Saturday, August 31, 2013

Wapack Attack

One of the better signs
In my seemingly never ending attempt to run nearly every trail in New Hampshire this summer, I headed over to New Ipswich, NH for the Wapack Trail Race. I had done this one twice before. In 2009 I got so dehydrated that I needed to sit down and “collect myself” in the closing miles of the race. I staggered across the line in 3 hours and 16 minutes. Last year, I ran it a little smarter (and lucked out with good weather) And I finished 3 minutes faster – over a longer course.  What would this year bring? In a word …    Misery.

As luck would have it, rain showers had moved through the area just hours before the start of the race – leaving very slick conditions over the mostly rock covered course. Also, the front which came though brought “rain forest” like humidity along with it. And then, as if on cue, the sun came out and pretty much made the route an 18 mile long, slippery steam bath. Excellent! That’s all I need is more degree of difficulty on this already challenging course.

The Course
For the un-enlightened, here’s a race description taken directly from the Wapack website:

“The Wapack race course is 18 miles. The route is an out-and-back that follows the Wapack Trail between New Ipswich, NH and Ashburnham, MA.  There are four major mountains in between: Barrett, New Ipswich, Pratt, and Watatic, from north to south.  Total climb and total descent are each about 3,000 feet.  This is a very tough trail race.  Don’t attempt it unless you are in excellent shape.  The Wapack is generally well marked by yellow triangles that you will need to follow using your own powers of observation; if you don't watch out, you can get lost at a few spots!“

So, in review, what we’ve got here is: heat, humidity, slippery rocks, 4 mountains you have run up twice each, and poorly marked trails. What could possibly go wrong?

As a seasoned trail racer, and knowing what I was facing on this day, I started slowly and ran the first half of the race fairly conservatively. A couple nasty slips (and trips) on the descents caused me to run down extra wimpy, but I was pleasantly surprised at how well I climbed on the ups. I guess my summer of peak bagging was finally starting to show some benefit! I hit the turn-around in 1:40 (5 minutes slower than last year) and in 22nd place – with every intention of bettering both numbers on the return trip.

The Trail
I pulled back 5 runners by the time I hit the aid station at 12.5 miles. And, with just 5.5 miles to go, I was feeling pretty good. But, all that changed in the span of about a mile and a half. Running past the swamps of Binney Pond (usually my favorite part of the course) my legs began to get very heavy. The heat of the day was really starting to take its toll. And I came to a grinding halt on the climb back up Pratt – the steepest part of the course! By the time I reached its exposed summit I felt like a steamed dumping. I was totally cooked and still had 4 long miles to go!

Needless to say, the rest of the race was all about trying to stay vertical and moving forward. I lost a lot of time and 4 of the 5 spots I had gained in 3.5 miles after the turn around. Each runner that went by tried to offer some encouragement, but my legs just wouldn’t respond. Eventually I found a slow rhythm that I could maintain the rest of the way. I crossed the blessed finish line in 3:37 - 24 minutes slower than last year and a whopping 17 minutes slower on the back than the out. Ouch!

Hanging with respected (and bespectacled) Mtn. Man - Kevin Tilton
The after party was probably the best part of my day. I talked with Race Director Paul Funch and congratulated him on miraculously making the race 10 times harder while maintaining the exact same course! I chatted up other trail runners who had had similar (if not more challenging) experiences than I did  And I enjoyed a great post-race spread – including Pizza, Cookies, M&M’s and Watermelon!. This much fun and just $15 to run?! Maybe I’ll be back next year. Maybe.

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