Joe McConaughy is no stranger to pushing the pace in pursuit of major mileage, having established Fastest Known Times on the 2,660-mile Pacific Crest Trail in 2014, the 2,189-mile Appalachian Trail in 2017 and the 70-mile Wicklow Round in Ireland in 2018. Every day had big mileage on those efforts, including a grand 110.8-mile push in the final 37 hours on the Appalachian Trail that ended on a mountaintop in a hailstorm.
Still, for all of McConaughy’s endurance feats, he’d never raced a true 100-mile ultramarathon until July 21-22 when he took part in the 31st annual Vermont 100 in West Windsor, Vt. While the race itself was a new experience for McConaughy, the unforgiving conditions he endured during his FKT pursuits prepared him for the grueling weather he encountered on race day. The Vermont 100 is known for its heat – usually in the upper 80s by mid-afternoon – and sticky humidity, but the temperature reached 90 degrees by 11 a.m. on race morning and threatened triple digits by that afternoon.
McConaughy entered the race with high expectations of himself, and the 27-year-old resident of Brookline, Mass., turned in a dynamite 100-mile debut. He logged a few bonus miles from two wrong turns early in the day. That caused him to fall far behind Gediminas Grinius of Ukmerge, Lithuania – a world-class international runner with several top-10 finishes at UTMB and a sixth-place showing at the Western States 100 in June – but it didn’t keep McConaughy off the podium. Grinius led the race from wire to wire, but McConaughy spent about 70 miles in second place. He ran several miles in close contact with Alexander Jinks of Montpelier, Vt., Eric LiPuma of Stowe, Vt., and Adam Kimble of Tahoe City, Calif., but McConaughy ultimately started building a cushion on the rest of the pack once he made his first pass through the aid station at Camp Ten Bear at mile 48.
As other runners fell by the wayside as the heat took its toll, McConaughy held up just fine thanks in part to a well-organized crew that kept him fueled with efficient aid stops. By the time he passed through Camp Ten Bear a second time at mile 70.7, McConaughy was more than an hour ahead of the third-place runner and 50 minutes behind Grinius. McConaughy was 82 minutes ahead of Kimble by mile 92, and he was able to coast to the finish line from there, successfully completing his first 100-mile race in second place in 17:37:07. Grinius won the race in 16:01:49. Kimble ultimately finished third in 18:48:22, followed by Frederick Jouin of Montreal, Quebec, in 19:04:56 and Philip Sanderson of Mill Valley, Calif., in 19:31:38.
On a day where 221 men started the race, only 107 reached the finish line within the 30-hour time limit. Two other New England residents joined McConaughy in securing top-10 finishes. Shaun Barard of Portland, Conn., placed sixth in 20:01:03, and John David Toscano of Salem, N.H., earned his third straight Vermont 100 finish – all of them in less than 22 hours – as he placed seventh in 20:30:19.
A veteran VT100 runner who has endured the race’s best and worst conditions through the years –Daniel Larson – finished just outside of the top 10 but remained a model of consistency at the race. Larson, of Cambridge, Mass., placed 11th in 21:30:22 and notched his 10th finish of the race. He has seven top-10 finishes to his credit, including a fourth-place finish in 2009, and has never finished lower than 21st.
Other New England men who were among the 27 to finish in less than 24 hours were Todd Curtis of Housatonic, Mass., who placed 13th in his 100-mile debut in 22:14:46; Nik Ponzio of Burlington, Vt., who was 19th in 23:21:58; Michael Dolan of Hamden, Conn., who was 22nd in 23:35:29; and Brian Burke of Somerville, Mass., who placed 25th in 23:44:59 in his second 100-mile race.
The grueling weather conditions took their toll on the women’s race, too, as less than half of the field ultimately finished. Still, the ladies had a higher percentage of finishers than the men with 49 of the 101 starters completed the race within the time limit.
Christine Mosley of Issaquah, Wash., led for a majority of the race. She swapped positions in the top 10 during the early miles, but once she secured the lead about 35 miles into the race she never relinquished it. Dylan Broderick of Montpelier, Vt., and Maureen Gillespie of Dover, N.H., stayed within striking distance until around mile 60 before Mosley built what became an insurmountable lead.
