During its pandemic-forced two-year hiatus, the Trail Animals Running Club’s Wapack and Back race course didn’t get any easier.
Race Directors Christopher Agbay and Jason Gray didn’t pass the time removing any rocks, buffing out the trails or seeking re-routes to make the course less challenging. Instead, they spent the time hoping the COVID-19 situation would improve and preparing for the time to arrive when their classic New England trail ultramarathon could make its return.
That time arrived on Saturday, May 7, and sure enough the course was every bit as challenging as runners remembered. Steep climbs? Check. Rugged terrain? Check. An endless supply of trip-hazards and hard landing spots? Check.
Fortunately for the runners who’d waited so long to get a crack at this course, be it for the first time or a shot at redemption, they were treated to near-perfect racing conditions with comfortable temperatures in the 40s and 50s, mostly dry trails, a mix of overcast skies and sun, and a breeze.
Even with the good conditions, Wapack once again lived up to its reputation for providing a grueling race. Runners once again had the option of racing a full out-and-back on the Wapack Trail for a 43-mile round-trip ultra, tacking on an extra seven miles to make it a 50-miler, or taking a one-way trip for a 21.5-mile race.
Twenty-three runners aiming for 50 or 43 miles toed the starting line at 5 a.m., at Mt. Watatic State Park in Ashburnham, Mass., and departed by the glow of headlamps to begin their journey north, across the border into New Hampshire to North Pack Mountain. They would amass around 4,600 feet of climbing by the time they reached the turnaround point. If they made the cutoffs and continued all the way back to Mt. Watatic, they would ultimately climb more than 9,000 feet for the day.
Ultimately, just six runners finished the 50-miler, and Josh Katzman’s men’s course record of 8:51:34 from 2013 and Samantha LeBlanc’s women’s course record of 10:43:10 from 2018 remained safe. Chad MacDonald, 35, of New Boston, N.H., won the race in 10:28:00. It was his third time finishing the 50-miler and first victory. He was followed by 41-year-old Jesse Veinotte of Hubbardston, Mass., in 11:56:14, who finished the 50-miler for the second time. Jason DeJoannis, 48, of Waltham, Mass., rounded out the podium in 12:25:35 for a successful conclusion to his Wapack debut. Other 50-mile finishers were Alex Shaffer, 35, of Portsmouth, N.H. (13:45:00); Greg Pandise, 26, of Philadelphia, Pa. (14:26:48); and Brian Severance, 41, of Goffstown, N.H. (15:34:13).
Eleven runners finished the 43-mile race, led by John Paul Krol, 37, of Waitsfield, Vt., who was victorious in his Wapack debut in 9:14:32. Mat Ridley, 31, of Mystic, Conn., was the only other runner to complete the course in less than 10 hours, finishing second in 9:30:03. Keith Bourassa, 38, of Keene, N.H., rounded out the podium in 10:19:41. Stephen Fleck, 38, of Mendon, Mass., and Daniel West, 37, of Hampton, N.H., finished together in 11:35:00, followed by 37-year-old Dave Dillon of Tewksbury, Mass., in 12:21:55. Scott Berkely, 28, of Sharon, Vt. (12:32:18); Ryan Pelletier, 36, of New Bedford, Mass. (13:17:38); and the trio of Kristen Smith, 36, and William Jackson, 40, of Danvers, Mass., and Christopher Lay, 41, of Somerville, Mass., who finished together in 13:20:00.
Thompson, Traffie Victorious in 21.5-Mile Race
Fifty-two runners finished the one-way, 21.5-mile race within nine hours, running southbound from North Pack Mountain back to Mt. Watatic. Close competition unfolded among both the men’s and women’s fields, with just a few minutes separating the podium finishers in each category.
Ben Thompson, 31, of Medford, Mass., fended off a fierce challenge from 36-year-old Peter Bonito of Westmoreland, N.H., to top the men’s field, with Thompson winning in 3:13:39 and Bonito following 88 seconds later in 3:15:07. Jonathan McInerney, 32, of New Ipswich, N.H., rounded out the men’s podium in 3:21:41.
In the women’s race, 46-year-old Naomi Traffie of New Ipswich, N.H., held off Lorena Duquette, 45, of Berlin, Mass., and Laura Ricci, 38, of Boston, Mass., for the win. Traffie crossed the line in 4:17:21, followed by Duquette in 4:22:53 and Ricci in 4:25:20.