutes I hit the paved Rockwell Rd again.  Wow, that was actually quicker than I thought it would be.  Thank god. From here, I knew I had just a gravel road and a steep downhill to the finish.  My bonked out brain thoughts of quitting were gone, I've got this.  I texted Katie, "At the top of Sperry Rd" and she responded, "Ugh that road is kind of brutal. I just got to the parking lot. I can’t really feel my legs. My knees are so angry. Ended at 14 miles" 

Wow, not really what I wanted to read but as I ran down the somewhat steep road, my quads began to agree with her.  I focused on running smooth and having good turnover and at mile 20, this was fairly challenging but I managed to keep a pace around 10 min/mile.  

The gravel road flattened out and entered the Sperry Campground.  I saw a few woman near the registration building and asked if they knew where any water was.  They said it may be down that way but the bathrooms were locked so who knows.  I started running towards the drinking water but then decided I had enough to finish so I kept running.  

The gravel road than started to climb, not much but enough at 5-10% and it became a bit more twisty so I could never quite tell if I was nearing the top.  My pace slowed to 13 min/mile and again i focused on good turnover and pushing off on every step.  Don't worry about the top, just push with what you have with this step. 

Eventually I came around a corner and saw a lookout, it was Stony Ledge.  The view here is quite impressive even with my dull brain and I stopped to take a photo.  Looking into the "hopper" i could see the peaks I ran earlier, Mt. Prospect, Prospect Mountain, Williams Peak, and Greylock. 

The gravel road ended and I began my final descent on Haley Farm Trail.  I knew I'd be losing a lot of vertical and I just wanted to keep a consistent pace and not get injured.  I feared the trail would be as steep as my morning climb up Mt. Prospect and although steep, it wasn't that steep.  

To keep impact off my knees, I relied heavily on my poles and quickly turned over my feet.  I managed to move fairly quickly, at about 15 min/mile but the 1.6 mile descent did wear me down.  After losing just over 1,300' of elevation (a bit more vertical loss than running down Bromley) I came to Money Brook Trail and closed the loop.  

With only about a quarter of a mile to go and on relatively easy ground I pushed my pace around 9 min/mile.  I popped out of the woods and saw our car.  The rear hatch was open and I could see Katie laying inside, she looked asleep as I cam tromping up to the car.  "that was so fucking hard" I said to her as I pulled my ear buds out.  

To date, this was the most vertical I'd gain and longest run I'd done. It came to be 23.4 miles with 6,012' of climbing. My pace was fairly consistent and besides a few minutes to fill bottles, 1 pee, and a stop to put in ear buds, I never stopped moving.  My final time was 6:12.  My moving time was 6:08 with an avg pace 15:44 min /mile. 

I drank about 6 soft flasks of h20 which works out to be about 3.2 liters of water.  I consumed 5 gels, 1 cookie, 1 picky bar and about 1,000 calories from perpetum (7ish scoops).  In total thats maybe 1,700 calories.  

With the higher than anticipated humidity, I think I could have drank more water.  But than again, that'd mean I'd need to carry more weight.  I think my perpetum clogging my bottle for the first 3 hours really set me up for a tough day.  I should have stopped early on and cleared that issue.  I also should have eaten more, I finished with plenty of food in my vest.  What's the point on carrying all this if I don't eat it?  

My pace and HR were really in the right spot for this entire run and it was a great and challenging effort.  I wish I could have stayed a bit more put together and less frantic but I'm incredibly proud I could push through that bonk.  

Where to from here?  Recovery. This one is going to take some time to recover from but once recovered I hope to do a Presidential Traverse or maybe the Pemi Loop.  Both will be more time than this effort and the thought of that much time solo in the hills does intimidate me.  Hopefully with rest, this effort will bring me up to that challenge.  I think it might.  

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