During the first 13 years of the Wapack and Back Trail Races only two runners won back-to-back titles in either the 50-mile or 43-mile distances – Josh Katzman during his 2012 and 2013 runs that remain the top two men’s 50-mile performances in event history, and Debbie Livingston’s winning performances in the women’s field in 2013 and 2014.
The difficulty in defending a title at Wapack is understandable between the endless array of trip hazards along the rock- and root-covered course, the challenging climbs and technical descents, and the toil of simply accumulating so many miles. Plus, Massachusetts in May can bring anything from extreme heat, to rain, ice or snow, all of which make the course even more grueling.
Given all of that, it’s notable that since returning from a two-year hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic, Wapack and Back has celebrated just one men’s 50-mile champion: Chad MacDonald.
A two-time Wapack 50-mile finisher pre-COVID, MacDonald never managed to ascend to the top of the podium. Post-COVID, he has been unstoppable. He dominated the 2022 event in its return, capitalizing on a cool, comfortable, dry day and winning by nearly 90 minutes in 10:28:00.
MacDonald returned for the 15th edition of Wapack and Back on Saturday, May 13, in Ashburnham, Mass., once again intent on completing 50 miles. Runners have the option of stopping after a full out-and-back on the Wapack Trail for 43 miles and 9,200 feet of climbing or tackling on an additional out-and-back for 50 miles and nearly 11,000 feet of gain. The full distance was once again MacDonald’s objective. Unlike the previous year, the weather conditions at the 2023 race made MacDonald’s task far more difficult. Rather than temperatures in the 40s and 50s, he and his fellow runners had to endure a toasty day in the upper 70s to low 80s.
Nine runners attempted the 50-mile distance this year, and just three ultimately finished – the fewest number of 50-mile finishers in event history. MacDonald was one of those few who endured and got it done. The 36-year-old from New Boston, N.H., finished first overall in 10:41:00, just 13 minutes slower than the year before but in far more difficult conditions.
Joining MacDonald in finishing the 50-miler were Max Dore, 34, of Somerville, Mass., in 11:28:00 in just his second ultramarathon, and 39-year-old Laura Ricci of Boston, Mass. in 11:49:00. Ricci’s hard-earned finish was part of her build-up to running the Midstate Massive Ultra-Trail 100-miler in October, a course where the early miles take place on the Wapack Trail.
An additional 16 runners earned 43-mile finishes with 48-year-old Lars Sauvola of Rindge, N.H., cruising to the overall win in 8:58:00, well ahead of runner-up Joseph Reeves, 46, of Surrey, N.H., who finished in 10:25:00. Annie-Claude Vaillancourt, 38, of Mascouche, Quebec, finished third overall and topped the women’s field in 10:26:00, a performance that earned her the second position on the women’s course record board less than four minutes behind Kara Olivito’s winning time of 10:22:15 from 2019. Art Beauregard, 45, of Framingham, Mass., finished fourth overall and third in the men’s field in 10:29:00.
Rounding out the women’s podium were Allison Sullivan, 37, of Glen, N.H., in 13:02:00 and Tari Tan, 36, of Watertown, Mass. in 13:10:00. Julia Magnusson, 51, of Maynard, Mass., was fourth in 13:31:00.
Muhonen Edges Caron, Ojala Tops Women’s Field in 21.5-Mile Race
In the lone sub-ultra race, 63 runners completed the one-way, 21.5-mile southbound route from North Pack Mountain to Mt. Watatic, amassing 4,600 feet of climbing along the way.
The top two men quickly pulled away from the field, and it was a two-person race between Travis Muhonen, 29, and Patrick Caron, 26, for much of the race. Muhonen ultimately earned the victory with the New Ipswich, N.H. resident finishing in 3:08:00, followed by Caron, of Needham, Mass., in 3:10:00. Dylan Schultze, 32, of Goffstown, N.H., rounded out the men’s podium in 3:29:00. Walter Muhonen, 27, of Peterborough, N.H., was fourth in 3:40:00. Quentin Ballu, 38, and Charles Migletti, 35, both of Lexington, Mass., tied for fifth in the men’s field and sixth overall in 4:13:00.
In the women’s race, 25-year-old Sarita Ojala of Rindge, N.H., raced to victory in 4:12:00, three minutes ahead of 25-year-old Lara Matthias of Greenfield, N.H., who nabbed the runner-up spot in 4:15:00. Elizabeth Atwater, 43, of Sudbury, Mass., was a close third in 4:17:00.
Last year’s top two women, Naomi Traffie of New Ipswich, N.H., and Lorena Duquette of Berlin, Mass., finished fifth and fourth, respectively, in the women’s field with Duquette completing the course in 4:29:00 and Traffie in 4:37:00.