When Rachel Bainbridge attended the 2019 Stone Cat 50K to cheer on some friends, she knew then and there that she wanted to run the race. A classic New England ultra, Stone Cat began in 2001 as a 50-miler and marathon, but organizers consolidated the distances into a 50K in 2019 to streamline race management and breathe new life into the early-fall race.
Bainbridge had to wait two years for her chance to run Stone Cat; the COVID-19 pandemic forced the 2020 event to be canceled, but she was quick to sign up for the 2021 race which took place on Saturday, Nov. 6, at Willowdale State Forest in Ipswich, Mass. When she toed the line at 8:15 a.m., the 35-year-old resident of Arlington, Mass., was frozen to the core in see-your-breath 26-degree temperatures. It didn’t take long for her to warm up, though. The day eventually heated to a sunny and comfy 50 degrees, but Bainbridge was cooking by then.
After knocking out the first mile circling around frost-covered soccer fields, Bainbridge entered the first of three 10-mile loops through the course, splashed across a frigid, ankle-deep pool of water, and settled into a steady, comfortable pace on the fire roads and singletrack trails that wound through the forest. Greeta Soderholm, 45, of Underhill, Vt., was hot on her heels, but Bainbridge was feeling good and maintained a slight, 25-second lead by the end of the first loop. Danielle Bishop, 26, of Allston, Mass., was still in the hunt at that point, just three minutes off the lead.
Bainbridge took control of the race during loop two. During the next 10 miles she added nearly five minutes to her advantage on Soderholm, the 2019 Stone Cat runner-up. From there, Bainbridge simply had to hang on, which she did without trouble.
“The third loop I actually felt really good,” Bainbridge said during a post-race report for The Trails Collective’s Weekly Rundown. “I’ve never felt this good at the end of a 50K, so I was really excited. I was hammering through the course and thought this is a time I can run really hard. I didn’t start to feel too bad until mile 27 or 28,and then you’re basically done.”
Bainbridge crossed the finish line in 4:26:08, in ninth place overall and first among the women with a new course-record time by 13 minutes. It was a masterful performance in which she even-split the three loops almost perfectly, covering the first 11 miles in 1:33:15, the second 10 in 1:25:56, and the final 10 in 1:26:56.
Soderholm finished as the women’s runner-up for the second straight time, but her time of 4:39:56 was an eight-minute improvement from 2019. Bishop rounded out the women’s podium in 4:48:58. Ashley Piccirillo, 26, of Northfield, Vt., and Sarah Lambe, 32, of Lynn, Mass., were the next two women in 5:08:29 and 5:10:55, respectively.
Unlike the women’s race where Bainbridge seized control during the second loop, the men’s race came down to the final miles as a pack of five engaged in nearly 31 miles of spirited competition, jostling for position in a battle whose outcome remained a mystery until the final miles. From the start, the pack of Brian Malger, Jack Scott, Devin Jones, Ian Stephens, and Jonathon Western positioned themselves as the front-runners. Less than 100 seconds separated all five at the end of loop one, with Malger just a stride ahead of Scott, and Jones, Stephen, and Western close behind.
Malger and Scott spent the next loop in close contact throughout, though Malger gradually inched ahead and built a 65-second cushion heading into the final loop. At that point, Jones was a close third, just 1:43 back of Malger, but Stephens (3 ½ minutes back) and Western (5 minutes back) remained in the hunt as they headed into the decisive third loop.
Just like Bainbridge, Jones demonstrated precision pacing, and that proved to be the difference. After leading for the first two loops, Malger hit the wall during the final loop and began to fade. Scott and Stephens hung tough, but they were unable to match Jones’ move as he asserted control in a third-to-first move during the final miles. Jones’ third loop proved to be his fastest as the 41-year-old from Beverly, Mass., pulled away and won in 3:59:37. Scott, 45, of Boxford, Mass., followed in 4:05:39, and Stephens, 47, of Topsfield, Mass., rounded out the podium a few minutes later in 4:08:21. Western, 37, of Topsfield, Mass., finished a distant fourth in 4:17:42, followed three seconds later by Malger, 28, of Quincy, Mass., in 4:17:45.
Israel Agront, 27, of Arlington, Mass., climbed steadily throughout the day, working his way from outside the top 10 all the way up to sixth in 4:20:14. It was a similar story for Nicholas Velonis, 30, of New York, N.Y., who finished a few strides behind Agront in seventh place in 4:20:41.
Michael Pulli – the third-place finisher in 2019 – ran consistently in the top 10 throughout the day, and the 45-year-old from Medford, Mass., finished eighth overall in 4:25:45.
Of the 191 runners who started this year’s race, 162 finished within 8 ½ hours.