How Not to Train For the Wapack 21.5
It started sometime in November with Ashley casually mentioning an interest in running the Wapack Trail Race. I was intrigued by Ashley’s interest in the race as it is a 21.5 mile race along the Wapack Trail through southern New Hampshire and northern Massachusetts. Ashley’s enthusiasm for running has always been strong, but trail running is not exactly her bread and butter and neither of us had ever run longer than fourteen miles at once (much less fourteen miles across a near 100-year-old New England footpath that crosses the summits of many of southern New England’s highest peaks). Furthermore, the race takes place early in the spring meaning that a good deal of race training must take place in the winter.
Sometime in December I relented and agreed to run the race with Ashley. I don’t know what influenced my decision. Perhaps it was that Ashley’s blind optimism had became infectious. Perhaps it was that by the end of the fall I was starting to feel like a real runner, having logged more time running the past year than I had in my entire life. Or maybe I was just far enough removed from my first trail half marathon to forget just how miserable the experience was. With spots filling up quickly, and a few aprês ski beers in me, I signed up for the race knowing I would regret the decision somewhere down the line.
It took a long time for that regret to set in. The winter provided far too many good ski days for me to worry about a trail race in May. It was one of those strange winters that seemed to get better (if by “better” you mean “snowier,” which I do) as it went along. In the evening Ashley would tell me about her lunchtime run, normally in cold weather and on icy, salt-covered roads. I would nod my head and think, “whatever makes her happy…but it seems a shame to waste all these good ski days running.” As Ashley pushed through her winter running regimen, I skied as much as possible: skinning and skiing at the resort, resort laps, sidecountry, and backcountry skiing filled my days. As I quickly amassed ski days, thoughts about the impending race were pushed to the back of my mind and the idea of mixing some running in with my skiing had vanished. I kept telling myself there would be plenty of time to train when the snow finally melted, or that skinning uphill is the perfect training for a trail race. To be honest, with the race a few months away it was easy to delude myself.
As I reaped the rewards of a snowy winter, the time ticked away. Before I knew it, it was April 1 and the ski resorts were still open, many of them having more terrain open than they had at anytime last year. As I always have been a connoisseur of spring skiing, I kept choosing my skis over my running shoes, confident I would be okay in the race. By the end of the first week in April, our local ski hill ended its season due to lack of business, not lack of snow. It would seem to be a perfect time to get training; I, however, took advantage of my touring setup and began skinning up the mountain. For the next week and a half I had the resort to myself, plus skinning up the mountain is almost running (or so I told myself). As the race neared, I consoled myself with the belief that the skiing was far too good this year to not take advantage of it, and my worst case scenario was that I could always drop out of the race.
On April 17th, I ran for the first time since November 20th (have I ever mentioned I love Movescount.com?). After my first run I came to instantly regret the stance I took on skiing over running. For my first run I sweat out just under four miles on fairly moderate terrain and I became instantly nervous about the rapidly approaching race. While the run never felt physically taxing, I was surprised at how sore my legs and back were after the effort. With less than four weeks to race day, my training plan became “run as much as possible for three weeks, then rest.” If I was going to suffer through the race, I would at least go into the race with my body being as fresh and well-rested as possible.
The next few weeks were a series of highs and lows: some days I would go out and feel strong, and other days I wished I hadn’t even bothered running. My biggest attitude swing came after my longest pre-race run, an 11 mile jaunt at Callahan State Park. During that run, everything finally seemed to come together. I ran at a good pace, the miles ticked off effortlessly, and I found the rhythm in my running that I had discovered the year before. At the end of the 11 miles, I felt as if I could have gone much longer, only a lack of food and water prevented me from doing so. At the conclusion of that run I knew I would be fine in the race, and for the first time my anxiety was replaced with anticipation.
In the end, I survived the Wapack. Remarkably I feel as if I did quite well, all things considered. In fact, I accomplished three of my major goals: finish, finish without some sort of debilitating injury, and beat Ashley (results). Nearly three weeks removed from the event, I am intrigued to try again next year. Now that I have a better understanding of the course and the experience of running that distance, I think I can make a run at a sub-five hour finish next time (also it maybe beneficial to work some running into my winter training).