Wapack Trail Race

As of yesterday, I hadn’t run a trail race since June, but that changed today. This weekend, we made a 24 hour trip to southern New Hampshire for the Wapack Trail Race. In nine years of running trails in New England, this was the first time I had ever set foot on the Wapack Trail. Debbie did this race several years ago, but her memory of the trail had faded. She did remember that it was rocky. It showed that I hadn’t raced on trails since June; I got really lost, I got a blister, I chaffed, I twisted my right ankle, and I was slow. But, I had a lot of fun!

Wapack Race Number

The race is on the 8.75 mile section of the trail that extends from New Ipswich, New Hampshire to Ashburnham, Massachusetts. The two state jaunt makes the race a bit unique. You cover four peaks on the route: Barrett, New Ipswich, Pratt, and Watatic, from north to south. Then, you do them all again on the way back. The race is 17.5 miles. There is about 3,700 feet of elevation gain, but it feels like more. The trail is rugged and the views are spectacular. We had deep blue sky and fabulous sunshine. This map, shows the whole trail, which extends from Greenfield, New Hampshire south to Ashburnham. The trail is partially maintained by the Friends of the Wapack. Fittingly, proceeds from the race benefit that organization. The Wapack region is also home to one of the oldest wildlife refuges in New Hampshire. A three mile section of the trail (north of our location today) is part of the Wapack National Wildlife Refuge. Debbie and I agreed that we definitely have to return and explore more. She should also do the race again because the course is tailor made for her technical skills. According to Race Director Paul Funch, she is still the women’s course record holder (3:01 and change).

Windblown Ski Area

The start/finish was at the Windblown Cross-Country Ski Area in New Ipswich. We tried to camp at a couple of Massachusetts State Park’s on the way up yesterday, but there were no vacancies. It worked out for the better because we went straight to Windblown and camped there. We had an awesome night with the moon just past full, clear skies, chirping crickets, and a chilly breeze. The sleeping conditions were as good as it gets.

It was nice to be the first ones at the race venue. We had the outhouse all to ourselves!

The Outhouse

Windblown seems to be a nice location to ski. We have been to the Monadock region of New Hampshire before, but never near the Wapack. As mentioned, I struggled a bit today. The race hurt worse than I expected. I figured that after doing an Ironman, everything else would be easy. That isn’t true. I haven’t run much in the past month (like four times) and I haven’t been on any trails. I tried new sneakers without breaking them in (my bad) and I didn’t put body lube in the right places. My preparation could have been better. I guess I was rusty.

My wrong turn came at the top of Mt. Watatic. I simply ran past the right turn that descended to the turn around/aid station. Up till that point, I was running with Rob Higley and another guy. They gapped me just before Watatic and that is why I didn’t see which way they went. You can’t trust Rob with trail navigation anyway; he had been following me for most of the first seven miles. He reminded me about the Breakneck Trail Race a few years ago, when he kept leading me off trail. Anyway, when I missed the turn at the top of Watatic, I went straight and  got to a second peak, turned back, then mistakenly took a left on a different trail. It was a really steep descent. I went down several hundred meters, thinking I would see a yellow triangle blaze. The trail was wide and the trees were small, so not really big enough for blazes. So, I kept going. That was a big mistake. Eventually, I decided to turn around, but it was a long steep climb back to the summit of Watatic. Essentially, I lost 12 places and probably 10+ minutes going the wrong way (twice). I sucked it up.

I got to the aid station, but didn’t catch anyone before the turnaround. Then, I didn’t make up much ground on the way back north because I started to suffer. Two runners who I did pass, including Bob Sharkey, were heading towards me. They had also missed a turn, that resulted in a shortcut, and were returning to re-run the correct route. I did finished strongly, holding off a few other runners who had closed in. I got to cross the finish line with my son. My time was 3:13:26. The top three men were Brandan Newbould (2:24:10), David Herr, and Brian Rusiecki. The top three women were Amy Lane (3:23:45), Erica LaBella, and Heather Sullivan. View the full results here.

Like all good Grand Tree races, the post-race spread was really nice. Folks lounged on the grass in front of the base lodge and cheered their fellow runners as they finished. After packing up, we opted to take a different route on the way home. We drove beautiful back roads of southern New Hampshire, then cut over to Interstate 91 from Northfield, Massachusetts. It was a gorgeous afternoon.

Race Results

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