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Downtown Temple,NH

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Wapack End to End 21.5m Trail Race

Saturday I headed over to Asburnham,MA for my 2nd attempt at the 21.5 mile Wapack Trail Race (results). I had a fairly successful race last year so my goal this year was to better my time (aim high!). After taking the 45 minute shuttle bus ride to the start, we gathered at trail head and were given the "howl" command at 9am.
My strategy was to go out easy and be patient. No sense hammering the climbs right from the start (and yes, it starts climbing immediately).Not to mention the weather was totally different this year. Last year it was 45 degrees and raining, perfect for a long run. This year it started out sunny and warm and just got warmer. Not so perfect for a long run.
I was going fairly easy (felt like a training run) and was fine early on. A lot of people took off pretty hard and fast and at times I thought maybe I wasn't trying hard enough. Save some for the end I kept telling myself. I also think the first section is less runnable, with climbs up and down North Pack and Pack Monadnock in  5.5 miles. I came through the Miller aid station about 30 seconds faster than last year. I was a little surprised since it felt so much easier (and slower) than last year. A good sign I thought. That's what I get for thinking! I passed a few folks on the way to Miller State Park and came through in 10th o/a I believe.

Miller Aid Station - 5.5 miles
I had a Nathan pack with 40oz of water, some Cliff Shots and a couple of Honey Stinger gels. I figured I could go the entire way without refueling at the aid stations so I had planned to run right through all of them. I hooked up with Scott Patnode early on in the next 7 mile section from Miller to the Windblown XC aid station. Scott was actually ahead of me but went off course climbing Pack. He caught up to me climbing Temple Mt and we stayed together for the next 7 miles. This is probably my favorite stretch of the Wapack. Nice views and very runnable trails. Scott ran a 2:15 at Seven Sisters last week so I knew I was in good company. It was still sunny and still warm and I was heating up, I just didn't realize how much.
10 miles in, still feeling good!
We caught up to Steve Constine about 2 miles from Windblown. Steve was funny. As I ran by him he said something like "Steve Wolfe.....I'm always chasing you!". Apparently he was behind me last year as well. I guess he thought he had me this year. Oh well, maybe next year Steve!
The trail was pretty dry this year and I never got my feet wet. The 2 mile stretch leading into Windblown is probably the wettest section but the water and mud was easily avoidable. It's also a physically draining section, climbing slowly the entire way. I hate this section. I came into the aid station 1:30 slower than last year. The wheels were starting to come off, I just didn't realize it yet. Looking back, I should have stopped at the aid station and fueled up but I didn't. I grabbed a cup of water, poured it over my head and kept going. That was the last time I felt good all day.
Almost immediately leaving Windblown I felt nauseous.I was hot and was feeling very weak. I had plenty of water, and I thought I was drinking enough. I just didn't have any energy. The next 5.5 mile section from Windblown to the Binney Pond aid station was brutal. I walked every climb (and this section probably has the most climbing). Heck, I was walking the flats at times. I was so friggin hot and totally drained. I had zero energy and by this time I was no longer racing. I just wanted to get to the finish and be done. I had another gel and a handful of Cliff shots but nothing worked. Major nutritional malfunction.
As I walked into the Binney aid station I noticed two other runners there, both suffering as well. Nobody was in a hurry to leave. I took off my pack and had 3-4 cups of Coke, some oranges, M&M's and I don't even know what else. I didn't know how much water I had left in my pack so I asked the volunteer to put some more water in it for the last 3.5 mile section to the finish. Of course she filled it with 50oz of water (gee, thanks!). I know I look like heck but I'm pretty sure I don't need 50oz of water for 3.5 miles. Oh well.
I'm guessing I spent 3-5 minutes at the aid station. The three of us all left at the same time, shuffling up the dirt road. We mostly stayed together, chatting a bit, hoping the other would walk so we didn't have to shuffle along. Great fun.
I was feeling a little better and managed to run more than walk. Thankfully the climb up Watatic Mt is a gradual climb (one of the easier climbs all day). Of course, the descent is a quad-seizing event but at least it's a downhill finish! I finally stumbled across the finish in 4:35, 7th overall (a full 20 minutes slower than last year). I'm not disappointed (well, maybe a little). It was sunny and 70's for most of the day and was much tougher than last year. I do need to figure out a better nutritional strategy though....this one clearly did not work.
Comparison splits from last year and this year:

