When Northeast Race Management began planning its inaugural trail ultramarathon, race organizers sought to meet growing demand from runners who’ve taken part in its shorter distance offerings during the past five years.
What played out at the first-year event, the Big Bear 50K, on Sunday, May 21, in East Taunton, Mass., was more than just the endurance challenge that race organizers had hoped to provide. A highly competitive race unfolded on the trails of Massasoit State Park as a trio of runners battled for the win.
Joe Loureiro of Andover, Mass., Paul Young of North Andover, Mass., and Padraig Mullins of Cambridge, Mass., all have had their share of success at ultramarathon distances, both in recent times and – in Young’s case – stretching back 18 years. All are consistent, tough, and regularly among the fastest in the field on race days. All three are building up to 100-milers later this year, Mullins for the Bighorn 100 in June, Young for the Bear 100 in September, and Loureiro for the Ghost Train 100 in October.
Their presence at the starting line was a hint that a competitive race might happen, and for more than four hours and five laps around the 10K loop the trio delivered.
Loureiro set the tone quickly with a strong push right from the starting line while Mullins and Young stuck close together. About a half-mile into the race, however, Mullins realized that Loureiro already was opening up a sizeable lead, so Mullins tried to reel him in.
“I probably chased him for a couple of miles, but he was actually pulling away from me despite what I thought was already a suicidal pace,” Mullins said. “So I just let him go and decided to run my own race. I honestly gave up on the thought of catching him and just tied to stay ahead of Paul instead.”
Loureiro’s opening loop was the fastest of the day for any of the 23 runners in the field as he hammered through the first 10K in 47:05. Mullins managed to stay closer than he realized, finishing the first loop less than a minute back in 47:51, while Young was a close third in 48:33. Matt Crawley of Stoughton, Mass., and Adam Ribeiro of Somerville, Mass., were about five minutes back of Young to round out the early top five.
Loureiro continued to lead until around the 10-mile mark when Mullins closed in.
“Near the halfway point of the second loop, I looked up and Joe was maybe 45 seconds head of me,” Mullins said. “I kind of stalked him for a bit to see how he was doing, and to me he looked a bit leggy, so I decided to go for it and passed him.”
Racing on mostly smooth, fast singletrack, Mullins surged into the lead and then charged up the course’s biggest climbs, which came at the end of the loop. Loop two ended with Mullins in the lead about a minute ahead of Loureiro. A steady Young was still in striking distance just 2 1/2 minutes back of Mullins and less than 90 seconds behind Loureiro.
Mullins never relinquished the lead, but he also never quite managed to shake Loureiro. Mullins’ largest advantage was about a two-minute cushion during loop three, but even though Loureiro was out of sight he was never out of contention. In fact, he whittled Mullins’ lead down to about 90 seconds with 10K to go. By then, it was a two-man race as Young had faded a few minutes further back.
Loureiro tried to track down Mullins during the final six miles, but the pair ran nearly even paces and Mullins held on for the victory. He cruised through the finish line in a speedy time of 4:19:34. Less than two minutes later, a hard-charging Loureiro finished in 4:21:27. Young rounded out the top three as he finished nine minutes later in 4:30:45. Crawley was a distant fourth in 5:10:30.
While the trio at the front darted away from the pack and did battle for the overall win, top-10 overall finisher and women’s champion Jill Lizotte of Coventry, R.I., women’s runner-up and top-10 overall finisher Rebekah Stendahl of Natick, Mass., third-place female and 11th overall finisher Elizabeth Eaton of Middleboro, Mass., all started further back in the pack and steadily picked off other runners and climbed their way through the field. Lizotte led the ladies from start to finish, but she completed the first loop in 12th overall. She moved into the top 10 during the third loop as runners who’d started too fast began to fade and ultimately finished eighth overall in 5:54:37. Stendahl and Eaton traded places throughout the race, and Eaton held a three-minute lead on Eaton for the second-place female spot entering the final loop before Stendahl moved ahead and claimed the runner-up spot while finishing 10th overall in 6:13:08. Eaton finished close behind in 6:14:54.
All of the 50K runners completed the race in less than eight hours.
The event also included a 30K race that consisted of three loops of the course. Thirty-eight runners took part in that race, and 35 finished. Mark Weldon, 55, of Assonet, Mass., was in third after the first loop, but he took the lead during loop two and went on to win in 2:34:38, six minutes ahead of runner-up Jeremy Shaw, 31, of Medford, Mass. Meredith Pinault, 39, of Belmont, Mass., was in 15th after one loop, but steadily worked her way up to finish seventh overall and earn first-place female honors in 2:56:15.