When the first wave of runners in the Midstate Massive Ultra Trail depart Windblown Cross Country Ski Area in New Hampshire and head for the Massachusetts border to begin their North-South crossing of the Bay State, it will represent more than just the start of the first point-to-point 100-mile ultramarathon across Massachusetts. The 100-mile/50-mile/30-mile event on Oct. 12-13 will mark the fulfillment of a dream five years in the making.
For Andy Marx, co-race director of the event, the idea of a footrace on the Midstate Trail was hatched in 2014 when he and his wife, Meredith, were training for the Fuego y Agua 100K in Nicaragua. A friend, Jason Rossman, introduced them to the Midstate Trail, and the trio shared several runs on the trail that summer in preparation for their international race.
“During one of our runs, quietly musing to myself, I had a thought in the back of my mind, ‘I wonder if anyone has ever run the whole Midstate Trail? I wonder how long it would take,’” Marx recalled. “This was the seed that I’m sure has also sparked others to ask the same question.”
Marx soon got his answer.
“I saw a friend Greg Soutiea and two others, Jake Dissinger and Chad Hornbaker (as well as Charles Dona) completed the Fastest Known Time (FKT) self-supported traverse of the Midstate Trail, 23 hours, 43 minutes.”
The record-setting run was March 13, 2016. That’s when Marx said the idea of a Midstate Trail ultra began to simmer. Over the next few years he pondered if a race would be possible. What would be the best format? What sort of logistics would be necessary? What approvals would be needed?
The simmer eventually reached a boil; that’s when things got serious.
“In July 2018, I approached Rich Mazzola, co-founder/co-director of the Reach the Beach Relay with the concept of the point-to-point ultramarathon,” Marx said. “Rich has over 20 years of experience organizing the largest point-to-point relay on the East Coast. Sitting down to lunch at Mamaleh’s Deli in Cambridge, we batted the idea around.”
Mazzola was briefly taken aback by Marx’s idea, but quickly came on board.
“I had the same reaction to Andy as when my friend Mike proposed starting Reach the Beach … ‘You want to do what?!’” recalled Mazzola, founder of New England Race Events. “But having the background of Reach the Beach got the wheels turning.”
Eventually those wheels churned out details … mostly complicated details. In particular, approvals and permitting, which explain why a race on the Midstate Trail hasn’t happened previously. Marx and Mazzola encountered a complex web of trail maintenance organizations, government organizations, camps, sanctuaries, and both public and private landowners. Some could grant permission to use portions of the trail; others had no such authority.
“Merely identifying the concerned parties has been a monumental task,” Marx admitted, “but with the proper tools, we’ve been able to cut through the data fairly quickly.”
Mazzola said they started by identifying the property owners at the start and finish locations, as well as those like the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation that own significant chunks of land, and then contacted the cities and towns along the trail to identify public and private landowners in order to seek approval. Identifying private landowners proved to be particularly challenging, but they pulled it off.
Beyond permits and approvals, there were additional details to sort out. For starters, should they have only a 100-mile race, or should they offer additional distances?
“The initial inquiry was for a 100-miler,” Marx said, “but Rich pointed out that the cost of logistics wouldn’t be covered by the smaller group of people who would be interested in 100 miles. We really became viable when we realized we could pretty easily implement 50- and 30-mile distances along the route. This is where the Reach the Beach model came into play. We realized we could reduce runner density on the trail with start waves and also create an amazing experience for our participants. With the help of volunteers and some really keen attention to timing, the course itself really allows us to pull this off with very minor deviations.”
After deciding to have 100-mile, 50-mile and 30-mile races, the concept of wave starts came into focus. They’ve allowed for sizeable field limits with a maximum of 200 runners in the 100-miler, 300 in the 50-miler and 300 in the 30-miler, but they recognized the impact that could have on the trail and on aid stations. Wave starts in the 100-mile and 50-mile races were the solution they decided upon to allow runners to space out during the most technical and environmentally sensitive parts of the course. The 30-mile race will have a mass start.
“They will typically be an hour between waves, but the final timing won’t be decided until October 1 when we analyze all of the entrants and their respective pace estimates,” Mazzola explained. “As Andy mentioned earlier — runner density on the trail in sensitive areas is an important consideration and it’s one of the main reasons for the wave start. The other is that it enables our aid station support to be more consistent since it’s easier to staff an aid station for 6-8 hours than it is for 12-14 hours.”
The 100-mile race will start on Saturday, Oct. 12, at Windblown Cross Country Ski Area in New Hampshire with wave starts between 8 a.m. and noon. The 50-mile race will begin that night at Long Pond in Rutland, Mass., with the first wave starting at 9 p.m., and the final wave beginning as late as 1 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 13. The 30-mile race will begin at 9 a.m. on Oct. 13 at Bay Path Regional Vocational Technical High School in Charlton, Mass. The finish line for all three distances will be located at Douglas State Forest.
Between the starting line and the finish, runners will encounter a course that’s a sampler platter of New England ultrarunning, from more than 13,000 feet of climbing in the 100-mile race to singletrack trails loaded with trip hazards, to forests and scenic vistas, to occasional road sections that keep the trail connected as it makes its way from New Hampshire, across Massachusetts, into Rhode Island and then back into Massachusetts for the finish.
While Marx’s introduction to the Midstate Trail came in the summer, the event he and Mazzola have crafted will be experienced by runners in the fall.
“Running during Autumn in New England is simply the best,” Mazzola said.
It might make the trail’s most rugged sections even more difficult with leaves hiding some of the rocks and roots, but the timing will also treat runners to an up-close look at New England’s renowned fall foliage when they’re not busy looking for their next foot placement.
“The terrain on the trail is rocky, rooty, and rugged,” Marx said. “Most of the elevation is in the first 30 miles of the race and could really make or break someone’s race depending on their effort levels here. The second half of the race from 50 miles is mostly at night. Coincidentally, the night of the race, we’ll have a full moon and this should add some amazing ambiance. While the markers are abundant, attention to detail will be critical through our Crew Aid Station #14 at the Milk Store at Whittier Farms in Sutton.
“Because of the nature of land development in Massachusetts and its impact on the trail, the southern part of the Midstate Trail has some longer road sections. The 30-milers will see this impact the most with about nine miles of road interspersed with beautiful trail sections in the first half of their race. All told, this is an amazing trail with beautiful bridges, a cow tunnel under Route 20, amazing views, and classic New England appeal during the height of Autumn.”
They’ve put in the work to make the race happen. Now they’re down to the final weeks of double- and triple-checking details, arranging supplies, answering runners’ questions and making final arrangements for race weekend.
Both Marx and Mazzola are optimistic that the inaugural event will go smoothly, and they are hopeful that Midstate Massive will grow into a race that’s a longtime fixture on the New England race calendar.
“I always want the events that I’m part of to become really great experiences for all involved; this includes not only the runners but the staff and volunteer organizations,” Mazzola said. “It’s the guiding principle behind New England Race Events. I want you to be in your car as you are heading home already thinking about returning next year. If we can create this experience for everyone then we’ve done a really good job.”
Registration for the Midstate Massive Ultra Trail 100-mile, 50-mile and 30-mile races is being conducted at UltraSignup at this link.
A wealth of useful information about the race is available at the New England Race Events website, as well as in the official race handbook at this link.