I now know how to reach my max heart rate, beat road runners in a quasi trail/road/fire road race and ultimately have a great time while doing it. The Wachusett Mountain Race is the second race in the USATF New England Moutain Circuit which also includes another race I'm running, the Loon Mountain Race in July. This race consisted of uphills and downhills with no real flat sections to recover.
Race day temps were in the high 60's to low 70's with cloudy skies. It felt slightly humid and I knew I would be sweating profusely upon arrival. Our 20 minute car ride from Holden was uneventful as this was the first local race (within 20 minutes) I've done. I actually got to wake up at a reasonable hour (not 2am!) and eat a non-rushed breakfast. I also didn't have to pack drop bags and gear, which usually takes me awhile. All I needed was my shoes.
My wife actually picked those out for me, the shoes I mean. She said those look cool (NB MT101's) and I threw them on. After a brief pre-race meeting, we headed down to the base of Mountain Rd and got into formation. I stood in the front pack of 30 or so people, not really sure if I should be there, but the signal was given and off we went. Uphill. Yup, no flat warm-up just straight uphill for a little over a mile. During this uphill sprint (which is what it felt like) I joined in a pack of guys of about 10. We could see the leaders maybe 10 seconds up on us and knew that was about as close as we'd get. I did however pass two women on the initial road climb and having them behind me had me feeling good about goal #2.
After jockeying with 3 road runners (I could tell by the shoes and extremely short shorts), I started feeling the effects of the uphill climb and let them go. I knew in a few more tenths, we would be taking a right into the ranger station, heading downhill and then onto some downhill trail. This is were I made my initial move. They had maybe 10 seconds on me taking the right, but after the trail segment I was ahead of all of them.
Next was an uphill fire/access road that would lead us across the ski slopes and toward the Old Indian Trail. I knew this trail was killer and could make up some time on the climb. The road runners were clearly faster than me on the access road and went by me as we exited the woods. Like I said though, the trail was coming up. And up it did. The Old Indian Trail is by my standards a killer uphill hiking trail and possibly out of the question to even run. I did manage to run portions of this trail but power hiked two segments to regain my composure.
We then took a right on the Semuhenna trail which continued uphill and again brought me to a quick power hike. Two guys passed me on this and all the road runners got by me as well. There were 6 dudes ahead of me now that I had in my cross hares. One of the racers asked me how far to the summit and I said about a half mile (I was racing, it was like 2 tenths). He slowed, I ran harder and beat him to the top. One down. I then hit the top and began the descent. A CMS road runner looked beaten on his summit bid and quickly made him my second victim. Two down. Next was a group of four ahead of me, all going down hill at a pretty conservative clip. I'm not sure if they didn't know the course and didn't realize it was all downhill from there or that they just didn't have anything left in the tank. Anyhow, after looking over the course map and hiking/running Wachusett for many years, I had the course down pat.
So with this in mind, I took the inside lane and just pushed by the four guys (all road runners i think) and charged downhill somewhere between reckless and "your going to break something if you fall" fast. I knew the access road would then take a turn onto the Balance Rock Trail and it would be all over. BRT is a rocky mess at the beginning then it gets tamer toward the finishing chute. If I had a decent lead on the road runners it would be game over for them once entering the trail. I didn't even look back as I entered, knowing that my final push downhill got the job done.
The BRT was wet and slippery and almost had me on my butt a few times. I was borderline out of control but manged to stay upright. Toward the end of the trail and right before the finish, I had a weird sensation going through my body. Maybe it was fatigue and muscle failure or something like a nervous pain knowing that someone was closing in on me. But no one did and I flew down the chute solo in about 10th place (will update when I know but top 20 was goal #1) in 34:16.
This race was such a different experience that all the ultras I've been doing lately. Over in less than an hour, heart rate was pounding throughout and reaching a new level of what I can do really had me enjoying this race. My wife and daughter were able to attend start to finish and saw me on the initial climb up mt rd. This was great because its tough to that with a 9 month old and an ultra race. Maybe I'll mix in some shorter races throughout the summer to spice things up a bit. It might even make me faster!!!
Update: Race results are in. 17th place in 34:14. I thought I was closer to the top 10, but inside the top 20 so I'll take it for my first go around.