Trio of Women Earn Victories at Inaugural Chesterfield Gorge Ultra

From the support of friends and runners to the establishment of new traditions and the creation of a race of her very own, there was plenty about the inaugural Chesterfield Gorge Ultra that excited race director Amy Rusiecki. That said, her enthusiasm also extended to the overall results – in particular, she was pumped about the performance of the women.

The event, which took place June 2-3 at the Chesterfield Gorge Reservation in West Chesterfield, Mass., gave runners the option of tackling four ultramarathon distances – 100 miles, 100K, 50 miles and 50K – or a 25K race, and women were the outright winners at three of the distances.

“I was really excited about the scoreboard because for a while we were three for three where the three raced that had happened had all been won by females,” Rusiecki said, referencing the 50K, 50-mile and 100K races. “I was excited to see that. It’s not like it was a soft field – they ran legit times and there were good competitors in all of the distances to challenge the lead women, so I was excited that they came out on top.”

Chesterfield Gorge 50K - Matt Howard-Kelsey Allen
Amy Rusiecki, race director for the inaugural Chesterfield Gorge Ultra, is pictured with 50K winners Matt Howard, left, and Kelsey Allen, right. Photo courtesy of Amy Rusiecki.

New England has its share of highly accomplished, speedy women who have won Massachusetts ultras outright in recent years – notably Boston’s Elise DeRoo winning the 2017 TARC To Hale and Back 6-Hour and the 2017 Don’t Run Boston 50-Miler; Vineyard Haven’s Stacia Broderick winning the 50K at the 2014 TARC Summer Classic; Medford’s Alexandra Brinkert winning the 2016 Not the Worst Weekend 8-Hour; Vermont’s Aliza Lapierre winning the Mother’s Day 6-Hour in 2010; and Rusiecki winning the Mother’s Day 6-Hour in both 2009 and 2013 – so the feat is by no means unheard of. That said, the outright victories in a majority of the distance offerings were a welcome sight to Rusiecki as they showcased the depth of tough, talented female runners who were at the event.

The tough running came on a day were conditions were challenging. The course with its non-technical footing and rolling hills made for mostly easy running, but the weather made certain that runners still had to work plenty hard. The temperature rose to 90 degrees by mid-afternoon on Saturday, and high humidity provided an added degree of difficulty. Still, speedy times were turned in by many – especially the women at the front of the pack.

In the 50K race it was Kelsey Allen of Wendell, Mass., who delivered the first outright win of the day. She covered her first out-and-back on the course alongside a few other runners, but then surged from the field during her second trip through the course and cruised to the win in 4:29:44, outdistancing runner-up and men’s winner Matt Howard of Westfield, Mass., by almost 17 minutes (4:46:08). The third, fourth and fifth finishers of the 50K were also women with Leah Jacobson-Hardy of Florence, Mass., finishing in 5:12:37; Karin George of Florence, Mass., finishing in 5:30:08; and Tammy Volock of Portland, Maine, finishing in 6:11:59.

“Kelsey’s a beast, and she ran an awesome time,” Rusiecki said of Allen, who finished second in her 100-mile debut at Massanutten in May. “It was fun to watch her run. She, Leah and Matt, and Jim Eckert who was in the 50-miler, all came through together on the first lap. Kelsey wanted to run with people. A lot of people came through in groups to the aid stations in the early miles. They were sharing the trail together and enjoying the environment with other like-minded trail runners. It was great to see.”

In the 50-mile race, it was Claire Gadrow of South Kingstown, R.I., who earned the victory in 8:28:39, fending off men’s winner and second overall finisher Jim Eckert of Rochester, N.H., by 13 minutes (8:41:57). He was followed by Jeremy Howard of Lafayette, La., in 8:52:47, and Mike Ferrante of Wurstboro, N.Y., in 8:56:27.

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Shelley Cheung of Brighton, Mass., was the women’s 100K runner-up at the Chesterfield Gorge Ultra. Photo courtesy of Greg Soutiea.

Rounding out the big day for the women was Maureen Gillespie in the 100K. The resident of Dover, N.H., dominated the race, cruising through four out-and-backs on the course far ahead of the field. Her victory came by more than two hours as she posted a winning time of 10:43:38. Her closest competitor, men’s champion Matthew Klein of South Plains, N.J., finished in 12:55:26. Klein was followed by Guy Alderdice of West Windsor, Vt., in 13:43:52, and Dane LeBlanc of Littleton, Mass., in 14:03:51. Shelley Cheung of Brighton, Mass., was the ladies’ runner-up and fifth overall finisher in 14:04:11, followed by Maria Chevalier of Cumberland, R.I., in 14:34:03, and Krista Alderdice of West Windsor, Vt., in 14:43:00.

While women won three of the ultramarathon distances, Matthew Cadieux earned a victory for the men in the 100-miler. The resident of Holyoke, Mass., was one of four runners to complete triple-digit mileage, and he ran away from the field with a winning time of 24:53:36. In addition to making himself the first-ever 100-mile finisher at the Chesterfield Gorge, Cadieux also ran his streak of 100-milers to four years in a row. He finished Virgil Crest in 2015, Ghost Train in 2016, and Vermont in 2017.

