It wasn’t hard to spot Kassandra Marin for a post-race interview at the Fells Winter Ultra, my final race providing live coverage for 2018. All I had to do was look for the smile.
Marin takes pride in smiling during races; it conveys the joy she feels whether hammering the pavement to the top of Mt. Washington or hurdling rocks and roots on the trails of the Middlesex Fells Reservation. On this particular day she wore her signature smile for all five loops of the course, and the positivity propelled her to a course-record performance. When I interviewed Marin after the race, one thing was clear above all else about her day: she had an absolute blast. Sure, she’d climbed around 7,500 feet over the course of 40 miles on rocky terrain, but she’d loved every second of it. She had her sights set on the course record, but even if that didn’t happen she would have savored every minute of her time on the trails.
This year marked the first time since 2012 that I didn’t run an ultra. My mileage was dialed back immensely (nearly 900 fewer miles than the 2,017 I ran in 2017), and my longest run was 16.5 miles while I gave my body and my brain a break from the rigors of our sport. That left me extra time to spend volunteering, spectating, and reporting at ultras, and it was a treat to see that – from Barnstable to the Berkshires – Marin has plenty of company when it comes to letting their exuberance show while running the trails.
From the start of 2018 to the end, it was a true pleasure to spend so much time around ultrarunners who – even when their bodies hurt and their minds were exhausted – embraced the experience and found time to share a smile.
My reporting year kicked off in January with a long-overdue trip to Barnstable for the Cape Cod Frozen Fat Ass 50K, and it provided positive vibes that carried through the year. Race Directors Bob and Fiona Jensen and their friends on the Cape have created an event that is more family reunion than ultramarathon; it’s a gathering where the chilly winter temperature and the bitter ocean breeze is no match for the warm environment they create. They’ve created an atmosphere where runners can’t help but grin, even when a 30-mile-per-hour wind blasts them while their feet are sinking in the sand. The same smile that Marin would flash while racing by in December was displayed by Billy Hafferty as he raced along Sandy Neck Beach on that sunny Saturday morning in late January, and it’s an expression that was repeated a little while later on the faces of Rob Rives, Kelly Manchester, Leah Lawry, Will Holets, Kevin Mullen, and so many others despite being blasted by sideways wind gusts and pellets of gritty sand.
The smiles vibe continued in March when the Trail Animals Running Club kicked off its annual race series with the To Hale and Back 6-Hour at Hale Reservation in Westwood. Snow-packed trails created challenging early-season conditions, but the smiles were abundant, whether it was front-of-the-packers Joe McConaughy, Scot DeDeo, and Elise DeRoo, or just about anyone else in the pack of 90-plus runners. Kara Olivito looked every bit as happy at mile 6 as she did around mile 20. The same could be said for Adam Ribeiro, Ann Welch, Eric Conti and many others.
The weather was considerably warmer in early June, meaning runners were challenged with a different type of suffering, but the happiness on display on the trails was undeniable at The North Face Endurance Challenge at Wachusett Mountain where Noah Howard flashed a broad grin while cruising through the final half-mile of his 50-mile race on the way to a top-10 finish. Michael Pulli was equally exuberant a few minutes earlier when he unleashed a fist pump while hammering down the home stretch and then plopped down in the grass in the finisher’s area, exhausted but grinning from ear to ear.
I’d heard plenty about the positive vibes at the races out west put on by the Berkshire Ultra Running Community for Service, but for the past two years I’d been relegated to reporting via phone and email. I finally made it to a BURCS event in person in July at the Summer Fat Ass Ultra at Notchview Reservation in Windsor, and I quickly discovered that all I’d heard was true. The event – a 24-hour, 12-hour and 6-hour ultra – had the laid-back feel of a campout with your college pals, save for the hard work being put in by the runners as they circled the 1.9-mile loop through the woods over and over again. Despite having run through the night and into the following afternoon, there were still plenty of smiles to go around, whether it was Melissa Arnold smiling all the way to running 100K, Anne Craig gleefully logging mileage with her sister, or David and Gail Martin happily running loop after loop side by side. The story was the same at the BURCS’ Free to Run trail races in September at Pittsfield State Forest, where a grueling 50-mile course failed to erase the smile from the face of Rebekah Zimmerer as she completed each of her four loops through the woods.
Given what I’d witnessed from our ultrarunning community throughout the year, it might seem surprising that smiling faces are what stood out to me the most. They’re not exactly an uncommon sight. The individuals noted in this column weren’t the only ones spotted smiling on race day; in many ways their inclusion is representative of almost everyone they shared the trails with on a particular day. I suppose the reason the smiles made such an impression on me is that they are emblematic of what I enjoy most about being a part of our ultrarunning community, both as a runner and as a reporter: Our community is packed with good people who work hard, play hard, and maintain a positive spirit while doing so.
I’ve been running this site for free as a hobby for three years now, and you all make it worth the time and effort. This is the 128th and final piece of new content for 2018. I hope to bring you more coverage and tell more of your stories in 2019 as time allows. As always, thanks for reading this year. I welcome your feedback and story suggestions (email@example.com). I’ll see you on the trails again soon.
Most Viewed Stories of 2018
1. Massachusetts Runner DQ’d from Multiple Ultras, Suspected of Cutting Courses – 1,757
2. Jinks Hauntingly Fast for 100 Miles at Ghost Train – 1,258
3. New 100-Mile Race Coming to Western Mass – 722
4. Going Global: Transvulcania Kicks off Next Chapter of Caron’s Career – 517
5. Soutiea Builds on Big Year with Another Record-Setting Effort at Soggy Sweltering Summer – 482
6. Frozen Yeti Brings TARC 100 Out of Hibernation as 30-Hour Ultra – 433
7. Trio of Women Earn Victories at Inaugural Chesterfield Gorge Ultra – 391
8. North Andover’s Fiore Delivers Unforgettable Finish at Spartan Ultra World Championship – 385
9. No Freeze, but Plenty of Chill at the Cape Cod Frozen Fat Ass 50K – 341
10. Historically Chilly DRB Doesn’t Deter LeBlanc from “Doubling” – 339