What is the Damn Wakely Dam Ultra? It is a race along 32.6 miles of rugged technical trail in a remote area of the Adirondack Park Wilderness. There are no crossroads. There are no aid stations. There are no DNF’s unless you are carried. There are 3903 feet of vertical climbing, and 3478 feet of descent.
We stayed at the same inn as last year. It was very convenient, being only a mile or so from the start line. That would allow me to theoretically sleep a little longer. Many other runners camp at the finish, and take a hour and a half bus ride to the start. But I don’t sleep well before most races, and this year’s Wakely Dam Ultra was no exception. I had the alarm set for 5am, but after a fitful sleep, I finally got up at about 4:45 and shut the alarm off.
I went out to the car, and brought in some Pepsi, and a Subway sub. I drank a cold 16oz bottle of Pepsi, and ate almost half the sub. I shoved the other half into my lumbar pack. I had also brought in a 2 liter bottle of defizzed Pepsi, and filled the two 16 oz bottles I would be carrying for the race.
I showered, and shaved. I had set out most of my gear the night before. I got into my running clothes. I wore a cycling jersey named Wage Peace made by Primal Wear. It has a red, white and blue hand making a peace sign on the front. The theme of this year’s race, was the Wakely Peace Rally. I got all my stuff, and we headed downstairs. I had agreed to give another runner, who was also staying at the inn, a ride to the start. We had planned to meet at 5:45, but I was up, and he was already downstairs. We loaded into the car, and headed for the start.
I was again asked to pose giving the “Wakely Salute”. I got in trouble for doing it two years ago, and now I am requested to do it. Go figure. I signed in, and got my number. I pinned it to my shorts. Remembering the black flies from last year, I sprayed myself with bug repellent.
We beat the bus that was bringing many of the other runners to the start. But the bus arrived shortly. I finally got to meet my friend Steve who is a member of the Las Vegas Marathon running club I belong to. My buddy Rick was also on the bus.
There were photos taken, and RDJim made his speech. Then we were off to the start line which is about 100 yards into the woods. At around 6:30am, the race started.
I started off towards the back of the pack this year. My plan was to take it easy. I was going to run an easy pace, hopefully between 9-10 minute miles. And I would run 3 minutes, walk 2 minutes.
I skipped my first couple walk breaks as I was running in the middle of a group of people, and the trail was narrow with little place for people the run around me if I slowed to a walk. I managed to pass a few people that were running at a slower pace. Eventually the pack thinned out, and I started my run 3, walk 2 routine.
I ran/walked. I took regular drinks of my defizzed Pepsi. I took a Vanilla-Orange Carboom gel every hour. I listened to my mp3 player which I had loaded with Ben Folds and Talking Heads.
Early on, I passed RD Jim. But then after a while he passed me back. This surprised me. 2 years ago he passed me in the final miles after I had been walking for nearly two hours straight. Last year he passed me in the middle of the course after I bonked, and had been reduced to walking. But this year he passed me early on. I asked him he was running faster this year. He said that he hadn’t hung out at the back of the pack talking with people. He disappeared ahead of me. But I eventually passed him again. He was walking up a hill and since it was one of my 3 minute run periods, I ran up it. One of my goals was to finish ahead of RD Jim.
Due to heavy rains in the days before the race, the course was very muddy. This is a thick heavy black mud. Generally I would try to run around the edges, or step on rocks and branches. But often, my feet would go into the mud anyway. At one point, I stepped in some mud, and my foot sunk halfway to my knee. And it would just stick to your shoes adding a couple pounds. I would rinse them off in a stream when I got a chance. My feet were wet for most of the race, and I felt a blister forming on one of my toes. I wasn’t sure, but I thought I might have other blisters forming as well.
In the early parts of the course there were other runners around me. Since I was doing a run walk routine, I would yo-yo with them. I would pass them when I ran, they would pass me when I walked. Or some people would be behind me. When I walked they would catch up to me, but then I would take off running.
Besides the massive amounts mud, there were the usual obstacles of rocks, roots, and fallen trees. There seemed to be a lot more blow down this year compared to the last two years. Trees are a challenge. Trying to decide whether to go over, under or around the fallen tree.
At one point I was running near a group of other runners. We came to a stream crossing. There were some boards across the stream that were slightly under water. There was also a beaver dam going across the stream. The runners ahead of me walked across the top of the beaver dam. I followed them. Then I heard a loud splash. I turned to see the runner behind me in the water. Actually, all could see were his head and shoulders. Apparently he had attempted to cross the boards, only to find that they were floating in the pool created by the beaver dam.
