Since its founding in 2017, the Village Ultra has been all about giving. Specifically, it has been about giving support to charitable causes and giving runners the opportunity to pursue personal-best performances in a low-key environment.
True to form, the third annual 24-hour event accomplished both goals on Aug. 31-Sept. 1 at the New Salem Town Common in New Salem., Mass. Around two-dozen runners and walkers took part in the event and money was raised to support the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that provides low-cost or free legal services to immigrants and refugees. A final fundraising total isn’t yet available because some runners made pledges remotely, but co-race director Carla Halpern said she knew hundreds of dollars were raised for RAICES.
Those interested in supporting the event had the option of running and/or pledging in solidarity if they could not attend the race. Two runners – Benn Griffin of Pittsfield, Mass., and Bill Odendahl of Trumbull, Conn. – both logged miles and contributed donations as “virtual runners” while Francia Wisnewski of Montague, Mass., donated to the cause but did not run.
“Other than raising money, the best thing about TVU is that it is an opportunity for people to PR in a low-stress environment,” Halpern noted. “With ‘choose your own course’ and over 24 hours, many people can PR, and many did.”
Halpern and co-race director Nancy Mead laid out four mini courses for runners to use; runners could mix and match the loops as they pleased. The options included a quarter-mile paved loop around New Salem Common; a .6-mile dirt, trail and grass loop with a short-but-steep hill; a 2.2-mile round-trip out-and-back on a dirt road; and a 2.4-mile pavement and dirt loop. Runners collected colored beads for each specific mini loop they ran as a means of tracking their mileage; they cashed in their beads at the finish and their mileage total was noted on their finisher’s medal.
Two runners – Peter Guza and Jessie Makela – collected more beads and tallied more mileage than any male or female runners in Village Ultra history. Guza, of North Andover, Mass., set a men’s Village Ultra record with 62 miles for a 100K finish – a feat he accomplished while running just 12 hours. Makela, of Mystic, Conn., set a women’s event record with 51.7 miles. Additionally, she ran the 2.4-mile Gold Loop 22 times, which was another event record.
A few other runners went beyond the marathon distance during the Village Ultra. Christine Morin of Orange, Mass., improved upon her 31-mile effort in 2018 by finishing 40 miles this year. Both race directors –- Halpern, of New Salem and Mead of Wendell, Mass. – earned ultramarathon finishes as Halpern logged 36.7 miles and Mead finished 35.1 miles.
Two more noteworthy ultra performances came from Kym Lewis and Megan Villemaire. Lewis, of Athol, Mass., signed up for the Village Ultra with the goal of completing her first half marathon. She reached that milestone late Saturday night, went home to sleep, and then returned to tack on extra mileage, ultimately achieving her first marathon and a bit extra to finish the weekend with 27.3 miles. Villeamire had a similar story. The resident of Orange, Mass., completed her first half marathon and kept going, walking alongside her mother – Morin – for much of it to surpass the marathon distance and finish with 26.8 miles.
In addition to the adult participants, several younger runners and walkers also took part. A pair of 11-year-old sixth-graders, Marianne Dunford and Sonya Gordon-Halpern, logged 10.45 miles together on Saturday night, and Gordon-Halpern returned Sunday to add a few more miles, finishing the weekend with 18 miles. Both are members of the 100-Mile Club at Swift River School, a program that Mead leads to combat childhood obesity and encourage physical activity.
The 11-year-olds weren’t the youngest participants, however. Five-year-old Joey Muszynski and 2-year-old Sammy Muszynski covered some impressive ground while their mother, Hannah Muszynski, of Leverett, Mass., threw down some mileage.
“The boys ran, walked and scampered 3.45 miles (Sammy) and 5.2 miles (Joey),” Halpern noted, while Hannah covered more than 21 miles in just a few hours.
The Village Ultra also enjoyed support from locals and other passersby who dropped in on the day of the event and chipped in a few bucks to log a few miles and support the cause. That included Chuck Adams and Cathy Coutu of Greenfield, Mass., who are the race directors for the Don Maynard Memorial Run in Greenfield and the Chase’n a Mason 5K in Turners Falls, Mass., as well as some New Salem locals.
“One cool thing about this event is that some people sign up online, some people sign up day-of, and some people are just walking by and decide to participate and/or donate,” Halpern said. “This year, we had seven people participate and donate while ‘just passing through.’ Two of those people were Janet and Bo Henderson, longtime residents of New Salem, who have a standing offer of popsicles from their garage freezer to anyone passing through town. Certain young race participants made many trips to that freezer en route to their PRs!”