WINDSOR, Mass. – For most of the weekend, Ann Alessandrini was an unstoppable force.
From the moment she started the 72-hour race at the Notchview Ultra at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 4, until her final dash through the field and across the finish line three days later, Alessandrini captured the imagination of her fellow ultrarunners who marveled at her speed, her endurance and – perhaps above all else – her grit.
It was understandable. All of the more than 130 runners who took part in the Notchview Ultra – be it in the 72-, 48-, 24-, 12-, 6-, or 3-hour races or the grueling Quadzilla (four 52Ks within 72 hours) – entered the weekend with goals, but none dreamed bigger than Alessandrini. The 59-year-old from Johnsonville, N.Y., set out to complete 106 laps around the 1.9-mile trail loop course for a whopping 201.4 miles.
Her ambition was bold, but Alessandrini was determined to follow through. She threw down 79.8 miles in the first 24 hours and was at 112.1 by the halfway point. It was then that her battle began in earnest. She’d weathered 90-degree temperatures during the first half of the race. The second half featured more amicable temperatures, but a few hours of heavy rain made the course sloppy for the overnight hours and brought about additional challenges. At one point, a soaking-wet and shivering Alessandrini retreated to the Notchview Ski Lodge in search of dry layers before going back out for more miles.
As the final hours neared and Alessandrini still needed a few more loops to surpass the 200-mile mark, friends and fellow runners who’d already achieved personal milestone mileage rose to their feet and ran bonus laps in support of Alessandrini. That included first-time 100-milers Stephanie Dar, Nick Curelop, Ellen Biagini-Loftus and Marie Gryszowka who joined a fatigued but focused Alessandrini for her final trips around the course.
Finally, as the clock neared 7 p.m. on Sunday evening, July 7, Alessandrini emerged from the forest one final time and dashed across the field and across the finish line before collapsing into a chair with a few minutes to spare. Exuberant and exhausted, she’d done it: 201.4 miles.
Just one runner – Alessandrini – surpassed the 200-mile mark for the weekend, but another 44 ran more than 100 miles. That included four runners in the Quadzilla and 29 others in the 72-hour race.
The Quadzilla runners had 72 hours to finish 68 loops of the course for 129.2 miles. Jeremy Shafer, 42, of New Hartford, Conn., did so in 38:31:27 to become the first-ever finisher of that event, followed by 23-year-old Kimberly Wrate of New Hartford, N.Y., who was the second overall finisher and first female in 47:11:01. Two more runners – 54-year-old Thomas Butler of Rochester, N.Y. (60:44:40) and Benjamin Manning, 27, of Worcester, Mass. (68:49:30) – also finished the unique event.
Meanwhile, the other runners in the standard 72-hour race joined Alessandrini and the Quadzilla runners in achieving major milestones, setting their own personal records, and – in the case of Carla Halpern – delivering her most remarkable running performance while enduring a whirlwind of emotions ranging from sorrow and grief to determination and elation. That’s because Halpern’s father passed away the morning that the 72-hour race was set to begin. Ultramarathons bring about a range of emotions in general, but for the 49-year-old resident of New Salem, Mass., an exhausting 72-hour endurance event – the longest she’d ever attempted – now included the added weight of a heavy heart. Halpern clipped a torn piece of a T-shirt to her race shirt as a representative sign of mourning her father, and she prepared to take that piece of material around the loop 69 times in pursuit of 131.1 miles.
Twelve hours into the race, Halpern was almost halfway to her goal for the weekend with 30 laps done for 57 miles. She was in second place in the women’s field and feeling good. By the 24-hour mark she was at 74.1 miles and still going strong. Two laps behind her was 35-year-old Jessie Makela of Mystic, Conn. During the 48 hours that followed the two raced neck-and-neck, rarely separated by more than a lap or two as a tight race for second place unfolded. Just one lap separated them at the halfway mark, Halpern with 98.8 miles on her legs and Makela with 96.9. The gap was the same at the 48-hour mark (Halpern 123.5; Makela 121.6).
Halpern soon reached 131.1 miles, was holding down second place and had several hours to go.
“My goal became ‘69 and defend’ to try to keep my place,” Halpern noted. “But Jessie always looked stronger and faster and I thought I would have to be content with third. We were following each other’s laps through the whole race, checking to see how close we were, whether it was ‘safe’ to take a break, etc.”
Halpern built a lead of a few extra laps when Makela took a break to get ice cream and popsicles in nearby Pittsfield.
“She got some for herself and for my campsite, too, while I just sat with my feet in ice water,” Halpern added. “Even while competing she was gracious and generous.”
Makela racked up the miles as the final day wore on. Then, on the second-to-last lap, Makela pulled alongside Halpern.
“She said something like, ‘ if we finish this lap and the next one, we can tie for second with 90 laps,’” Halpern recalled. “I turned around and put up my hand and we high-fived to seal the deal.”
Through three days of competition, a friendship had blossomed. Together, Halpern and Makela finished their final lap and tied for second place with 171 miles.
“My father was on this earth for 90 years,” Halpern said. “I like to think he made those 90 laps happen. And I made a wonderful new ultra-friend.”
There were several other major mileage efforts. Fourth-place female and sixth overall finisher Karen Giroux of Salem, Mass., had her biggest mileage race ever. The 53-year-old walks numerous time-based events each year, but her 153.9-mile performance was her best ever.
Top men’s finisher Trishul Cherns, 62, of Middle Village, N.Y., logged an impressive 190 miles, second only to Alessandrini for the weekend. Two more men – 60-year-old George Alexion of Waterboro, Maine, and 40-year-old Brian Roccapriore of Clinton, Conn. – each surpassed 150 miles, Alexion finishing with 157.7 and Roccapriore with 150.1.
Of the 41 runners who took part in the 72-hour race, 40 completed at least a 50K, 35 logged at least 100K, and 30 finished 100 miles or more, and one – Alessandrini – broke the 200-mile mark.
Odendahl, Robinson-White Dominate 48-Hour Race
Year one of the 48-hour race saw 25 runners take on the two-day time limit. Nine of those runners – nearly 40 percent of the field – earned 100-mile finishes or more. Runners needed to complete 53 loops of the course to reach triple-digit mileage and earn their 100-mile belt buckles. Three of those runners – Allan Darrow, 33, of New Milford, Conn.; Billy Jenkins, 31, of Malden, Mass.; and Stephanie Dar, 31, of Clifton Park, N.Y. – stopped after 53 loops and 100.7 miles. Notchview marked the second 100-mile finish for Darrow and the first for both Jenkins and Dar.
Two runners added an extra loop. That was the case for both Sean Dickson, 47, of Austin, Texas, and 50-year-old Robert Fiero of Nashua, N.H., who finished with 102.6 miles apiece. Caitlin Rossi, 35, of Torrington, Conn., did three extra loops for 106.4 miles, good for fourth place overall and second in the women’s field.
Of those who ran farther, 49-year-old Edward Sayre of Hattisburg, Miss., logged 114 miles, and then there was a sizeable jump up to the men’s and women’s winners: Bill Odendahl and Claire Robinson-White.
After placing second in the 24-hour race a year ago with 85.5 miles, Odendahl entered the 48-hour race with high expectations and the 54-year-old from Trumbull, Conn., delivered. Robinson-White was on his heels throughout the weekend, but Odendahl emerged with the most miles – by one loop – finishing with 65 loops for 123.5 miles. Robinson-White finished her weekend with one fewer loop, placing first among the women and second overall with 121.6 miles.
Among the non-100-mile finishers, 39-year-old Chris Wristen of Medford, Mass., finished 43 loops for 81.7 miles; 21-year-old Kennedy Nau of Waltham, Mass., finished, 41 loops for 77.9 miles; 37-year-old Melissa Arnold of Auburndale, Mass., finished 40 loops for 76 miles; and another four runners – Donald Landry, 32, and Marion Landry, 74, of Montreal, Quebec; Michelle Murphy, 33, of Lanesborough, Mass.; and Hannah Muszynski, 30, of Leverett, Mass. – finished 62.7 miles for a 100K.
Orefice, Burke Set 24-Hour Records
The Notchview Ultra added its 72-hour and 48-hour options this year, but the 24-hour has been a staple of the event since 2017. During each of the first two years, Dietmar Bago of Andover, Mass., logged 91.2 miles and set the overall course record for the race. This year, however, new men’s and women’s records were set as both Andrew Orefice and Rebecca Burke surpassed the 100-mile mark. Orefice, 41, of New Haven, Conn., was the top male finisher with 102.6 miles and Burke, 43, of Portland, Conn., took top honors among the women with 100.7 miles. They were the lone competitors in the 29-runner field to break triple-digits in mileage.
Orefice entered the race with experience on the course. He ran the 12-hour race in 2017 and 2017, winning both times with 55.1 and 60.8 miles, respectively. Burke followed the same trajectory, winning the women’s 12-hour race with 53.2 miles in 2017 and with 55.1 miles in 2018 before entering the 24-hour race this year.
Several other runners turned in big performances in the 24-hour race, led by 38-year-old Peter Guza of North Andover, Mass., whose biggest run so far in preparation for the Yeti 100 was his 81.7-mile effort at Notchview. Additionally, women’s runner-up Tek Ung of Cranston, R.I., turned in another strong performance on a course she knows well. After running 77.9 miles in her winning effort at the 2018 race, Ung upped her game with one extra loop for 79.8 miles while finishing second in the women’s field this year. For Ung, it was actually one of her shorter runs of the year. She already ran 130 miles in the 48-hour race at the Jackpot Ultra Running Festival in Nevada in February, then 64.02 miles at the Farmdaze 24-hour race in Georgia eight days later, followed by the Cruel Jewel 100-miler in Georgia in May and the Booneville Backroads 100-miler in Iowa eight days after that. Later this year Ung will take on the Wasatch 100-miler, Run Rabbit Run 100-miler, Hennepin Hundred and Tesla Hertz 100-miler.
Other top performers in the 24-hour race were Helene Guntz, 23, of Ipswich, Mass., with 72.2 miles; Miriam Fenton, 36, of Arlington, Mass., and Sabrina Lewis, 32, of Norwalk, Conn., with 68.4 miles apiece. Additionally, Andrew Alstman, 35, of Winthrop, Mass., 43-year-old Jay Durand of Adams, Mass., 37-year-old Beau Fair of Dalton, Mass., and 44-year-old Reagan Fitzgibbons of Portland, Conn., all completed 64.6 miles, while both Derek Brinkmann, 25, of Pembroke, Mass., and Jake Gaeta, 41, of Ashford, Conn., earned 100K finishes for completing 62.7 miles apiece. Five more runners surpassed 50 miles for the one-day race.
Runners Log Big Miles in Shorter Races
Fourteen runners took part in the 12-hour race, and all but two surpassed the marathon distance, including three who surpassed 60 miles in the half-day event. Matt Aponte, 31, of Somerville, Mass., and Matt Breidenstein, 34, of Conshohocken, Pa., tied for the men’s win with 62.7 miles apiece, followed one loop behind by 42-year-old Durgesh Mankekar of Medford, Mass., who cruised through 60.8 miles. A pair of Dalton, Mass., residents – Stefan Ogle, 31, and Mark Bedard, 40, both surpassed the 50-mile mark. Additionally, 47-year-old Ben Kimball of Greenfield, Mass., stepped away from his traditional post as a trail-race photographer to instead be a trail-runner, hammering out 34.2 miles. In the women’s 12-hour race, 49-year-old Kelly Pabilonia of Tolland, Conn., 45-year-old Jennifer Garrett of Greenfield, Mass., and 36-year-old Leslie Allen of North Andover, Mass., tied for top honors with 32.3 miles apiece. They were followed by 50-year-old Mary Gorski of Williamsburg, Mass., who finished two fewer loops for 28.5 miles.
The 6-hour race featured a 19-runner field, including four runners who ran farther than a marathon. Byron Lane, 51, of Stony Brook, N.Y., led the men’s field with 38.0 miles, followed by 31-year-old Jarred Grignon of Dalton, Mass., with 34.2 miles and 48-year-old Rob Leder of Stamford, Conn., with 30.4 miles. Kathryn Stoker, 48, of Stamford, Conn., won the women’s race with 26.6 miles.
The weekend’s shortest race – the 3-hour – also had the smallest field with two competitors. Rufus Chaffee, 44, of Northampton, Mass., logged 15.2 miles, while 48-year-old Andrea Wadsworth of Lee, Mass., completed 9.5 miles.
Among the many highlights and life-changing moments at Notchview was an on-course engagement. While racing their third BURCS race of the season, Benjamin Manning and Kennedy Nau paused near the Trela shelter midway through the loop looking out over the mountains in the distance. Manning dropped to one knee and proposed to Nau. While Manning completed the Quadzilla and Nau cheerfully cruised through 77.9 miles in the 48-hour race for her longest run ever, their engagement marked the biggest milestone for both runners during the weekend.
Making a Difference
One of the BURCS’ founding principles was to make a positive impact on the community – hence the Community for Service component of the group’s name. Proceeds from Notchview went to benefit the Trustees of Reservations at Notchview (the event site), as well as the Eleanor Sonsini Animal Shelter. Following the race, the BURCS were able to donate $1,600 to the Trustees for the maintenance and preservation of Notchview Reservation, as well as an additional $1,700 worth of pet care items, food, toys and other items to the Eleanor Sonsini Animal Shelter.