As its name implies, the Sweltering Summer Ultra aims to test not only runners’ endurance, but also their tolerance for New England’s typical mid-summer scorching heat.
The event, which was put on for the sixth year on a row by the Berkshire Ultra Running Community for Service (BURCS) on Saturday, Aug. 11, challenged runners to circle a .355-mile dirt and cinder loop as many times as possible during an 8-hour period at Clapp Park in Pittsfield, Mass.
While the course and the objective were the same as in years past, one thing was different – rather than sweltering heat, this year runners instead endured soaking rain for much of the day. That created challenging conditions on a course that’s designed for sure-footed running and speed. For Greg Soutiea, that simply made for an intriguing plot twist at a race where he has set a high standard for performance.
Soutiea first raced Sweltering Summer in 2015, and he established a course-record that year with 55.794 miles. He followed that with a 59.703-mile effort along the way to a record-setting victory in 2016. Soutiea won the race again in 2017 with 57.926 miles. All were dry years.
How would he handle a downpour, standing water and humidity on a day where the temperature was forgiving in the 60s and low 70s? Just fine, as a matter of fact.
Soutiea dashed and splashed his way around the course 173 times and smashed his own course record with 61.48 miles.
“I think my body felt great and I definitely could have gotten in a handful of more laps if not for the 3-4 hours of downpour,” Soutiea said, reflecting on the day. “There were large sections of the loop at times that were completely submerged, maybe as much as 15-20 percent of the loop, with the rest being extremely slick either way. That being said, running in heavy downpours/storms is without a doubt my favorite thing in the world, so I was laughing and smiling the whole time bounding through the puddles.”
Soutiea’s performance was even more noteworthy given that he is just a few weeks removed from placing fifth overall at the Vermont 100 (17:35:54). In addition to VT100, his body has endured a heavy year of racing with top-10 performances at the Ultra Race of Champions 100K in Virginia, the Black Canyon 100K in Arizona, and the Wicklow Way 127K in Ireland.
Soutiea admitted that he didn’t feel as recovered as he’d hoped going into the race, but he was pleased that his body responded well for him and allowed him to surpass the 60-mile mark. In fact, he was so pleased with his run that he sipped on a can of PBR while running the final mile.
“PBR’s are essentially water, so sipping on one for the last few laps was just perfect,” Soutiea said. “Cold, crisp, and rewardingly refreshing. I haven’t really had much time to just reflect on the big races of the year yet, but tossing back some cold ones after an important race is always one of my favorite ways to relax a bit for a few days before shifting focus to the next one.”
While Soutiea was racing out front, two of the regulars at BURCS races – 42-year-old Scott Defusco of Beverly, Mass., and 30-year-old Nick Curelop of Housatonic, Mass. – made their Sweltering Summer debuts with memorable efforts. Defusco hammered out 55.794 miles to place second and tie Soutiea’s 2015 mark for fourth on the all-time record board. Just behind him, Curelop blazed to a third-place finish with 54.017 miles and secured sixth place on the record board. Pablo Espinosa, 38, of Ile Perrot, Quebec, finished fourth with 51.174 miles, earning him 10th-place on the record behind slightly behind his 2017 effort of 51.885 miles.
Eight more men surpassed the 40-mile mark, including 55-year-old David Colburn of Worcester, Mass., who finished 40.513 miles.
Notably, 76-year-old Newton Baker of Montpelier, Vt., completed 31.628 miles and 71-year-old Thomas Brand of Summit, N.J., ran 30.207 miles.
While Soutiea added another chapter to his record-setting history at Sweltering Summer, Charlotte Vasarheli made a strong run at the women’s course record before coming up a little bit short. Vasarheli, 42, of Kitchener, Ontario, outdistanced the women’s field by almost eight miles while finishing tied for fifth overall in total mileage, and her 49.042 miles earned her second place on the women’s record board. Daniele Cherniak’s mark of 51.83 miles, set in 2014, survived Vasarhelyi’s challenge. The last time she raced in Massachusetts, back in 2011, she completed 92.83 miles at the 24-Hour Around the Lake Ultra and finished 10th overall.
Vasarheli’s closest competitor among the women was Lindsay Croshier, 35, of Medford, Mass. Croshier was the women’s runner-up in the 8-hour race for the second year in a row, tallying 41.579 miles in 2018. Last year she recorded 45.133 miles. Sarah Bousquet, 36, of South Hadley, Mass., rounded out the ladies’ top three with 40.513 miles. Kathryn Stoker, 51, of Norwalk, Conn., was a few laps behind her with 39.091 miles. Other notable efforts were a 35.537-mile day for Carla Halpern, 49, of New Salem, Mass., and a 34.827-mile effort for both 42-year-old Tara Mayo of Lincoln, Vt., and 68-year-old Barbara Grandberg of Somerville, Mass. Additionally, 72-year-old Roxana Lewis of Gardena, Calif., completed 29.496 miles.
Of the 86 runners who took part in the 8-hour race, 60 surpassed the marathon distance and 39 logged at least a 50K.
In addition to the 8-hour ultramarathon, runners also could opt for marathon and 5K distances. Twenty-four runners finished the marathon with Attila Kovacs, 49, of Radnor, Pa., placing first among the men in 3:09:52, less than two minutes ahead of Justin Gillette, 35, of Goshen, Ind., and Thea Cox, 34, of Watertown, Mass., earning the win in the women’s race in 3:43:37. Fourteen runners competed in the 5K with Maryrose Williams, 34, of Pittsfield, Mass., taking the overall victory in 25:13, 59 seconds ahead of runner-up Bethany Fitzroy, 33, of Whitinsville, Mass. The men’s victory went to another Pittsfield resident, 37-year-old Conor Meehan, in 29:12.
Triple Threat: While runners had three options to race at Sweltering Summer, one runner chose all three options. Ann Alessandrini, 58, of Johnsonville, N.Y., took part in the 8-hour, marathon and 5K races. She started with the marathon, finishing 10th overall and third among the women in 4:19:46. Then Alessandrini completed the 5K in 35:27, good for 10th overall and fifth-place female. After that, she closed out the day with some miles toward the 8-hour race, tallying 15.298 miles. Her collective output for the day was 44.598 miles which, had she only taken part in the 8-hour race, would have placed Alessandrini eighth overall and second in the women’s field.
Charitable Giving: Proceeds from the event went to benefit Moments House, a daytime facility in Berkshire County that supports residents living with a cancer diagnosis and their families. According to the crowdrise page tracking fundraising for the event, $8988 has been raised since the effort began on Dec. 28, 2017.
BURCS Race Series: The final race of the 2018 BURCS Race Series is the annual Free to Run Trail Races on Saturday, Sept. 15, at Pittsfield State Forest. Runners can choose from 50-mile, marathon and half marathon distances. Proceeds from the event go to Free to Run, a nonprofit organization that provides running, physical fitness, and other outdoor activities to empower women in conflict areas. Registration for Free to Run can be done on UltraSignup.com.
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