Monday, September 13, 2010

Wapack Trail Race

Better late than never... Last weekend's Wapack 18 Mile Trail Race (results) stuck with me a little longer than I care to remember... I headed over to New Ipswich, NH to take part in this long (by my standards) and hilly trail race. This race goes from New Ipswich, NH (on the MA border) down into Ashburnham, MA and back. It climbs 4 peaks (Barrett, New Ipswich, Pratt, and Watatic, from north to south) and has a total climb and total descent of about 7,500 feet each. The website says: "Don’t attempt it unless you are in excellent shape." Holy crap is that an understatement.  I don't know...maybe I'm just a huge wimp when it comes to these types of races, but damn this was tough.  I still have a lot to learn about nutrition and energy efficiency when it comes to these types of grinds.  I'm learning as I go and have really decided that I want to try to get good at these types of things, but it is going to take time.  I am running off of ability that I've built up thanks to some of the shorter mountain/snowshoe/trail stuff I've done, and my road racing, but I need to condition myself to be able to run these races without the death march of the last few miles, that I constantly encounter. (Photo above - before the race (so I was still able to smile) L-R: Jimmie Cochran, Mike St. Hillaire, JJ, Hammett)

Some good tips I learned from Greg Hammett (CMS), after he saw me attempting to 'warmup' before the race was to: NOT warmup.  His point was pretty good and seems now to make a lot of sense.  He doesn't warmup for races like this because 1) You go out really slow anyways 2) Not warming up forces you to run slower at the beginning, as you are still somewhat tight and nothing's gotten going yet bio-mechanically 3) It's all about conserving energy. That third point is huge.  He's totally right about making sure you conserve as much energy as possible and not try to burn through any before the race actually starts.

The last tip he gave me was AFTER the race (so I'm skipping ahead a bit)...Unfortunately, I didn't get this memo until after I already bonked and finished the race, but basically his advice was to eat a big breakfast...he mentioned bacon and eggs, etc.  I ate next to nothing, as I usually do before races...I had a pop tart and a Powerbar.  Not smart.  I am too used to the 5k mentality where that is plenty of food...for these long trail/mountain grinds where it doesn't matter if you have to stop for a bathroom break 60 minutes in, I have to make sure I have enough fuel to burn throughout the race...that was obviously not the case here.  For my Pisgah attempt, I will follow Greg's advice and eat a decent breakfast early in the morning so I can see if it makes any difference (I'm sure it will).

As the race went off, Brian Rusiecki (Vasque) went right to the front and Greg and I latched right along side him.  We were trailed not too far back by William Hawkins (NY) and a couple others, but they hung back a while.  The course starts out on some grassy fireroad and then eventually cuts into the woods and up a ridiculous single track climb.  Only 10 minutes into the race I was thinking this race could be in the mountain series for sure (I just think it's too long to be feasibly in that series...and it's too much of a trail race, but the climbing is certainly there).  For much of that climb and the subsequent racing after that, over the ridge, down the backside and up the second climb, Brian was in the lead, followed directly by Greg and myself.  William Hawkins and David Herr joined up and it was a pack of 5 for a while.  Somewhere after that, Will dropped back out of sight and it was just 4 of us, with no one wanting to do any trail blazing except for Brian.  Every once in a while, someone would say something, but it was relatively quiet.  There was some discussion back and forth between Greg and Brian about other races, similarities to other courses, etc. but for the most part, it was a quiet, focused run.  Somewhere before the last descent, they mentioned that the way back up after the turnaround (it was an out and back course) was brutal.  The climb back up, starts only a few minutes after you reach the halfway aid station and it was apparently a bruiser.  I wasn't feeling that hot already, and we hadn't even made it out halfway.  I made a point to take my sips of water (I brought my handheld) and my gels at precisely the same time Brian did...corny I know, but I figured that this kid does ultras all the time and he knows what he's doing.

