From the Editor’s Desk: Personal and Community Engagement Made 2017 Special

A steady downpour pelted Alex and me as we made our way through the streets of Chamonix, rounded the final turn and – with the thumping sound of spectators banging on signboards echoing off the walls of the surrounding buildings – ran the final steps of the CCC 101K hand-in-hand, crossed the finish line and immediately collapsed into each other’s arms in a long embrace.

It was late-morning on Sept. 2. Four years and one day earlier we’d shared a starting line in Whistler, B.C., to take on a mountain 50-miler just days after meeting for the first time. It was during that trip that we first talked about running the CCC. Now, after four years of waiting and more than 25 hours of running and hiking through the Alps, we were done.

Completing the CCC with Alex was my second-biggest highlight of 2017, trailing only our engagement atop Mount Osceola in New Hampshire’s White Mountains in July.

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MassUltra editor Chris Wristen and fiancee Alexandra Brinkert finish the 2017 CCC 101K in Chamonix, France.

I haven’t shared these personal stories here previously since the goal of MassUltra.com is to be about you; to tell your stories; to serve as a community newspaper, so to speak. I don’t always do that as well, or as frequently, as I aspire to. Sometimes life pulls me away from the keyboard or the camera, as it has from time to time this year, and I’ve missed writing a story to go live one of my own.

I’ve had the privilege of living some of my best stories yet this year, and I’m also thankful that so many of you have shared your stories with me in 2017 – some of which have been told on MassUltra.com. So many of you have inspired me with your kindness and commitment to taking care of one another, your character on the trails, and your determination to find out just how much you are capable of accomplishing.

So many of my favorite stories from this year involved people in our community pushing their limits, fiercely fighting through adversity, and finding out what they were made of when the odds were stacked against them. Whether it was my fiancée battling through a knee injury to finish the CCC with me, or the following four quick stories, the willingness of so many in our community to dig deep and turn dreams into reality inspired me this year. I hope it inspired you, too.

Dare to Dream: Charoma Blyden Becomes an Ultrarunner

A friendly face appeared ahead of me as I rounded a corner while running on the fire road at the Middlesex Fells Reservation on a mid-September weekend. Up ahead, smiling as she ran toward me, was Charoma Blyden. A fellow resident of Medford, I’d crossed paths with her on numerous runs around the city during the course of the year since striking up a friendship at the To Hale and Back 6-Hour Run.

Blyden entered the year with the goal of becoming an ultrarunner. She spent the year steadily working toward that goal, beginning with 17.5 miles at To Hale and Back, adding in a marathon at the TARC Spring Classic, and tossing in other races and long runs along the way. On this day, she was midway through her final long run before beginning to taper for the TARC Fall Classic 50-Miler – her first ultra.

She was nervous, she admitted. That was understandable. Most – if not all – of us were nervous before running our first ultra, and we still feel that way when we take on a new distance or a particularly daunting course.

But Blyden was well prepared. She had put in the necessary training; her longest runs took place in the sticky summertime humidity. She’d earned the strength and toughness necessary to run 50 miles. She had trail karma on her side thanks to volunteering during both rain and heat at the Vermont 100. She also possesses an abundance of positivity – a key component to accomplishing a major goal.

A few weeks later I was ecstatic when I checked out her GPS tracker on race day and it showed that she had completed 50 miles. That outcome doesn’t appear on the official race results, however. Blyden missed the 40-mile cutoff, so her race technically ended after four loops of the course.

Blyden didn’t come to the TARC Fall Classic to run 40 miles, however. She’d trained all year through the snow, heat, rain and humidity to run 50 miles on this day, and she would not be denied.

So she kept going.

Friend and veteran ultrarunner Shira Catlin had also missed the cutoff, but she joined Blyden for the final 10 miles. Together they circled the course and completed the distance. It may show up as “unofficial” on paper, but Blyden’s legs officially ran 50 miles. She finished what she started and became an ultrarunner.

Don’t Take No for an Answer: At Long Last, Maddy McCarthy Runs Western States

When Maddy McCarthy crossed the finish line of the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run on Sunday, June 25, it marked the end of a six-year journey where the Newburyport resident refused to be denied.

McCarthy qualified for and entered the Western States lottery five consecutive years, each of them ending in rejection. Then, in 2016 she nearly had her stockpile of lottery tickets wiped away after DNFs at a pair of Western States qualifiers, first at the Eastern States 100 in August and then the Javelina Jundred in October. One week after Javelina, McCarthy found herself out West for the second straight weekend. After heartbreak in Arizona, she signed up for the Rio Del Lago 100. Friends helped her round up a California-based crew, and she headed out for a last-ditch effort at a lottery ticket. That determination paid off as McCarthy hammered out a second-place finish and secured her sixth consecutive spot in the Western States lottery. A month later, her name was drawn.

Fast-forward to June 2017, and McCarthy found herself on the Western States course in some of the most daunting conditions in the race’s 44-year history. She battled ankle-deep mud, ice and slush, followed by intense heat. One third of the field that started the race failed to finish within the 30-hour time limit, but McCarthy was patient when conditions were the worst, gritty through the overnight hours, and tough during the final miles on her way to a 23rd-place finish in 26:40:00.

It took six years, but McCarthy’s perseverance paid off.