Jodi Badershall of Freeman Township, Maine, was second overall in the 100-miler in 29:07:07, followed by Karen Ringheiser of Newton, Mass., and Dima Feinhaus of Waban, Mass., who finished together in 29:50:06.

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Dima Feinhaus and Karen Ringheiser along their way to finishing 100 miles at the Chesterfield Gorge Ultra. Photo courtesy of Greg Soutiea.

Rusiecki kept the race intentionally small and no-frills in its first year, so she was pleased to have 45 runners compete at the ultramarathon distances (four in the 100-miler; 15 in the 100K; 12 in the 50-mile; 14 in the 50K) and another 32 in the 25K. One of the goals of keeping it small was to allow for the opportunity to learn what logistical lessons would need to be addressed in future years, and to do so while having minimal impact on the runners. She noted the need for a HAM radio system or walkie-talkies to communicate better with aid stations, and adjusting supply levels of some items, all of which she will take into account moving forward.

“I’m glad we had the numbers that we had at the race,” she said. “We had about 75 participants total, which was enough to have critical mass but also small enough that we could manage things and still be ok.”

Rusiecki also hopes to implement a post-race pot-luck meal. An unplanned one happened at the end of this year’s race, and enough people enjoyed it that Rusiecki is considering turning that into an annual tradition.

Speaking of traditions, that’s another highlight Rusiecki is taking with her from the inaugural event. She has been the race director for both the Vermont 100 and the 7 Sisters Trail Race for the past few years, but she took over both events after they’d already enjoyed 25 successful years. Those races had been created by other people, and so had their traditions. As the founder of the Chesterfield Gorge Ultra, Rusiecki said she is enjoying what comes with laying the foundation for an event.

“I was really proud that I could start a race I could call my own, from conceiving it to where aid stations are to what cutoffs are,” she said. “I was really proud that this is something that I envisioned and brought forward. I’m also really excited for some traditions that we get to start.”

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Ultrarunners cover some ground on the scenic trails of the Chesterfield Gorge Reservation during the Chesterfield Gorge Ultra on Saturday, June 2, 2018. Photo courtesy of Jane Valenti.

One of those traditions was inspired by Kristin Tetrault, a 25K runner and friend of Rusiecki’s.

“She said, ‘I want the most sparkly, blinged-out bib I can get,’” Rusiecki recalled.

Rusiecki looked into it and contacted a friend who works with Girls on the Run. That friend provided Rusiecki with packages of stickers, and the ultimate result was a “Bling Your Bib” station for runners at race check-in.

“People liked that, and it was a little thing that got people excited,” Rusiecki said. “That’s going to be a tradition we do each year, and there’s a good story behind that.”

Another tradition that’s still in the works is the naming of aid stations. Rusiecki noted the decades-long tradition of aid station names at the Vermont 100, many that were established by the race’s founders honoring volunteer groups or landowners who allowed the race to go through their property. She is soliciting suggestions from participants at this year’s event on what to name the aid station at the turnaround. It might be a little thing, but it’s also a lasting thing.

“What I’m excited about moving forward is getting to put my own personal stamp on it from the get-go,” she said.

Hackler, Emerson Win 25K Race

In addition to the ultramarathon distances, the Chesterfield Gorge event shared Ghost Train’s tradition of offering a Sunday 25K race to put fresh energy on the course for ultrarunners in the late hours of their race, as well as to be inclusive of runners opting for fewer miles.

Thirty-two runners took part in the 25K, and the top two men both dipped under the two-hour mark, led by 41-year-old Kurt Hackler of Alstead, N.H., who cruised to victory in 1:41:57. His closest competitor, 51-year-old Craig Reed of Westfield, Mass., finished in 1:53:13. The women’s winner was 46-year-old Ericka Emerson of Easthampton, Mass., who fended off 55-year-old Jane Hoffmann of Quincy, Mass., by less than three minutes. Emerson’s time of 2:10:20 was good for sixth overall, and Hoffmann’s time of 2:13:00 was seventh out of all runners in the field.

Mark Your Calendars

A date has been set for the second annual Chesterfield Gorge Ultra. It will take place June 1-2, 2019. Registration will open late in the fall or winter.

“I’ve already talked to the permitting agencies to confirm the 2019 dates,” Rusiecki said. “I got a lot of good smiles and people saying, ‘I get to come back next year, right?’ That was enough to make me think this is something we should keep doing.”

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Dane LeBlanc of Littleton, Mass., enjoys a snack at the main aid station along his way to a fourth-place finish in the 100K at the Chesterfield Gorge Ultra. Photo courtesy of Greg Soutiea.
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The Chesterfield Gorge Ultra course took runners along a river for many scenic miles. Photo courtesy of Greg Soutiea.
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