WINCHESTER, Mass. — Below-freezing temperatures took a toll on runners at the Trail Animals Running Club’s fourth annual TARCkey Trot 6-Hour Ultra on Saturday, Nov. 16, at Wright-Locke Farm, but the first casualty was the coffee.
A Dunkin’ Donuts Box O’ Joe had been brought to help fuel race-day volunteers and keep them warm. Just a few minutes after the race began, however, what had once been steamy box of java had already transformed into iced coffee thanks to the 26-degree temperature that chilled volunteers and spectators that frigid morning. Most runners began the day bundled in multiple layers, and many stayed that way throughout as they completed loops of the 3.1-mile course that started and finished in the big barn at Wright-Locke Farm but mostly wound through the rocky, leaf-covered trails of neighboring Whipple Hill Reserve.
It wasn’t until nearly four hours into the six-hour race that the temperature finally surpassed the freezing mark, ultimately capping out at 36 degrees by the race’s end. The technical trail caused some runners to retire early with ankle sprains and banged-up knees from falls while others eventually tired from the course’s sneaky 400 feet of elevation gain per loop. Some hit their mileage goals from the day, while others simply stopped when they were tired of being cold.
It was a tough day on the trails and runners had to endure challenging conditions if they hoped to achieve ultramarathon mileage. Of the 90 runners who started the race, just 10 surpassed the marathon distance.
Given the event’s time-based format and runners’ varying distance goals, it took several hours for a clear picture of the men’s frontrunners to reveal itself. Douglas Hall and Donal Reynolds of Belmont, Mass., Maciej Nowicki of Boston, Mass., and Frank Hackett of Medway, Mass., set a fast pace for the first three loops. Hackett eventually faded, while Hall and Nowicki opened a six-minute gap on the field and showed no signs of slowing down.
While Nowicki and Hall were swapping spots at the front of the field, two runners from Foxboro, Mass. — Brian Kelly and Victor Pereira — held steady in fifth and sixth place, running about a stride apart for loop after loop of the course. They stuck together, and it was a strategy that paid off as the hours went by. After five loops, Nowicki held a two-minute lead on Hall. Kelly and Pereira were nine minutes off the lead, but they were working together and showed no signs of stopping. Two loops later, another Foxboro resident — Jonathan Cote — joined them. Hall fell back, and the trio from Foxboro trailed only Nowicki.
It didn’t last long. Nowicki finished his eighth loop in 4:18:43, nine minutes ahead of the field, but that’s when the 31-year-old decided to stop for the day, as would Kelly, 50, a little while later, ending their days with 24.8 miles apiece. That left Pereira, 40, and Cote, 41, at the front of the field with the six-hour time limit drawing near. After finishing the eighth lap together, Pereira moved slightly ahead during the ninth trip around the course and built a one-minute lead. He made a brief aid stop at the 27.9-mile mark during which time Cote finished his lap, and the pair departed together for one last trip around the course. Four minutes behind them was Reynolds. The 42-year-old had been one of the race’s early leaders before falling off the pace during the middle laps, but he’d been resilient and now had a podium finish in his sights. Reynolds never caught the leaders, but he closed the gap a bit during the final lap. Less than three minutes separated the top three men at the finish as Pereira finished his 10th and final lap in 5:43:54, followed by Cote in 5:45:28 and Reynolds in 5:46:41. They were the only three men to finish with 31 miles.
Five more men finished nine laps for 27.9 miles. They were Hall, 42; Todd Wheatley, 34, of Watertown, Mass.; Garrett McNeill, 28, of Charlestown, Mass.; Greg Vasquez, 30, of Chelsea, Mass.; and Patrick Hayes, 36, of Newton, Mass.
In the women’s race, Justine Cohen set a fast pace on the first loop and didn’t let up. The 47-year-old from Lexington, Mass., led the race from start to finish. Cohen built a 3 1/2-minute lead during her first trip around the course, stretched the advantage to 19 minutes over the next 10K, and never looked back. Cohen finished her ninth lap with 5:18:37 expired and an 18-minute lead, but she went back out for one last trip through the course in 36:02, hitting the 50K mark with time to spare in 5:54:39. Cohen became just the fourth woman to reach the 31-mile mark at the TARCkey Trot, joining Alexandra Brinkert (2016), Bess Ritter (2017) and Bridget Ferrin-Smith (2017) at the top of the women’s course record board. Cohen’s previous best effort on the course was 27.9 miles in 2016 when she placed second.
While Cohen dominated the women’s race, 38-year-old Molly Karp of Natick, Mass., was firmly in control of second place for most of the day, and that’s where she finished with 27.9 miles completed in 5:36:02. Kimberly Gordon, 37, of Rutland, Mass., finished third with 24.8 miles in 5:30:54, followed by Robyn Bratica, 35, of Milford, Mass., with 24.8 miles in 5:41:57 and Jessica Howland, 41, of Worcester, Mass., with 24.8 miles in 5:44:25.
Gavin, Bainbridge Victorious in 5K
In addition to the 6-hour event, another 18 runners raced one loop of the course that frigid morning – and the top two brought some heat.
The battle from the overall win came down to the wire, with first-place male Matthew Gavin, 32, of Watertown, Mass., holding off first-place woman Rachel Bainbridge, 33, of Arlington, Mass., by just seven seconds. Gavin posted the third-fastest time in men’s course history at 24:57, while Bainbridge set a new women’s course record with her 25:04 effort. For Bainbridge, the victory was her second in a row in the TARCkey Trot 5K, and she broke her own course record of 25:23 from 2018.
The third overall finisher and second-place woman was 39-year-old Eleah Lubatkin of Carlisle, Mass., in 30:03, followed by second-place male Anthony Saffery, 54, of Cambridge, Mass., in 30:44.