Yesterday, we returned to the Wapack and Back Trail Races, and for the first time, as a family. Debbie and I ran the 50 miler in 2014 and she did it the prior year in 2013 with me as her crew. This year, she ran it solo again, and the kids and I were her crew. We drove up on Friday night after work/school, which made for a long Saturday for all of us. It is tough to go from a busy week straight to an ultra. We camped at the Ashburnham, Massachusetts trailhead in our Volkswagen Eurovan, which was fun, but it’s not like sleeping in your own bed. Debbie seemed to have more energy than the kids and me because she steamrolled her way through 50 miles.
It was quite a contrast from last month’s Zion 100 when she ran out of gas early in the race and pushed through 100 kilometers with dead legs, no strength, and no joy. Yesterday, she was back on her favorite kind of New England trails (rocky and rooty); and she was happy the entire time. She finished in 11:32, shaving 13 minutes off her previous best time, set in 2013, which proves that hitting 40 is just a number and doesn’t mean you have to slow down (at least right away!). When she reached the finish, she was only about 12 minutes behind Meredith Marx, the women’s winner. They were close all day, but Debbie was never able to catch her. At one point, around 26 miles, it looked like she had whittled a 20+ minute gap at the 16 mile mark down to three or four minutes in less than 10 miles. That was after the really rocky and slippery section up and over North Pack Monadnock and back. It had a lot of climbing and descending on the worst of the rocks. Meredith eventually stretched that gap to seven minutes at mile 43 and then to 12 minutes by the finish. She was stronger than Debbie on the more when there were more “runnable” sections.
The weather was blah. The runners seemed to do well in the mild temperature (low-50’s Fahrenheit) and the mist, fog, and drizzle. One challenge for the runners was the footing. However, for the crew and spectators, it was a lousy day with the kind of dampness that makes your bones creak. The lichen and moss-covered rocks and roots were like ice. You could take a serious fall. The kids and I did a bit of hiking on North Pack Monadnock Mountain, where the rocks are vicious. They “bit” us several times. That has to be the toughest section on the course, and one of the toughest sections of any trail race in New England. In hiking it, I reminded myself why Debbie likes that section so much. When I ran it in 2013, I hated it!
I’m biased. I think we have the toughest trails in the country. The trail goes from Ashburnham to Greenfield, New Hampshire and is more like the rugged trails of the White Mountains in northern New Hampshire. Today’s Wapack is followed by tomorrow’s 7 Sisters Trail Race. We aren’t going to make it this year, but we have done it many times, and last in 2014. Long time ultrarunning acquaintance, Ian Torrence, drove from Arizona for some east coast racing and he completed Wapack and Back about 14 minutes quicker than Debbie, so he was close to her all day and we got to chat with him periodically. He noted that the course was very difficult, which is proof. He hails from Flagstaff, has raced some of the toughest trail races in the land, including the notoriously tough Zane Grey Highline Trail 50 Mile Endurance Run, a record 13 times. Debbie ran Zane Grey in 2012 and she would certainly rank Wapack and Back at the top of her tough 50 miler list.
Wapack has more than 10,000 feet of climbing and 10,000 feet of descending and it all comes in sharp bursts. The race started at 5:00 A.M. The kids and I saw the start and then we made our way to the aid station at Windblown Ski Area (9 miles), then to Miller State Park (19 miles and 26.5 miles), back to Windblown (33 miles), and then to the finish (43 miles and 50 miles). The last 7 miles of the race are rough because you complete the 21.5 mile return leg and then have to turn around and run back 3.5 miles to the last aid station, and then run back to the finish. The time cut is tight and a lot of people settle for a 43 mile finish, which is nothing to sniff at. At 43 miles, the race runs longer than most 50’s and the 50 mile race runs more like many 100 kilometer races. I know that when I did the race, I had to be super-strong mentally to finish.
Race Director, Jesse Veinotte invited me to try it again, but I told him that I’m still limping 24 months later. That is no lie. My plantar fasciitis and stress fracture problems with my left foot started right after my 2013 race. Jesse and his assistants, including Bob Crowley and the other volunteers from TARC were fantastic. The aid stations were stocked, the helpers dealt wit the same wet weather as we did, and they did it cheerfully. Other than the footing, the condition really were ideal for running and there were some fast times. In the 21.5 mile one-way race, Ben Thompson broke the course record, laying down a 3:19:36, which is flying. Joanna Wang ran 5:00:13 for the women’s 21.5 mile win.
The winner of the 50 miler was Loren Newman. He ran 9:10:56, which is a great time and now third on the all time list behind Josh Katzmann’s two times. Second man was Ben Eysenbach in 9:42:23. Meredith took the women’s win in 11:20:54, followed by Debbie in 11:32:38.
Debbie looked good all day today. I enjoyed watching her and was happy that she was happy on the types of trails she loves. She would love to have 50 or 100 miles of rugged singletrack and never once have to go on a jeep road or dirt road. The tough courses play to her strengths. Last weekend, we had a tough couple of days of biking and running in the Berkshires and Green Mountains and I think it helped her. She doesn’t have another ultra on her 2016 schedule, so I’m not sure what is next. I’m sure something will pop up or she will find a race to focus on next. In the meantime, she has the 5 kilometer Mother’s Day Dash in Rockville, Connecticut, tomorrow.
Her focus will shift to next week’s Soapstone Mountain Trail Races. She is the Race Director for the 13th year in a row. Soapstone is race number two in the 2016 Connecticut Blue-Blazed Trail Running Series and race five in the 2016 Grand Tree Trail Running Series. Wapack was three in the GT and 7 Sisters (today) will be number four. So, come out and join the Shenipsit Striders at Soapstone. It’s a great event with a 22.5 kilometer main event, a 6 kilometer Sampler, and a kids race.
I’m certain that after crewing Debbie at her favorite 50 mile trail race, I’ve got the bases covered for Mother’s Day. She pretty much got what she wanted!