WINDSOR, Mass. – The sun beat down on Dietmar Bago’s head as he covered the final steps toward a pop-up tent and removed his sweat-soaked bandana. Underneath the tent he found a table full of tasty snacks, an assortment of Gatorade flavors and other cold drinks and – most important – shade.
A volunteer, relaxing in a camp chair, put another tally mark next to Bago’s name. It was 11:30 a.m. on Sunday, July 8. Bago had just completed his 37th trip around the 1.9-mile course at Notchview Reservation where he was competing in the Berkshire Ultra Running Community for Service’s fourth annual BURCS Summer Fat Ass Ultra. He was the defending 24-hour race champion, and he was once again in the lead after 16 1/2 hours of running.
“You’ve got 30 more (miles) in you!” race director Benn Griffin enthusiastically told Bago.
The temperature was rising and fatigue was setting in, but Bago didn’t say no.
A resident of Andover, Mass., Bago completed 91.2 miles at the 2017 race – the course record – so he knew he was capable of more miles; the question was how many.
The 24-hour race started at 7 p.m. on Saturday, July 7, with the 12-hour race beginning the next morning at 7 a.m., and the 6-hour race slated for Sunday afternoon. That meant the 24-hour competitors would periodically be surrounded by fresh energy as they got farther into their race.
The 24-hour race began with conditions that many runners described as perfection. They started as a pack of 33 runners just before sunset and ran through the night under a sky that was almost completely clear and star-lit. Kevin Paige of Manchester, N.H., who hammered out 55.1 miles, noted that runners were also treated to a late-night fireworks display from one of the surrounding towns that was celebrating a belated Fourth of July. The temperature dipped into the upper 50s during the late-night hours; it wasn’t too humid. After suffering through a heat wave for much of the week leading up to race day, this was a welcome change.
Many of the 24-hour runners rattled off the miles during the darkness, taking full advantage of the cool temperatures while easily navigating a loop that consisted of double-track trails, fire roads, and a few cross-country grass segments, almost all of it with excellent footing. The approximately 180 feet of climbing per loop was enough to create some variety, but every step was runnable until the miles started adding up.
The 12-hour runners joined in the fun shortly after sunrise on Sunday morning, and with that an additional 22 runners were on the loop. By that point Bago had covered the most ground, although a few others were close behind. Bill Odendahl of Trumbull, Conn., was a few loops back, as was Tek Ung of Cranston, R.I., Jessie Makela of Mystic, Conn., and Morgan Fowler of East Haven, Conn., who were leading the women’s field and within a loop or two of each other.
John Fegyveresi of Quechee, Vt., got an early start on the 12-hour run, beginning at 5 a.m., and he and Andrew Orefice of New Haven, Conn. – a 7 a.m. starter – quickly rattled away the miles and became the standard-bearers for the 12-hour race, followed closely by Matt Breidenstein of Conshohocken, Pa., Rebecca Burke of Portland, Conn., and Ann Alessandrini of Johnsonville, N.Y.
The miles piled up as the mid-morning warmth turned into early-afternoon heat. The temperature climbed into the 70s – still comfortable compared to the recent heat wave, but impactful given the limited cloud cover. Many of the 24-hour runners’ paces transitioned to a hike, and eventually some of the 12-hour runners joined them in moving at a slower clip. A final burst of energy – 34 new runners – took to the course at 1 p.m. for the 6-hour race. Their presence – fresh legs – created a fine contrast to the weary legs of the runners who’d gone through an evening, night, morning, and now an afternoon.
Included among the tired but determined was Bago. Eighteen hours into his race, he was still putting one foot in front of the other.
“Upright and moving,” he said, half serious and half joking, as he closed in on his 80th mile.
Bago kept marching forward, and he ultimately finished his race with 91.2 miles. That was enough for another first-place finish, and it matched his course record. Odendahl finished second with 85.5 miles and earned the third spot on the course record board for the 24-hour race, followed by Scott Defusco of Beverly, Mass., whose 76.0 miles were good for fourth on the record board.
While Ung wasn’t able to claim the top spot on the women’s record board – Alessandrini still holds that from her 85.5-mile effort in 2017 – Ung earned the second spot on the charts while finishing third overall and first among the women’s field with 77.9 miles. Makela and Fowler tied for second as they each recorded one fewer loop and tallied 76.0 miles apiece. Two more ladies – Shannon Plesh of Lincoln, R.I., and Karen Giroux of Salem, Mass. – were close behind with 72.2 miles apiece.
Other runners who surpassed 70 miles in the 24-hour race were David Drebsky of Plainview, N.Y. (72.2 miles), and Carla Halpern of New Salem, Mass. (70.3 miles). Four others surpassed the 60-mile mark and earned finishes for at least 100K. Stephen Galloway of Framingham, Mass., completed 66.5 miles; Jodi Badershall of Freeman Township, Maine, and Melissa Arnold of Auburndale, Mass., each logged 64.6 miles; and Chris Casey of Keene, N.H., finished with 62.7 miles. Another six runners completed at least 50 miles, and three more ran at least 40 miles.
Notably, the BURCS Summer Fat Ass Ultra also celebrated its youngest and oldest finishers. Max Loftus, an 11-year-old resident of Lenox, Mass., completed 32.3 miles in the 24-hour race to earn a heavy 50K finish. Meanwhile, Eugene Bruckert, 83, of Arlington Heights, Ill., also finished with the same distance.
The 24-hour race wasn’t the only event to feature major mileage and notable results. Both the men’s and women’s record boards were rewritten in the 12-hour race as Orefice (60.8 miles), Fegyveresi (58.9 miles) and Breidenstein (57.0 miles) claimed the top three spots for the day and on the record board. Meanwhile, Burke and Alessandrini tied for a new ladies’ course record with 55.1 miles apiece. Kathryn Stoker of Norwalk, Conn., tied the previous course record and finished third with 53.2 miles.
Of the 34 runners to partake in the 6-hour race, nine ran beyond the marathon distance and four logged more than 30 miles. Nick Curelop of Housatonic, Mass., scorched the loop 19 times for 36.1 miles and a new course record. The old mark of 34.25 was set by Jake Dissinger in 2015. David Olson of Keene, N.H., finished with 32.3 miles, tied for the third-best in course history, and Stefan Ogle of Dalton, Mass., was third among the men with 30.4 miles. Barbara Bass of Keene, N.H., was the women’s winner and earned the second-place spot on the ladies’ record board with 30.4 miles. Gail Martin of Sharon, Mass., — who ran all of her 28.5 miles alongside husband David Martin – was the women’s runner-up. Audrey Witter of North Adams, Mass., finished third with 28.5 miles.