Wachusett Mountain Trail Race
USATF-NE Mountain Series Race #2 of 6
Saturday May 29, 2010
5.25 miles of mountain trails
Finish: 37:29 (7:29 pace)
37th Place Overall of 325
7th Place M40-49
Total Ascent: ~1200 feet
Having had a blast last weekend crawling up and bombing down Northfield Mountain, my first mountain race, let alone trail race, I decided to continue the trend at the Wachusett Mountain Trail Race, which was by no coincidence the second race of six in the USATF-NE Mountain Goat Series.
The course at Wachusett had a little of each trail type (road, dirt path, grass, fire road, ski trails, single track) with a total ascent of 1200 feet over 5.25 miles. Starting on paved road for an initial climb to 1.25 miles, the course then took a hard right before swinging around onto a single track trail descending back to 2 miles, losing half of what it had climbed in the opening mile. From there the course was even to slightly up on fire roads as it cut across ski slopes before making a hard left onto technical single track for a massive scale to the summit at 3.5 miles. Once at the highest point, the course bombed down the mountain along fire roads to the finish. The course was no more difficult than Northfield. In fact, despite a steeper, more technical climb, Wachusett was probably easier.
After registering and getting dressed, I headed out for a warm-up along parts of the course. My race strategy was cemented after seeing some of the trails coupled with my experience the previous week at Northfield when I nearly died on the final ascent to the summit. I broke the race into four parts: From the Start including the climb up Mile Hill Road to 1.25, single track down to fire roads across ski slopes to 2.25, left onto steep single track ascent to summit at 3.25, and bombs away home to the finish.
The goal was to not die on the hills, especially the steep climb to the summit, and to be roughly 2 minutes faster than last week. The two-minutes-faster-than-Northfield goal was culled the day before in eying results from year’s past, where I noticed that this was the norm for the fast guys, and so that was my target.
The rest was executing the plan.
With 325 others toeing the starting line, the race started, and so too did the climbing, the opening 1.25 miles up Mill Hill Road to the park entrance. I settled into a steady effort with breathing on edge but firmly in control. This was the plan so that I could get up the first ascent efficiently and fast but still have something for the real climb to come. By the top of the hill, I was starting to pass runners who went out too hard. I was still in control and sitting squarely in the Top 50. I had to let ego aside for the glory of the big hill later. And that’s what I did.
Once at the top of Mile Hill Road, at mile 1.25, the course turned right into the park and immediately scooted off-road to a single track trail that paralleled Mile Hill Road, the one we just climbed. Every now and then I could see through clearing runners still going up the initial climb. I settled in and did my best to stay on the heels of the guy in front of me as the trail twisted and turned while dropping elevation. This proved to be a good strategy since he was far more adept at technical single track. It was still a bit congested with other runners, and with the trail too tight and challenging, there was no passing. My rabbit and I, with him pulling away on the twists and turns and me closing back in on faster sections, put distance on those behind us and caught up to a collection of others so that by the time the half mile track ended, there were five of us bunched together. I was able to punch by all five on the next jog, a cut across the ski slopes and onto a fire road that went deeper into forest with an ever increasing elevation gain. During this stretch I picked up a few more positions.
Approaching the hard left onto the single track trail that scaled the summit, I eased off pace to let the guy I was about to pass take the lead. He looked to be a strong mountain goat, or so I figured, and with me not so strong on trails, especially those of the vertical variety, I decided to let him be my rabbit. As he made the left onto the trail, he uttered words that described the next mile: “Holy crap!” It was a fitting description for the rock and dirt wall before us. I put my head down and started the climb.
Navigating the single track by hopping rock to rock, over root, dirt and rock, I stayed close on my rabbit’s heels as we ascended steep, technical sections. Within a minute my rabbit was reduced to a walk. So close I was, I had to jump to the side and around, as I thrust up the trail and by him. That’s when I realized that I was now by myself, with nobody to chase but the trail ahead of me that continued to climb. Paying close attention so that I wouldn’t go off course, I continued on, putting great distance between the guy behind me, when I slowly closed the gap to a few guys in front. Up and up, I passed one, then another, and settled in behind another. The trail was so steep and technical that at any moment, one wrong step or turn, even a change in direction couldn’t prevent forward movement from coming to a screeching halt. A few times I had to stop, for the path I chose wasn’t the most efficient, or the next leap was simply too high. I even had to put my hand on my knee once to help thrust my body up and over a ledge.
Finally to the top, the course jogged shortly along the auto road before quickly veering off to the right onto fire roads. Bomb, bomb, bombs away all the way to the finish. On this stretch I opened the stride, got my legs moving as fast as they could, and climbed a bunch of spots in the overall race. As I’m learning, bombing down those descents is my strength. Had the race been longer, I would have bombed all the way into top 25 or more. But it was not longer. It was 5.25 miles.
As I stormed down the final descent to the finish, I was surprised to see the clock in the low 37’s. Having started on the easy side, I was able to work my way through the first parts of the course so that I would not lose time on the technical ascent. This positioned me to come in at exactly my goal: two minutes faster than the week before which was something all the fast guys were doing. It was my yard stick, and on this course on this day I measured up.
Finish time was 37:28 – good for 37th place overall of 325.
It’s a deep field.
Photo credits to Scott Mason, photograper and mountain runner, and Krissy K.