Mosley went on to win the race in 20:08:57. Meanwhile, the race for second became a head-turner. Multi-time VT100 champion Kathleen Cusick of Indian Harbour Beach, Fla., ran a smart and steady race in the difficult conditions and spent the final 30 miles pushing from fifth place up to second in what was a tight race late with Broderick. Cusick ultimately finished second in 21:52:30, four minutes ahead of Broderick who notched her third top-five finish in three years (2nd in 2017; 4th in 2018) in 21:56:32. Cara Baskin of Norwich, Vt., finished fourth in 22:16:29, followed by Gillespie in fifth in 22:24:29. For Gillespie, it was her second time finishing VT100, and it was a noteworthy improvement from 2017 when she finished 14th in 23:15:15.
Karen Benway of Williston, Vt., tallied her third top-10 finish, placing seventh in 23:00:55. She was seventh in 2017 and fifth in 2012. The top 10 women finished in less than 24 hours.
Other New England residents who finished in the top 25 of the women’s race were Lori Emery of Portland, Maine, who finished 11th in 25:27:03; Michelle Sherman of Springvale, Maine, who was 17th in 27:12:12; Kelyn Curitomay of Norwich, Conn., who was 20th in 27:30:42; Meghan Underhill of Northfield, N.H., who was 23rd in 27:55:25; and Elizabeth Collins of Dover, N.H., who was 25th in her 100-mile debut in 28:08:16.
Doneski Earn 100K Win at VT100 Debut
Christin Doneski has been a force on the racing scene during the past two years, earning spots on the podium in nearly every race she has taken on. That includes a first-place finish at the 2018 TARCkey Trot 6-Hour, the outright win at Seth’s Fat Ass 50K in December, a win at the Runamuck 50K in April, and runner-up finishes at the Dixon’s Revenge 20K in April and Cayuga Trails 50-Miler in June.
On July 22, Doneski made her Vermont 100 debut in the 100K race, and the resident of Hopkinton, N.H., led the women’s race nearly wire to wire. Other than some brief early moments behind Meghan Bongartz of New York, N.Y., Doneski was the pace-setter. Doneski and Bongartz actually spent most of the day separated by only a handful of minutes, but Doneski was always in control. Ultimately, Doneski finished second overall and first in the women’s field in 11:13:53. Bongartz followed a little while later in second place, third overall, in 11:25:23.
The only runner to finish faster than Doneski in the 100K race was men’s winner Wes Judd. Racing his first New England ultra, the 28-year-old from Santa Barbara, Calif., ran the race without the support of a crew but proved he was up for the task without assistance. Judd faced a close battle with Palo Cvik of Melrose, Mass., and Brian Rusiecki of South Deerfield, Mass., throughout much of the day. Eventually both runners faded and dropped from the race, and Judd pulled away for the overall win in 10:30:04. It was an impressive performance in difficult conditions, but didn’t match Rusiecki’s 100K solo course record of 9:39:12 from 2018.
Art Beauregard of Framingham, Mass., was the men’s runner-up and fourth overall finisher, clocking a time of 13:08:43 in what was a strong showing as he prepares for the Bear 100 in September. Gregory Esbitt of Ipswich, Mass., rounded out the men’s podium and finished fifth overall in 13:20:44. It was his third time running the 100K race and third top-five finish (2nd in 2018; 5th in 2017) after running the 100-mile race five years in a row from 2010-2014.
Nicole Sassu of South Boston, Mass., rounded out the women’s top three while finishing eighth overall in 13:58:55.
Of the 89 runners who started the race, 54 finished within 22 hours. Other New England residents in the overall top 20 were Holly Blais of Epping, N.H. (12th overall; 15:28:58); Chris Straub of Kittery, Maine (13th overall; 15:30:23); Gregory Lowe of Ipswich, Mass. (14th overall; 15:31:50); Michael Barrett of Arlington, Mass. (15:58:48); and Colleen Grande of Allston, Mass. (17th overall; 15:59:45).