Sunday, May 8, 2011

Wapack 50/43 Race Report

The Wapack Trail is a 21.5 mile trail starting in Ashburnham, MA at the base of Mt. Watatic and ending at Mountain Rd at the base of North Pack Manadnock in Greenfield, NH. The Wapack and Back Trail Race is in its fifth year and would prove just as tough as my first go-around last year. RD, Norm Sheppard puts on a great race and started with a few pre-race announcements concerning route finding (follow the yellow triangles!) and race options (the 43 or 50 miler). Basically, the out-and-back will give you 43 miles, then one must go back up Watatic and down the backside for 3.5 miles, turn around and return for the 50. He mentioned that all 43 and 50 mile finishers would receive accolade and finishers awards.

So at 5:00 am Norm said "go" and we were off like animals. Just kidding we actually kinda stood there for few waiting for someone to take the lead and navigate the route up Watatic. Norm came to me before the pre-race announcements and mentioned he hung glow sticks going up the mountain the night before, but that someone took down a critical one leading us right off the main trail and onto the wapack single track. I think he wanted me to make sure the congo line was going in the right direction so I heeded his directions and took the lead.

Also following right behind me was Matthew Davenport of Framingham, MA. He ran the race last year and finished second in the 43 miler. Matt proved to be my running partner for almost the entire 43 miles. We spoke on and off throughout which kept the mind off the pain (and stomach issues on my part). He's a fellow parent of a little one (18 month little guy) and with Isla being almost 9 months, we had many stories to share.
We also spoke about running, races, work, and future ambitions. I can't speak more highly of Matt, he is the quintessential ultra runner. A real down to earth guy, family man, and one that likes to run up and down mountains over and over and over.

Matt and I ran together all the way to Windblow Aid Station (mile 9) without anyone else in sight. He took off a bit ahead of me (had to refill my Nathan pack) and I spoke with Ben, a fellow student and budding ultra runner who was volunteering for VT100 hours. As I left I noticed another runner coming into the aid station. Matt and I spoke about the field and said he was surprised Daniel Larson wasn't with us. Well, Daniel caught us and about a two miles latter and joined our lead group.

Daniel, another down to earth good guy, seemed to be running effortlessly through the ups and downs at an ever so casual pace.  He has completed many 100's and had an impressive resume. Also a family man (father of two boys), we all spoke of the joys of fatherhood and its trials and tribulations. All three of us hit the Miller Aid station (mile 16) and then headed up South Pack Manadnock again as a trio. The ascent of South Pack is predominately rock scrambling and hiking and very little trail running until you hit the summit. Even then, the downhill can be steep and rock strewn. We hit the col between South and North Pack and powered up towards the summit wondering when the 21 milers would cross our paths. That race had a 9am start and we were approaching that hour. 

On our descent of North Pack, we finally met our first south-bound 21 mile racer (David Herr, I think?). He seemed in command of the race and was looking strong on the climb (he was the eventually winner).  I remember passing all the 21 mile racers last year and their comments and praise really boosted my confidence, which again happened this year. Can't say enough about the trail running community, good people all around.

Mile 21.5 brought the three of us to Mountain Road in Greenfield, NH. Ben and two others were manning the aid station when we arrived. Larsen made his move here and quickly refilled his water and took off, as Matt and I shuffled through our drop bags in need of food and other essentials. Matt and I spoke about Larsen and how he could have put the hammer down at any point. I guess he decided the turn-around was his coup de grace. I later spoke with Daniel at the finish and he said he simply wanted some company out on the trails. Another great reason why I love the sport of ultrarunning.

So Matt and I took off back up North Pack, hoping we could somehow catch Daniel. We noticed that we were both a little faster on the technical downhills and thought we could catch him coming off South Pack at the Miller Aid station. Larsen was the least of our worries though. Going up North Pack allowed us to see the competition heading to the turn around. I thought we had built a bigger lead, but after only a minute or two, we saw one runner, then two, then three and then a whole slew of people. Yikes, we'd better get on our horses I thought.

It was also around this time that both myself and Matt started having problems. He with hydration issues (only carried one bottle from the start) and myself with stomach problems. I felt nauseated and had the urge to vomit on many occasions. I ate some pop tarts at the Mountain Rd aid station and nothing else till I got to Miller. Not good when you have a marathon to go. It was pretty slow going over the rocky technical downhill of South Pack, which actually kept my stomach at bay. When we arrived, I forced some cookies down, refilled water and then took off.  Matt actually stayed at the Miller Aid station for a few extra minutes to re-hydrate (a good call on his part) and caught me a few miles later. Another runner, Pat ?, running his first ultra, passed me just after the aid station. You could tell he was amped up, running strong and would finish at all costs (I had a similar look during this very race, my first ultra, last year).

We plodded along together, many times walking hills we would surely run on a better day. At this time some dark clouds were rolling and a few rain drops began to fall. We both wanted it to rain and cool us off, as the temps seemed to hover in the lower 70's for the day, and a nice dousing of water wouldn't hurt. We came into the Windblow aid station together and I felt horrible. I considered dropping at Miller and even more so at Windblown. I made a pact when I started this sport, however, that I would only drop if I'm near death or injured, so I took a seat on the ground while my water was being refilled, ate some cookies, and questioned myself why I run these things.

As I set off from Windblow, I knew I had a monster climb ahead me that I was not looking forward to. The only thing I had going for me was the 21 milers. I had caught the slow movers and began picking them off one by one. It was nice to talk to them in passing and they had many inspiring words to keep my spirits up. Once atop the big climb, I told myself to run. And run I did. I wanted this run over with and I wanted it now. I figured why delay it by hiking, just suck it up and crank out the last few miles.

I reached the aid station 3.5 miles from the start (the turn-around point for the 50 mile race) and saw Matt hiking up ahead. I quickly got my water filled and attempted to eat some m&ms's (ate about 5 and tossed the rest) and then hustled up the hill to catch Matt. I knew he had to be hurting and I was definitely in the same boat. Misery loves company at this point in the race, as we hiked a good portion of the last few miles. We spoke about just getting back to the parking lot and calling it a day. We had come to the conclusion that there would be no 50 mile attempt for us. In my mind I battled with this. Is this quiting? Maybe. But I'm going to puke if I run another step! Besides, there is a 43 mile race to be had for those who do not wish to go back out or can not.

As we hiked up the back-side of Watatic and slowly sauntered down the front-side, we encountered  Daniel (back-side) and then Pat? (front-side) heading out to complete the 50. As Matt and I came closer to the finish, we spoke about road running and how we would be rubbing elbows and pushing ourselves to the brink of exhaustion to beat the other. As ultra runners, Matt and I knew that after spending almost the entire race together there was only one way to finish. Together, we crossed the line, finishing the 43 miles in 9:33, tied for first place.

I now know why I love ultrarunning. I can meet someone I've never met before at 5am and by mid-afternoon feel and trust someone like no other. Matt pulled me, I pulled him and we both got to the end, albeit 7 miles short of our goal, but a finish none the less.

Norm Sheppard, his wife and the rest of the volunteers need to be commended on a great race once again. Its such a tough race to run, I'm sure directing it is even tougher. Congrats to the 50,43 and 21 mile finishers. No matter the distance we all ran (and cursed at!) the same rugged trail.

Results and be found here.

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