Saturday, May 24, 2014

May 24 (Saturday) - Wachusett Mountain Race

It was Memorial Day Weekend and once again it was time for the Wachusett Mountain Race (results) in Princeton/Westminster MA.  Wachusett is not exactly my favorite race in the series but the current edition of the course seems to play into my favor just a bit with a roughly 5k climb followed by a slightly longer 5k descent.  Last year I wasn't really all that fit but managed to run 'ok' because of the downhill finish.  This year, I feel I'm in better shape so I was looking forward to this race.

I headed down to the race early in the a.m. with Kevin Tilton.  This was great because it gave me the option of sitting on heated seats for 3 hours (I don't have them in my sh*tbox of a car) to try to warm up my ailing hamstrings.  I also got to relax while Kevin had to do all the work driving (I need all the advantages I can get).  We got down to the race just in time to get ready and head out for a warmup with Mike Narcisi and Eric MacKnight (who was my pick for the win).  The weather was cloudy and dreary but no rain.  It was also warmer than last year, which was a plus.  We headed up and down the course for just over 2.2 miles or so.  Then it was a quick change of clothes and shoes before heading down to the start and more warming up and strides before the race.  3 miles total for a warmup.

The race went out fast.  That's about all I can say.  The pace was hot early.  Eric was out like he had no intentions of anything but winning.  Justin Freeman who is in very good form, was hot on his tail.  They both were ahead by quite a bit, very early on.  Kevin rolled out slower but started to ramp up and shortly moved ahead to try to close the gap.  I was content just sitting back early and running next to a couple of guys including (I believe) Nick Rindenello and Matty Veiga.   The first mile came and went.  It is all uphill on pavement and just seems to take forever.  I clicked through in 6:34 and was starting to lose my pack behind me.  I was now in a small pocket ahead of those guys and trailing Kevin by 5 seconds or so.  As we took the turn into the parking lot, the course dips a bit before starting the real 'auto road' climb.  Kevin had a small burst of speed on this very short downhill and moved ahead of me.  He built up a lead of 10 seconds or so as we started to climb the road to the summit.

Start courtesy of Gianina Lindsey

Start courtesy of Gianina Lindsey

photo by Scott Mason...I'm hidden behind Kevin and Justin.

photo by Scott Mason

On the second mile, I stayed about the same behind Kevin for the first bit and could still see Justin and Eric right together up ahead.  About a half mile into the second mile, the course took a sharp left and I found myself rolling up on Kevin's shoulder.  I wasn't sure what was going on with either of us, but I felt pretty descent so I just made the decision to continue to roll forward and not adjust.  I think Kevin said 'go get 'em' or something like that.  I responded with a 'lets go' as I passed into the lead (of our group anyways).  All of the sudden I was ahead of Kevin at around 2 miles and I now didn't really have anyone ahead of me to pull me along.  Eric and Justin were a little too far up to hook onto.  I wanted Kevin to pull up along side but I was slowly gapping him (which was very surprising).  The second mile was 6:28, which is very good for an all uphill climb on the auto road (with just that very short dip at the beginning).

The third mile of the climb was tough.  It's the steepest.  I was pulling slightly ahead of Kevin and could see Justin taking the lead from Eric (but barely).  They were battling back and forth up ahead and I was just content getting to the top in 3rd.  As I rolled up to the top and made my way up and around the summit tower, Eric was beginning his hammerfest on the descent.  Justin was close behind.  I was just barely holding off Kevin and started the descent with a 15-20 second lead (maybe) on Kevin.

The way down is brutal.  Brutal on my feet, my calves, my hamstrings, etc.  You name it, I destroyed in on the downs.  Eric was nowhere to be seen.  I could see Justin every once in a while on a long section but mostly it was just me trying to stay on two feet as I let gravity pull me down the mountain almost uncontrollably.  I would peek back occasionally to see if anyone was lingering behind but never saw anyone.  I just pushed forward thinking that 3rd would be mine if I could just hold off from blowing up with a cramp or injury.

