Friday, December 21, 2018


Of the four 100-milers I've run the Wawayanda Wonderful Wonhundred was by far the easiest. On paper. In reality, I had to work harder for this belt buckle than for any of the previous three. I wasn't able to find much info on this low-key race aside from the event website, so I'll describe the course and the race in more detail than I normally would for anyone who's interested in running it in the future.

Now in it's third year, the Wawayanda Wonderful Wonhundred is put on by NJ Trail Series annually in mid-October. NJTS is an event production company owned by husband and wife Rick and Jennifer McNaulty. They organize trail and ultra races year round, the best known of which is Three Days at the Fair. The WW100 uses the singletrack and logging roads in Wawayanda State Park in Hewitt, New Jersey, with the race HQ located at a boat launch area on the edge of Wawayanda Lake.

The WW100 course is a looped format in which runners complete three separate loops — marked blue, orange, and purple — totaling 25 miles, then repeat three more times for a total of 100. 50-mile and 50k races are held concurrently on the same loops. This year, parts of the course were altered due to flooding on the trails; as a result each loop was shortened slightly and we had to run more of them. We started off with a truncated 1.8-mile loop run twice, then began the
main loops. The 6.5-mile Blue Loop was the first and the easiest of the three. Next was the 6.5-mile Orange Loop, then the 7.85-mile Purple Loop. Runners repeated that cycle four times, followed by another Orange, and then another Blue to bring it home. Rick was kind enough to give us Blue last so the final loop would be the easiest.

Blue is made up of mostly smooth logging roads with some rolling hills. There's a short, moderately rocky section, before you come off the trail to run the last 1.5 miles on flat asphalt and crushed gravel. Orange starts off with some smooth, gently rolling hills, and progresses into somewhat technical singletrack and rocky doulbetrack. After 3.5 miles, an unmanned water stop splits the loop up nicely. From there the terrain becomes pretty rocky again, with more rolling hills. The last 0.75 miles or so are mostly smooth and flat. At 7.85 miles Purple is the longest loop, but the extra distance is smooth doubletrack. Purple merges with Orange at the same unmanned water stop, and Purple's last three miles are the same as Orange's last three.

Prior to this year, the 100-mile race only had six previous finishers. Total. Two runners went the distance in the inaugural 2016 race, and four more (out of 12 starters) did so in 2017. I came into the race thinking I could break 20 hours and possibly win, depending on who else showed up. I felt pretty well recovered since completing the Empire State Triad at Twisted Branch two months prior. I'll admit I was lacking the high-mileage weeks I'd typically run for 100-mile training, but figured the long, consistent summer miles would add up to some great 100-mile base training. Prior to a two-week taper, I had two consecutive weeks of about 75 miles.

The race didn't start until 8:00 a.m. and it was nice not to fall out of bed at Obscenely Early O'clock. I stayed in New Paltz at my friend Adam's house, an hour drive from the park, and got a much better night's sleep than what I'm accustomed to before a big race.

A nice perk I had was arriving early enough for prime parking. I simply backed my Prius into a spot 20 feet from the lakeside path we'd run along just before the lap finish area. I laid out all my gear, clothing, and food in the trunk, ready to swap out quickly as needed, while carrying the car's Smart Key securely in my back pocket. The Prius' backside was essentially a large drop bag and all my stuff was protected from the rain and wind. As a crewless runner this setup was a huge help.

There were (I think) 27 starters for the 100-mile race. A strong, continuous wind was blowing in off Lake Wawayanda, ensuring a chilly pre-race briefing. The wind in the race HQ area was persistent all day long, and I feel sorry for the aid station volunteers who couldn't seek reprieve amongst the trees the way runners could while out on the course. I was overdressed for the start and was already starting to overheat by the time I came back around to HQ after 3.8 miles. I tossed my long sleeve Red Newt shirt in the trunk and set out on Blue, the first main loop of the race.

Like always, the first several hours were all fun and games while making a conscious effort to curb the pace. I ran for awhile with two guys who were both hoping to some day complete hundos in all 50 states. Each of them had already finished twenty-something 100-milers to date. I learned that one of the guys, Mike, had run the Mogollon Monster 100 only a month earlier, and was planning to knock off Pinhoti two weeks after Wawaynda. Mike and I stuck together for four or five hours, talking about ultras and emerging technology in orthopedic surgery and making clicking off miles without having to think about it.

