WEST WINDSOR, Vt. – Four weeks after finding himself sitting on the side of the trail in Deadwood Canyon about 46 miles into the Western States 100, his head spinning while struggling to breathe in temperatures well above 100 degrees, Brian Rusiecki returned to familiar territory and a familiar feeling on Saturday, July 15.
Rusiecki was back at the Vermont 100, a race he’d completed eight times before. Vermont has typically been very good to Rusiecki; he won the race in 2012, 2014 and 2016, and he owns the course record. He knows the back roads and singletrack trails in this area as well as anybody.
On this day, as is the case most years, Rusiecki covered the scenic course faster than anyone else. He cruised through the fast early sections under a cool morning fog, charged up the steep country roads under the afternoon sun as the temperature climbed to the upper 70s, and eventually outraced the sunset as he navigated the final miles of singletrack trails and meadow crossings before reaching the finish line. Upon winning in 15:12:28, he spent about a half-hour lying flat on his back on a wooden platform next to the finish line. Pain shot through his body and he could barely move, but Rusiecki had a smile on his face.
“It was definitely good to come back and run well,” said Rusiecki, 38, of South Deerfield, Mass. “By that, I mean to really run a solid time and not just kind of coast. I wanted to run well.”
He certainly did, and he needed to on this day in order to win. Mathieu Blanchard, 29, of Montreal, Quebec, made his 100-mile debut at Vermont, and he challenged Rusiecki for 80 miles while making sure the race veteran never felt comfortable.
“He’s a phenomenal runner, Rusiecki said of Blanchard, “but you’ve got to be just ridiculously gifted to be able to go and kill it. I hadn’t raced him before, so I was surprised. I was running with him and we just ended up running together in the beginning. I feel like the way he runs and I do is similar; we like to run uphill.”
Rusiecki and Blanchard spent the first 80 miles taking turns leading the race, oftentimes trading spots while passing through aid stations. Rusiecki was the first runner out of Camp Ten Bear at mile 69, but Blanchard soon overtook him while Rusiecki made a pit stop. At that point, Rusiecki admitted he was a bit concerned.
“There was a solid climb out there – a real grind – and he was dragging me up the hill,” Rusiecki said of the climb to the aid station at mile 76.
Eventually Rusiecki caught up and reclaimed the lead. Blanchard began to fade a few miles later as Rusiecki finally opened up a gap. He never felt comfortable, however.
“Coming out of Bill’s (mile 88 aid station) I didn’t know where he was,” Rusiecki said, unaware that he had built a 20-minute lead.
Rusiecki ultimately pushed on to the finish and secured the victory. Blanchard faded and finished third in 16:02:29. Meanwhile, 40-year-old New Yorker Michael Arnstein steadily climbed his way through the top 10 as the race progressed, and the 2011 Vermont 100 champion surged to a second-place finish in 15:44:06.
While Rusiecki led the way for the Massachusetts contingent just as he did a year ago, the second Bay State finisher was also the same as in 2016: Leeds resident Jake Dissinger. The 35-year-old made an impressive Vermont debut with a top-10 performance, and he followed it up with an even stronger race this time.
Dissinger planned to coast through the first 30 miles and take it easy on the steep, fast downhills. He was willing to lose a few minutes early if it meant saving his knees from extra pounding on the hard country roads so he’d have more pep in his step late in the race. It worked to perfection.
“I came into Stage Road (mile 30 aid station) eight minutes behind last year,” Dissinger recalled. “But that was perfect because I felt stronger.”
Dissinger was outside of the top 10 at that point – he’d worked his way up to 13th from just outside of the top 20 a few miles earlier – and he continued to climb as the miles ticked by. He moved up five more spots during the next 17 miles, and he remained in the top 10 the rest of the day.
Dissinger was in a tight battle with Sebastien Roulier, Alexander Jenks, Christopher Roberts, and Stefano Ruzza the rest of the way for the fourth through eighth positions. By mile 88, Jenks was in fourth, followed by Roulier, Dissinger and Roberts. Dissinger arrived at the mile 88 aid station in sixth, but he departed in fifth. The runners were bunched tightly, and they traded positions through the final dozen miles. Ultimately, it was Roulier, 43, of Sherbrooke, Quebec, who pulled ahead for fourth in 17:01:15, just ahead of fifth-place Jenks, 31, of Montpelier, Vt. (17:04:06) and sixth-place Roberts, 32, of Washington, D.C. (17:06:48). Dissinger slipped back to seventh overall, but the 35-year-old moved up two spots from last year and – more impressively – knocked 76 minutes off of his time from 2016 – finishing the 2017 race in 17:13:08.
“I think I felt much stronger this year,” Dissinger said. “I trained specifically for Gorge Waterfalls in April, so basically all I did all winter was run up and down long hills, so my quads were in much better shape than they were the year before. I just didn’t have it at the very end. When I looked at the times, fourth place was maybe 10-15 minutes ahead of me and I didn’t realize it was that close, but it was great. I’m happy to improve that much. My goal this year was to improve by a half-hour.”
Dissinger was particularly pleased with his performance given that he was up against such a strong, deep field of talented runners.
“I don’t think I would’ve been in the top 10 if I had run the same time as last year,” he said.
