Eric Ciocca dominated the overall field, but a pack of fast women stole the show during the final Massachusetts ultramarathon of 2017 at Seth’s Fat Ass 50K on Saturday, Dec. 16, in Springfield.
Racing on a 5K paved loop in Forest Park, runners had seven hours to lap the course 10 times and be credited with a 50K finish. Sixty-eight took on the challenge, and 21 completed the distance – 20 of them officially within the seven-hour limit.
Nobody covered the distance faster than Eric Ciocca of Northampton, Mass. The 40-year-old Ciocca led nearly wire-to-wire and earned both the men’s and overall victories. Meanwhile, a strong women’s field earned the largest presence in the top 10 by securing seven spots.
Ciocca cruised through the first loop in 25:29, one second ahead of Melissa Cooney, 38, of Holyoke, Mass., who would eventually drop after six loops of the course, and four seconds ahead of 42-year-old Heather Brochu of Essex, Vt., who stayed among the race leaders for the duration of the event.
Ciocca and Cooney continued to lead the field through laps two and three, with Ciocca only a few steps ahead of Cooney. Over the next few laps Ciocca slowly pulled away. Cooney was two minutes behind Ciocca and running second overall through 18.6 miles when she departed the race, leaving Ciocca to run his final four laps with a comfortable advantage. He ultimately secured the overall victory in 4:04:21. The second-place finisher, 51-year-old John Collins of Tolland, Mass., finished more than a half-hour later in 4:38:10.
Tom Deluca, 62, of Agawam, Mass., joined Ciocca and Collins on the men’s podium as he finished eighth overall in 5:37:00. Springfield resident Rob Carpenter, 60, joined them as sub-six-hour finisher, sliding just under the hour mark in 5:59:54.
While the top men were spread out by a sizeable margin, the women dominated the overall top 10 generated the most intrigue as the race unfolded. For much of the day it looked like Cooney, 28-year-old Kimberly Krusell of Amherst, Mass., 24-year-old Katie Baldyga of Boston, Mass., and 42-year-old Heather Brochu of Essex, Vt., would provide a down-to-the-wire battle for the victory. They established themselves as the lead pack early in the race. Cooney set the pace for the first six laps while the other three traded positions multiple times.
Cooney steadily opened a gap on the other runners, and she held a five-minute lead on Baldyga by the end of the fifth loop. That’s when Baldyga withdrew, transferring the second-place position to Krusell who trailed Cooney by nine minutes and had a three-minute gap on Brochu, now in third place. This new alignment was short-lived, however, thanks to a dramatic turn at the conclusion of lap six. Cooney completed the lap still in the lead with 2:27:07 expired, but that’s when she ended her day. Fourteen minutes later, Krusell completed her sixth lap and also stopped. Brochu blazed through the start/finish three minutes later. Suddenly, after 18.6 miles of racing, she departed on her seventh loop as the new leader with a 14-minute cushion on new second-place runner Ericka Emerson, 46, of Easthampton, Mass.
Brochu and Emerson held their ground comfortably against the rest of the field for their final four laps, and Brochu went on to secure the victory in 4:48:12, followed by Emerson in 5:02:02. Jennifer Koonz of West Springfield, Mass., and Kate Bust of South Hadley, Mass., had a close race for third place. Ultimately, Koonz, 29, earned the final position on the podium in 5:12:07 and Bust, 36, finished fourth in 5:18:34. Ann Alessandrini, 57, of Johnsonville, N.Y., finished eight minutes later in 5:26:42 and placed fifth among the women.
Brochu, Emerson, Koonz, Bust and Alessandrini claimed the third- through seventh-place positions in the overall standings. Other ladies joining them in the overall top 10 were Karin George, 53, of Florence, Mass., in 5:43:44, and 47-year-old Vanessa Diana of Westfield, Mass., in 5:43:47.