‘TARC is Back’: Trail Animals Return to Racing with Scorching Summer Classic

MEDFIELD, Mass. — After 18 months of semi-hibernation, the Trail Animals Running Club officially kicked off the rust, dusted off the aid station tables and trail markers, and got back to community racing with the return of the TARC Summer Classic on Saturday, Aug. 7, at Noon Hill Reservation.

Seventy-seven runners gathered at the starting line at 6:45 a.m. to listen to TARC founder Chris Haley and Race Director Michael Barrett go over pre-race instructions, their voices occasionally drowned out by the chatter and laughter of old trail friends who were reuniting for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down trail racing and many other aspects of life a year-and-a-half ago. A hot, humid, sticky day was in store, and there were plenty of rocks and roots to be dodged, runners were told. Ice was readily available for those who wanted it. Directions were provided for those who might drop along the way.

Runners fire off the starting line at the start of the TARC Summer Classic 40-mile and 50K trail ultras on Saturday, Aug. 7, 2021 at Noon Hill Reservation. Photo by Chris Wristen/MassUltra.

Finally, Barrett brought the briefing to a close by summoning Trail Animal spirit and tradition.

“All right,” Barret said. “In a couple seconds we’re going to have a big yeti howl and let everybody know TARC is back!”

After a 10-second countdown, the pack of runners surged forward and unleashed their best yeti howls as they made their way down the trail. Just like that, TARC racing was underway for the first time since the TARCtic Frozen Yeti on Feb. 1-2, 2020, about six weeks before pandemic-related lockdowns began in the United States.

First Traditional TARC Race of the COVID Era

Technically, the Summer Classic was the second TARC event to take place since the pandemic started; the club’s classic “Don’t Run Boston” 50K was held on April 18 at the Blue Hills Reservation, though it is more fun run than race, with no entry fee, a small field, wave starts, unmarked course, and minimal aid, making it far less of a production.

Michael Barrett, Race Director for the TARC Summer Classic, gives final instructions at the pre-race briefing. Photo by Chris Wristen/MassUltra.

TARC leadership held many discussions during the past year regarding when to bring back traditional trail races, as well as debating which race should go first. They ultimately decided on the Summer Classic, which usually attracts a smaller field due to its only offering two distances – both ultras. This year’s race size was similar to years past.

Like most TARC races, the Summer Classic required months of planning and coordination, including obtaining permits, reserving port-a-potties, and rounding up volunteers to help with everything from course markings and set-up, to runner check-in, aid station work, and post-race tear-down. The effort was made more complex due to a variety of factors, including the ongoing pandemic, and transition to a new registration host website and timing software. Additionally, it was the club’s first race since finalizing its status as a 501c3 nonprofit organization, which meant an updated insurance policy had to be followed and new participation waivers were implemented.

Community Steps Up, Reconnects

Barrett lauded the many volunteers who stepped up to make the race possible, which included several long-time TARC veterans, including Annette Florczak, Dane LeBlanc, Norm Sheppard, Ilya Bass, Julia Magnusson, Chris Haley, and Chris Martin; start/finish aid station captain Patrick Caron serving runners in a yeti suit; and the help of a few first-timers. In fact, seeing familiar faces and bringing the community back together was the most important reason the race needed to happen, Barrett said.

Michael Latham Jr., left, was greeted by Kevin Mullen, right, as Latham completed his first loop in the 40-mile race. The TARC Summer Classic was the first time many long-time trail friends were able to reunite since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Photo by Chris Wristen/MassUltra.

“Everyone’s changed; no one’s the same, right?” Barrett said, acknowledging the life-upending challenges and trauma many people have faced during the pandemic. “But it’s still us; it’s the same people. To see Chris Haley and Chris Martin see each other (Friday) night at course marking for the first time since before the pandemic … seeing each other put big smiles on their faces. That’s what it is about right there, and for me it was a nice moment to see that. They’re just old friends, and that’s what it’s about; seeing old friends, and then it’s also a chance to make new friends out here.”

All of the months apart have taken a toll on everyone, Barrett said. He hoped the Summer Classic could provide a bit of much-needed normalcy and connection.

“People have just been running solo, so the important thing is you get people out there seeing each other,” he said. “Everybody’s just been doing everything alone and you just assume everyone’s all right, but everyone’s not all right, you know? It’s like we’re pretending everything’s OK, but everything kind of sucks but we’re doing it because we should. People need this kind of stuff to measure their goals for bigger races.”

Tough Day of Running as Heat Takes its Toll

Whether it was preparation for a bigger race, a first race back, or a first ultra, the runners who toed the starting line may have had a variety of goals on Saturday, but all of them faced common obstacles from the course and the weather. Be it three loops for the 50K or four loops for the 40-miler, the Summer Classic course is completely runnable but with some rocky sections and plenty of twisty, tangled roots throughout that serve as trip hazards for tired legs. Additionally, a morning that began in the upper 60s climbed to 90 degrees by early afternoon, turning the day into a battle of attrition as the temperature surged and the mosquitoes swarmed.

Christine Feder of Westborough, Mass., takes an ice bucket soak from Race Director Michael Barrett during a 90-degree day at the TARC Summer Classic. Photo by Chris Wristen/MassUltra.

“It’s getting hot out there, but it feels so good to be back at a TARC race,” quipped Melissa Arnold as she prepared to head out for her third loop in the 50K race.

Art Beauregard, a 40-miler, agreed, noting that “It’s toasty out there.”

