2008 Mt Wachusett Race Story

by Dave Dunham <dave.dunham@comcast.net>

Wachusett was started back in 1978 when it was run once in the spring and
again in the fall.  It was held for ten years then faded away.  Don Drewniak
brought the race back to life in 1993 when it was won by 7-time Mt
Washington RR winner Bob Hodge.  I've run up the mountain 13 times between
1995 and 2008, missing only 1997.  I've always had a love/hate relationship
with this race.  I feel that it is a great kick-off to the Mountain racing
season, but it also is the type of mountain race that I'm not good at.

Wachusett requires speed and the ability to change gears.  I prefer a race
where I can get into low gear and just grind it out.  I just don't have the
flat-out speed to compete on Wachusett.  The 4.3 mile race runs pretty close
to what you'd do on a flat five mile.  I've run as fast as 24:32 but since
turning 40 my best effort was 27:33 in 2004.  The last couple of years I'd
been hovering around 28-28:30.  All indications for this year were that I'm
in better shape than I've been as a master (40+).

I've won the masters category the last four years, but knew I wasn't going
to win this year.  My training partner, Dan Verrington, was running his
first Wachusett.  Dan is one of the top 45-49 runners in the country.
Earlier this spring he set a US age-group record for the 50k, but he also
has speed in shorter races as witnessed by his 3rd place finish at the New
England 6km championships two weeks ago.  Hey, second place is okay.

Not so fast!  As we pulled into the parking lot the first person I saw was
Craig Fram.  Fram is 49 but still racing like he did when he was much
younger.  Fram holds some US records on the indoor track and can run from
15:30 to 2:30 for the 5km and marathon respectively.  Oh, and he also holds
the 40+ record at Wachusett in a mind numbing 24:25, which also happens to
be the third fastest time ever run on the course.  Hey, third place is okay.

Not so fast!  The next person I bumped into was Tim Van Orden.  Tim is one
of the top Tower runners in the country.  He recently turned 40 and ran
sub-16 for 5km.  Well, top five master would be good.

This is a big race for my team (Central Mass. Striders - CMS) and 54 of my
teammates would end up finishing the race, not to mention the 20-30 others
who worked it.  About 15 of us got together and did a nice flat and easy 3
mile warm-up.  I felt like crap which is always a good sign.

On the way to the start I bumped into Ryan Carrara.  Ryan is doing his first
Mt Washington this year and thought that Wachusett would be a good tune-up.
He asked a bit about the course and I took him through what the course
entailed.  It is hard to describe to someone who has never done a mountain
race.  I'd call it fast, but there have been top runners who have walked
(during the first mile!).  It really is relative to what you are used to.

The record field (338 finishers) lined up and Kevin Fallon asked me exactly
where the start was.  It is sort of tradition as after Drewniak moved away,
I'm the only one who knows precisely where to start.  If the highway
department ever moves the big rock from the side of the road I'll be lost!
I guess I should pace it or measure it from the corner but I've never gotten
around to it.

The first mile climbs 357 feet  or about a 7% grade, it is a steady climb.
I settled right in at about 15th place.  Heck there was a 50+ runner ahead
of me for ? a mile.  I looked around and Craig and Dan were reasonably close
and Tim was tucked in behind them.  I felt like I was running well, but it
is hard to tell.  I could see Carrara move into the lead and string out the
pack.  Matt Clark was up in the front.  I gave him some grief about going
out hard (he opened with a 4:42 at the 6km champs) and he said "it's the
only way I know how to go".  Pretty gutsy!  I just hope he doesn't go with
the leaders at Mt Washington, or if he does I hope he can stick with them.
Kevin Tilton moved into second leading the chase group that included first
time Wachusett and Mt Washington hopeful Mark LaRosa.  I hit the mile in
6:48, 11 seconds faster than last year.  I couldn't remember my splits at
the time so I wasn't sure how I was doing.

I tried to run aggressively, keeping Dan in sight in case he faltered.  I
caught (teammate) Tim Mahoney at 2 miles (the same spot I got him last
year).  We were both intent on taking the tangents and Tim gave me an elbow
shot at one point.  He grunted an apology (at least that's what I thought it
was), but one wasn't really necessary.  It was just good hard racing and
sometimes there is contact.  The second mile had 250' of climb and 30' of
drop, so the climb was about 5% on average.  It seemed like every time you
got grinding you'd have to pick up the tempo as the course got flatter.  My
second mile was 6:25, again 11 seconds faster than last year.

The third mile climbs 184', most of which is in the fist ? mile, then drops
114'.  I could see the entire field in front of me on the final climb during
the mile, but as we dropped everyone disappeared from sight.  Well, everyone
but Tim V.O.  I tried to push hard on the downhill and at the same time
tried to recover (does that make sense?).  I slowly closed the gap on Tim.
We hit the three mile mark stride for stride with a 6:02 split for me, which
was 12 seconds faster than last year.

I was looking ahead and watching as one of the guys got passed by Dan, when
I heard someone charging from behind.  Just as the climb got steep I could
hear the breathing closing on us.  Dang, that sounded a lot like Jim
Pawlicki.  I'd almost forgotten about Jim.  My plan had been to try to go
with Jim from the start.  He has been beating me pretty consistently, but
usually by 10-20 seconds.  I hadn't seen him at all up until he passed both
me and Tim at three and a quarter miles.

I tucked in behind Jim and hoped that he would pull me away from Tim.  I was
right, but he also began to gap me.  The fourth mile went by very quickly (a
relative term) in 6:49 which was again 12 seconds faster than last year.  I
still had thoughts that I might be able to get Jim during the last .3 when
the grade is the steepest (9%) but that was not to be.  Jim took 10th place
overall, five seconds up on me.

I was very please with my time (27:28) despite it being my worst place ever
at Wachusett.  I ran 51 seconds faster than last year, which bodes well as
we enter the Mountain racing season.

USA Track & Field New England

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