When we reached the turnaround point, Brian filled his bottle first and I waited for the volunteer to open an new bottle and pour it into mine.  Brian got a little bit of a jump on the way back and I was in tow, followed right behind by David and Greg.  All 4 of us hit the aid station essentially together.  I sprinted up and past Brian,  and hit the climb first.  David Herr got right behind me.  It was us 2 up the first major ascent on the way back (the worst of the day in my opinion).  I led for maybe 95% of the climb before David went past me when I stumbled and fell to the ground.  I turned to look and we had put some good distance on Brian and Greg, who were now separated from each other.  As I hit the top (after passing a few racers still on their way down), I caught back up to David after a couple minutes.  That was short lived however.  On the very next climb, he put a little distance on me and it was too much for me to make up.  At this point, we had shaken Brian and Greg, but for how long, I wasn't sure.  Brian has come back to pass me before and was most certainly in better shape for these types of races, so I was fairly sure my move was going to come back to haunt me.  Greg is fit as well, and I was thinking 4th or even 5th at this point, even though I was still just out of the lead.  There was a lot of race left and I felt terrible.   By about halfway back, David was still in sight, but I was slowly and steadily losing him.  He outworked me on all the climbs and I found myself once again in the familiar position of walking the uphills.  Once this starts, all you can do is keep peering over your shoulder and wait for the next couple guys to eat you up.  It's a horrible feeling, but one I know all too well by now.  I walked probably all the uphills from just after first climb on the way back. I was completely spent.  I could muster an 'OK' pace on the downs and struggled to keep up a good pace on the flats, but I was still running.  The course footing was brutal.  Very rocky, lots of jump-downs, etc.   A lot of obstacles that continuously drain your energy twice as fast as a regular race. On the top of the last climb, as I came up over the rocky summit, I took a wrong turn down another path along the ridge and came to a dead end.  I started yelling as I was not only completely out of gas, but now miffed that I couldn't find the trail. Some hikers heard me and yelled through the woods that they 'thought the race went up that way', so I bushwhacked up and over to where they were and found the trail... not 20 seconds after that, I wiped out again and fell flat on my grill.  It wasn't going well, but I was still in 2nd place.  I couldn't see David anymore, but knew it was mostly flat and downhill after that so I tried to salvage the race as best I could, while half clumsy jogging and half powerhiking.  I kept looking at my watch at this point and tried to figure out approximately how much time I had left.  All the while, peering behind me to see if I was going to get caught.  When I found myself back on the last long single track descent (which we had come up on the way out), I knew I'd probably be able to hold off the next runner.  The finish line 'seemed' to be only a couple minutes beyond the bottom, but I was remembering it very wrong.  I ran just fast enough on the way down, not to get hurt and kept peering behind.  When I reached the bottom and looked up to the right, I still didn't seen anyone and thought that the distance between where I was and where a runner would be at the top of that, would be too great to make up over the last little bit of the race.  What I didn't remember is how freakin' long that first fireroad is on the way back.  I also didn't notice that it was almost entirely downhill on the way out, meaning it would be mostly up on the way back.  Around every corner I turned, the road seemed to stretch up and on forever.  I kept peering at my watch as the minutes came and went.  I kept peering back over my shoulder to see if I could now spot either Greg or Brian running me down as my pace slowed to a mere jog.  Somewhere along the way, my hamstring started to tweak...also another familiar feeling in these races.  It got so bad, I literally started to stiff-leg jog on the flat fireroad, enough to stay in 2nd place and just try to finish.  I passed Emily Trespass and someone else standing on the side of the road as they gave me some support, but I was borderline out of it by then.  I was hoping the finish was somewhere in sight and it just seemed to never come... Eventually, I turned one last corner and spotted some orange cones at the top of the road and knew it was it.  I heard the commotion from some volunteers that another runner was coming and I 'think' I cracked a smile for the first time in hours.  I looked up to the right as I ran past the xc ski center and saw David Herr grabbing a drink and talking to some people. He had been done for a while.  I came up and through in 2:28:13 (4:23 back of David) for a surprising 2nd place overall.  Brian was not too far back (2:33 behind me) in 3rd place, and Will Hawkins actually passed Greg for 4th place. Greg finished up in 5th place.

Photo to the left, courtesy of Kim Allen.  Don't be fooled, I am actually racing in this photo...grimacing as I shuffle across the finish line... ouch.

I came to the conclusion that I suck at maintaining energy in the later stages of these races. I also know that had the race been even 1 mile longer, I would have been caught by Brian, no doubt.  I was lucky to even have finished this race, let alone been ahead of these guys... David Herr is just a monster right now.  The guy is in brilliant shape for these types of races...I have a lot to learn, but will hopefully get there by just watching what these guys do.  The same lot of us will be at Pisgah, but I'm just looking to finish that race.  A finish will be good for me.  I couldn't care less about place at this point.  I just want to be able to run strong and run across the finish line.  That said, I may be letting all of these blokes go early and just jog the first 10-11 miles and make it a 20 mile trail jaunt...All I know is I'm not even going to think about racing during the first 90 minutes.

Top 10 (CMS in Blue)

Place      First              Last      M/F      Age      Town      St        Time   
9DonaldPacher, Jr.M38EasthamptonMA2:53:32

71 Total Finishers.

Photo above: Chillin' w/ Wolfetracks after the race and knowing I'd be messed up for most of the following week....Steve's singlet was actually white and black, but was saturated by blood, so it appears red in this picture.

Photo above: JJ w/ the elusive Mike Casner (CMS). You want to know how good this guy is...take a peek at the Mt. Washington results from any of the years in the 1990s...1:05 guy..not too shabby!


  1. It's good to know the guys up front suffer too! The Wapack is killer on the feet. It's also one of those races that I probably wouldn't do if the temp was much above 70. Nice job out there JJ. Oh, and I got the blood stains out too!

  2. Nice work Jim.
    Good to see one of the mountain gang beat out some of the ultra crowd; of course they'd just say the race was too short :)

    Chow down and have a strong Pisgah.

  3. That race sounds pretty brutal. I'll have to try that one some day!

    See you at Pisgah. I'm in for the 50, too. If you want to make sure you start slow, you can hang with me...really slow.

  4. Jim, way to hang tough out there. IMO, Wapack I one of the most difficult races in New England. BTW, that someone else on the side of the road was me!

  5. Mmmm. This race sounds tasty.

    Kudos to you for getting out and doing something out of your wheel house.

    Curious about the hamstring tweak ... was it a cramping? does that just occur in longer efforts for you or just longer mtn/hill runs?

  6. Thanks all. Dan, sorry, I was delusional at that point... :)

    GZ, it just happens in the longer stuff to me, eventually. I am a huge pansy like that :).... last 10 miles of the trail marathon last year was me walking on and off trying to stretch it out...horrible.

  7. I have had cramps at Pikes often ... I am back and forth if these longer efforts leave me electrolyte sapped and hence more likely to cramp - or if it is because I am simply going in a place I rarely go in training (in terms of time of effort)