For his part, early 50K leader Ross Anderson – who grew up in the mild climate of Edinburgh, Scotland, and makes his home in Franklin, Mass. – joked, “I hate being Scottish in the heat!” as he closed out his 20th mile.

The heat forced several runners to cut their day short, and it was one of the few ways to gain reprieve from the oppressive conditions. Ice bucket dumps were the only other option, and many runners took advantage. Barrett and Caron did the honors for most of the takers, pouring pitchers of ice water over the heads of overheated runners before they headed back out for another loop.

Deslongchamps, Fortin Persevere for 40-Mile Victories

Brenda Fortin of Williamsburg, Mass., led the 40-mile race for much of the day before finishing second overall at the TARC Summer Classic. Photo by Chris Wristen/MassUltra.

On a day when many runners burned out by either starting too fast or simply being worn down by the heat and humidity, neither stopped Brenda Fortin. The 37-year-old resident of Williamsburg, Mass., was the overall leader of the 40-miler after the first loop – and that was despite logging some bonus mileage from an early wrong turn. Her 2-minute lead on the rest of the field grew to 6 minutes by the end of her second trip through the course, at which point a handful of runners had already dropped and the temperature had reached the mid-80s.

Though Fortin slowed a bit during her final two loops, only one runner managed to catch her. Scott Deslongchamps, a savvy, veteran racer from North Grosvenordale, Conn., started slow and picked his way through the field during the first 20 miles before ultimately tracking down Fortin and passing her midway through the third loop. Deslongchamps, 51, built a nearly 6-minute lead by the 30-mile mark and gradually pulled away during his final loop, but both he and Fortin pushed each other and closed out dominant victories on a difficult day. Deslongchamps earned first place in the men’s field in 7:25:20 while Fortin won the women’s race and placed second overall in 7:45:17, the seventh-fastest women’s time in course history. No other runners broke the 8-hour mark.

Scott Deslongchamps steadily climbed his way through the field and earned the victory in the 40-mile race at the TARC Summer Classic. Photo by Chris Wristen/MassUltra.

For Art Beauregard, steady was the key to the day. The 43-year-old from Framingham, Mass., posted nearly even splits on his four loops, and in doing so he climbed from 10th place after loop one to third place after loop three. He never relinquished that position, finishing third overall in 8:29:36.

Chris Rosol, 46, of Somerville, Mass., rounded out the men’s podium in 9:04:35, followed by Ryan Horne, 26, of Taylor, Pa., in 9:26:28, and 54-year-old Joe Loureiro of Andover, Mass., in 9:27:06.

Jasmine Daigle, 35, of Peru, Maine, finished seventh overall and was the women’s runner-up in 9:33:06. Emily Grimm, 38, of Freeport, Maine, rounded out the podium in 9:45:16, just ahead of Molly Karp, 39, of Framingham, Mass., who finished in 9:49:50.

Of the 35 runners who started the 40-miler, 18 finished the race.

Fidalgo, Medeiros Take Top Honors in 50K Race

Tino Fidalgo made a big push during his second loop to take the lead, and he went on to win the 50K race at the TARC Summer Classic. Photo by Chris Wristen/MassUltra.

The 50K race was a true battle of attrition. The early leaders after loop one withdrew by the end of their second loops, with the exception of Fernando Salcido, 49, of Somerville, Mass., who spent his entire day in the top three. The field shifted around him throughout the day, however, as the front-runners during the first 11 miles dropped and others picked up the pace. Tino Fidalgo was the biggest mover of all. The 50-year-old from Acushnet, Mass., was in ninth place after 11 miles, but he surged into the lead when he ran the fastest second loop of anybody. Mark Carlson, 53, of Acton, Mass., and Ted Chan, 41, of Lincoln, Mass., made similar moves, though neither tracked down Fidalgo or Salcido. The pace of every runner slowed dramatically during the final loop, but Fidalgo secured the victory in his ultramarathon debut, winning in 5:25:40. Salcido was the runner-up in 5:47:56, followed by Carlson in 6:00:44 and Chan in 6:03:36. Scott Baver, 40, of Sudbury, Mass., rounded out the overall top five in 6:42:08.

While the men’s field was unsettled for quite a while, that wasn’t the case at the front of the women’s field. Allison Medeiros, 39, of Mattapoisett, Mass., built a 16-minute lead on the field during the first 11 miles and never relinquished control, ultimately winning in 6:50:48 and placing sixth overall. The battle for second traded hands a few times, however, with 26-year-old Jessica Ozturk of Waltham, Mass., 36-year-old Marissa McLaughlin of Woburn, Mass., and 39-year-old Melissa Arnold of Framingham, Mass., running within minutes – and sometimes just seconds – of each other until the third loop. That’s when McLaughlin pulled away and secured the runner-up spot in 7:28:09, just ahead of Ozturk who was third in 7:30:19. Arnold placed fourth in 7:50:48.

Of the 42 runners who started the 50K, 27 ultimately finished.

Funds Raised for the Trustees of Reservations

TARC founder Chris Haley, right, and aid station captain Patrick Caron (in yeti costume) present a check for $1,330 to the Trustees of Reservations at the TARC Summer Classic. Photo courtesy of Michael Barrett.

The TARC Summer Classic has raised funds in support of the Trustees of Reservations for several years. The Trustees manage more than 27,000 acres of conservation land at more than 100 properties throughout Massachusetts, including the 204-acre Noon Hill Reservation where the Summer Classic takes place. The 2021 Summer Classic was once again a fundraiser for the Trustees, and the Trail Animals presented a check for $1,330 to a Trustees representative at the race.

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