Wapack is a great little trail, accessible and yet remote-feeling, with views and rocks and blueberries and hills and things, and though in a race it's hard to appreciate any of those things, that doesn't diminish the awesomeness of the trail. Maybe there are some trails that aren't made for racing on. Doesn't stop us from trying.
After last year's slog, I was nervous going into this race with the forecast temperature and humidity - supposed to start out at 66F (dewpoint at 64F) and climb to 80ish, and this sounded like it could make for another unpleasant slog. Between the humidity and a potential knee problem, I didn't particularly want to pin on a number and stand on a start line, but the power of early registration got me to the start line; I'd already paid, so may as well show up. Besides, Ed wanted to test himself against this course, despite my warnings about how it'll eat you alive and shit you out the other end. Maybe that made him even keener to try it. I set my goal for the day to just be faster than last year. Stay humble, and finish without further injuring my knee.
Kehr Davis was on the start line, and I couldn't keep up on the hills, so let her go, finding my own rhythm. The conditions felt marginally faster than last year, since the rocks weren't so slippery, and my legs didn't feel quite so leaden as last year, though they certainly weren't fresh. I slogged up Barrett Mt at my own pace, and Erica Labella (past race winner) was on my heels at the top. She took off running fast as it flattens out, and I discover that my calves needed some slower running to recover, first, so I let her go, too, but thankfully make contact on a downhill. Maybe we can run together the whole way and I'll have a female running buddy! Not today, I dropped her for good on the descent to Binney Pond. Traversing the ridge, with its lumps and bumps and momentum-killing dips and bends and drops, I caught back a few guys who had blasted by me on the first climb, and eventually made my way up to Ted Cowles partway down to Binney. I've spent the past few races running with Ted, so this was good. We ended up running much of the race together.
I came through the first aid station well ahead of 2013 me, with a 5min buffer. Whee! Filled my bottle and had a gu, then set to chasing Ted up the flattish climb to Watatic. It's a long grind, but I forced myself to run, and the hill felt shorter than last year. I hit Watatic again ahead of schedule, which was exciting, and didn't see the leaders coming back up the hill until partway down. I was still feeling sluggish and tired, but also like I was running within my capabilities for the day, so this was encouraging. Thanks to my bum knee, I took it sort of easy on the downhills; the descent from Watatic is a real screamer when you do it right, but I wanted to escape today unscathed. Saw Kehr near the turn-around, with a 5-10min lead, so I continued with the approach of running my own race.
Ted and I left the aid station together, and I was able to barely hang on back up Watatic. I high-fived Ed near some of the bare rock, and was pleased to see that he looked totally comfortable. From Watatic it's a long three miles to the last aid station, and then the real suffering begins, as you go back over the ridge. I kept the gas on down Watatic, since that's the most runnable part of the whole trail, and there were some more guys coming into view as I hit the final aid station. I say "final" like the race is almost done - ha! But, I was 15 minutes ahead of 2013 me, and this was an excellent place to be. Naturally, I got greedy, and started looking at 3:10 instead of 3:15. Just push a little harder, a little further, take that extra risk on the downhill...
But then you're hit smack in the face with the climb out of Binney, and I let myself walk the whole way, passing two guys with a steady power hike. Once up on the ridge, it's a series of false summits, though the map only looks like three peaks. I was in full suffer mode now, with the sun out and nearly out of water, legs tired and joints feeling the rocky descents with no flow. I tried to remember to use my momentum, but the mental energy wasn't always there in time. Finally, I hit the top of Barret Mt, and I had just passed two more guys, so it was a frantic tumble down the hill. I knew it'd be close to break 3:10, and in the end I didn't quite have the legs for it, finishing in 3:11. Damn, I know I could have found two minutes somewhere on that course!
I'm totally satisfied with my race, especially given the weather conditions. Those were not PR conditions, but I set a 20min PR, through a combination of good luck, better fitness, and a terrible day last year (sometimes, a terrible day the first time is all it takes to improve the next time!). Kehr ran 3:07, but she also got lost right near the end, so should have been faster. I was 11th overall, with the winner taking 2:33. Ed had a good run for the first 14-15 miles, and then ran out of water and discovered first-hand that the bonk is real...