When I finished my bottles of Pepsi, I filled them with water out of streams. This year instead of using iodine tablets, I used a Steripen. The Steripen is a battery powered UV light that sterilizes the germs. It only takes 45 seconds for 16oz of water. Other than trying it out on some tap water at home to see how it worked, I hadn’t used it in the field. I hoped it really worked. After the water was sterilized, I would dump in some Fruit Punch flavored Gatorade powder that I had stored in 35mm film canisters. BTW, I never got sick, so I am assuming the Steripen did its job.
I had carried my digital camera, but ended up only taking a few pictures along the course. I stopped at the halfway point to take a picture of the sign. I saw a runner go straight passed me. I yelled to him, are you doing Wakely? He said yeah. I told him that he was supposed to turn here instead of going straight. Lucky I stopped here, or he would have run at least a little while before figuring out he was no longer on the blue trail.
I ran ahead of him, and after a bit found the trail disappeared. I backtracked a hundred feet or so, and found the trail had actually gone to the right, and had been blocked by a fallen tree. I made my way around the tree. But by the time I figured out the correct path, he had caught up to me and never encountered the false trail.
Around this point, I encountered a girl runner. I would pass her, and she would pass me. Overall, I was running a little faster than her. I ran for a while, then pulled out my 6 inch Subway sub. It was good. She passed me. When I was done with the sub, I started running again, and eventually passed her again. I told her she was on a very good pace. The fastest woman runner last year finished around 8:45. She was on pace to break 8 hours. But she said there were some other women up ahead somewhere. I continued running, and after a while I lost her. Then I was running alone again. I like running out there by myself. I can run at my own pace without having to worry about other runners around me. It’s peaceful. And I can sing along with my mp3 player! And I do.
When I stopped to refill my water bottle the next time, the girl passed me along with another guy. Might have been the guy I directed at the sign. I never saw either of them again until the finish. Then I was running on my own again. The bug repellent had worn off some, and the bugs were starting to bug me a little.
At about the 26 or 27 mile mark, the course flattens out a little bit. It looks like it was an access road many years ago. It’s overgrown, but it is not the up and down rugged hilly stuff from the middle of the course. I kept up my run/walk. My Sansa Clip mp3 player’s battery died 2 or 3 miles from the finish. Now I know the battery will last close to 7 and a half hours, and probably longer if I turned the volume down. I was pretty tired and just wanted to finish. I had brought another mp3 player as a backup, but I didn’t want to stop and pull it out. Last year, my iPod Shuffle died not far passed the halfway point.
I kept looking behind me expecting people to be catching up to me, but there was no-one there. Then all of a sudden someone would be right behind me. A small number of people passed me in the final miles. I think had slowed down, but I was still able to run/walk. I switched over to a run 4/walk 1. I kept expecting Steve to come running up behind me, or RD Jim. But they never did.
I was very happy to hit the final mile which is on a smooth groomed dirt road. I had one runner pass me in the final mile. I wanted to make sure no one else passed me though. I was on a one minute walk break when I came to a photographer. I asked him to wait for me to start running. He did. Then I started running, and he snapped my picture. I was so tired at this point. I really wanted to finish. I knew I was going to break 8 hours. My previous best time was 8:29. The blister on my toe was pretty painful by now. I was pretty sure it had torn. My feet felt like hamburger.
The last mile is smooth but rolling. I kept thinking, the dam will be over this next hill. Then I crested the final hill and saw the dam. Last year I did a “wazzu” (jumping and clicking my heels together) at the finish line. But this year I was too tired to do a wazzu. When I crossed the dam, I held up peace signs. Then when I crossed the finish line, I did an “RK”. This is down my laying flat on your back as if you have fallen trying to do a wazzu. The photographers got pictures of this. I finished in 7:51:48. I beat my previous best time by over 30 minutes.
Then I got up, kissed my wife, and went down to the lake to wash my feet and legs. They were covered in mud and dirt. RD Jim came in a few minutes after me.
I got changed, and cleaned up. When I took off my shoes, sure enough, there was blister on one of my toes, and it was torn. My wife brought me down a folding chair from the car. It was good to sit. I also got some food, and drank some Pepsi. I hung out waiting for other runners to come in, cheering them on. Another runner I was happy to beat, was the guy who passed me in the last mile last year. I was especially waiting for Steve. I think a few people were a little worried about Steve. You don’t see too many 6’5” guys that are close to 300 pounds running ultramarathons. But he finished a little under 11 hours. We hung out with him for a bit, then we needed to go. It was a long drive home. There was still one runner out on the course. I was hoping she was okay. But I was in no condition to be hiking in. A walk to the car was painful. I found out later that she finished a little over 12 hours.
I let my wife drive, and I slept much of the way home. We did stop at a McDonalds and got some more food.
Here is what the course looks like: