With two victories to his credit at trail ultramarathons in eastern Massachusetts already this year, Brian Burke set his sights on the trails of western Massachusetts on Saturday, June 22, when he took part in the Vegan Power 50K in Pittsfield, Mass.
By the time he was done, Burke had earned his first win in the west after a day of tough racing and fast running on the singletrack dirt and rocky, root-covered trails of Pittsfield State Forest.
Vegan Power is the first ultramarathon of this year’s BURCS Race Series put on by the Berkshire Ultra Running Community for Service, and the sixth annual event included the largest field in race history as 80 runners toed the starting line and 73 ultimately finished within nine hours.
Burke, 37, of Somerville, Mass., lined up alongside the guys who would be his closest competitors throughout the day. The lead pack set the pace quickly with Burke, 31-year-old Stefan Ogle of Dalton, Mass., 41-year-old Immanuel Wineman of Northampton, Mass., and 25-year-old Patrick Griffith of La Crosse, Wisc., opening an early gap on the field. The race included six laps around a five-plus-mile loop course, and the first four completed the first lap within a 10-second window, Ogle setting the pace at 38:26 and Wineman four seconds behind, followed closely by Griffith and Burke.
Wineman moved to the front early in loop two. Burke went with him while Griffith and Ogle slipped off the pace, falling three minutes back of the leaders by the end of loop two. Once in front Burke and Wineman quickly created distance on the field. Brendon Campbell, 34, of Medford, Mass., surged into third place in the middle of the race, but never got closer than about three minutes of the leaders. Meanwhile, Burke moved to the front during loop three, built a two-minute advantage on Wineman during loop four and then gradually added to his lead during the final two loops. Burke’s winning mark of 4:03:37 was the second-fastest time in course history behind Tyler Wolfe’s 3:58:29 in 2018. Burke’s 2019 resume now includes wins at Vegan Power, the TARC Spring Classic 50K and the TARC To Hale and Back 6-Hour Ultra in addition to a 100-mile finish at the TARCtic Frozen Yeti 30-Hour Ultra and a runner-up finish at the GAC Fat Ass 50K.
Wineman ultimately finished second with the fifth-fastest time in course history at 4:12:27. Griffith and Campbell battled for third for a while, but Campbell ultimately faded and 35-year-old Chase Fuller of North Smithfield, R.I., closed hard but narrowly missed the podium. Griffith secured third place in 4:28:08, followed 26 seconds later by Fuller in 4:28:34. Campbell rounded out the men’s top five in 4:42:32 and Ogle took a distant sixth in 5:06:04.
While the men’s race took a few loops to shake out, Jemma Howlett took command early. The 24-year-old from Brooklyn, N.Y., held a 33-second lead on 35-year-old Meghan Young of Hurley, N.Y., after the first trip around the course, but Howlett added nearly four minutes onto her advantage during loop two and stayed in front the rest of the way before fending off a strong finishing charge from Young. Trailing by as many as six minutes, Young closed hard in the final miles but wasn’t able to overtake Howlett for the win. Howlett’s winning time of 5:20:33 earned her the No. 3 spot on the women’s course record board while Young’s runner-up time of 5:21:07 claimed the fourth spot on the record board.
The race for third in the women’s field was tight between 36-year-old Lindsay Croshier of Medford, Mass., and 37-year-old Juliene Bell-Smith of Peekskill, N.Y. The pair traded the third-place position multiple times during the race and were separated by just two seconds after the fourth loop before Croshier pulled away to take third in 5:41:20. Bell-Smith finished fourth in 5:46:36, and 26-year-old Risa Le Bera of Bedford, N.H., rounded out the women’s top five in 6:06:11.
Somerville Sweeps 25K Wins
In addition to the 50K, another 51 runners completed a three-loop, 25K race. The victors both hailed from Somerville, Mass. Julia Hermann, 27, earned a first-place finish in the women’s field and set a new course record in the process. Hermann’s time of 2:28:59 knocked more than five minutes off of the prior women’s course standard (2:34:18) set by Lindsay Croshier during the 2017 race. Meanwhile, 29-year-old Benjamin Frechette took top honors in the men’s field, outdistancing the field by nine minutes while snagging the No. 2 position on the men’s course record board with a time of 2:11:09.
Up Next: Notchview Ultra
With Vegan Power in the books, the BURCS Race Series rolls on with the Notchview Ultra (formerly the BURCS Summer Fat Ass Ultra) on July 4-7 at Notchview Reservation in Windsor, Mass. This year’s event includes 72-hour, 48-hour, 24-hour, 12-hour, 6-hour and 3-hour races as well as a Quadzilla (four 52Ks in 72 hours). All races will take place on a 1.9-mile trail loop.