Do Something That Scares You: Katzman Finds Redemption in the 100-Mile Wilderness

Only a handful of people have run Maine’s 100-Mile Wilderness in less than 48 hours. In fact, not many have tried. Perhaps that’s because, as a trail sign warns hikers, “there are no places to obtain supplies or get help” along the route. The only ways out are to follow the trail or guess the right direction on the handful of logging roads that intersect the trail. Simply put, if you’re going to try to run it, you’d better be committed – and you’d better be ready for anything.

When Arlington resident Josh Katzman and his buddies Rob Rives and Michael McDuffie posed for a photo by the caution sign on July 21, Katzman admitted he was scared – and with good reason.

A highly accomplished ultrarunner who ran a sub-16-hour 100-miler at Rocky Raccoon in 2012 and followed it up later that year with a 22nd-place overall finish at Western States in 18:11:02, his UltraSignup profile is littered with first-place finishes. There’s a nearly four-year gap between late 2013 and early 2017, however, and that was the cause of Katzman’s concern. He dropped at mile 92 of the Vermont 100 in 2013 and landed in the emergency room with rhabdomyolysis, and after that he pretty much disappeared from starting lines other than as a race director or volunteer.

After rebuilding his body with strength training, Katzman made a long-awaited return to ultrarunning in April with a first-place finish at the Trail Animals’ Don’t Run Boston 50K at the Blue Hills Reservation. His body rewarded him with a great day – but that was 31 miles, not 100. Standing at the gateway to the 100-Mile Wilderness, Katzman had no way of knowing if his body would give him another solid 31 miles, let alone more than triple that distance.

Armed with a healthy dose of humility and respect for the adventure ahead, and with trusted pals at his side, Katzman entered the 100-Mile Wilderness and faced his fear head-on. As he described in a heart-felt, philosophical blog post recounting the journey, his spirit was uplifted by the time in the wilderness and his mind and body were deeply tested when the task at hand grew tedious. Ultimately, Katzman and Rives finished in 35:32 (McDuffie finished a day later). Katzman’s fears weren’t unfounded, but he stared them down, pushed self-doubt aside, and discovered that his mind and body still have the “it” necessary to tackle the most grueling of endurance endeavors.

Don’t Give Up: Joe McConaughy’s Grueling Final Push for AT History

When Joe McConaughy awoke in his primitive camping spot on the Appalachian Trail on the morning of Wednesday, Aug. 30, he had already steeled himself about what he was about to do. He had already traveled more than 2,000 miles during the past 44 days, averaging around 50 miles per day, most of it alone. He’d battled all sorts of injuries, mental and physical exhaustion, and challenging weather conditions on technical trail. All the while, he’d managed to stay mostly on track or slightly ahead of pace of his goal of breaking both the supported and self-supported fastest known times on the most famous trail in the United States.

He was more than a week ahead of pace for the self-supported record, and had about 46 hours to break Karl Meltzer’s supported record of 45 days, 22 hours and 38 minutes. McConaughy also had 110 miles to go.

For the previous month and a half, McConaughy’s daily life was a gnarly concoction of hell and ecstasy. Now, with his goal seemingly achievable but still so far away, McConaughy resolved to put his mind and body through hell one last time and stay there until he stood at the summit of Mount Katahdin once and for all. He then set off on an exhausting 37-hour final push, moving mostly nonstop through day, night, and most of the next day. He battled rain for much of it, and was whipped by fierce winds as he covered the final miles up Katahdin where he finally stopped, wrapped his arms around his girlfriend, and shed a few tears. He’d done it. After 45 days, 12 hours and 15 minutes, the Boston resident had broken Meltzer’s supported record by 10 hours and eclipsed Heather Anderson’s self-supported record by nine days.

I interviewed McConaughy three days before he began his record-setting quest, and looking back on it I can’t help but remember the calm confidence in his voice while we chatted for about 45 minutes. He wasn’t cocky – far from it – but there was a deep belief in himself that his goal was achievable. He had the experience to be confident from having set a supported FKT on the 2,660-mile Pacific Crest Trail in 2014, but his confidence also seemed rooted in the fact that he had prepared himself to be successful. From his training, to his gear selections, to the detailed resupply packages that he and his girlfriend carefully planned and shipped ahead, to his thorough studying to the route, he was prepared to succeed.

“I keep thinking nobody’s done a long trail like this self-supported while running,” he told me at the time. “I’m hoping that is a possibility, and I’m hoping it’s something that the human body can withstand.”

Sure enough, it is possible. Joe McConaughy is living proof.

As always, thanks for reading this year. I welcome your feedback and story suggestions (editor@massultra.com). I’ll see you on the trails again soon.

Most Viewed Stories of 2017 (129 pieces of new content for the year)

1 Freaky Fast: Caron Delivers on Declaration at Ghost Train – 845 views

2 McConaughy Aims for Ambitious Appalachian Trail Speed Record – 545 views

3 Rusiecki Finds Redemption, Dissinger Demolishes Goal at Vermont 100 – 466 views

4 Wetzel Crafts Feel-Good Final 100-Miler on Familiar Turf at VT100 – 413 views

5 Experienced Rusiecki Ready to Cash in Golden Ticket to Western States – 397 views

6 Uxbridge’s Goat Hill 50K Encourages Runners to Embrace Inner Mountain Goat -368 views

7 ‘The Trails Are Free’ Brings TARC, Ultrarunning Culture to the Big Screen – 310 views

8 Mullins Edges Loureiro in Inaugural Big Bear 50K – 305 views

9 New England Tough: Burly Course Tests Runners at TNFEC-MA – 300 views

10 MassUltra to Provide Live Coverage of the Vermont 100 – 296 views

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