Michael Pulli finished 2018 with a flourish, racing to victory at the rain-soaked Stone Cat 50-miler as well as runner-up finishes at the TARC Fall Classic 50K and the Fells Winter Ultra 32-miler.
Pulli waited until May to kick off his 2019 ultramarathon season, but the 42-year-old resident of Medford, Mass., raced like he was in mid-season form at the second annual Watuppa 50K and seventh annual Watuppa Trail Races on Sunday, May 19, at Watuppa Reservation in Fall River, Mass.
Eighteen runners lined up alongside Pulli to take on five laps of a 6.25-mile loop course on the singletrack trails fire roads, and a little bit of pavement at Watuppa Reservation. The course was designed to be runnable, with around 300 feet of elevation gain per loop – most of it within the first 2 1/2 miles – and some speedy downhill sections.
Pulli set the tone early, hammering out a 43:46 first loop and building a comfortable lead on the field. Ken Parnow, 32, of Portland, Maine, lingered four minutes back, followed five minutes later by 41-year-old Tim Finocchio of Holbrook, Mass., and 36-year-old Charn McAllister of Norfolk, Mass.
Pulli’s lead was never in doubt. He followed up a fast first loop with an even better second (43:36 – his fastest of the day), before slowing slightly the rest of the way. Pulli’s highly consistent pacing (his slowest loop was 46:23) produced the five fastest loops of the day by any runner in the 50K. That added up to a winning time of 3:44:12 that eclipsed Will Swenson’s course record (3:44:55 in 2018) by 43 seconds.
While Pulli ran away with the win, the battle for second was tight between Parnow and Finocchio. Parnow had a lock on second place through three loops as he built an 11-minute advantage on Finocchio. It didn’t last, however. He eventually began to fade, and Finocchio’s decade-plus of experience and disciplined pacing paid off. As impressive as Pulli’s pacing was, Finocchio’s was even better. His slowest loop of the day (54:18) came during the fourth loop as Parnow wore down and Finocchio cut five minutes off of his deficit. He then delivered his fastest loop of the day (52:46) on his final trip around the course and surged into second place where he finished in 4:28:28.
Parnow finished third in 4:35:41, followed by McAllister in 4:41:40. Barry Ahern, 48, of East Sandwich, Mass., was the only other runner to break five hours, finishing in 4:58:38.
In the women’s race, 43-year-old Jennifer Rushton dominated the field. Rushton, of New Bedford, Mass., held just a 12-second lead on 32-year-old Linnea Laverty of Lynn, Mass., after one loop. Rushton opened it up during her second trip around the course, however, and established a five-minute cushion during the next few miles. Rushton never looked back as she pulled away for the win in 5:06:37. Laverty was a distant second in 5:31:11. Marianne Currie, 50, of Smithfield, R.I., rounded out the women’s top three in 6:31:26.
In the three-loop 30K race, 56-year-old Warren Angell of Wakefield, R.I., improved upon his runner-up finish in 2018 by winning this year’s race in a men’s course-record time of 2:12:56. His closest competitor, 28-year-old Adam Morales of Somerset, Mass., was nearly 10 minutes back in 2:22:16. Graham Kimmerer, 33, of Westminster, Mass., rounded out the men’s podium in 2:25:46. Meanwhile, 52-year-old Kim Raymond of Coventry, R.I., was the women’s 30K champion in 3:07:11, a three-minute improvement on her 2018 performance when she finished third. Pamela Ahern, 50, of East Sandwich, Mass., finished second in 3:08:39, followed by 49-year-old Elizabeth Eaton of Fairhaven, Mass., in 3:13:39.
In the 10K race, 49-year-old Michael Norton of East Falmouth, Mass., cruised to the top spot in the men’s field in 41:42, four minutes ahead of runner-up Dan Augustyn, 46, of Mansfield, Mass. Jennifer Haskell, 45, of East Freetown, Mass., was victorious in the women’s field in 51:48, The battle for the women’s runner-up spot went to Meradee Jowder, 41, of Quincy, Mass., (1:03:20) who outkicked Mansfield’s Barbara Gutierrez, 46, and got to the finish line 34 seconds faster.