For ultrarunners seeking a 100-mile race in Massachusetts, 2017 was a lonely season.
The Bay State was home to a triple-digit solo distance run from 2013-2016 with the TARC 100, but the Trail Animals Running Club mothballed the event after struggling to attract sufficient interest. It seemed runners’ intensified focus on select races that serve as lottery qualifiers for some of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious 100s, combined with a surge of new 100-mile offerings nationwide, diluted interest in the event.
The website run100s.com maintains a listing of the 100-milers in North America. Currently, it lists 159 100-milers. Not included on that list is a new Massachusetts 100-miler that will make its debut in 2018 and has quietly garnered attention through social media. The inaugural Chesterfield Gorge Ultra will take place June 2-3 at the Chesterfield Gorge Reservation in Chesterfield, Mass.
The race is the brainchild of Race Director Amy Rusiecki, a South Deerfield resident and veteran ultrarunner and race director. She has been directing the Vermont 100 and the 7 Sisters Trail Race for the past few years. Both of those events were founded by others, and she inherited them. Both are races she is passionate about and has learned from, but for years she has wanted to start her own race from scratch. She decided on the location after fellow ultrarunner Jake Dissinger of the Berkshire Ultra Running Community for Service showed her the Chesterfield Gorge area. They have frequently run on the course for 15- to 20-mile runs during the past few years, and it has become one of Rusiecki’s favorite spots.
“I have been wanting to bring an ultra, if not multiple ultras, to Western Mass,” she said. “I run on so many amazing trails, and it blows my mind that other than 7 Sisters there aren’t many trail races out here. I have had it in the back of my mind that when Vermont 100 and 7 Sisters are in a good place and I feel like I have a good handle on those, that would be the time. I think this is the year.”
Rusiecki will continue to direct the other two races. The 7 Sisters race will take place May 5, and the Vermont 100 will be July 21-22, so the Chesterfield Gorge Ultra will be right in the middle of a busy few months for Rusiecki. She’s ready for the challenge, though, and she doesn’t expect the new race to be an overly complicated event. In fact, it is designed to be a laid-back affair.
The race will be molded in many ways after Ghost Train, the Trail Animals’ popular 30-hour event held annually in late October. Ghost Train has attracted hundreds of runners to Brookline, N.H., less than a mile from the Massachusetts border, to run numerous out-and-backs on a 7.5-mile stretch of the Milford and Brookline Rail Trail. Ghost Train runners tackle anywhere from 30-mile up to 100-mile ultramarathon distances during an event that’s structured to allow runners to run whatever distance they please and decide as the day unfolds. That will be the case at the Chesterfield Gorge Ultra, too.
In fact, Rusiecki – a longtime volunteer and pacer at Ghost Train – said she enjoys the vibe of that event so much that it served as an inspiration for the format of the Chesterfield Gorge Ultra.
“I know it’s super-popular because it’s a place you can go get a distance and get a PR,” she said. “It’s a very popular model. I put this in the spring because I don’t want to step on the toes of Ghost Train, but I want to give people another option similar to that.”
The course will be an out-and-back on a 7.75-mile stretch of rolling dirt road through land managed by the Trustees of Reservations, Department of Conservation and Recreation, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. There will a few scattered rocks and around 1,000 feet of gain per out-and-back.
“It’s not technical,” Rusiecki said. “There’s just enough rocks you wouldn’t want to bring a normal car on it. I think there’s just enough of those little rolling hills that if you’re doing the 100-mile and want an excuse to walk then you’ve got one.
“Most of the time you’re in the woods, but every once in a while you’ll be in a grassy field along the river right near the water. It’s a nice place to run. It’s really pretty, and people will be able to take a dunk in the river when they finish.”
Runners can choose to run 50K, 50-mile, 100K, or 100-mile ultramarathon distances, or take part in a 25K race on Sunday.
The ultramarathon race is capped at 100 runners, and the 25K is limited to 50 runners. Rusiecki is keeping the entry fee low ($100 for the ultra; $40 for the 25K) and making it a no-frills race (prizes for overall winners, but no belt buckles for 100-milers) with the goal of keeping things simple and building as the years go by.
“I am keeping this as low-key as possible because it’s the first year,” she said. “I don’t want to overpromise. I want to keep it low-key, learn from that, and see what we can do to make it better next year. I’m trying to keep logistics as simple as possible but still give people great experience.”
Proceeds from the race will go to the Hilltown Land Trust, an organization that protects and conserves wild lands in the Chesterfield area and surrounding towns. The organization acquires and preserves land from development and for public use.
Registration for the Chesterfield Gorge Ultra and 25K is open. Both races are around 25-percent full as of March 1.