Wapack Trail 18-Miler: An Experiment of One
by Nancy Kleinrock
Thanks to the stress fracture of my fibula that I incurred during the Highland Forest 1-2-3 way back in May, I had sadly spent my summer off the trails and had instead been two-wheeling it along our region's roads. When, in August, the pain of walking (even in the woods) finally subsided and I could feel the specter of cooler weather around the corner threatening to curtail my cycling—you see, cold air and bike-induced winds don’t agree with my rather faulty personal thermostat—I finagled a go-ahead from the medical powers that be. The cautionary word: ramp up gradually over three to four weeks, interject frequent walking breaks, and defer to pain with the utmost of respect.
Awesome. I was really good that first half week: run three minutes, walk one minute, repeat three times; do this every other day while continuing to cycle. Fast forward a week, and I was trotting gently in the woods long enough to break a sweat; say, half an hour at a stretch.
Two and a half weeks after my sports doc had given me a thumbs-up, it was Monster Marathon Sunday. No, I wasn't the ephemeral spirit on Evan Kurtz's heels that he alludes to in his story in the October 2006 issue of the Finger Lakes Runners Club newsletter. Instead, Steve Shaum and I found ourselves in Boston for a family event and decided to have some fun at Paul Funch's low-key race on the Wapack Trail, which was an out-and-back between southern New Hampshire to northern Massachusetts, topping off a sequence of four mountains each way: Barrett, New Ipswich, Pratt, and Watatic (north to south).
Apparently, FLRC race directors take great pride in marking trails so well that nearly everyone, except a select few (okay, a select one), will stay on course. However, this race director felt it would add both fun and challenge to the race to only place three or four pink ribbons on the entire 18-mile course, and those ribbons were on the first turn a half mile from the start/finish. So, despite the statistical peril—not to mention the very real trail hazards of steep muddy grades, slick massive rock, sketchily placed and faded trail blazes (especially when retreating from the summits), and my Highland nemesis, slippery roots—I decided to look at this outing as an experiment of one: Would the fitness I had in May, coupled with the in-the-saddle endurance that I knew would carry me comfortably through the following weekend’s 100-mile AIDS Ride, be enough for me to persist healthfully through and without bonking over what Steve and I agreed retrospectively was the most technical terrain we had ever encountered?
Now, one might think this a foolish experiment to conduct (Steve surely did!), and in fact I started off—and continued—with not a little trepidation. Thanks to the terrain, the condition and location of trail blazes, the loud-and-clear ankle-protecting voice in my head, and my determinedly noncompetitive outlook, I had many opportunities to intersperse my running with walking breaks. The steepest ups necessitated walking, as did some of the treacherous downs, but the most amusing slowdowns occurred on seven of the eight granite-topped summits, as I, along with the two or three other participants in whose company I was at the time, would fan out to look for a blaze to indicate where the trail resumed as the rough-scrabble brush returned to hardwoods and pines. Never did we end up too far off course, and it did give the opportunity to catch our breath after the immediately preceding climb. And what created the one exception? On my first ascent of the southernmost (and most distinct) peak—Mt. Watatic—I was quite close to race director Paul, who not only ran in his own race, but who also kept those around him proceeding in the proper direction.
Despite the clouds, fog, and persistent rain that obscured what otherwise promised to be a breathtaking view, I had a wonderful morning and count it as a success along several dimensions. First, I finished with no pain. Second, I shared a brief but warm encounter with my sweetie as I trudged back up Mt. Watatic as he picked his way down among the rocks and roots; Steve also noted that his first-hour's dizziness and nausea were so bad that he almost turned around, but they abated, and he trudged on. Third, although my pace was decidedly slow, I finished feeling adequately spent, indicating I had given what had been available that day. My experimental results indicated that I hadn't lost quite as much stamina as I figured I might, considering I had kept it together for nearly 3:37 and even was able to pick it up on those occasions when the terrain and my better judgment permitted me to. As for Steve, he finished much stronger than he started with a time of 3:52 despite his first hour's ailments. Still, the subsequent days' significant soreness in my quads indicated that I still have a ways to go to regain the conditioning I would like to have, but I have the gift of fall and winter to rebuild that base.
Not First, But Real Winners
by Robert Lotz
In this year's Wapack Trail Race, Bridget Smith of Highland Falls, NY and her running partner, Jennifer Bower, crossed the finish line in a tie for fifth place for women, in just under six hours. Yet this was a victory.
Last April, Bridget was diagnosed with breast cancer. She has had multiple surgeries to remove the cancer and was mid-way through seven weeks of radiation treatments on race day. Bridget works at Eastern Mountain Sports (EMS) in New Jersey. Both she and Jennifer believe that staying active and fit is important during recovery from cancer. They drove more than four hours from the Hudson Valley area of New York and stayed near Windblown Cross Country Ski Area, the start and finish of the race, so they could run the race. Bridget also competed in the Northeast Maryland Triathlon the weekend before the trail race.
This year, the Wapack Trail Race was drenched by more than an inch of rain courtesy of the remnants of tropical storm Ernesto. Even in dry weather the race is considered tough by experienced trail runners. It starts in New Ipswich, NH, and crosses four mountain peaks, reaching the halfway turn-around point at Ashburnham, MA shortly after crossing over the top of Mt. Watatic. The route is then run in reverse, back over the same four peaks, finishing in New Ipswich. The total climb is estimated at 3700 feet. Views are said to be spectacular -- if one has the energy and time to look while running.
The race is part of the Western Massachusetts Athletic Club’s annual Grand Tree Series of trail races, sponsored in 2006 by EMS and Montrail. The Squannacook River Runners (SqRR) of Groton, MA is the host club for the Wapack Trail Race. With part of the race proceeds, SqRR supports Friends of the Wapack, an organization that maintains the entire Wapack trail, from Ashburnham, MA to Peterborough, NH.
In the photo below, Bridget Smith (left) and friend Jennifer Bower cross the finish line.