Ben Nephew's 2014 Winter Wild Wachusett Race Report "I don’t need no stinkin’ Microspikes"

2.6 miles, 1k climb

Without any snow for snowshoe racing, I decided to try out one of the new NE Winter Wild events at Wachusett Mountain last weekend.  These are unique races where you can select all sorts of ways to get up and down a ski mountain early in the morning before the lifts open.  After consulting with Ryan Welts, the fastest way to go at these races, other than skis, seemed to be Microspikes, which most of the competitors wear.  I spend plenty of time in MS, so this was a viable option.  The big challenge was going to be the distance of 2.6 miles.  It’s been years since I’ve raced anything shorter than 5k, or even 10k.  I was also a bit concerned about traction and flotation given the recent snow storm, and it was going to be about -6F for the race.  Not warm.

Photo by Gianina Lindsey

I didn’t leave myself much time getting to race, which turned out to be a bit of problem when they parked us about a mile away from the start.  Things got worse when I somehow lost one microspike soon after leaving my car for the start.  I almost jumped back in the car, but then decided to give my Inov-8 Oroc 340’s a try without any additional traction.  I quickly got registered and was pleasantly surprised a few steps into my warm-up on the freshly groomed ski slope.  Traction was good, and snow was very firm.  This might work.

Several runners flew off the start, along with Jerimy Arnold on his backcountry skis.  I gradually pulled away from the other runners, but Jerimy was right alongside me for the first several minutes of the climb, with his bindings squeak-squeaking with each metronomic stride.  I was having a hard time figuring out how hard to go at this point.  While I was clearly hurting, the climbing would only last about 15 minutes.  That’s still plenty of time to blow up.  By the time I settled on an effort level, things had suddenly gotten quiet.  The course rounded a lift and then traversed downhill to a wall of a final climb.  I started to wonder if I was still on the course when I looked behind and couldn’t see anyone.  

Photo by Gianina Lindsey

Soon after starting the final ascent to the summit up a black diamond trail, Jerimy and a whole pile of runners appeared at the bottom of the climb, seemingly out of nowhere.   I put my head down and focused on sucking down frozen 02, praying that the summit would come quickly.  I could just about touch the snow in front of my face.  The end of the aerobic hell of the climb was instantly exchanged for muscle shredding impacts as we ran down a firm intermediate trail back to the base lodge.  I instantly knew that I would be taking home a reminder of this race in my quads.  On the steep sections, I could feel the impact right up my spine to the base of my skull.

The inevitable happened about halfway down, as Jerimy came ripping by in a full tuck.  I tried to tuck, but that is difficult to do with a running stride; it was more of a ruck.  It would have been cooler if there had been moguls on the trail and he would have done a backflip over my head for the pass.  The last flat section to the finish seemed to take forever, and I ended up about 80 seconds back, just under 24 minutes with Brandon Baker finishing third.

I was really impressed with the Orocs for the race, the traction both up and down was excellent, and I didn’t miss the MS at all.  Even though the new Orocs are not Gore-Tex lined, my toes stayed warm the entire race and for my post race cool down on the slopes.  I was also impressed with my Baseelite 175 shirt and Race Elite 275 soft shell top, which keep me just warm enough before, during, and after the race.  I didn’t even try bother to change shirts after the race, which is typically a necessity after a hard run in cold weather due to dampness.  I’ve had tops similar to the 275 soft shell, but they are all twice as heavy and thick for the equivalent thermal function.

Thanks to Chad Denning and rest of the Winter Wild crew for organizing the race, and Wachusett for hosting.  If you get a chance to try one, go for it, it’s a (quad) blast.

Ben's Gear:
The Inov 8 Oroc 340's, Base Elite 175 and Race Elite 275 Soft Shell Top.
Visit Ben's page for more race reports, articles & results.

For more events by NE Winter Wild, click here.
For more photos by Gianina Lindsey, click here.