Aid Station Distance 2010 2011
Miller 5.5 miles 1:07:00 1:06:28
Windblown 7.0 miles 1:13:45 1:15:16
Binney 5.5 miles 1:13:35 1:26:10
Finish 3.5 miles 0:40:23 0:47:01
TOTAL 21.5 miles 4:14:43 4:34:55

photo credit - Miriam Wilcox-Barsalou (Miller), Emily Trespas (Burton)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Grater Woods Revisited

Last night I went for any easy ride in the Grater Woods Town Forest in Merrimack,NH. My legs were sore from Sundays race so I figured I'd ride for 45 minutes or so to loosen up the legs. I had planned on riding the more familiar trails of Horse Hill but Grater Woods was a mile closer (2 miles from my house as opposed to the daunting 3 mile ride to Horse Hill) and I was feeling lazy even before I started.
It's been a couple of years since the last time I rode there. It was mostly ATV trails, a bit overgrown and buggy as heck. I recalled a short section of single track over on the Amherst side of the forest but that was about it. At the time I was fairly familiar with the confusing network of trails and felt confident I could still find my way around.
Um, not so much apparently. Right from the start the trails looked different. There had been quite a bit of logging and I was confused within 10 minutes. Assuming my incredible sense of direction would get me where I was going I pedaled on. Amazingly I managed to find my way over to the single track on the Amherst side, a nice trail called Salamander. That was the last time I knew where I was for nearly 2 1/2hrs. Turns out there are quite a few new single track trails now (Red Eft, Millipede, Red Maple) and for the next hour I was having a blast. But then I got lost trying to find my way back to the Middle School trail head. Nothing looked familiar as I wandered around a maze of ATV trails looking for a way out. I did manage to get out a few times but didn't recognize the road so went back in for more. After 2hrs I ended up in someones back yard and casually walked my bike out to the road. I was tired and hungry and figured the road would be safer. It took a few minutes to figure out where I was (about 2 miles up the road from the trail head), and eventually made it home....tired. So much for an easy ride to loosen up the legs. The good news is I now have a map. Can't wait to give it another try!

Monday, May 2, 2011

2011 Muddy Moose Trail Run

I've thought about doing this race for years but for whatever reason I just never made it happen. This year the planets aligned (aka Seven Sisters scheduled for the same day) and the decision was a no-brainer. The only thing that would stop me now would be....well, me. I almost succeeded. A Friday night mountain bike ride (or should I say crash) had me sitting in the waiting room for 2hrs on Saturday in order to get x-rays on both my left index finger and right ankle. Good news, nothing broken except pride. A splint on my finger and ice on my ankle. I needed a rest day anyways...

 Muddy Moose (results) is the aptly named 4m or 14m trail race in Wolfeboro,NH (founded by my long lost relatives no doubt). I scouted a few past race reports, checked out the pics and asked a couple of folks for a scouting report. I even looked at the results over the years. I'd say most of the stuff I heard and read didn't match my version of reality. Yes it was muddy. Other than that they seemed to have left out some of the other course details which 'may' have been helpful. For future note: past results won't tell you anything. This course is all about conditions (and maybe weather) and my guess is they've varied greatly over the years. Thankfully Sunday was a near perfect day with temps in the 50's to 60's, dry (as in not humid) and sunny.

I tested my ankle early with a short warm up and it seemed fine. No worries there. In fact, I was perfectly relaxed and had no expectations at all. No goal time, nothing. Run, have fun, get muddy. Plenty of familiar faces including no less than 8 acidotic teammates, mountain man Kevin Tilton and a couple of fast masters who routinely kick my butt in trail races (Keith Schmitt and Paul Young). RD Fergus Cullen claimed the course was drier than in past years. For the record, even having never raced this course before, I challenge that claim. 8" deep mud and water as opposed to 12" deep doesn't make it 'drier' or less muddy or wet. I'm just saying.....

