When Wolverine walked past us, we knew we were in over our heads.
“I’m going to come in last,” Meena said, watching the 60-something year old runner with the superhero sideburns, piercing eyes and sinewy, hard-as-steel legs casually saunter by on the way to registration. “These are not normal runners.”
My wife was 30 minutes away from running one of the nastiest and most challenging races in New England, the Pack Monadnock 10-Miler. The idea is this: you start in Wilton, N.H., and run over 8 miles of back roads with names like Hillview, River Hill and Hill Hilly Steep-Hill Blvd. until you get to Pack Monadnock Mountain. Then, things get really steep with a long climb up Route 101, capped off with a 1.3 back-breaker up the auto road to the 2,290 foot summit.
Needless to say, Janelle and I were not running this race. Our plan was to drop off the runner in the family, then drive out to the bottom of the mountain and hike 1.4 miles up the Wapack Trail so we could be proper and enthusiastic cheerleaders for her triumphant finish at the summit!
Meena is two weeks away from running the grueling Mt. Washington Road Race, a 7.6 mile race to the high point of New England. So, she was using the Pack Monadnock race as a test run to see how her training is going. But looking at all the prepping runners, it was hard not to be intimidated. These were not the casual 5k Sunday morning stretchers. There was not a baby run cart or an ounce of muffin top in the bunch.
What is it about elite runners and those darn fluorescent running shoes anyway? Personally, I’m glad I’m never going to be able to run 50 miles through the desert in the summer, because I’d have to buy a bright orange pair of Nikes. Either that, or some of those flappy, 1970s jogging shorts that look more like ill-fitting speedos.
The girl and I were having none of that with our rain gear and boots and day-packs. So, we did what any loving family would do. We told Meena that she most certainly would not come in last, that hot tea would be waiting for her at the top and that if worse came to worst and she had to take the sag wagon back down, we would only tease her about it for about a week.
So, off we went, leaving crazy-wife lady with her hills and spandex brigades. Janelle and I had some hiking to do!
We drove the 8 miles or so to the Temple Mountain parking area, which was designated for runners, and walked the remaining yards to the beginning of the Wapack Trail. No cars were allowed up the auto road until after the race, but we were still surprised to basically have the trail to ourselves. During our 1.4 mile hike, we only passed two people coming down and were passed by three going up.
Janelle and I have been ticking off the 52 With a View list as we train to get her ready for her first 4,000 footer later this season. The 52 is a nice beginner way to get short miles and big views. At 2,290 feet Pack Monadnock does not make the 52 cut, but the excitement of meeting Meena up top was enough of a draw for her.
Personally, I was glad the weather was wet and chilly. Janelle has never been tested in wet weather before and I wanted to see how she handled the day at a lower elevation before having to face a storm up high.
We had a sketchy start. For some reason the girl was in non-stop whiney mode from the second we began to gear up. It was too cold. It was too muddy. Why do I have to take my boots off to put my tech wick lowers on? My toes hurt. I can’t tie my boots right!
I’m willing to walk on fire for Janelle, but I have a low tolerance for whining.
“Listen, if you don’t wish to hike, just say so,” I said, perhaps a little too snappily. “But if you have real issues, then tell me in a real human voice and not a whiny little baby voice and we can fix the problems, ok?”
She paused, and for a moment I thought our day had just ended. But she regrouped, took a deep breath and said, “I’m having a little trouble tying my boots and my toes hurt. Can you help me fix this problem?”
“Of course Janelle, let’s see what we can do!” Phew! Crisis averted.
And that was it. Once we hit the trail and the girl realized that despite its lower elevation, Pack Monadnock offers some pretty nice rock scrambling, all her problems were forgotten. The Wapack Trail get high fast. And even though we had no real views, there was plenty to keep us occupied. Between the long stretches of rock scrambles and plenty of slugs and frogs along the way, Janelle and I made quick and happy work of the trail.
In general, my strategy with her has been to let her pace dictate the hike. If she wants to spend ten minutes looking at a frog, no problem. If she needs to take ten bathroom breaks, or really any kind of break and just sit on a rock and contemplate the universe, I’m game for that! This style has allowed us to share some remarkably smooth and satisfying hikes together.
Today was different, though, and even the girl moved with purpose. We wanted to get up there by 10:30. We reasoned that if Meena had an amazing day, it would take her 90 minutes to get to the top. And not being up there for her when she crossed the finished line would be disappointing to everyone.
So, here or there, I gently nudged the girl along. Usually I let her lead. But today, on the straightaways, I plowed ahead and was happy to see her keeping up. The rocks were wet, and in some parts the trail had become a little stream. At first, she was reluctant to go straight through the mud and water, but after a little coaxing I convinced her that her boots are made for that terrain. And once she had proof that her feet stayed dry, I couldn’t keep her out of puddles.
With a quarter-mile to go, we began to hear cheering voices at the top. Some of the elites had already begun crossing the finish line. Soon, we were at the cold and misty summit. We were relieved to see we hadn’t missed Meena’s arrival.
We dumped our packs, put on an extra layer of clothes and set up shop near the finish line. Janelle poured some tea to give to Meena when she arrived.
Once they finished, runners had to turn around and walk back down the road. And since the summit was so chilly, most did so immediately. The result was that Janelle and I basically got to stand more or less alone at the finish line. So we took it upon ourselves to become the welcoming committee and hooted and clapped as best we could for the very beat looking athletes finishing the race.
The time-keeper told us that 225 runners had started the race, and 175 had already made it to the finish. By 11 a.m. nearly 190 had come through and we were beginning to worry. So, we moved down the road a little ways in order to watch for Meena.
And sure enough, about 10 minutes later she appeared! We hollered and cheered, and I moved up to the finish line to get a picture of the final push while Janelle ran along side giving encouragement. It turned out that Meena finished in 2:17:26, and came in 194 out of 201. We couldn’t have been more proud!
Soon we were heading down the road, lending support to the runners behind Meena and chatting excitedly about our day. The clouds had parted and the mist began to lift. And as we walked, we were passed once again by Wolverine, heading down, eyes still shining.
Only this time he wore a plastic garbage bag like a poncho. Now that’s gear I can relate to!
If you’ve made it this far, here’s your reward! For our full album of pictures for the day, link here: Pack Monadnock by trail and by road