CARLISLE, Mass. — The fall feelings didn’t last long. Shortly after the headlamps were ditched and the sun rose over Great Brook Farm State Park on Saturday, Sept. 28, the ninth annual TARC Fall Classic turned into a toasty trail-running affair.
Gone were the 49-degree temperatures that chilled runners as they huddled at the starting line. In their place were sunny skies, lots of sweat and a 70-degree morning that evolved into an 80-degree afternoon. It made for challenging conditions on a day where many in attendance were likely eager to enjoy the cooler comfort that late September typically brings to New England. Several runners withdrew as the day progressed, but many persevered and some had breakthrough performances. The Fall Classic’s 10-mile loop course is designed to be fast with its good footing and rolling hills, and this year’s 50-mile and 50K ultramarathons didn’t disappoint.
In the 50-mile race, Brian Burke earned his fourth ultra victory of the year, but it came after facing an early challenge. Already with wins under his belt at the To Hale and Back 6-Hour Ultra, the TARC Spring Classic 50K and the Vegan Power 50K, Burke raced with confidence at the Fall Classic. The 37-year-old from Somerville, Mass., didn’t panic when Matthew Berk took an early lead or with Peter Gillis hot on his heels. Berk, 35, of Newton, Mass., held a two-minute lead on Burke after the first 10-mile loop and expanded the gap to four minutes by the 20-mile mark.
Berk eventually faded and dropped from the race and Burke capitalized. He has developed a track record of remarkably consistent pacing in ultras, and that was once again the case at the Fall Classic. Just eight minutes separated his fastest and slowest loops of the day, and three of them fell within a 75-second range. That consistency allowed Burke to bide his time and then take control as he went on to win in 7:27:19. Only Patrick Caron has gone faster on the course (6:52:04 in 2018; 6:58:11 in 2017; 7:05:41 in 2016).
Consistent pacing kept Gillis close to Burke for 30 miles. The 45-year-old from Manchester, N.H., knocked out his first three loops in 88, 87 and 90 minutes and kept him in striking distance before he began to fade. Gillis’s final two loops were a grind, but he gutted them out and earned a second-place finish in 8:03:34, the sixth-fastest time in course history. Brian Butterfield spent the day climbing through the top 10 and the 40-year-old from Southborough, Mass., rose to finish third in 8:11:00. Keith Bourassa, 35, of Keene, N.H., was the only other runner to finish in less than nine hours, placing fourth in 8:36:05.
The women’s 50-mile race played out in somewhat similar fashion as 47-year-old Karen Benway of Williston, Vt., led for the first 20 miles before dropping from the race, clearing the way for others to battle for the win. Specifically, 32-year-old Caitlin Sheasley took advantage. Racing in just her second ultramarathon, the Boston resident moved to the front and gradually expanded her lead before winning in 9:51:12. Sheasley’s closest competitor was 54-year-old Elizabeth Lynch of Milford, Mass. Lynch has raced heavily this year with at least seven ultras under her belt in 2019 prior to the Fall Classic, including a second-place finish at the Forgotten Forest 9-Hour Ultra just seven days earlier. Lynch finished second at the Fall Classic in 10:14:45, followed by 36-year-old Boston resident Christiana Cioffi in 10:55:30.
Twenty-one runners finished the 50-mile race within 12 1/2 hours.
DeDeo, Abing Dominate 50K
An additional 75 runners finished the 50K race within 11 1/2 hours, but that distance was highlighted by two runners who didn’t need nearly that much time. An ultra veteran and a first-time ultrarunner delivered dominating performances along the way to winning the men’s and women’s races.
Men’s winner Scot DeDeo has spent the past few months building up for his second 100-mile race, the Midstate Massive Ultra Trail 100 in October. The Fall Classic 50K capped a huge training block and represented his final big run before the race. The 39-year-old resident of Belmont, Mass., reaped the reward of his diligent training in the form of a strong, confident effort at the Fall Classic. He led the race from start, built a sizeable gap on the field and won by 21 minutes in 4:18:09. Jake Aquino, 38, of Tewksbury, Mass., finished second overall in 4:39:17; it was a 14-minute improvement from 2018 when he finished 11th overall. Jason Dunklee, 45, of Watertown, Mass., finished fourth overall and rounded out the men’s podium in 4:47:47. Joe Loureiro, 52, of Andover, Mass., followed moments later in 4:48:21.
The breakthrough performance of the day came from Haley Abing. The 28-year-old resident of Jamaica Plain, Mass., made a head-turning ultramarathon debut at the Fall Classic. Abing entered the race with a strong background in cross country and road racing, and that success carried over to the trails as she raced against a talented field that included several veteran ultrarunners. Abing started fast and built a seven-minute lead on Laura Ricci and Elizabeth Ryan during the first 11 miles. Ricci, 35, of Boston, and Ryan, 32, of Billerica, Mass., were separated by about 10 seconds at that point, and they stayed in close contact for much of the day. Although new to the distance, Abing raced like a veteran. The fast start wasn’t a fluke; she never came back to Ricci and Ryan. Instead, she maintained a comfortable lead throughout the race and almost tracked down the men’s runner-up. Ultimately, Abing finished third overall and first in the women’s field in 4:41:58. Her time was the fourth-fastest in course history.
Ricci, who placed third at the Spring Classic 50K in April and second at the Ragged 50K in August, secured her third podium finish of the year by placing second in 4:51:39. She posted the sixth-fastest time in course history. Ryan, who won the marathon at the TARC Spring Classic, closed out the Fall Classic by finishing third in the 50K in 5:00:31.
Rounding out the women’s top five were 23-year-old Clara Wagner of South Deerfield, Mass. (5:22:00) and 39-year-old Maureen Darmanin of Princeton, Mass. (5:26:56).
Richer, Smolarova Challenge Course Records in Half Marathon
In the half marathon, both Ryan Richer at Katka Smolarova made strong runs at the men’s and women’s course records. Although both came up a little short on the record board, both were plenty fast enough to win their races. Richer, 22, of Shrewsbury, Mass., topped the men’s field in 1:30:36, earning the third spot on the men’s record board while Smolarova, 30, of Melrose, Mass., won the women’s race in 1:38:19 and missed a course record by less than a minute. Adam McCready, 39, of Waltham, Mass., was the men’s runner-up in 1:35:11, followed by 36-year-old Marc Almanzan of Jamaica Plain, Mass., in 1:36:37. Christin Doneski, 48, of Hopkinton, N.H., finished second in the women’s field in 1:46:57, followed by 39-year-old Eleah Lubatkin of Carlisle, Mass., in 1:57:06.
Levandosky Cruises to Win in 10K Race
In the 10K race, Steve Levandosky outpaced the field by a sizeable margin. Levandosky, 49, of Hopkinton, Mass., bolted to the front at the start and never looked back, winning the race overall in 42:03. Adam Morales, 29, of Somerset, Mass., was a distant runner-up in the men’s race in 43:43, followed by 39-year-old Seth Waterman of Belmont, Mass., in 44:31. Carrie Sparkes earned the win in the women’s race with the 31-year-old from Cambridge, Mass., clocking a time of 53:28. She was followed by Abby McCabe, 37, of Framingham, Mass., in 54:26, and Harriet Booth, 28, of Somerville, Mass., in 56:11.