Course record-holders Jason Mintz of Syracuse, N.Y., and Laura Kline of New Paltz, N.Y., were absent from this year’s Vegan Power 50K with Mintz racing the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run and Kline serving as his pacer. Additionally, 2016 women’s champion Samantha LeBlanc of Woburn, Mass., took part in the relay portion of Vegan Power. That left the door open for new faces to contend for first-place finishes.
New champions emerged, and it was a tale of two races at the fourth annual Vegan Power 50K as the men’s field featured a runaway winner and the women’s field produced a close battle for the podium positions on Saturday, June 17, at Pittsfield State Forest in Pittsfield, Mass.
Despite some rain leading up to race day, course conditions weren’t too slippery and runners were treated to warm temperatures in the mid- to upper-70s.
“The rain the night before made things a bit wet, but it was not a mudfest as it was the first year,” said Race Director Ana Wolf. “However, the biggest challenge will always be the roots, and slippery roots make for a challenging physical as well as mental race.”
An extensive photo gallery from the Vegan Power 50K can be found on the official Ben Kimball Photography website. Special thanks to Ben Kimball for sharing his photos with MassUltra.com for this article.
In the men’s field, Joe Del Conte darted to an early four-minute lead during his first of six loops around the five-plus-mile course, and he steadily increased his lead with each trip around the course. Ultimately, Del Conte – last year’s seventh-place finisher – cruised to a comfortable win in 4:38:46. The 42-year-old resident of New York, N.Y., finished 20 minutes faster than his 2016 time. The remainder of the men’s podium was occupied by Massachusetts residents. Beverly’s Scott Defusco never threatened Del Conte’s lead, but the 41-year-old held down second place the entire race and finished in 4:53:41. Carsten Braun, 48, of Greenfield was in a tight battle for third after his first loop, but he built a seven-minute cushion on fourth place during his second loop and ultimately secured third place in 5:11:02.
“With no definite ‘big guns’ present this year, much was left in the air,” said BURCS co-founder and race volunteer Benn Griffin. “We noticed that for the 50K the men did not have a lead group like they did last year with the Western New York crew (Mintz, Davin Oskvig, Michael Welden), however Joe Del Conte made it clear he was the man to beat from the beginning. Scott Defusco and Carsten Braun made a statement for second and third by about the half-way mark, and at that point there was no catching them.”
Large margins separated the top men, but that wasn’t the case in the race for the women’s podium. Eight ladies – Hillary Johnson, 31, of Albany, N.Y.; Lynn Poyant, 54, of New Bedford, Mass.; Meredith Pinault, 40, of Belmont, Mass.; Robin Hickey, 35, of Cranford, N.J.; Gaylemarie Kolb, 31, of Allentown, Pa.; Ann Alessandrini, 57, of Johnsonville, N.Y.; Ella Lombardi, 44, of Cedar Grove, N.J.; and Rebecca Smudzinski, 40, of Portland, Ore. – engaged in a close battle for much of the day with the podium positions up for grabs entering the final loop.
All eight finished the first loop within two minutes of each other, but Kolb, Johnson and Lombardi were the front-runners within eight seconds of each other. Lombardi pushed ahead during the second loop and appeared to take control as she built a two-minute lead on Kolb, 2 1/2-minute lead on Johnson, and three-minute cushion on the rest of the field. Lombardi’s lead didn’t last long, however. Pinault – who had lingered in eighth after the first loop and trailed Lombardi by four minutes after two loops – charged into first place during loop three. In fact, she finished loop with an 11-second lead on Lombardi, an 18-second advantage on third-place Poyant, and a 23-second lead on fourth-place Hickey as Johnson fell more than two minutes back in sixth place.
Lombardi began to fade in loop four, and she, Alessandrini and Smudzinski fell out of the hunt. A five-woman race for first continued to unfold, however. Pinault expanded her lead to more than three minutes after about 21 miles. Poyant settled into second place, and Hickey and Kolb followed about 2 1/2 minutes behind her, seven seconds apart in third and fourth. Johnson finished loop four in fifth place and 7 1/2 minutes behind Pinault.
Although Johnson was behind, she wasn’t out – far from it, in fact. After easing back during the third and fourth loops (both were around 61 1/2 minutes), she picked up the pace during the final two loops. Johnson’s 58-minute fifth loop propelled her from fifth place into second, and she entered the final loop just 48 seconds behind Poyant who had overtaken Pinault for the lead. Johnson then closed out the race by hammering out her fastest loop of the day – a 51 1/2-minute final trip around the course as she pulled away for the victory.
