Two runners on the rise added another notable mark on their racing resumes with wins at the Wapack and Back 50-miler on Saturday, May 12, in Ashburnham, Mass. For one, the race capped a long recovery from injury; for the other, it was the latest strong performance in what has been an impressive two-year stretch. For both, it was their first time winning the classic New England ultramarathon.
Matt Veiga spent much of 2017 battling an Achilles injury that cut into his quest to win the New England Mountain Running Series and kept him from racing at his best. The 2018 season has seen a healthy Veiga regain his form, however. Rather than spending as much time focusing on preparing for the Mountain Series’ shorter distances, he has turned to longer distances at a slower pace – by his standards. The results have been impressive. He earned a win at the Goat Hill 50K on April 14, in Uxbridge, and parlayed that performance into another winning effort at Wapack and Back.
Veiga went out with the frontrunners from the start, took the lead a few miles into the race, and gradually pulled away from there on the out-and-back course from Mt. Watatic State Park in Ashburnham to North Pack Mountain in New Hampshire, and then back to Mt. Watatic, followed by a quick out-and-back to finish it up.
Veiga and his fellow 50-mile runners took on plenty of technical trails along the way, gaining around 12,000 feet of vertical on oftentimes slippery rocks thanks to extensive stretches of rainfall during the race. Ultimately, Veiga – a 31-year-old resident of Lynn, Mass. – won the race in 10:22:45 with a comfortable cushion on runner-up Nels Traffie, 44, of New Ipswich, N.H., who finished in 10:39:04. Jason Gray, 38, of Northbridge, Mass., rounded out the men’s podium in 11:06:30 and finished fourth overall after winning the 43-mile race in 2017.
While Veiga didn’t threaten Josh Katzman’s men’s course-record of 8:51:34 from 2013, that wasn’t the case on the women’s side. LeBlanc had her eyes on setting a new women’s course standard following her winning effort at the Don’t Run Boston 50K in April and strong performances at the Cayuga Trails 50-miler and Mountain Masochist 50-miler in 2017. Also helping her cause was that she knew what to expect from the Wapack course, having won the event’s 21.5-mile race in 2017.
LeBlanc overcame a hard fall during the first half of the race and didn’t let it deter her from holding onto the lead the rest of the way. In fact, the 29-year-old resident of Woburn, Mass., had her sights set on Traffie, the men’s runner-up, down the stretch as she was only a few minutes back. Ultimately, she finished third overall and was the first-place woman in a new ladies’ course-record time of 10:43:10. The previous course record of 10:53:02 was set by Kristina Folcik in 2012.
LeBlanc’s closest competitor was 40-year-old Sarah Slater of Guilford, Conn. Slater posted the fourth-best time in course history as she finished fifth overall in 11:30:15. It was her second consecutive runner-up finish at the race. Jen Hebert, 39, of Holden, Mass., rounded out the women’s podium in 12:07:18 in her Wapack and Back debut.
Runners had 14 1/2 hours to finish the 50-miler, and 17 did so within the time limit. The top eight finishers completed the course in less than 12 hours.
Mitchell, Shreck Earn Top Spots in 43-Mile Race
In addition to the 50-mile finishers, another 14 completed the 43-mile race which used the same course as the 50-miler, absent only the extra out-and-back at the end. Jeffrey Mitchell, 37, of West Hartford, Conn., earned the victory at that distance, winning in 9:20:30. Runner-up Kyle Bergemann, 26, of Boston, Mass., finished an hour later in 10:20:56, followed by 48-year-old Brennen Wysong of New York, N.Y., in 10:32:03.
Carolyn Shreck, 46, of Hampton, N.H., earned the win among the women’s field, finishing in 12:23:40. Hot on her heels was second-place finisher Sarah Fitzgerald, 38, of Keene, N.H., in 12:25:24. Elizabeth Masterjohn, 37, of Hudson, Mass., rounded out the women’s podium in 13:14:13.
McInerney, Pandiscio Win 21.5-Miler
Beyond the ultramarathon distance, 50 runners finished a 21.5-mile race that went one way on the course from North Pack Mountain in Greenfield, N.H., back to Mt. Watatic in Ashburnham.
Jonathan McInerney, 28, of New Ipswich, N.H., rolled to the victory by nearly 15 minutes, winning in 3:11:51. His time was the second-fastest on the men’s record board, trailing only Brandon Newbould’s mark of 3:01:16 from 2017. Ben Thompson, 27, of Cambridge, Mass. – the 21.5-mile winner in 2016 – notched his fourth top-three finish at that distance with a runner-up effort of 3:26:17. Matt Picard, 33, of Jamaica Plain, Mass., rounded out the men’s podium in 3:37:04.
In the women’s field, 27-year-old Sarah Pandiscio of Charlestown, Mass., made her Wapack debut with a first-place finish in 4:13:45. Her time landed the fourth spot on the women’s course record board. Jamie Hennessy, 35, of Rindge, N.H., was a distant second in 5:10:23, followed by Jennifer Shultis, 49, of Portland, Ore., in 5:29:09.