The Wakely Dam Ultra is a 32.6 mile race along the Northville-Placid Trail in the Adirondacks. The trail is very rough and includes a variety of terrain including rocks, roots, mud, creek and stream crossings, bogs, blowdown, etc. And there is no support. There are no aid stations. You bring your own food and water, and refill out of streams. There aren’t even any crossroads. There is nothing but trail from the start almost to the finish. And there are no DNFs unless you make your own way out or are rescued.
My week preceding Wakely Dam was spent camping in a tent with my wife and dog in several locations around the Adirondacks. It was a hot and humid week, and the weather was very wearing. Fortunately, the hot nights on an air mattress in a tent hadn’t beat me up as much as I thought it might.
We arrived at Wakely Dam on Friday morning. I had run Wakely three times previously, but we had stayed at the Irondequoit Inn near the start line. This was going to be our first time staying at the finish line, and my taking the bus to the start. But this allowed us to bring our dog Issa which was great.
Due to the dam being rebuilt, many of the camping spots were not useable. I wasn’t sure exactly where we were allowed to set up the tent. We found a spot under some tree cover tucked back behind another tent, and set up there. We hoped it would be okay. We unloaded some of our stuff, and then headed off to the nearby Barton Garnet Mine to collect garnets. It wasn’t that far away. We stopped at a small store on the way back, and picked up a sub sandwich for me to eat in the morning.
When we got back more people had shown up. I found Kim and Doug, the race directors and said hi. My wife and I had planned to go into Indian Lake to find dinner, but found that as part of the race, we were getting a nice pasta dinner. Sweet! We spent the rest of the day and evening talking with people and enjoying the excellent dinner. I also got all my race stuff ready for the morning. My friend Steve showed up late in the evening. He went to get his stuff set up. He said he’d be back, but then I felt exhausted. The heat and all of the travelling (and rock collecting) really takes it’s toll. I headed off to bed. I set the alarm clock on my cell phone to 3:50am. There was no cell service here, but I figured the alarm clock would work. I woke up at 12:30am needing to go the bathroom, but I thought I could hold it. I went back to sleep. I woke up again at 1am and decided to hit the outhouse. I got dressed and walked to the outhouse and was surprised to find someone was already in there. So I waited. Afterwards, I felt much better. I went back to tent and fell asleep quickly. I woke occasionally, checked the time, and went back to sleep. I woke up and the phone said it was 3:58am. So much for the phone’s alarm feature. (the alarm did eventually go off…on Monday morning.)
I drank some Diet Pepsi, and started getting dressed. I ate some of my sub sandwich. I wasn’t very hungry, but knew I needed to eat. I maybe ate 3 inches of the 12 inch sub. I wrapped up the remaining 3 inches and tucked it into my lumbar pack for the race. At Wakely Dam 2009, I enjoyed half a sub at around the 16 mile mark. I filled my two bottles with Gatorade and stuff them into my lumbar pack. I sprayed myself liberally with Deep Woods Off bug repellent. I said goodbye to my wife, and headed for the bus. I think they were serving breakfast, but I missed this. We found out there was a headlight issue with regular bus, so we had two replacement buses. I rode on the bus talking with my friend Steve, but eventually need to snooze for a few. I managed to sleep for a few minutes, and that helped a little. As we were leaving the bus, I found I only had one of my 16 oz water bottles in my pack. I searched around the bus to see if it had fallen out, but couldn’t find it. (I found out later it had fallen out just outside our tent.) Oh well, I guess I would have to make do with a single bottle. I would just need to stop more frequently. But with my Steripen, I could have drinkable water within a minute of refilling my bottle. I made a couple last minute trips to the woods empty my bladder. We lined up for photos. I asked RD Doug if maybe he had a spare bottle. He found a half empty 20oz bottled water. He topped it off for me. Cool! This would come in handy later!
We made our way to the start. After a few words and a countdown, we were off. I planned to take it easy and run this as a fun run. I was going to run 3 minutes, and walk 2 minutes, and repeat for the duration. I started my mp3 player and listened to Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows audiobook. Last time I ran this, my mp3 player battery ran out short of the finish. I turned the volume down a little hoping to make it last the whole way.
I passed some slower runners, and let the faster runners go. I was in no hurry. I was just going to enjoy the trail and my audiobook. Within a few miles, I was mostly running alone. I would occasionally have someone pass me, or I would pass someone. I didn’t spend much time talking with other runners this year, preferring to just listen to Harry Potter and run in my own little bubble.
The deer flies were awful!! They started biting me almost immediately. I was wearing a hit, and they were biting me through the hat. I had sprayed myself with Deep Woods Off, but maybe this had won off already.
