Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Wapack in the Rain

It's the evening before the Wapack 50M race and I am sitting in the car in the Bluff Point parking lot partly reading my book (Mary Karr's Lit -- amazing), partly watching the kids finish up their trail running class, mostly dreading the notion of getting up at 2 in the morning to drive myself up to Ashburnham, MA to run Wapack.

The idea of getting up so early in the rain feels frightening and unfriendly. I haven't run an ultra in almost a year and I am no longer brave. As my kids get older it is becoming more difficult for me to leave them, even for a day. I don't want to miss anything. They are all at such great ages. The thought of driving away from them in the middle of the night, very likely in thunderstorms, is not sitting lightly.

But my alarm goes off at 2 and I do it. I get up and drive in the dark and the rain, white-knuckling it through Fitchburg, where the roads are all torn up, no lines, huge bumps, blinding rain, thunder and lightening. Yikes!

I get the the Watatic parking lot with a few minutes to spare before the 5 a.m. start, quickly assemble my clothes and drop bags, grab my number from a hearty soul in a white van, say a quick hello to a few folks at the starting line, and off we go, 30 or so lights bouncing up the trail to Mt. Watatic.

I don't know how long we climb, maybe half an hour. Just as we reached the rocky summit, big bolts of lightening brighten the sky. For seconds at a time the runners and the landscape light up around me like The Great Stage Director in the Sky has thrown a switch. And then back to complete darkness. Light. Dark. Light. Dark. It is quite a show.

At the top of Watatic I fall in behind Michelle Roy and her running partner, Kevin. Michelle has run Wapack several times and knows the course well. She is a wonderful guide for the first ten miles. She is fearless and balletic on the slippery, wet rocks, and I do my best to emulate her gazelle strides up and down the steep little climbs between Watatic and the first aid station at the Windblown Ski Area.

Michelle and Kevin stop just before Windblown for a nature break, and I lose them for the rest of the day. She isn't feeling well, and I suspect she might be dropping somewhere near the aid station.

The next bit of trail is mixed up in my mind. Best I can remember, I run up some big rocks with Deb Pero who is a wonderful runner I have always admired from afar, but never met. So it was great to chat and share some miles with Deb before she and Steve decamp for New Mexico forever.

(Please see Steve and Deb's blog for pictures and a map of the trail. It rained all day, so I took no pictures.)

I can start to feel my climbing muscles petering out along this bit of trail, which is not good news. Miles and miles to go. Since injuring my tibialis tendon last year at the VT 100 I have been wary of running hills. But I am pleased to say the I never hear a peep from that old tendon during the entirety of this run. It's definitely time to start looking for a bit of elevation gain on my training runs.

Deb and I top out along a lovely ridge line which I imagine has gorgeous views on a good day. Alas, this is not a good day. This is a sucky, yucky day. And I am getting cold. The wetter I get the colder I get. Especially on the downhills, I cannot generate enough body heat to warm up. I am cursing myself for not stashing extra dry clothes in my drop bags out on the course. But somehow I manage to stay just this side of hypothermia until late afternoon when the sun makes a brief appearance and shines its heavenly warmth on my goose fleshed self.

Somewhere in here I catch up off and on with 2 guys, Al and Jim, who are both around the same height and both sport white running caps. I cannot keep track of my conversations with these guys because they look exactly the same to me.

"I tried to get Grace to run today," I tell Jim, a good friend of Grace's.

"Who's Grace?"

"Who are YOU?"

"I'm Al."

And so it goes.

Deb and I leapfrog each other for a long stretch, all the way to the turnaround at mile 21. She is a phenomenal downhill runner, even on these slippery, wet rocks. I, on the other hand, am a weebly-wobbly, fainthearted pussyfooter down the rocky cliff faces we "run" down. I catch her on the uphills and then lose her on the downhills. We chat at the tops and bottoms of the pendulum of our cat and mouse day. Nothing is flat. Nothing. Deb is deeply familiar with this trail. This is her home turf. She gives me lots of great information about what's coming up, what to expect.

Can I just say that I have never in my life run on such a consistently steep and rocky trail? And the rain sure isn't helping matters. I mean it takes me 6 hours to run 21 miles. 6 hours. God help us. And I'm not even last.

I get a little psychic thrill at the turnaround. It doesn't last long, but the notion of running for home gives me enough of a lift to power up Pack Monadnock and North Pack (or something) with a bit of bounce in my stride.

Coming down the second Pack I lose Deb for good. I can still catch glimpses of her ahead of me on the trail for the next ten miles or so, but I never catch her again. This is when all the negative talk starts in my head.

I'll drop at the next aid station. Sure somebody there will give me a lift back to my car.

Stuff like that.

It's so easy to give in to this stuff. So easy to feel sorry for yourself when your tummy is sick, your legs are done, your head is aching, you can't get the Bob the Builder song off your mental soundtrack, your back is cramped, and when you stop to pee you notice that Auntie Flo has come to town. (The bane of female ultrarunners and adventurers everywhere....).

Oy vey.

I am pleased to report that I talk myself out of all of that negative stuff. I do my best to remember what my friend, Eric, the kids' outdoor adventure teacher tells us all the time at nature class. The number one thing you need for survival in the wilderness is a Positive Mental Attitude. And, friends, this run is beginning to feel like a wilderness survival scenario. Up and down the slippery rocks with not a soul in sight. Bear Grylls has nothing on me!

So I keep a Positive Mental Attitude. I really do. And it works!!

Somehow I drag myself to the last Aid Station at Binny Hill, four miles to go for a 42-mile finish. I have long since given up the dream of a 50-mile finish. 42 will be good enough today.

There is a cool looking couple cuddled together at the aid station, blanketed and hunkered down under a tarp. There is food and drink, but I want none of it.

What do you need? they ask.

Here's what I need. I need you to tell me that anyone can run 4 miles.

Anyone can run 4 miles!

Tell me not to be a wuss.

Don't be a wuss!

Say you won't give me a ride.

No ride!

This could have gone on and on, but here comes Steve Pero getting ready to turn around for the last time and head home for a 50-mile finish. This aid station is the 50-mile turnaround point for those brave souls strong enough to leave the comfort of the finish line and run 8 more brutal miles. (Even a million dollars would not persuade me to do this today.)

I pull myself away and try to keep pace with Steve for the last four miles. No dice. He is walking and I am running, and still he pulls away from me. He is a man on a mission. Go, Steve, go!

I don't know how I do it, but I manage to finish this damn race in just under 13 hours. And hoo, boy am I proud of myself. I feel like I have been through the fires of hell. A nice lady at the finish line hands me a cup of chili and a bottle of finisher's maple syrup.

And then the fat lady sings........

Three days later, I am still sore. I am a cranky parent, an exhausted parent. But I hold the little glow of this finish somewhere deep in my soul. And I hope that light shines for days to come. Because I'm so very, very happy to be back running ultras.

A million thanks to Norm Sheppard for taking over the directorship of this race from Bogie, who had done it for several years past. Please, Norm, keep this race alive. This is a true adventure! I want to do it again!

And thank you to all of the volunteers who stood out in the rain all day and cheered us on. I mean, where else does a homeschooling mom get people to clap for her and tell her she's doing a great job?? Thanks so much. It means the world to me!

Here are the results:

50 mile results
Place First Last M/F Age Town State Time
1 Ryan Welts M 29 Milford NH 10:09
2 Dana Royer M 34 Middletown CT 12:19
3 Steve Pero M 58 Jaffrey NH 12:41
4 Justin Contois M 30 Holden MA 12:43
5 Damon Steed M 34 Wilton NH 12:45
6 Shad Hansen M 39 Milford NH 12:53
7 Bogie Dumitrescu M 35 Woburn MA 13:18
8 Joel O'bryan M 48 Northborough MA 13:49
9 Craig Bennett M 39 Lunenburg MA 14:00

43 mile finishers
Place First Last M/F Age Town State Time
1 Joe Carrara M 47 Charlotte VT 8:50
2 Matthew Davenport M 32 Framingham MA 9:43
3 Greg Veltkamp M 38 Winooski VT 9:43
4 Mike Weigand M 36 Middlebury VT 10:16
5 David Boudreau M 38 Brookline NH 10:19
6 Neil Feldman M 39 Boylston MA 10:40
7 Dima Feinhaus M 47 Newton MA 10:44
8 Jeff List M 50 East Falmouth MA 10:47
9 Scott Patnode M 29 Marlboro MA 10:47
10 Davey Edwards M 38 South Glastonbury CT 11:44
11 Brad Overturf M 43 Norwich CT 11:44
12 Paul Lahham M 30 Cambridge MA 11:54
13 Bill Butcher M 45 Fairview NC 12:23
14 Tammy Godin F 46 North Grafton MA 12:23
15 Julian Jamison M 37 Cambridge MA 12:36
16 Deb Pero F 55 Jaffrey NH 12:38
17 Pam Dolan F 43 Mystic CT 12:54
18 Jeff Godin M 42 North Grafton MA 13:10
19 Al Catalano M 57 Newbury MA 14:02
20 Charles Therriault M 25 Newmarket NH 14:12
21 Claire Martin F 46 Newbury NH 14:26
22 Eric Winn M 55 Charlestown RI 14:2


  1. neat to read about this Miss Pam! I have thought about the hiking type races (don't even know what they are called) but never would want to do it for this many miles/hours. Very cool to check out through you tho!!!

  2. Heidi, here's what I think: You need to find a gnarly ultra to run and then write a book about your journey from Redskin's Cheerleader to Ultra Dirt Diva! Bestseller for sure......

  3. Pam - I loved reading this. Everything from your hesitation at leaving your kids to the voices in your head that told you to stop. We have never met in person, but I know those same voices so I feel like I know you! Congrats on an awesome accomplishment. I don't know if there is any sane explanation for why we do what we do...but feeling that sense of doing something that you weren't sure you could do is amazing! I too am glad you are back running ultras!

  4. Thanks, Michele. I know you know.....

    I'm planning to run Nipmuck in June. See you there???

  5. Wow, what a journey! Thanks for taking us along for the ride, Pam. This one sounded pretty intense. You definitely have a lot to be proud of!

  6. Great report, Pam....I enjoyed those fleeting seconds we shared on the trail ;-)


  7. Thanks, Gretchen. These east coast mtns are nothing compared with your Sierra Nevadas, but the trails themselves are wicked. All rocks and no switchbacks. I'm hoping to get out your way one of these summers to a California race.

    Yes, Steve. Fleeting indeed. You had wings on your feet!

  8. Congrats on another ultra finish, and welcome back to ultradom, Pam!! :) It does sound like it was just miserable out there (weather, rocks) but somehow those always end up being the most rewarding experiences once you finish. Woohoo!

  9. Hi Paige! I still can't believe I ran that thing. But I'm thrilled to be back. And thrilled to see that you're back to running again as well. The world is a better place when you're running!

  10. Pam, what a nice read. Wapack is a tough race for sure. You did great! Maybe I'll see you at Traprock next year.

  11. Thanks, Dan. Wapack is a killer! If you're healed up, I'll look for you at Nipmuck in June.....

  12. Hi Pam, I just found your blog :) I am a fellow ultra-running, homeschooling mom of 3(and my kids look to be close in age to yours!) I was at Wapak as well and give you HUGE props for finishing and finishing well! I dropped at 21 as I am a HUGE wuss when it comes to running downhill on rocks and it was takiing me rediculous amounts of time to get through the course, lol. Hopefully I will see you again at a race in the future! Great Job!!! :)

  13. Hi Julie. Another ultrarunning homeschooler. Wow! Yes, my kids are 5, 7 and 9. While I'm neither vegan nor raw, I am on my own food journey. I have been gluten-free, dairy-free, red-meat free for about 8 months and I feel so much sharper and healthier. Vegan may be the next logical step.

    I love your blog! Funny you should find me. I was running with Michelle R during the first 10 miles of Wapack and she told me to find yours. Hope to see you at some of the NE ultras this year.....


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