Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Race Report: Wapak Trail Race, New Ipswich NH

And the story begins like this:  It's a sleepy Saturday afternoon during a holiday weekend.  No one is shopping-- attending cook outs and lounging on the beach, but definitely not dropping the cash in Norwood Center on this day.  I  hear the door bell jingle from my back office perch and the customer is greeted by the awesome Saturday staff member at CRR.  The next thing I hear is "Wow--that's a lot of GU.  Do you have a race in the future?".  Yes, the customer answers "18 mile trail race in NH tomorrow."  And now I am interested, off my seat and walking towards the register to hear more.

Flash forward 16 hours.  Somehow I've convinced my better half that it's a great idea to drive me to New Ipswich NH, watch me disappear into the woods and wait for my eventual reappearance out of said woods in I'm not sure how many hours.  It's 6am and I'm busily gulping down coffee, scrambling eggs and wondering just how I get the black mold out of my CamelBak tubing and mouthpiece.  I needed to run 18 miles regardless this day as the nagging marathon training schedule told me.  Why not spend those miles in the woods, running through fields of wild flowers and song birds?  What the heck does "3000 feet of climbing over 18 miles" really mean anyway?  And what exactly did the race director mean when he wrote "must be in excellent physical condition to enter this race"?  And why is New Hampshire called the granite state?  Not really sure at 6 am and not really caring to give these statements a whole lot of thought.  Denial is a powerful human tool!

So on the way to New Ipswich I am counting the ice cream stands that I will hitting on the way home.  My companion is driving and being such a good sport about this last minute, hair brained idea it almost makes me cry.  And I would cry but I'm getting that feeling in my stomach--that I've made a choice to try something that's way out of my comfort zone.  It's sickening and thrilling at the same time.  It's exhilarating and terrifying and apparently what I need a dose of every six months or so.  All I do know is that endurance events test me in ways that other situations can't.  Maybe I want to see how I will react in a situation where "me" is all I have to rely on.  If I can't figure this out in 18 miles of trail where can I answer the question?  We drive on and we laugh at this silly situation.

Registration is running on my favorite race scale:  completely home-spun, small and friendly.  Twenty dollars gets me a race bib, some used safety pins and two water stops.  Everything else is all me.  I make a visit to at an outhouse, lube up my feet and don the shoes.  I miss the pre-race instructions because I'm chatting with the back on the pack crew that I met just hours ago at the store.  They're packing GU, CamelBaks and pickle juice.  I'm not even kidding.  We are maybe a field of 100 runners, lots of whom are not wearing shirts, bling, or any fancy gear.  Here we go!

Within the first 3 miles of this trail run, I realize that my legs are not in shape for 18 miles of squats.  Three miles into the run, I've only been able to run 1/2 a mile.  The rest has been fast hiking:  steep up and steep down.  Who the freak can run this, I'm thinking to myself.  But the leaders are, like billy goats, leaping from rock to bolder to root to mud.  Amazing, humbling and like nothing I've ever done before. 
At the half way point is a table of water, electrolytes, bananas and really nice, friendly faces.  I love these strangers.  I tell them that and they receive my comments as if it's the most normal thing they've ever heard.  I'm a bit whacked at this point, but I still have wherewith all to realize that I must do an about face and run 9 miles back to the starting point.  Yes, over the 4 peaks who's names I care not to know and over the countless mounds of granite.  It says 2:14 on my watch and I'm wondering if I will need to call a cab to get back home.  I mean, who would wait this long for someone to come out of the woods?

The trip back was what you would think it would be---beautiful, lonely, painful, happy, conflicting, a 2 and 1/2 hour argument with the voice in my head.  I made a silent plea with my better half and a promise to never make him wait this long to see me reappear from the woods.  I made a list of things I am thankful for:  toe bumpers on trail shoes, the fact that your ankles can twist and turn many times before they quit entirely, bright orange salamanders who cheered me up along the way, fellow trail runners who are gracious, kind, oh so humble and supportive, my GPS watch that told me how many miles I had to go with gentle beeps, and life giving WATER!

At 4:44 I emerged from said woods, barely running, to see my better half waiting with a smile, water and potato chips.  No blasting music, no flags, no explosions.  Just the finishers lounging in the grass, a handy water hose, and coolers of WATER :). 
So what's to take away from almost 5 hours on a Sunday in the woods?  It was a test, pure and simple.  We all do this.  We all set ourselves up for a possible failure.  We sign up for a 5K when we haven't exercised since HS gym class.  We enter a 1/2 marathon because our friend talks us into it.  We pledge to complete a charity 26 mile walk to honor a loved one when we haven't recently walked a mile.  We have this in common.  We are willing to take a chance on ourselves.  So if you've gone a while since your last test, I ask you this:  What are you waiting for?