Both the 4 milers and 14 milers start at the same time and run together for the first 2 miles before departing ways. The course starts on pavement before moving onto a dirt road and heads downhill pretty fast before entering the woods at about 1/2 mile. I'm guessing these trails must have a purpose but for the life of me I couldn't figure out what it was. Although great for a race once a year, I can't imagine doing anything on them except maybe snowmobile in the winter. I wouldn't drive my skidder on them (if I had one). So for the next 1 1/2 miles we slopped our way through some shoe-sucking ground. I wouldn't even call it mud at times since it looked just like a normal forest floor with grass and such until you tried to run across it. Very deceiving and very tiring to run through. There really wasn't a good line to follow, you were going to get wet and muddy, I was just trying to avoid loosing my shoes. This is what they call dry conditions?? Yeah, ok.

photo credit - Salmon Press Sports
At 2 miles (first water stop) the field had thinned out quite a bit as the 4 milers and 14 milers parted company. The 4's went right, the 14's went left. The next 1 1/2 miles were on a dirt road. It was a welcome relief on the way out but not on the way back for some reason. I had a good solid pace going through this stretch and reeled in a few folks, probably moving up into the top 10. At 3 1/2 miles the trail turns sharply UP a very steep hill. I was running (slowly) about 1/2 of it before I came to my senses. The terrain was so steep, it was easier to walk up the stone wall boundary (which seemed more like steps). This section, called the escarpment was tough but relatively short and was probably the only section of single track all day. A short climb, a nice run along the ridge on top and then steeply down the boulder field on the other side before getting back on the snowmobile trails.

The next mile was dry and runnable before dropping steeply down a sandy hill before flattening out on mildly wet trails all the way to the 2nd water stop at around 4 1/2 miles. As we turned left at the water stop, the trail began a long, relentless climb, hardly noticeable at first but unrelenting at times later one. It wasn't steep, it just went on and on without a break until just about the 6 mile mark (the start of the lollypop loop at the turnaround). Kevin Tilton passed me on his way back about 1/2 mile from the start of the lollypop. He looked like he was on a training run and I was nearly bonking at this point. Although I carried a hand held water bottle, looking back I don't think I drank enough. I was quite fatigued at this point (not even half way) and starving! I had my one gel and hoped for the best. I took my one and only split of the day at the start of the lolly pop loop (50:44) and headed right around the loop. NOTE: you could go either way. Honestly, I'm not sure if it matters. The 2 guys I was chasing went left and I never did catch them. The loop was very rocky, very wet but still fairly runnable without too much difficulty. The water was a relief at times, washing some of the mud off my shoes and socks. The majority of the running from mile 6 to mile 9 was a welcomed gentle downhill. The course goes a different way on the way back to the water stop at mile 4.5/8.5. It was all very runnable and only a little wet and very little mud to be found.

I timed a runner in front of me to gauge how close he was just before the water stop. It appeared he was between 1 min and 1:20 ahead. This gap would stay the same the rest of the way. Occasionally I checked behind me and saw a runner maybe 30-40 seconds back but he didn't seem like he was gaining so I didn't pay too much attention to him. As we made our way back up the sand hill and back up and over the escarpment section I was really getting tired. My legs were borderline ready to cramp up. Thankfully they did not.  Out of nowhere I came across a young runner as I started down the steep escarpment hill. I have no idea where this kid came from but there is NO WAY in heck he ran the entire course. I could see nearly 1/2 mile ahead at times and he was not there but all of a sudden he's right in front of me? And he wasn't walking, he was running fairly strong too. There was NO WAY I would let this kid beat me. Cheater.

Near the finish - photo credit Donna Poirier
Back on the dirt road I purposely picked up the pace, more than I would have normally. I wanted to drop this kid quickly and not worry about it. The 1 1/2 mile section of road was awful. I hated this section. It seemed long and slow and I couldn't wait to get back in the woods and into the mud. At 12 miles I got my wish and the road ended and the trail began. I grabbed a water and knew I had less than 2 miles to go. Unfortunately it would be the muddiest section followed by an uphill road finish but what can you do? My feet were killing me by the time I hit the road with a 1/2 mile to the finish. I had so much mud and muck in my shoes it was painful to run. I glanced one more time behind me and saw a runner fairly close so I tried to finish as hard as I could. Please don't pass me in the last 1/4 mile. I will hate you. I'm sure he was suffering as much as me and decided not to race me to the finish. Thank you. I was exhausted and sore. This was much harder than I expected. I didn't expect the mud to be so tiring. I didn't expect the escarpment section. I didn't expect the relentless climb after the second water stop. Other than that was exactly what I expected. Next year I'll know what to expect....sort of. Highly recommended!