2013 Wapack and Back Trail Race

Debbie Livingston is one tough mother! I had to come right out with it on Mother’s Day and state that fact after yesterday’s 50 Mile Wapack and Back Trail Race on some of the toughest terrain in New England. If this isn’t an Ultrarunning Magazine 5/5, then I’m not sure what is. The surface (rocks/roots/mud/singletrack) has to be a 5 (very rough trail). The terrain (hills) may fall to a 4, but that is an objective formula. If the reported 10,200 feet of elevation gain is accurate, then that is 204 feet/mile (very hilly) and short of the magazine’s 250 feet/mile (mountainous) criteria for a 5. Yet, my argument is that a New England climb is not the same as a Colorado or California climb. These are punchy steep climbs that come at you relentlessly. Out west, you can get 1,500 feet or more in one ascent. Not here. My New England trail running bias is creeping into this post and I’ve only written one paragraph. Enough.

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Back to Debbie and the other strong runners who tackled the Wapack Trail yesterday. In its 90th anniversary year, the Wapack Trail has a nice new map thanks to cartographers and the Friends of the Wapack. The 21.5 mile trail goes from Greenfield, New Hampshire south to Ashburnham, Massachusetts along the Wapack Range. The start of the race is at the southern terminus. The turnaround is at the northern terminus. To get the 50, runners have to go back on the trail north over Mt. Watatic to the 3.5 mile aid station, and then return to the finish.

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That one small detail makes this a very hard race to finish. It takes super motivation to get to the finish line, only to turn around again and run for another seven miles, especially with the no-pacer rule. The difficulty of the race and the 14 hour cutoff (you must be at 43 miles in 12 hours) are challenging, so a lot of runners end up with a 43 mile finish, which is still hugely respectable. To do the Wapack twice in a day is a fantastic feat. The extra seven just gets you a round number.

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Race Director Norm Sheppard and his volunteers keep this race small. Only 40 started the 50 miler. Norm took over RD duties from Bogie Dumitrescu, who headed west, but was back in New England to run yesterday. We last saw Bogie at Zane Grey last year, so it was nice to reconnect. A companion 21 miler (start north after a bus ride and head south) attracted more runners. The trail markings are sparse. You have to follow the yellow blazed triangles. If you know me, then you know that I rely on my Outlook Calendar to keep my life sorted. I tell everyone, including Debbie, to send me an “Outlook invite” if you need me in a meeting, at an event, or at a race. Debbie is clear on this request so she invited me to Sunday’s race when she registered four months ago. There was a big problem. The race was Saturday, and she didn’t realize this until last Wednesday night. We won’t even delve into the reasons for the error, but wouldn’t you think that if you were going to run 50 miles, that you would get the day of the week right!?

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That was a huge curveball and our weekend plans were jumbled.The 5:00 A.M. start in Ashburnham and rainy forecast were a bad mix for the kids, so we secured last minute childcare with Mrs. Schieffer. Thank you Momma S., you came through again! Debbie and I drove up after I rode home from work on Friday. We camped in our van at the start and 4:00 A.M. came fast as runners and volunteers arrived at the trailhead.

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It was very humid and started raining just as the race began. The assembled mass of runners cheerfully headed up the trail and I returned to our van to sort gear. Debbie used drop bags, so she was less reliant on me than past races. She started with her Ultraspire Surge pack and had a second one in her drop back at the Greenfield Aid Station. She swapped them at the turnaround and then dropped that pack at the start/finish. She used an Ultraspire handheld for the last seven miles.

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It was nice to not have to drive a chase vehicle. I kept the van parked and headed up the Wapack Trail for a walk. I had my cameras, some water, and a Clif Bar. I walked all the way to the nine mile aid station at Windblown XC area in New Ipswich, New Hampshire. One highlight was Binney Pond and a second was the Binney Pond Overlook.

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The rain was intermittent, but the humidity was constant. I chatted with some friends at the aid station before reversing course and walking back to the start. It was fun to see and photograph Josh Katzman, deep in the woods as he powered to an 8:51 course record, besting his time from 2012 by nearly 15 minutes. I saw him on his southbound leg and then on both legs of his seven mile out and back. I made it to the  start/finish, refilled my water, and then walked back up the trail to wait for Debbie.

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I’ve had my own love/hate affair with the Wapack. In 2009, I did the shorter fall race that starts at Windblown, heads to the southern terminus, and returns. That is the same 18 mile route I took yesterday, but in reverse. In that race, I missed the turn on the Watatic summit and it cost me a few extra miles. When I saw that spot yesterday, I knew exactly where I had previously gone wrong. The only blight on the day was the black flies. It was better when it was raining. They went away, but when it stopped, they were ferocious! Regardless, a walk in the woods is exactly what I needed.

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Debbie hit 43 miles in 10 hours flat, a bit behind her goal time, but she was in good spirits. She opted to change her socks, but kept the same shoes for the final seven miles, which took her 1:45 for a total time of 11:45. Katzman led the way, but there were many great runs yesterday. Scott Patnode did the 7 Sisters/Wapack double like Debbie. Sisters was six days earlier, but is quite the leg pounder in its own right.

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Each runner who went 43 or more got a finishers award, a sweet bottle of Ben’s Pure Maple Syrup. This is proof again that ultramarathon trail running isn’t about the money!

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Debbie has to recover because next up on the Grand Tree Trail Running Series calendar is the Soapstone Mountain Trail Race next Sunday. She is the race director and the Shenipsit Striders are ready to go.. Soapstone stuff has already taken over the house. T-shirts are blocking my spot in the garage. Bib number are clogging the mud room. Soapstone, here we come!

Race Results

Printroom Photos

8 Responses to “2013 Wapack and Back Trail Race”


  1. 1 Josh Katzman 12 May 2013 at 3:33 pm

    Great seeing you out there yesterday Scott – hugely motivating! As always, some incredible pictures as well. I really like the self portrait – that sort of captures the spirit of the day I feel.

  2. 2 SL 13 May 2013 at 10:40 am

    Thanks Josh. Some gritting of the teeth, but smiles all around!

  3. 3 anthonytieuli 14 May 2013 at 9:11 am

    Great report as always!! Debbie is amazing! Did you happen to post the rest of the pics you took somewhere? I remember you taking a couple of me as I went by and was hoping to see them!


  1. 1 2013 Mother’s Day Dash | Life Adventures Trackback on 12 May 2013 at 3:32 pm
  2. 2 2013 Hellgate | Life Adventures Trackback on 17 December 2013 at 10:18 pm
  3. 3 143 days of training for the Wapack | blog Trackback on 11 May 2014 at 12:59 pm
  4. 4 2014 Wapack and Back 50 Mile Trail Race | Life Adventures Trackback on 11 May 2014 at 5:45 pm
  5. 5 2016 Wapack and Back 50 Mile Trail Race | Life Adventures Trackback on 8 May 2016 at 7:44 am

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