Wapack 21-Miler Trail Race

By Chad Denning, a Darn Tough Vermont sponsored athlete

May 8th, 2010

Greenville, NH – Waking up at 4:45 AM to bright flashes and loud booms is the last thing that you want to hear when you are getting ready to embark on a 21-mile trail race.  I guess that is all part of the nature of the beast in New England during the spring.  I had checked in with weather.com the night before and it confirmed that nasty weather would be on tap but I did not accept that when I went to sleep at 9:30pm.  Well, these guys and gals know what they are talking about as it was precisely as they had predicted… a nasty 40 to 50 degrees and rain!

The biggest question now was what to wear?  I had set aside a lot of different options the night before depending upon what I woke up to.  The top was the big question mark for me.  Long sleeve quick dry top sure to be wet the whole time, short sleeve top with arm warmers or a short sleeve with a jacket.  Knowing that this 21 miler has over 6000 feet of climbing I was unsure of how warm or cold I could get out there.  A couple of things that are always staples in good or bad weather are shorts, compression calf guards and most importantly socks!  The Darn Tough Socks would end up playing the most vital role at the end of the day.  Our feet were wet from start to finish and comfy wool is the only way to go as far as I am concerned.  I eventually decided to just go with the tech long sleeve top and no jacket.

The race check in and preparation were uneventful and then we got on a sauna of a bus ride for thirty minutes to the Wapack Trail start in Greenville, NH 21 miles to the North of Ashburnham, MA our finish line.  We stepped off the bus, and I am not kidding, 5 minutes later Norm the race director yelled out, “3-2-1!” and just like that we were off.  It was raining pretty hard from the start and because of that everyone’s heads were down keeping the rain out of their faces.  Unfortunately it made for a long day of wrong turns…   Nobody really wanted to take the front of the race until the top of the first climb, North Pack.  Seemed as if runners were lining up behind me to go first so I really had no choice and just went with it.  About 20 minutes had passed and everything got quiet except for the sound of the rain and the one other runner who was with me.  We immediately started chatting and began to make the time pass with polite conversation all the while trying to keep the hammer down and put some distance between us and the next group of runners.

Photo by Steve Latour

One of the most inspiring attributes of this event is that it has several races in one day.  A 50 and 42 mile race had begun earlier that morning @ 5am.  They have an out and back on the same trail that we are headed out on, and as we ran, we began to meet the first of these racers as we headed towards the Massachusetts state line.  It is really humbling to meet other trail runners on the course that have been at it for 4 hours already, they all looked so fresh.  This really kept me motivated and serious about finishing this race strong.

The first two mountains of the Wapack trail are North Pack and Pack Monadnock.  These are by far the most technical and hardest climbs and descents of the day, and with some gnarly rain they’re perfect disaster if you are not careful.  With that in mind it was extremely important for me to watch my footing with the slick rocks and roots.  My Inov-8 Terroc foot wear and Darn Tough socks ended up being the right ticket in keeping my footing stable.

Photo by Steve Latour

Once we got to Miller State Park and off of Pack Monadnock I realized that we could relax a bit. It was also a good chance to get to know the person that I was running with.  Nick Menzies as it turns out is a Harvard grad student originally from New Zealand.  I had been to New Zealand for a race or two in the past so it was really fun talking about his native country as we ticked off the mileage.  We did a nice job of pushing and pulling each other along the slick course.  As we were approaching temple road I started inquiring about Nick’s running resume. I came to find out Nick had run a 2:35 at the Boston Marathon just a few weeks back.  YIKES!  That is smoking fast!

Just when we thought the rain was letting up, we got a good rumble and the rain started to come down again as we hit the power lines before Windblown XC ski center.  At this point in the race we were exactly 12 miles and 2 hours through. Nick and I were having such a great time running and chatting that I actually had not even looked at my watch once until that point.  We were right on schedule to pretty much run the same time that I had last year but in much worse conditions.  I was happy with that!

The last 9 miles of this race are very interesting in that they really test your mental capacity.  The climbs are ever so slight but for miles at a time, just enough to really start taking its toll on the quads and hamstrings.  This was Nick’s first time doing the Wapack so he was very interested in what was ahead of us with about an hour to go.  In retrospect I probably should not have given him so much beta but hey trail running is all about running with friends and making new friends along the way.

In closing, Nick ended up edging me out by two minutes with his last kick over Mt Watatick and we finished only 4 minutes off of last year’s pace which is absolutely remarkable with the conditions that we had underfoot. It was fun to cheer on all of the athletes crossing the finish line as they had that look of elation of finishing such a feat on such a day.  I really enjoy trail racing for the camaraderie and spirit that is shown at all events.  I tip my hat to all participants on May 8th, 2010 for coming out to play on a great course in adverse conditions.  Congrats all!

Until the Pineland Farms race on Memorial Day, Happy Running!

Chad

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