Splits on the way down were 4:37, 4:46 for the first two miles of mostly paved auto road descent.  Then the third mile + was all xc ski trail. Rocky and muddy/grassy but in pretty good shape.  It was as dry and about as fast as it could be... 5:09 for that 6th mile.  It was about the time I hit the 5th mile mark though that I realized my feet were destroyed.  I had amazingly painful hotspots on both heel bottoms. I figured I was going to end up with no skin on the bottom of my feet by the finish.  I really struggled on the last mile (which probably should have been under 5).  I was just in a lot of pain on each foot plant.  About 5.5 or so into the last descent I could see Justin way up ahead but he was too far to catch and he's too strong to let that happen anyways.  Maybe at some point when we are both in our late 50s, and I catch him on an off day, I can beat him...but not any time soon :).  There was one small last uphill section (basically the only one in the last 5k) near where Scott Mason was taking photos.  I peeked back here and saw Matt Veiga next in line, but way back...enough for me to know that I had 3rd if I could just hold it together.

Start courtesy of Gianina Lindsey

I ended up coming down the last .35 or so to the finish and came across in 3rd.  I barely made it.  My heels were annihilated and both calves cramped up on me jumping over two small water bars right near the finish.  I jogged passed the finish in 36:23.  35 seconds faster than last year....I'll take it though.   By my math that was about a 15:06 last 5k (after climbing about a 20 min 5k and having the last 3rd of it be on rugged xc trail)....not too bad.

Splits from Garmin:

mile 1: 6:34
mile 2: 6:28
mile 3: 7:04
mile 4: 4:37
mile 5: 4:46
mile 6: 5:09
last .35: 1:43:8

Garmin Data:

Top 10 Overall (CMS in Blue):

134:52Eric MacKnight25Ballston LakeNYFleet Feet
235:43Justin Freeman37New HamptonNHTeam RUN
336:23Jim Johnson37MadisonNHCMS
437:17Matthew Veiga27LynnMA
537:52Kevin Tilton32ConwayNHCMS
637:53Nicholas Rindenello27HarvardMA
738:13Todd Callaghan44BeverlyMACMS
838:29Tim Mahoney34HolyokeMACMS
938:53Andy Scott23SomervilleMA
1039:52Dave Dunham50HaverhillMACMS

299 total finishers.

the damage (on one foot anyways)
Immediately after finishing, I knew I was done running for at least a couple days (which sucked because I wanted to do Redhook the next day!)... I hobbled over to the car and took my shoes off to see two giant blisters forming on the bottom of my feet.  It was extremely painful. I tried to do a slow cooldown with the boys but couldn't get more than 50 yards or so before I had to turn around and limp back to the car.  I was pretty bummed but I will focus on the positives and not dwell on the negatives right won't help matters.  It is what it is.  I should have planned better for the descent and taken measures to avoid this problem (which has happened to me before in races with a lot of steep, prolonged descents).  Lesson learned for next time.

Positive: I ran faster on the same course, as I did in 2013.  Seeing 2013 was my worst year of racing/running, that's definitely a good sign. Only a 35 second improvement, but I'll take it (one year older)...

Positive: I think I moved into the lead (even if temporarily) in the mountain series.  Kevin was leading after 2 events.  My 2nd at Sleepy Hollow (but barely any distance on Kevin) and my 4th at Pack (behind Kevin by a bit, but in the longest race of the series) set me up for 2nd place overall so far (about a point behind Kevin) going into Wachusett.  My 1:29 margin over Kevin in the 10k gave me over 5 points on him.  I now am in the lead (by my fuzzy math) by about 4.3 points.

Positive:  I moved ahead (so did Kevin) of legendary mountain man Eric Morse in the all-time Mountain Series points (below courtesy of Dave Dunham):

Top men - All time point leaders (all over 1,500 Points)  92 Possible races:


Total Points

My history of the Wachusett Mountain race:

2014 - 3rd of 299.  Course was same as 2013.
2013 - 4th of 297.  Course was up to the summit on paved road and then down on pavement and xc trail.
2012 - 3rd of 226.  Course was the same as 2011 I believe.
2011 - 1st of 308.  Course was another mix of road and trail (including new crazy single track).
2010 - 4th of 324.  Course was a mix of road and trail.

Full set of photos by Scott Mason here:

Full set of photos by SnapAcidotic here:

On the way home, Kevin had to stop off in Hampton Beach to do some work so I hopped in the ocean for a bit (all to myself) to see if standing in cold salt water would help my feet.... The water wasn't really even that cold and it didn't seem to help at all...but the beach was nice and quiet!  Everyone must have been scared away by the weather forecast.  Photo below of the massive crowds at the beach...and I'm sporting some new colors....

Hampton Beach...crowded.
Photo by Gianina Lindsey.  Photobomb by JJ.


  1. Congrats on a strong race, JJ! Damn your feet look painful. Rest up.

  2. Nice race Jim! Sorry I missed out, you guys killed it.