Ultramarathons are offered every month of the year in Massachusetts, and most of those events take place in the eastern part of the state. In the summertime, however, opportunities abound for runners to tackle ultras out west in the Berkshires thanks to the Berkshire Ultra Running Community for Service (BURCS) and its annual BURCS Badass Ultra Series.
Launched as a grassroots effort just a few short years ago, BURCS serves up a summer series that has grown to include five events with a variety of different distances, time limits and terrains.
“As each year goes by I continue to be surprised by the outpouring of support and the willingness of our runners to commit to multiple races throughout the summer,” said Benn Griffin, one of BURCS’ founders and a race director for multiple events. “I am anxiously looking forward to the fourth edition of the BURCS Badass Ultra Series this year and know it will be our biggest yet.”
While the lineup of events is the same as in 2016, the 2017 slate is slightly different thanks to expanded time offerings at the Summer Fat Ass. Previously, the event ended after six hours. Thanks to runner demand, Griffin said participants this year also have the option of running for 12 or 24 hours.
“As an ultra runner, I’m always looking to both challenge myself and encourage others to strive toward what I would call a ‘reach goal,’” Griffin said. “We have wanted to hold a 100-miler on the trails or roads for some time, but the sheer logistics that go into a road 100-miler as well as the difficulty of trying to organize a race on trails in Berkshire County for that length makes it difficult. The small (1.9-mile) loops make it advantageous for a fixed-time ultra at Notchview (Reservation).
“During the six-hour event last year, many of our returning runners engaged in a dialogue with us at the aid station and there seemed to be enough desire from the race directors and some of our returning runners to push for a 24-hour event so that folks that wanted 50- or 100-mile distances could do so with minimal planning on our end.”
Other than the expanded time offerings at the Summer Fat Ass, the race series will look familiar to returning runners.
The series opens June 17 with the Vegan Power 50K in Pittsfield. Two events take place in July – the Summer Fat Ass 6/12/24-Hour Ultra on July 8 in Windsor, and the Jug Eng Loop 6-Hour Ultra on July 29 in Egremont. The oldest event in the series – the fifth annual Sweltering Summer 8-Hour Ultra – takes place Aug. 12 in Pittsfield. The series closes out Sept. 16 in Pittsfield with the Free to Run 50-Miler.
Back for its fourth year, Vegan Power – which includes a 50K relay and 25K solo offering in addition to the solo 50K race – has proven to be a popular event to kick off the series each year.
“The whole route is relatively easy, so it’s great for folks who are just getting their mileage up and are looking for a nice way to bust into summer,” said Ana Wolf, Vegan Power race director. “The elevation changes are nominal and a nice warm-up to the progressively more difficult elevation changes as the season progresses. And it’s shaded for the most part!”
The Summer Fat Ass is a free event on a non-technical 1.9-mile loop where runners can attempt to cover as many miles as possible in 6-, 12- or 24-hour time windows.
Jug End – 2016’s new edition – is technical and tough through the woods at Jug End State Reservation with about 800 feet of gain per 4.2-mile loop. Jug End originally was capped at 50 runners, but it sold out in early January so Griffin opened a few additional spots to accommodate demand.
“Jug End was birthed from a desire to hold a race at one of my favorite hiking places,” Griffin said. “After journeying there a year or two ago, I immediately saw the potential to offer our runners an experience that encompasses all of our favorite terrains – fields, rocky uphills, roots, and little twists and turns on the downhill.
“It is located in one of the most beautifully stunning areas of the county, and I think that the reason we have seen such a quick increase in registration further highlights the close-knit relationship that our BURCS runners share.”
Sweltering Summer will have a similar feel to the Summer Fat Ass, only Sweltering Summer will probably be hotter and more humid, and it takes place on a .355-mile loop. It offers marathon and 5K distances in addition to the timed event.
Finally, Free to Run closes the series and offers marathon and half marathon races in addition to the 50-miler at Pittsfield State Forest.
A unique component to the BURCS Badass Ultra Series is that Griffin has created a points system where runners can compete in cumulative standings. The system has evolved over time, but winners of the event’s three original events – Vegan Power, Sweltering Summer and Free to Run – are worth double points, and all shorter distances as well as Jug End and the Summer Fat Ass are worth single points. Top-three finishes at each event earn bonus points.
The top three women in the 2016 points standings were Ann Alessandrini of Johnsonville, N.Y. (879.61 points); Ella Lombardi of Cedar Grove, N.J. (656.84); and Tara Mayo of Lincoln, Vt. (553.58). The top three men were Jason Elliot Mintz of Syracuse, N.Y. (700); Ken Wilson of Pittsfield (419.96); and Alejandro Sarria of Williamstown, Mass. (360.35).
While the BURCS events certainly are about running, they also include components of community activism and awareness locally and globally.
Vegan Power is open to runners of all diet preferences, however it educates participants about healthy eating, what it means to be vegan, and animal welfare. Proceeds from this year’s Vegan Power event will be split between Vine Sanctuary in Vermont, Red Robin Song Sanctuary in New York, and Bluebird Farm and Wildlife Rescue in Massachusetts. Additionally, the event website offers a Spanish translation to expand inclusivity, and 10 registration fee waivers are available for runners who are veterans, persons of color, undocumented immigrants, physically disabled, speak English as a second language, are transitioning or of non-binary gender, are youth, or an elderly person living on fixed income.
“Trails and the community of running are for everyone,” Wolf emphasized.
Although free, the Summer Fat Ass accepts cash donations to go toward trail upkeep at Notchview Reservation, as well as the local Sonsini Animal Shelter.
Proceeds from Sweltering Summer benefit Moments House, a daytime facility in Berkshire County for residents battling cancer and the family members who support them.
Finally, all proceeds from the Free to Run races go to Free to Run, a nonprofit organization founded by ultrarunner and human rights lawyer Stephanie Case. Free to Run provides opportunities for women in areas of conflict such as Afghanistan and South Sudan to run and engage in other physical activities.
For Wolf, it has been rewarding to see the running community embrace the opportunity to make an impact in more ways than just mileage totals.
“It’s super exciting to watch our community grow and be a part of it,” Wolf said. “I think the BURCS and environs have been hungry for a long-distance running community, and the kind of folks who show are all heart – and legs! Big love and friendship vibes abound! Benn Griffin has been instrumental in this, creating three races (Summer Fat Ass, Sweltering Summer and Jug End) for our season and bringing an incredibly strong youth component. Michael (Menard) and Jake’s (Dissinger) race, Free to Run, brings our community into the global mindset and draws the most hardcore runners who are ready to test themselves.”
FOURTH ANNUAL BURCS BADASS RACE SERIES
June 17; Vegan Power 50K; Pittsfield, Mass.
July 8; Summer Fat Ass 6/12/24-Hour; Windsor, Mass.
July 29; Jug End Loop 6-Hour Ultra; Egremont, Mass.
Aug. 12; Sweltering Summer 8-Hour Ultra; Pittsfield, Mass.
Sept. 16; Free to Run 50-Miler; Pittsfield, Mass.