Saturday, September 14, 2013

Wapack 18 Mile Trail Race

Bonking hardcore by Emily Trespas

The Wapack 18 Mile Trail race is a classic New England trail race in Southern New Hampshire that I had not had the chance to partake in until this year. The race starts at Windblown Ski Area in New Ipswich, NH and traverses the ridge all the way to Mt. Watatic, just over the MA/NH border, then you turn around and retrace your steps. There are many ups and  downs and plenty of technical running over rocky trails and open ledges with pleasant views of the surrounding area.

This year's race also offered a bonus of high humidity. It wasn't the hottest day of the year, but the humidity was stifling. The moist air made the rocky course slippery and caused sweat to pour off of my forehead and into my eyes.

The course starts off on fairly wide cross country ski trails through Windblown. Inov-8 teammate Ben Nephew shot out to the front with Scott Traer and one other guy. I hadn't raced in a while and and knowing that this race would take over 2 hours I held back and didn't catch up with the leaders until the first climb.

I took the lead from Ben on the climb up Barrett Mtn. We weren't moving slow, but my climbing ability allows me to keep up a pretty good pace without expending a lot of energy. I just kept a steady effort with Scott Traer clipping my heels.

The downhills were pretty slick from the previous night's rain, but mt Inov-8 X-Talon 190's did a pretty good job of grabbing the slick rock. I did not fall once in the whole race. I did elect to step off the trail and let Scott, Ben and David Herr, the course record holder, by on one of the downs as sweat was getting in my eyes and I was having a hard time seeing.

Scott and David opened a bit of a gap on Ben and I as we passed Binney Pond. I decided to try to reel them in before I lost contact. I was a little worried about trying to race this early in such a long race, but I made the decision that I wanted to race and not worry too much about a potential bonk later on.

After passing through the first aid station at 5.6 miles in 49:13, I could still see David and Scott ahead on the logging roads. There was some pretty fast running for a mile or two in this stretch. I was slowly able to close the gap on the small uphills and on the climb up to Watatic. On the downhill to the turnaround Scott took a pretty good spill and I was able to get by him and stay on David's tail until the aid station at the halfway point.

Fueling and patience are not my strong suit in longer races. Fueling is not an issue in the shorter trail and mountain races that I usually do. I am also pretty patient in mountain and snowshoe races. I haven't learned to be patient enough in these longer races yet. I made the mistake of blasting through the halfway aid station (1:16:08), only grabbing water. I have had a hard time in the past making myself stop and take in calories, and this race was no different. I did take in calories by emptying two gels into my handheld before the start. This ensures that I get calories every time I take a drink. It works well until I empty the 22 oz bottle. Then I need to start taking gels or solid food, which I never do until it's too late.

With my quick turnaround, I took the lead form David and Scott and started the steep ascent back up Watatic. I was able to see that I had at least a 30 second lead on Ben too. I was feeling pretty good and knew there was a fair amount of climbing left, so I was cautiously optimistic about my chances of winning this thing.

Scott managed to catch me on the first steep part of the climb up Watatic. I wasn't too concerned as I had been climbing well all day. He was staying right on me though, and we ended up getting into a bit of a pissing match as we kept climbing. I expected him to eventually crack, but the opposite happened. I wilted and he powered over the summit. I was a little surprised, but I knew there was a lot of racing left and anything could happen.

I tried to keep my cool and keep moving forward as I was passing runners going in the other direction near the summit of Watatic. Luckily Inov-8 teammate Alex Jospe kept me from taking a wrong turn and going off course! Thanks Alex! I kept moving along at a good clip, but couldn't see Scott at all. I figured he was really flying and I could tell that I was moving a bit slower than when I had run through the same section earlier.

I came into the last aid station, 5.6 miles from the finish (1:45:30), feeling tired, but still moving ok. I hadn't seen Scott ahead of me on the logging roads, but I didn't hear or see David or Ben behind me, so I just kept plugging away.

As I started to traverse the bog bridges around Binney Pond, David caught up to me. He didn't seem to be in a hurry to go around me, so I just kept my pace where it was as we started to ascend Pratt Mtn. I was climbing ok, but feeling the humidity, and about halfway up I was reduced to a hike with David hiking behind me. As we got closer to the summit I could tell I was holding him up and I was pretty close to full-on bonk mode. I stepped off the trail and let him pass and much to my surprise Ben was right there too. I went from 2nd to 4th just like that.

I knew at this point around 2 hours into the race that it would be about just putting one foot in front of the other to get to the finish. It wouldn't be pretty, but I was going to make it. As much as it sucked to be bonking and walking a lot, I knew it would teach me something for the Vermont 50, namely to EAT SOME DAMN CALORIES.

I managed to make my way over the remaining peaks, hiking most of the ups and running all of the downs and flats. Emily Trespas gave me bit of good news when she told me that I was in 3rd and not 4th, as only Ben and David had come through. Apparently Scott got off course somewhere near the top of Watatic.

I was able to run the last mile plus on ski trails at a reasonable pace and crossed the finish line in 2:52:32. Ben took the win over David in a pretty exciting race. Times were slow due to the humidity, but I didn't do myself any favors in the nutrition department. I don't have any regrets about my racing though. It felt good to mix it up with some good trail racers and have a decent showing. Hopefully it's a good building block for the 50 miler at the end of September.

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