When it comes to ultramarathons, Jeff LeBlanc has typically been a behind-the-scenes guy. Sure, he has run his share of ultras – and he has run them quite well – but he also finds great enjoyment in supporting the efforts of others as they pursue their goals.
While you might find LeBlanc knocking out a 10-miler on a Sunday at the Middlesex Fells Reservation, you’re more likely to find the 33-year-old resident of Woburn, Mass., flipping quesadillas at an aid station, refilling water jugs and hydration packs, sweeping a course or offering witty comments and sharing helpful information on the Trail Animals Running Club’s Facebook page.
You’ll certainly see him at the start/finish of the Fells Winter Ultra where he serves as the race director for the 40- and 32-mile races.
As much time as he spends around the sport, there was every reason to expect to see him at the inaugural Midstate Massive Ultra-Trail 100-miler on Oct. 12-13. The only question was in what capacity he’d be involved.
For LeBlanc, running 100 miles hadn’t been high on his list of things to do. The Midstate Massive changed things, though. The idea of crossing the entire state of Massachusetts from north to south intrigued him.
“I wasn’t really shopping around for a 100,” LeBlanc said. “I grew up here; it’s my home state. What really spoke to me is the fact that it’s a true crossing. The point-to-point aspect is such a unique kind of journey.”
LeBlanc was one of the first runners to sign up for the race once registration opened. Then he dedicated the year to training for what would be the hardest race of his life.
The Midstate Massive wasn’t designed for a first-time 100-mile runner; everything about it was tailored to veterans of the distance, from the rugged terrain to the requirement that runners follow the trail-specific blazes rather than typical ribbons and signs to guide the way. It started at Windblown Cross Country Ski Area just across the border in New Hampshire, then crossed into Massachusetts where it took runners through the Mt. Watatic and Wachusett Mountain areas before heading south toward Connecticut.
The difficulty didn’t deter LeBlanc. He put in the work to prepare. Training races at the Cayuga Trails Marathon in New York and the Lost Cat 50K in Vermont went well. He spent countless weekends exploring the Midstate Trail to prepare for the technical terrain and memorize some of the tricky turns.
“I did about 70 miles of the trail in training,” he said.
That preparation paid off on race day. Forty-four runners started the race, and they were largely scattered miles apart on the trail due to wave starts. LeBlanc connected early with Kristen Smith of Danvers, Mass., and Brian Bresee from Somerville, Mass., and the trio used teamwork to spot trail markings as the sun set and darkness settled over the thick forest that surrounded them. For LeBlanc, it was time to reap the reward from all of those training miles logged on the Midstate Trail.
“It was super-valuable,” he said. “I ran with two other runners – Kristen and Brian – pretty much from the start of the Wapack section, and it was crucial for us to be running together for the whole time because we always had three sets of eyes on the markers. The difficult part with the markers is because it’s an existing trail its blazed at eye level for hikers, and because of the technicality of some of those sections you had to have your eyes down. With the recon I did, I was able to kind of direct people before we even saw the area.”
The trio parted ways once daylight returned on Sunday morning. Crewed by his wife, ultrarunner Samantha LeBlanc, and joined by pacer and veteran 100-miler Michael Barrett, LeBlanc crossed the border into Connecticut and then followed the course as it looped back into Massachusetts. Early in the afternoon, LeBlanc and Barrett trotted into Douglas State Forest under a canopy of golden leaves that shaded them from a bright shining sun. A few minutes later, Barrett dropped off and left LeBlanc to take his final strides down the home stretch and across the finish line.
After months of preparation and 28:24:34 on the trail, LeBlanc was the 15th overall finisher of of the 100-mile race. He shared hugs with race director Andy Marx, his wife and several other friends. A hefty belt buckle was handed to him as his reward. He sported a grin from ear to ear.
“I’m pretty happy,” he admitted. “Ultimately this is the 10th 100-miler I’ve participated in through either crewing, volunteering or pacing. I’ve tried to take those experiences I learned and tried to have the best race possible, so I feel pretty damn good to be a 100-miler.”
With a 100-miler under his belt and a massive buckle to show for it, LeBlanc said he looks forward to returning to his more traditional role as a volunteer.
“If they do a second annual I’ll help on the back end if they want me to,” LeBlanc said with a laugh. “I was always kind of whispering different suggestions to Andy. He took me up on some; he didn’t take me up on others, but I’d be on the back side of things, not running next year I think.”