The creeks and streams were running low or non existent this year. Where there were water sources in previous years, were now dry stream beds. I was thankful to have two bottles! It was a hot day and I was drinking lots. When I needed water, I would stop and fill the widemouth 16oz bottle from a stream or lake. Then I would use my Steripen for 45 seconds to sterilize the water. I carried iodine tablets as backup, but never needed them. I would drop in some Gatorade powder which I packed in 35mm film canisters. I took Carb Boom gels ever 5 miles or so along with some water. I occasionally munched on some Fig Newtons or cookies that I packed.
I had run this trail three times before. The terrain was the same mix of rocks, roots, stream crossings, overgrown trail sections, mud, swamp, board walks, etc. The mud was less nasty than previous years, but still there. I took a nasty fall at one point where my shoe snagged a root. I landed on a bush, and narrowly missed my head crashing into a small boulder.
Around the 10 mile mark, I was getting tired of warm water and warm Gatorade. Even directly from the streams, the water wasn’t that cold. I started craving an ice cold Diet Pepsi. I kept looking at my watch and counting down the time until I could drink an ice cold pop! I was even debating whether to stop by our tent and grab one before I hit the finish line. Ice cold Diet Pepsi. It became almost a fantasy. These cravings got stronger throughout the day.
There were a couple bridges out. At the West Canada Creek, which is shortly before the halfway point, the bridge was out. They had ropes out to help people cross, but the water was so low, you could just walk across the rocks. In previous weeks, you would have had to wade through thigh deep water. There was a ranger waiting here to make sure everyone was okay. There was another bridge out a few miles later. But they had a temporary bridge just off to the right. I heard that some people didn’t see that bridge, and waded through the water.
The course always seems a little different every time I have run it. Some parts are very familiar, but then other parts seem completely new, like I had never seen them before. I could have sworn the course leveled out sooner at towards the end. Maybe that was just wishful thinking.
I took some pictures along the way. Afterwards, I have always wished I had taken more. Maybe if I run it next year, I will take my time, and take lots more pictures.
It was very warm, even under the tree cover. At one point, the trail parallels a river. I don’t know what river, but I have passed it every year. I stopped at the river to refill my water bottles. Then I took a minute to dunk my head in the water. It wasn’t really very cold, but it felt nice anyway. I considered climbing in and soaking for a bit to cool myself off, but I didn’t.
While running I caught up with a girl, and was running behind her. After a bit, I wanted to get around her. I quietly said “boo” to let her know I was there, and she jumped about a foot. I apologized for scaring her so much. She let me by.
About 4.5 miles from the finish, I came to a turn in the course, and there was a ranger there. I stopped and talked to him for a bit. I asked him if he had any bug repellent I could use. He did. I sprayed it on my head and neck. The girl I had passed caught up. I asked her to take a photo of me with the ranger which she did. She took off running, and I was soon behind her again. Again I quiet said “boo” and again she jumped. I laughed and told her that she had to have known I was right behind her as we had just left the ranger. I passed her, and then another runner or two.
Soon I came to the stop sign, and was on the final road (Moose River Recreation Area road?) to the finish. The course description says this is less than a mile. But that is an evil lie written by bad people. It is longer than a mile. And when you run it, you keep thinking that Wakely Dam will be visible around the next turn, or over the next hill. But then there is just another turn or hill. (According to Google Maps, it’s about 1.4 miles from getting onto the road until you cross the dam). I kept looking behind me on this road when I took my walk breaks to see if someone was coming up from behind to pass me. While I wasn’t too concerned about placing, I didn’t really want to be passed in the last mile either. My Garmin 305 started flashing low battery. What the heck? After only a little over 8 hours?
Finally I was coming to the finish. There was someone taking pictures at the gate. And there was the finishing chute. I was running towards that when my dog came out to run with me. She ran with me the last 50 feet or so to the finish. I petted her. I crossed the line in 8:23:32. I had hoped to finished under 8 hours. Maybe on a cooler day.
RD Doug offered me a bottle of water. No thank you! DIET PEPSI!!! I got a can of Diet Pepsi from the cooler and it was gone almost immediately. Probably within 30 minutes of my crossing the finish, I drank three Diet Pepsis and a root beer.
I was tired, so I went and took a short 30 or 45 minute nap in the tent.
When I got up again, I grabbed a towel, and headed to the lake and scrubbed off the mud and even swam around a little bit. Then I headed back to the camp and sat, ate, drank, talked, and cheered on more finishers. I even got a short video clip of my friend Steve crossing the finish line. We heard one runner suffered from heat exhaustion and was be brought out by canoe. Another runner got 5 miles in, and wasn’t feeling well, and returned to the start. And yet another runner rolled his ankle only a couple miles in, yet finished the remaining 30 miles. His ankle looked nasty and swollen.
We spent the rest of the day just relaxing. We went to bed early and crashed.
We got up the next morning and a few tents were already gone. We started packing up our stuff, said our goodbyes, and made our way home. After a week of camping in a tent, it was nice to be home.