Twenty Big-Buckle Finishers
Forty Massachusetts men finished the 100-miler within the 30-hour time limit this year. Half of them completed the race in less than 24 hours and were awarded with larger finisher’s belt buckles, led by Rusiecki and Dissinger. Additionally, 11 made their 100-mile debuts at Vermont, and none made a bigger splash than Ted MacMahon of Harvard and Jacob Varekamp of Norwell. MacMahon, 51, and Varekamp, 43, finished 13th and 14th overall (12th and 13th among the men) with impressive sub-19-hour performances. MacMahon completed the race in 18:27:17, and Varekamp crossed the finish line 18 minutes later in 18:55:00.
Joining them in the men’s top 25 with sub-20-hour finishes were 46-year-old Neil Feldman of Boylston who finished his second VT100 in 19:25:15 (17th male; 18th overall); 38-year-old Lakeville resident Shaun Daylor in 19:33:29 (20th male; 22nd overall); 41-year-old Cambridge resident Daniel Larson who earned his seventh VT100 finish in 19:36:00 (21st male; 23rd overall); and 35-year-old Cambridge resident Padraig Mullins who earned his second VT100 finish in 19:46:17 (23rd male; 26th overall).
Additional sub-24-hour finishers from the Bay State were Tim Finocchio, 39, of Holbrook (20:30:03); Jack Bailey, 38, of Longmeadow (20:48:08); Daniel Gulas, 40, of Watertown (21:41:48); John Patrick O’Connor, 45, of Reading (22:17:37); Eric Despres, 42, of Athol (22:22:26); Ryan Fecteau, 24, of Danvers (22:23:38); Mike Kenney, 39, of Charlestown (22:42:12); Peter Christie, 46, of Needham (22:47:50); Andrew Novis, 53, of Medford (22:55:01); Matthew Cadieux, 36, of Holyoke (23:32:25); James Hughes, 45, of Boylston (23:42:54); and Brian Huffman, 33, of Framingham (23:49:02).
Notably, Novis finished VT100 for the 10th time. He first finished the race in 2005.
Smaller Buckles; Big Finishes
In the event’s earlier days, finishers who completed the Vermont 100 in more than 24 hours received a plaque rather than a belt buckle. In recent years, however, the plaque has been replaced with a smaller belt buckle. Twenty Massachusetts men earned those versions of the buckle.
Westford resident Jim Garcia, 59, earned his fifth VT100 finish – and first in more than 24 hours – as the race’s 1994 champion and two-time top-10 finisher completed the course in 26:36:19. David Souza, 42, of Winchester earned his ninth VT100 finish and eighth in a row in 28:31:38.
For seven of them, it was their first 100-miler. The first-timers were Michael Ribeiro, 49, of South Hadley (25:58:55); John Torrone, 41, of Westfield (26:46:30); Christopher Ollari, 47, of Longmeadow (26:50:42); Blake Pomeroy, 40, of Rowley (28:04:04); Aaron Keene, 37, of Easthampton (28:07:47); Kyle Robidoux, 41, of Boston (28:11:53); and Kyung Nam, 49, of Andover (28:50:28).
This was the first year VT100 has offered an Athletes with Disabilities Division, and Robidoux was one of two visually impaired runners to finish the race. Jason Romero, 47, of Denver, Colo, was the other. Romero finished in 22:53:30. A story about Robidoux’s race will be included on MassUltra.com in the coming weeks.
Other Bay State finishers were Tom Morton, 40, of Chicopee (24:23:11); Chris Risko, 48, of Falmouth (24:28:13); Michael Barrett, 46, of Arlington (24:53:27); Wayne Ball, 43, of Feeding Hills (24:55:37); Joe Fubel, 46, of Winchester (25:32:52); David Dobrindt, 46, of Milton (25:42:41); Steve Murray, 53, of Milton (25:42:42); Dima Feinhaus, 54, of Newton (25:49:40); Oliver Truog, 44, of Milton (26:55:37); Bob Warren, 56, of Attleboro (26:56:00); and Chris Irving, 36, of Medford (29:13:16).
Of the 350 runners who started the 100-miler this year, 265 finished for a 75.7 percent finisher rate.
Cvik, Esbitt Earn Top-10 Finishes in 100K
Palo Cvik and Gregory Esbitt led the Massachusetts contingent in the 100K race as Cvik, 31, of Boston, and Esbitt, 43, of Salem, both battled to top-10 finishes.
The top three men ran away from the field with 33-year-old Pierre-Michel Arcand of Verdun, Quebec, taking the victory in 9:51:04, 36-year-old Daichi Inoue of New York, N.Y., taking second in 9:53:39, and 33-year-old Benjamin Bruno of Middlebury, Vt., placing third in 10:13:30. Cvik was a distant fourth – and the sixth overall finisher (women’s champion Neela D’souza, 39, of Pickering, Ontario, and women’s runner-up Rachel Long, 25, of Warren, Vt., were fourth and fifth overall) – in 10:59:13. Twenty-eight minutes later, Esbitt crossed the finish line as the fifth male and eighth overall finisher in 11:27:37.
The top six men and top nine overall finishers completed the 100K in less than 12 hours. Of the 75 starters, 61 finished within 20 hours. Other Massachusetts finishers were 38-year-old Kristian Whitsett of Shelburne Falls (14:23:26); 44-year-old Joe Conti of Newton (14:50:07); 36-year-old Humberto Silva of Allston (16:20:03); 63-year-old Lee Dickey of Dracut (17:18:52); 68-year-old Roger Martell of Topsfield (17:56:05); and 64-year-old Al Catalano of Newbury (18:44:51).