The Wakely Dam Ultra is a 55km point to point race that takes place on the Northville Placid Trail in the Adirondacks. What makes this race so unique is that there are no crossroads or aid stations along the way. A true backcountry race that once you start on the trail, you essentially have no option but to finish.
Sara and I first ran this race in 2007 and loved the course. With the race being totally self supported, meaning you had to bring/treat your water, and bring all your fuel as well, it really appealed to the fastpacking adventure side of things as much as the race itself.
We have wanted to return to Wakely for a number of years, and decided that this was a good year to do so.
I wasn’t going into the race in a good place structurally with having a nagging achilles injury, and a recent ankle injury. My training had suffered a bit from this, but I still looked at this as a fun way to get a long run in on some awesome trails.
My plan was to start off comfortably and just see how things went. Once the race started, there was a gradual uphill section of dirt road for 2km before we turned onto the trail. I knew that Jan Wellford was very fit and expect that he was going after a fast time, so was very content to stay back in the middle of a group of about 12 runners. Our group funneled into the narrow single track at a decent pace. It felt comfortable, but I suspected that given my current fitness level, that I might have been going faster than I should have. It’s always difficult to monitor pace in the early going as it feels so easy. My heartrate monitor was telling me I should have backed off slightly, but when in the middle of a train of runners, it’s tough to back off.
I was worried about my achilles mostly in the early miles, but it was when I turned my bad ankle early on that I knew this was going to be a long day. This was the same ankle that I broke 8 years ago and had been giving me problems in recent weeks after turning it again.
The footing at Wakely is very technical with continuous rocks on the trail and countless blowndown trees to go over, under and around. That, combined with the rolling up and downhills left me with a very sore ankle. It wasn’t too bad initially, but gradually stiffened up the more I ran on it and I wasn’t really able to toe-off very well. I resisted taking any Advil for it, but finally decided that I was going to need some to get through the race. I took my first couple of Advil at about 2 hours, and when that didn’t do anything to ease my ankle pain, I reluctantly took a couple of more a little while later.
The uneven and always changing footing left my feet in a lot of pain. From the 2 to 4 hour point of the race I was not in a happy place. I wasn’t really enjoying the trail very much, but just plugging away to try to get to the end as quickly as possible. If it had been possible to drop out, it probably would have been a pretty easy decision to make.
For hydration in the race, I used my UltrAspire waistbelt with two Pristine water filter bottles. This was quite ample and if I was doing it again, I’d probably just go with a single bottle as there were plenty of lakes and streams to scoop up water from and not have to carry the extra weight. For fuel I had planned to use a combination of Clif Shot gels and Vitargo. Unfortunately, I lost one of my flasks of Vitargo along the way, meaning that I’d have about 1/3 less calories than planned. Significant enough, but with rationing, I’d get through fine.
I remembered this race being quite challenging, but after 4 hours in, I was more than ready to be done. With the slow pace that I was reduced to, I was being passed by a number of runners. Finally when we reached some longer downhill sections with better footing, I was able to pick up the pace a little again and run steady. I’m not sure if it was the downhill, the good footing or that the Advil had finally kicked in, but I probably felt the best that I had all race. I was still running gingerly, but was at least making progress a little quicker towards the end.
Probably the toughest part of the race mentally was expecting to get to the paved road section and know that there were only another couple of kms to go. The road just never seemed to come. What made things a little tougher was that I had hit a tree fairly hard with my watch and turned off my Ambit temporarily, so I wasn’t exactly sure how much farther I still had to go.
Finally hitting the road was a relief. I usually hate running on pavement, but the even surface was a very welcome sight, not to mention the fact that I only had a few more minutes of running to go.
Finishing the race left me a bit disappointed. I was glad to be done, but had really hoped to go significantly faster than the 6:36 that I ran (13th place, 5 mins out of top 10). Going into the race, I had hoped to run under 6 hours. Even with less than optimal training leading up to the race, I felt that I should have been able to run that…or maybe even a bit quicker if I was having a good day. That will have to wait for another year with a healthy body and better training.
With the race being a point to point course, there was no time that I was able to see Sara during the race either and didn’t know how her race was going. It was a relief to see Sara finish a strong second in the women’s race, even though she had her share of struggles too (see Sara’s report).
Even with the challenges I had on the day, there is nothing but great things to be said about this amazing race. There just aren’t many chances that you get to run in this type of race setting. The trails were beautiful, remote location, challenging terrain and caring/passionate race directors.
Sara and I were comparing notes after the race as we often do and for those Ontario runners who are looking for a description of the course, we would probably compare it to the more technically challenging parts of Haliburton, but without any of the smoother sections. Definitely one of, if not the most, technical race I’ve run. If you are looking for a unique backcountry event, I’d highly recommend running Wakely.
(Note: Physio appointment update from 7/29/13 – Good news: Achilles survived Wakely reasonably well. Bad news: Grade II ankle sprain of anterior tibiofibular ligament.)
Shoes: La Sportiva C-Lites – Great shoes for this rocky and muddy course.
Watch/GPS: Suunto Ambit - Best running watch on the market!
Socks: Drymax Lite Trail Running Mini Crew – No blisters!
Bottles: Pristine Filter bottles
Fuel: Clif Shot Gels, Vitargo, S!Caps.