Thursday, May 16, 2013

Wapack and Back 50 Mile 2013 Race Report

The Wapack Trail is a 21 mile hiking trail that begins at Mt. Watatic in Ashburnham, MA which is the Northern terminus of the Midstate Trail in Massachusetts. The 50 mile race runs over several mountains from South to North to the 21 mile turnaround at North Pack Monadnock and back to Mt. Watatic to make 43 miles, with a 7 mile out and back tacked on at the end. By the time the race is over, runners have accumulated almost 11,000' of climbing.

wapack trail elevation profile
Elevation Profile of the Wapack and Back 50 Mile Race
I have run three races on the trail in the past including the fall trail race in 2010 which covers the Southern end of the trail as an out and back. For the past two years I have run the 21 mile race that is combined with the 50 miler, but starts at the Northern end and runs South. Last year, I won the 21 mile race so I decided to step up to the 50 mile distance. My friend Justin Contois suggested the 50 mile race to me after he had run it several times in the past. My wife Amanda and I love hiking mountains, so I find that the more technical and mountainous trail races have always attracted me.

The plan for the race was to have a good time and see what my training will bring for results. After waking up at 2:45am and having my race day breakfast of an egg sandwich and a bowl of oatmeal, I made my way to the Mt. Watatic parking lot for the 5am start. The check-in was finished and it was time to run soon afterward. The group of 24 starters took off in the dark down the forest road start and soon began to climb Mt. Watatic. The first mile climbs 580' up a steep incline that I knew I would have to repeat with 43 miles on my legs later in the day, which I was not looking forward to. The run down to Binney Pond Rd. from the summit went quickly and I was soon climbing up Pratt Mtn. to the ridge of the New Ipswich Mountains which is my favorite section of the trail. This area offers views from the open slabs to Mt. Monadnock, 15 miles to the West, and on a clear day you can see the tops of the mountains you will be climbing throughout the run. Once down off the ridge, we ran through the Windblown Ski Area to the first aid station at 9 miles. I grabbed some gels, potatoes with salt, and bananas and I was on my way back out on the trail. The climb up Burton Peak and Temple went slowly for me and I was passed by Brian Tinger and Dan Hrobak along the misty singletrack trail.

wapack 50 mile trail race
Climbing up Burton Peak
As I made my way to Miller State Park I was passed by Scott Patnode and I knew the steep bouldered climb of South Pack Monadnock was looming. With the wet weather, the climbing up the slick rocks was to be slow going. In and out at the Miller Aid Station (Mile 16), I began the climbing up to the summit to enter the saddle between North Pack and South Pack with the misty fog looming above.

Rocky section

Views from the saddle

View from South Pack looking towards Temple Mtn.
 I saw Josh Katzman and Eric Ahern, the 50 milers in first and second place just before North Pack's summit and told them they were looking strong. I then arrived at the North Pack summit and started to see the 21 milers after their 9am start, which was energizing. All of the "good jobs" and "nice works" from the other runners helped push me up the last few miles to the turnaround. I hit the turnaround and filled up my 100 oz. bladder which was almost out and dropped a few items in my drop bag before hitting the trail again for the climb up North Pack. I was traveling slowly on the way up and got to see the other 50 milers that were behind me, including Deb Livingston, the eventual female 50 mile winner, and a few others that I would try to hold back for the remainder of the run.

On the way back I tried to keep up with the fueling, taking gels every 1/2 hour or 45 minutes and trying to fit in as much calories as I could at the aid stations. The plan for the rest of the race was to hike the steep uphills and run what I could comfortably handle and try to just keep moving to the end. I wanted to come into the 43 miles strong and not have any second thoughts about dropping there, which is tempting. I arrived at the Watatic parking lot at 9 hours 40 minutes where my parents, wife and two children as well as Justin and his family were to cheer me on. I had no second thoughts about not finishing, filled my water bladder and turned to head back up Mt. Watatic's stiff climb.

I made it to the final aid station at 46.5 miles and turned to head back up the last gradual climb to the top of Mt. Watatic. I knew it would be over quicker if I ran the last of the climbs and I would be able to keep my place (6th at the time) if I just pushed to the finish. Running the rest of the climbs felt great and I felt I should take a photo of the final Watatic climb from it's secondary peak.

Mt. Watatic view
The final descent down Mt. Watatic was over quickly and I was soon down near the finish where I saw my parents, wife and kids waiting to see me finish. I got to run the last 500 feet or so with Matthew, my 2 year old and we both really enjoyed it. I ended up in 6th place with a time of 11 hours 24 minutes, full results here. All runners ran a great race especially Josh Katzman, the overall winner, and Eric Ahern, second place - finishing with awesome and inspiring times. It felt good to finish my first 50 mile race on such tough terrain and I will return next year to improve my race time. Hopefully in the meantime I can gain more experience in the process of how to handle the 50 mile distance as far as fueling, hydration and pacing goes.

  • Water 225 oz.
  • Gu Gels:12-15
  • S! Caps: 10-15
  • 2 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
  • Bananas, potatoes w/salt, pretzels
  • Shoes: Montrail Mountain Masochist
  • Socks: Darn Tough
  • Pack: GoLite Rush
  • Shirt: The North Face
  • Shorts: Under Armour


  1. This is amazing Jesse! I hope to try one of these races one day, until then... Thanks for sharing your story!

    1. Thank you Sarah! It is a great trail and even though it was painful, I plan to return there. Hope to see you out there, maybe next year.

  2. Congrats on the finish man! What's up next??

    1. Thanks Justin, trying to re-evaluate my training or lack of structure and plan for the Bear Brook Marathon in July. Of course pacing you at the TARC 100 is up next.

  3. I have no idea how you do something like this.. I've ridden plenty of 100 mile bicycle rides, even a few 125 milers, but this is just awe-inspiring. A 7 mile run in flat Florida is really far for me. Good for you, man. You'll outlive us all :)

    1. Thanks Jay, it took a lot of training just to get to this point. Hopefully I can continue to improve on the times, we'll see.

  4. Jesse,

    Great work out there - thanks for keeping me "on track" when we passed each other. Also, psyched you'll be at the TARC 100 - it's going to be a lot of fun. Be sure to "Bring a Chair" so you can hang out. Are you coming on Sunday to the awards too?

    Congrats, although not sure if this is really your first 50 - I mean you've already got a Hundy under your belt!


    1. You're welcome, glad to help. There was nobody there on my way back through and I almost got off course as well. That is a confusing little section. I will probably only be there for Saturday to pace and then I have to leave.

      I guess you're right, this 50 miler was just more deliberate.