“The lead kept changing as one would peel off for the aid station, or hit up the porta-potties, and it seemed like no one really wanted to take the lead,” Griffin said. “Going into the last lap we thought Hillary Johnson had it unless she fell apart, but second and third were up for grabs.”
Johnson’s winning time of 5:49:32 was the fourth-fastest by a woman in event history. Poyant was second in 5:54:26, and Pinault rounded out the women’s podium by placing third in 6:01:29. Hickey finished fourth in 6:07:44, and Kolb was the fifth-place female in 6:09:12. Poyant, Pinault, Hickey and Kolb joined Johnson in delivering top-10 all-time performances, highlighting the depth of the field.
“It was neat to see Lynn Poyant, Meredith Pinault, Robin Hickey, and Gaylemarie Kolb all finish within 15 minutes of each other,” Griffin said. “That last one-third of the race was crucial when you look at lap times in terms of who stayed put together and who fell off pace.”
Alessandrini (6:24:01), Lombardi (6:25:52), and Smudzinski (6:30:29) finished sixth, seventh and eighth, respectively.
Of the 57 runners who started the 50K, 51 finished.
In addition to the 50K, a 25K distance was also offered. Twenty-eight runners finished the 25K, led by 44-year-old Richard Hamlin of Chichester, N.Y., who was the first-place male in 2:24:56 – two minutes ahead of runner-up Bill Boyer, 54, of Great Barrington, Mass., who finished in 2:27:03 – and first-place female Lindsay Croshier, 34, of Medford, Mass., who posted a winning time of 2:34:18.
While there were new champions this year, the race brought together a good mixture of new and returning faces. That included people of different backgrounds and languages, vegans and non-vegans, united in a love of running. That was one of Wolf’s goals when she modified the race’s name from Vegan Power to “Vegan Power – Poder Vegano” this year.
“The mission of Vegan Power – Poder Vegano is to continue refining the race ever more to emphasize the vegan community, fundraising for sanctuaries, supporting the animal liberation/vegan message, and the inclusion of a more diverse population in the trail-running community as well as serving as a welcoming introduction to new trail-runners and 50K racers,” Wolf said. “Every year that we have new ultra racers meet their goals or cross the finish line is a success. Every year that we create vegan/animal liberation community and send a positive and welcoming message to non-vegans or those new to animal rights is a success. Every year that we expand our message to include a more diverse population on the trails is a success.
“The Vegan Power – Poder Vegano community is fundamentally built on the principles of compassion, inclusion and endurance, and the racers bring it all every time.”
The “S” in BURCS stands for Service. In keeping with that, Vegan Power served as a fundraiser for three non-profit organizations – VINE Sanctuary in Vermont, Red Robin Song Sanctuary in New York, and Bluebird Farm and Wildlife Rescue in Massachusetts. The race raised $4,200, which will be split three ways between the charitable organizations. That’s a result that thrilled Wolf.
“The race has grown in the past four years, and for the first time we have made enough money to give healthy donations of $1,400 each to three regional sanctuaries covering Massachusetts, New York and Vermont,” Wolf said. “VINE Sanctuary is a GLBT-operated farmed animal sanctuary in Springfield, Vermont, with an intersectional focus on eliminating all systems of oppression. Red Robin Song is in Chatham, New York, and gives a home to farmed animals as well as wildlife rehabilitation and beaver rescue. Bluebird Farm in Cheshire, Massachusetts, also works as a farmed animal rescue and wildlife rehabilitation center. As the race moves forward we will continue partnering with these three regional sanctuaries and hope that as registration grows we will be able to make more sizable donations every year.”
BURCS Badass Race Series
Vegan Power was the first race in the five-event BURCS Badass Ultramarathon Race Series. Runners who complete all five BURCS ultra events earn a belt buckle. The other four events in the series are:
- July 8-9 – BURCS Summer Fat Ass (6/12/24-Hour) Ultras at Notchview Ski Resort in Windsor, Mass.
- July 29 – Jug End Loop 6-Hour Ultra at Jug End State Reservation and Wildlife Management Area in Egremont, Mass.
- 12 – Sweltering Summer 8-Hour Ultra at Clapp Park in Pittsfield, Mass.
- 16 – Free to Run Trail Races (50-mile, marathon, half marathon) at Pittsfield State Forest
Registration for all BURCS races can be done on ultrasignup.com.