Wachusett Mountain Trail Race
USATF New England Mountain Series Race #2 of 6
Saturday, May 28, 2011
1300 (?) feet of climbing
36:03 (pace: 7:35)
30th place overall of 330
8th place AG M40-49
Race number two of six in the USATF New England Mountain Series was at Wachusett Mountain in Princeton, Massachusetts. Wachusett is becoming a favorite of mine not only because of the short drive from home but also because of the variation in the course.
With a sample of every terrain type on the course, including road, single track and open fire roads, and with steep ups and fast downs not to mention slow ups and slow downs, the course doesn’t favor a particular strength; rather, you must be fast and strong in order to do well.
Feeling beat up coming into the race, I decided to warm up more and on tougher terrain than I normally would. Climbing tends to render tiredness mute; it somehow brings out in you what you have regardless of how you feel. So after picking up my bib number and saying hello to friends, I ran up Mile Hill Road to the ranger station at the foot of the Wachusett Auto Road; from there I came down the trail that parallels the same road. This is the opening 2 miles of the actual course.
Before long I was on the starting line waiting for the gun to fire. After word from the race director, Bang, the race was started. Off the starting line I went with over 300 others.
The ascent of Mile Hill Road begins immediately, the grade getting even harder a quarter mile in. I settled into an even effort for the mile and a quater total climb. Effort was as hard as my breathing would allow. Each time I lost more than three or four breathes, I’d shorten stride to get breathing back on edge of control. Up the road I went, steady and even.
Going up grades like this, I tend to rev myself as if a single bore engine revving itself. I have to recognize when I start doing this and remind myself to ease up. This is what I focused on. As soon as I started racing myself, with me trying to pump more and more with my legs, I forced it back to steady state. This allowed me to punch the hill home in the last quarter of the climb. I did this all the way up Mile Hill Road.
During this time I watched friends Paul, Abby, and Jeff pull slowly away. Until the final quarter of the climb. This is when I caught back up to all by Jeff; Paul was still up on me, but with him being far a superior climber than me, I just had to keep him close enough. Abby is someone I strive to be near, because if I can finish near her, I will run well for myself. They pose a great rabbits.
At the top of the hill the course next made a right into Wachusett Park, where it immediately shot off onto a technical single track trail for a descent paralleling Mile Hill Road, the one we had just climbed. My goal heading into the trail was to stay on my feet, not be timid, and not let Abby get too far ahead of me.
The descent started with Abby pulling away. I was timid and not very confident, having already made one miss-step that nearly stopped me in my tracks. This was exactly what I did NOT want to do. A few paces later, jumping rock and root, I gained more confidence and before long the road runner in me traded in racing flats for trail shoes. I was now flying down the trail. Not only did I catch back up to Abby but, much to my surprise, the runner directly in front of her was Paul. This was a good sign. Although I would like to think that I am getting faster on trails, Paul would tell me later that he purposely went easy on the first two sections of the course (Mile Hill Raod and this descent) so that he wouldn’t die on the ascent to come. So not really a win on my half. But it did make me feel better.
Immediately after the descent, the course pops out of the woods and makes a hard left on a wide dirt trail that cuts across 5 or 6 ski slopes. During this stretch I was able to reel in both Paul and Abby, and I even had Jeff in sight. Jeff would soon pull away for good, but the others, we’d be back and forth for a while.
Next was a hard left on a single track trail that is both technical and steep. Before entering the trail, I let both my friends go ahead, since I knew I would only clog up the trail. I did this because I knew the next section was steep enough to expose my weakness — climbing. Many runners will walk a pace or two on this trail. I was no different. I walked a pace or two or even three. I was close on Abby’s heels until the final quarter. We passed two others and did not get passed. But then something in me snapped. I watched Abby pull away. During this time, I also lost sight of Paul. Both of them are strong on the ups. Not so much me.
Finally to the top, the highest point of the course, it was my time to shine. Where technical, steep ups is my weakness, fast downs are my strengths. The trail runner in me gave up the rugged shoes for a pair of racing flats. How many I would pick off would be the question. Off I went bombing down the mountain on wide dirt fire roads. Footing wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad. Caution was required; but not intense focus. My focus was all about getting my legs to turnover more quickly but not out of control fast.
During this stretch, I caught back up to and passed Paul and Abby and a bunch of others. If only the down could continue. I had passed Paul a while back but had no idea how far up I was. This was important because the next stretch of the course was going into an extremely technical trail that he would, no doubt, excel at. So my goal was to gain as much time as possible and then hope to run stead and fast on that technical part. And that’s what I did.
The last stretch was slightly out of my comfort zone. The trail was single track, technical with many rocks and roots, and wet from water runoff from a rainy spring. My choice of shoes (regular road shoes) cost me a few slips but I was mostly in control and not giving up too much. Half way down I had to let two runners go by me. One was a guy I passed earlier while bombing down the mountain; the other was Abby. Other than those two, there were no sounds coming behind me, so I knew I had clearance on Paul. But how much? I didn’t know.
The idea of Paul hunting me down chased me the rest of the way. Finish finally came in 36:03, good for 30th place overall and 8th age group M40-49.
Wachusett Mountain Trail Race was fun for a lot of reasons. It further instilled in me how much I enjoy this kind of running. The great people, of course, help me feel this way. But as I was driving home I couldn’t help but smile at my fortune of now being a part of this incredible community.
From a mountain running standpoint, the race helped me solidify the notion that although I am not faster than I was last year, I am probably slightly stronger. On top of that, I am also far more comfortable running fast on technical trails, and according to me keeping up with others, I think I am also faster or at least more efficient.
Next up in the mountain series is Pack Monadnock, my least favorite of the 6 races. Pack being my least favorite is interesting because how the majority of it is more like a road race with a short (but steep) climb at the end. It should be my bread and butter, but I’d much rather a race like Wachusett. Or Northfield. Or even Loon or Cranmore! Am I converted? Maybe.