Massive Challenge: Midstate Trail Pushes Runners to the Limit at Inaugural Ultra

BARRE, Mass.   The precise moment may have varied from runner to runner, but for all of them it came somewhere between Wachusett Mountain and Barre Falls Dam. That’s where – more than 40 miles into the inaugural Midstate Massive 100-mile ultramarathon – darkness began to fall and the runners became acutely aware of the magnitude of the challenge they’d taken on.

They’d already conquered the most technical terrain and biggest climbs that the course had to offer, but now they had to navigate the leaf-covered Midstate Trail through thick forest by the glow of headlamps and a full moon.

The path wasn’t marked by glow sticks or ribbons with reflective tape; runners were required to follow the lightly-traveled trail’s official blazes on trees that marked the route. The danger in going too fast was that a blaze would be missed and a runner might soon find him or herself a mile or two off-course. The danger in going too slow wasn’t much different as more miles would have to be covered in darkness and checkpoint cutoffs grew harder to achieve.

Scott Parr - 100M finisher
Scott Parr had his eyes on the prize – a belt buckle – as he crossed the finish line of the 100-mile race at the inaugural Midstate Massive Ultra-Trail. Photo by Chris Wristen/MassUltra.

“It’s slow-going out there,” noted Dane LeBlanc as he arrived at Barre Falls Dam. “The leaves are covering up the trail so you can’t see where it is.”

LeBlanc seemed unfazed by the challenge, just matter-of-fact about it. The 61-year-old resident of Littleton, Mass., has numerous tough 100-mile finishes under his belt, so he knew how to persevere through long nights in the wilderness. The night of Saturday, Oct. 12, would be no different.

The race used wave starts. LeBlanc had been in the earliest wave at 8 a.m.; the latest started at noon. The early start worked to his advantage as he made it from the start at Windblown Ski Area in New Hampshire, across the Massachusetts border to Wachusett Mountain before the sun went down.

Scot DeDeo also enjoyed an early start. The 39-year-old from Belmont, Mass., selected the 9:30 a.m. starting wave specifically so he could tackle the rugged climbs with plenty of daylight. He reached Barre Falls Dam shortly after sundown looking strong and running with confidence.

“I felt pretty good,” DeDeo admitted. “I had a little bit of trouble as it got dark; I went off-course a few times, but never far – maybe 100 yards off-course but not much. I’ve run the Wapack section and I’ve run Watatic to Wachusett before, so I was really familiar with those sections which really helped.”

Scot DeDeo - Midstate Massive 100 - 3rd place
Scott DeDeo checks out the aid station options 46 miles into the Midstate Massive Ultra-Trail 100-mile race. DeDeo finished third. Photo by Chris Wristen/MassUltra.

While some spent most of the race running solo, others found strength in numbers. That was the case for Jeff LeBlanc, Kristen Smith and 30-year-old Brian Bresee of Somerville, Mass. The trio spent a large portion of the race together, including the overnight hours. Collectively, they stayed on-course and all three ultimately finished.

“Some people say if you run together you run the worst race possible because you’re always experiencing the lows of the other person, but what we would do is have the stronger runner always lead and kind of pull the chain along,” said LeBlanc, 33, of Woburn, Mass. “It worked really well for us.”

Smith agreed. The 34-year-old from Danvers, Mass., has finished multiple 100-mile races, including the grueling Cloudsplitter 100 in Virginia, and also has through-hiked several big trails.

Kristen Smith - Midstate Massive 100 - 2nd place
Kristen Smith nears the finish line of the Midstate Massive Ultra-Trail on Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019. Smith placed second in the women’s 100-mile race. Photo by Chris Wristen/MassUltra.

“With my hiking background I’m used to following blazes,” Smith said. “At night it gets a little bit harder because it’s harder to see the yellow triangles; that made it a little more challenging. At night you’re also looking down more to try to figure out where the turn is and not hurt yourself.

“(Working as a group) definitely helped because when you started to second-guess if you were leading then somebody else could tell you if you were off-course,” she added. “Jeff took the lead a lot, so as soon as he got off-course we would notice or pull up the guide app which was really helpful because it had the course in there and you could see where you are in real time on the course, so that was really helpful.”

Most of the course’s 12,000 feet of climbing came in the first half, and the runners benefitted from good conditions overall. Other than a morning mist and a few sprinkles that made some rocks slick, runners enjoyed a pretty dry weekend with temperatures in the 50s and 60s during the day and 40s at night. The course also provided a prime opportunity for some up-close peeping at the fall foliage which was a few weeks into its transition from green to maroon, orange and gold.

“It was beautiful,” Smith said. “We got some really beautiful views from Wachusett, and then (Sunday) we had really nice views of the foliage, which was perfect. It was really great weather; this was probably the best weather we’ve had in a while.”

Jeff LeBlanc 2 - 100M finisher
Jeff LeBlanc heads for the finish line of the Midstate Massive 100-miler, joined by his wife Samantha LeBlanc and pacer Michael Barrett. Photo by Chris Wristen/MassUltra.

