WESTON, Mass. – It was close to 5 p.m. when Kevin Paige emerged from the woods and the finish line came into view. A look of relief and an exuberant grin spread across his face as he stretched his arms out wide with joy.
“You guys are still here!” proclaimed Paige, 47. “Oh my God! I can’t believe you guys are still here!”
Paige’s 50K race hadn’t gone quite as he’d hoped at the Trail Animals Running Club’s TARC Spring Classic on Saturday, April 22. His legs gave him problems after two loops of the five-loop course. Determined to finish what he started, he gritted his way through the ultramarathon, battled the elements and the trail, and earned his finish. After more than eight hours on the trails, however, he spent the final miles worried that he’d return to the start/finish only to find everyone had left, and his bag – with the keys to his truck inside – would be gone.
The Trail Animals’ motto is “Leave No Animal Behind,” however, and this day was no different. Paige was greeted with applause and open arms, and his keys were right where he left them so he could make it home to Manchester, N.H., that evening.
From the first across the finish line to the back of the pack, runners didn’t allow a steady drizzle or temperatures in the upper 30s to low 40s dampen their day or their spirits. Instead, around 350 runners took part in the Spring Classic, running in the 50K, marathon, half marathon or 10K, in what was one of the largest crowds ever for the seventh annual event.
“I think the race’s popularity speaks to the vibrancy of the local trail running community,” said Annie Gagliardi, who co-directed the Spring Classic along with her husband, Michael McDuffie. “Beyond the support provided by our volunteers, we keep things simple. We don’t provide anything beyond trails and a finish line – no swag, vendors, entertainment or fuss. But people seem to get a lot more out of the day than just a run. I think it’s about people showing up and being a part of our community for the day, and that is maybe more valuable than a finisher’s medal.”
In keeping with TARC’s low-key nature, a sneakily competitive race unfolded right from the start, and the juggling of positions at the top quietly shifted with each passing loop. There was no runaway winner this year. Instead, around 10 runners were within striking distance of the pole position for most of the race, and five minutes separated the top seven as they entered the fifth and final loop of the course.
“I didn’t get a chance to pay too close attention to the front pack throughout the race, but it was interesting how close they all finished to each other,” McDuffie said. “They definitely were all strong runners, but I think what was missing [compared to prior years] was the one or two super-humans who usually push the pace and spread the lead pack out over the later loops as folks contend for the W.”
For much of the day, it looked like the 50K would be a down-to-the-wire battle between Jake Dissinger, David Herr, and Marek Telus. Dissinger, 35, of Northampton, Mass., and Herr, 51, of Canaan, Vt., swapped positions as the leader multiple times during the first three loops, while Telus, 41, of Hopkinton, N.H., lingered just a few seconds behind in third. All the while, Matt Elam, Beau Langevin, Cort Cramer, James Doneski, and Steve Levandosky kept pace a few minutes back.
The top three of Dissinger, Herr, and Telus remained the same through three loops, but the leaderboard shuffled during loop four as Levandosky – who was in eighth place after one loop and two minutes off the pace before slowly climbing into fourth – surged into the lead with a 34-second cushion on Dissinger entering the final loop. In another surprise, 29-year-old Ed Cullen of Rumford, R.I. – who was 10 minutes back and outside of the top 10 through two loops – was charging hard and had climbed into sixth with a five-minute deficit on Levandosky and 10K to go.
A newcomer to TARC races and running his first trail ultra, 46-year-old Hopkinton, Mass., resident Levandosky was a wild card in the field. His speed on trail at shorter distances, as well as in road races (he ran a 3:03:12 at the Hyannis Marathon in February) were evidence that he could hang tough late in a race. That’s precisely what he did. Levandosky’s consistency throughout the day – his slowest and fastest loop splits were less than 3 1/2 minutes apart – carried him to the front of the pack and on to victory. He crossed the finish line in 4:10:27, holding off Dissinger who placed second in 4:11:48. Langevin bounced around through the top seven all day, and the 37-year-old resident of Biddeford, Maine, climbed to third in 4:14:21. The hard-charging Cullen rose to fourth in 4:16:57. Telus and Herr were seconds apart for most of the race, and they finished fifth and sixth, respectively, with Telus crossing the finish line seven seconds before Herr in 4:18:38.