Eventually I started to crash and walked the last two miles of the Purple Loop #2, losing contact with Mike and starting to slow with another 70 miles left to go. I took some time to recharge at the aid station and shoved roughly 52,752 blueberries down the posterior side of my epiglottis. The tart, juicy berries were the best thing I'd eat all race long. I bounced back from the early low point and kept up the formula:
1) Run a loop.
2) Grab another monster helping of blueberries.
3) Repeat 1 and 2 ad nauseum. 
As I knocked off the loops one-by-one, I soon realized the audacity of the 20-hour goal. The rocky sections were really slowing me down, and even if I had the best run of my life, sub-20 was really stretching it. I instead decided on my B goal of beating my PR — 22:57 at Oil Creek, 2016. Around mile 50 the sun was low enough to switch on my Nathan rechargeable headlamp. My favorite time in any 100-miler is the first few hours after dark, when you can experience the exhilaration of running in an LED-lit bubble and still have a reasonable amount of energy in the tank to derive some level of enjoyment from it. Even on a repetitive course like Wawayanda, the same loops you've already run turn into something new as you now have to watch closely for course markings and have a newfound sense of mystery out in the woods.

After adjusting my expectations to something more realistic, things continued to click right up through mile 75. Now 15 hours into the race, it had been dark for several hours, was past my bedtime, and the initial thrill of nighttime running had begin wearing off. The results was lack of judgement that let to a comedy of errors, derailing my whole race.

After stopping at my car to refuel, I stupidly didn't grab my rain jacket before setting out on the ensuing Orange Loop. Ten minutes later a steady rain rolled in, but I decided it wasn't worth backtracking to grab my Brooks waterproof jacket; I'd get it at the end of the loop. So I pushed on. Cumulative fatigue combined with the the rain and cold to provide a nice distraction. Despite having already completed Orange four times I still somehow managed to go off course. After realizing the mistake, I got back on course and ran a mile in the wrong direction. Eventually I reoriented myself, just in time for my headlamp to die in the dead of night. Fortunately, a runner and his pacer were just ahead and still within shouting distance. They were kind enough pace me the last three miles of  the loop while I stumbled along, continuously rolling my ankle and stubbing my toes for lack of proper lighting. 

I arrived at the aid station and explained my predicament to the nocturnal volunteer crew. Mike was in the AS tent fighting demons of his own, but still took the time to loan me a spare headlamp. Another runner tracked down some extra batteries. Without these acts of selflessness, I would have either dropped at mile 80 or passed out in the car and attempted to finish the last 20 miles after sunrise. The former was a far more enticing option. After changing shoes and socks, I sat on the back of my Toyota's trunk for a good 30 to 40 minutes, contemplating whether or not it was worth grinding out the last 20 miles. I suppose that if I had any prior DNFs to my name, the floodgates for justifiable excuses would be wide open, thus making the decision to drop a no-brainer. I then convinced my self that 20 miles on foot was nothing to write home about and got my ass back in gear.

The last 20 clicks consisted of Purple, Orange, Blue, in that order. As always with multi-loop ultras, I get a kick out of the thought that I'll never have to hop over a particular log or go up a given hill ever again for the rest of eternity. I spent a lot of time walking on Purple and Orange, not really caring about my finish time now that a sub-24 wasn't feasible. The sun came up in time to start the final 6.5-mile Blue Loop, and I was told third place was only 12 minutes ahead. I returned the borrowed headlamp and hit the logging road section hobbling at a 12-minute pace, thinking I might catch the guy in front of me. It didn't happen, but at least I had a relatively respectable final leg, running a 1:25 Blue Loop to cap things off. (Results.)

Final numbers: 25:11:09 | 4/11 finishers | 1 blister | 10/10 toenails in tact

Of the four 100s I've run, this was the easiest course but really had to battle it out to get a finish. It’s a well organized event if you're looking for a smaller hundred, and a good one for first-time hundred milers. Rick and Jennifer put on a ton of races year-round through their business NJ Trail Series, and I hope to run some more of their events in the coming years.

Done. (And too tired to remember to smile.)

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