Nearly all who survived the overnight hours went on to finish. Of the 44 who started the 100-mile race, 36 made it through Barre Dam (mile 46) by the 11:30 p.m. cutoff. A few more missed cutoffs during the night, but most who remained took advantage of the daylight hours and numerous road miles during the final third of the course. Thirty of them ultimately crossed the border into Rhode Island and then looped back into Massachusetts to the finish line at Douglas State Forest.

Jonathan McInerney, 29, of New Ipswich, N.H., completed the course the fastest, winning the race in 23:27:03. Michael Dulong, 35, of Brooklyn, N.Y., followed in 24:43:42, and DeDeo – who enjoyed an hour-long nap in his family’s Volkswagon Camper Van at mile 82 – rounded out the men’s podium in 24:54:13.

“It was exciting to be a part of this,” DeDeo said of the first-year race. “Running the entire Midstate has been on my list of things to do for a few years. My friend Greg (Soutiea) set the FKT on it back in 2015 or 2016, and ever since then I said I want to go do this. I didn’t know if I’d do it in one or two days, but then this came up and I had nothing planned for the fall so I thought, ‘let’s go for it.’ It was really exciting to see them make this happen.”

Kate Olson, 33, of Studio City, Calif., finished fourth overall and first in the women’s field in 24:57:58. Smith earned a second-place finish in the women’s field in 28:08:50, followed by 24-year-old Brianna Russell of Bozeman, Mont., in 30:45:48.

Three more New England residents finished in the overall top 10. Michael Perkins, 37, of Concord, N.H., was seventh overall (25:40:26); Joe Loureiro, 52, of Andover, Mass., was eighth (26:42:07); and Dave Dillon, 35, of Tewksbury, Mass., was ninth (26:47:10).

Bresee and Jeff LeBlanc, who spent so many miles running with Smith, joined her in finishing. Both secured their first 100-mile finishes, Bresee in 28:08:35 and LeBlanc in 28:24:34. Additionally, Dane LeBlanc – the finisher of at least twenty 100-milers – added another belt buckle to his collection as he finished in 31:24:19.

Night Start Doesn’t Deter Nadeau in 50-Mile Win

Jesse Beaudoin - 50M finisher
Jesse Beaudoin closes in on the finish line of the 50-mile race at the Midstate Massive Ultra-Trail on Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019. Photo by Chris Wristen/MassUltra.

While runners in the 100-mile race covered the first 40-plus miles with daylight, runners in the 50-mile race didn’t have such luxury. Darkness had fallen well before their race began at 8 p.m. at Long Pond in Rutland. They had fresh legs for the nighttime miles, but they had to rely on headlamps, handheld lights or the full moon to light their path.

A trio of men set a fast pace and went on to outdistance the field, led by Keith Nadeau. A 30-year-old from Fairhaven, Mass., Nadeau successfully navigated the trail in the darkness, hammered the road sections, amassed a sizeable cushion on his closest competitors and cruised to the overall win in 9:15:11. Thomas Leo, 31, of Princeton, Mass., was a distant second in 9:42:15, followed by David Blitzer, 30, of New York, N.Y., in 9:58:54. They were the only runners to finish in less than 10 hours. Just six more finished in less than 11 hours.

Tivan Casavant was the lone woman to take on the 50-mile distance. The 31-year-old from Merrimack, N.H., was 15th overall out of 36 finishers in 11:42:53.

Stone, Rivera Cruise to 30-Mile Victories

Marissa Rivera - Midstate Massive 30-mile 1st place
Marissa Rivera hammers the final half-mile for the win in the women’s 30-mile race at the Midstate Massive Ultra-Trail. Photo by Chris Wristen/MassUltra.

The weekend’s shortest race also featured the fastest course. It avoided the most technical portions of the Midstate Trail that made the 100-miler so daunting and also included about nine miles of road. Several runners took advantage and cranked out fast times, none more than Remington Stone. The 26-year-old from Winchester, Mass., hammered the course and finished first overall in 4:15:09. His closest competitor, 47-year-old Ryan Pace of Boston, Mass., finished 15 minutes later in 4:30:56. Michael Rodriguez, 41, of Quaker Hill, Conn., was a close third in 4:32:03. Marc MacLeod, 29, of Arlington, Mass., narrowly missed a spot on the men’s podium as he finished fourth among the men and fifth overall in 4:33:53.

Hot on Rodriguez’s heels was the first-place woman, Marissa Rivera. A 29-year-old Boston resident, Rivera cranked out the final half-mile at nearly a sprint and raced across the finish line in 4:32:11. Rivera won the women’s race by an hour. Runner-up Bethany Briere, 36, of West Greenwich, R.I., finished in 5:32:27, followed by Neza Gallitano, 30, of Brooklyn, N.Y., in 5:40:13. Lianne Dusek finished fourth among the women as the 30-year-old from Waltham, Mass., logged a time of 5:50:33.

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