Rounding out the overall top 10 were Doneski, 48, of Hopkinton, N.H., in 4:19:13; Cramer, 39, of Sutton, Mass., in 4:20:21; David Braunlich, 26, of Portland, Maine, in 4:24:50; and Elam, 25, of Allston, Mass., in 4:28:35.
While Levandosky was new to the TARC scene, TARC veteran and first-place female Amy Rusiecki, 37, of South Deerfield, Mass., made her Spring Classic debut with a successful performance. Fresh off running the Boston Marathon five days earlier (3:22:18), Rusiecki bounced back well at the Spring Classic. She led the ladies throughout, maintaining a two- to five-minute lead on her closest competitors, Laura Ricci, 33, of Boston, Mass., and Leah Lawry, 33, of Charlestown, N.H.
“My biggest goal today was just to run every step of the 50K and just have the confidence that I can run for four and a half, five hours, or whatever it takes, and just run continuously and feel good on my feet,” Rusiecki said. “It was an opportunity to get a good day on my feet, but I’m glad my legs bounced back well from Boston. I felt great; I just felt like I was cruising the whole day.”
Rusiecki ticked away the miles running alongside TARC leader Josh Katzman for a few loops and Western Mass Distance Project teammate Kelsey Allen the entire way.
“We gabbed, we had a lot of fun, and sometimes that makes all the distance when you’re just having a blast with a buddy,” Rusiecki said.
Typically a fan of mountain races and point-to-point courses through the wilderness, Rusiecki found herself content with the winding 10K loop course at the Spring Classic. So much so, in fact, that after crossing the finish line in 4:52:41, a grinning Rusiecki’s first words were, “Those are some fun trails!”
“It was just a good mix,” she explained. “There was a lot of good singletrack, and even though it was five laps – I’ve done a lot of lap courses and I’m not always fond of lap courses – they were so fun that I wasn’t counting the laps.”
Never far behind Rusiecki throughout the day, Ricci was the second female finisher in 4:55:35, and Lawry secured third place in 4:58:22. Salem, Mass., residents and friends Deirdre Lowe, 37, and Kristen Smith, 31, ran the entire race together and tied for fourth place in 5:07:04.
One hundred runners completed the 50K race.
Thirty-three runners finished the marathon, including men’s champion Michael King (3:27:38), 27, of Augusta, Maine, and women’s champion Elizabeth Ryan (4:17:38), 30, of Somerville, Mass. In the half marathon, 118 runners finished including men’s champion Max Darnell (1:32:09), 28, of Cambridge, Mass., and women’s champion Lynne Giesecke (1:54:35), 41, of Jamaica Plain, Mass. Additionally, 66 runners finished the 10K including men’s champion Peter Ferguson (48:56), 39, of Concord, Mass., and women’s champion Jackie Smith (53:15), 32, of Cambridge, Mass.
Once the final runners were across the finish line and the race supplies were packed and put away, Gagliardi and McDuffie reflected on a successful day that saw 317 runners cross the finish line at various distances.
“It was really nice to be able to step back and watch it all work, and watch so many people achieve something at our event,” Gagliardi said.
“Lots of little things throughout the day are really gratifying,” McDuffie added. “I ask everyone if they had fun, and I really do want to know what their day was like. I want us to set up everything that a person needs to succeed with whatever their goal is, so all they have to do is focus on moving step by step. To hear that people loved the trails, that the course was easy to follow, or to hear them telling each other stories of the day, all of that is very gratifying.
“More than anything, I feel accomplished when someone wants to return to a TARC event in the future. I want people to love the community as much as I do. I think that will help reinforce everything the club stands for and wants to perpetuate in the trail running community.”