WINCHESTER, Mass. — Less than 24 hours before the start of the TARCkey Trot 6-Hour Ultra, Race Director Jeff LeBlanc found himself inundated with rain. He was marking the 3.1-mile loop course through Wright-Locke Farm and Whipple Hill when a heavy thunderstorm moved over Winchester, soaking him within seconds and blasting him with heavy wind. As fast as the rain fell, leaves dropped from the trees all around him almost as quickly, expediting their autumn transition and hiding many of the course’s network of rocks and twisting tree roots.
The following morning, Saturday, Sept. 13, was literally a night-and-day difference. The howling wind and heavy rains were gone and blue sky abounded as LeBlanc welcomed 87 runners to the starting line. What they were about to experience was one of the most idyllic days of racing in the five years that the TARCkey Trot has taken place. It was the type of day that was even more perfect given that a year earlier the race was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It almost feels normal again,” LeBlanc would say a few hours later as smiling runners crossed the finish line, some happily completing their day after a few hours while others continued on for more loops and raced into the early afternoon.
There were plenty of pockets of mud, some ankle-deep mucky puddles in a few places, and endless leaf-hidden rocks and roots, but the rigors of the course were far more manageable than in recent years thanks to shorts and T-shirt weather.
“You think it’s like a humble 5K here in Boston, but it’s rocky and rooty and it’s really wet out there,” said Jonathan McInerney, who was among the frontrunners throughout the day.
Just like the temperature that rose from 42 degrees at the start to the upper 50s by the end, the competition heated up as the day went along. On the men’s side, four runners mixed it up at the front for the first few hours with McInerney, Padraig Mullins, Brian Burke, and Nick Lemon swapping spaces among the lead pack. After five loops (15.5 miles) and 2:33 of racing, Lemon, 29, of Allston, Mass., ended his day and left the other three to battle for the win.
While the men’s race was taking shape, so was the duel at the front of the women’s field. Christin Doneski held a 20-second lead on Sophia Farnsworth after the first loop and eventually stretched her advantage to nearly two minutes. Doneski remained the lead woman through the first three loops, though Farnsworth hung tough and slowly reeled her in. Farnsworth moved to the front during loop four and held a 31-second lead after 12.4 miles, but Doneski also proved tough to shake. It wasn’t until the seventh loop that Farnsworth started to build much cushion, expanding her lead from less than 2 minutes to more than 7.
“I was just trying to stay moving and consistent,” Farnsworth said. “My motto is “when in doubt, keep smiling.’ Just try to stay positive and not worry about what’s next; just keep moving.”
The outcomes of both the men’s and women’s races gained clarity in the final hours.
Among the men, McInerney led from the end of the fourth loop until the finish, and Mullins and Burke held down the second- and third-place positions for that duration as well. Though their places never changed, they were within minutes of each other until the final miles which left the outcome uncertain. McInerney, 31, of New Ipswich, N.H., maintained a four-minute cushion on Mullins, 39, of Norton, Mass., between loops five and nine, and his edge had shrunk to less than four minutes by the time he completed loop 10 and began his final trip through the course.
“It’s kind of a relentless course,” McInerney said. “By the end of it I had all the landmarks figured out, but there are so many turns and you can kind of lose your way. It was really hot out there today; there’s no leaves on the trees to cover you. I’m definitely past dehydration.”
McInerney knew Mullins was close, but he pushed through the fatigue, dug deep and hammered out a 33:13 final loop to secure the victory with 34.1 miles in 5:36:57. Mullins crossed the finish line as the runner-up in 5:41:38. Burke, 39, of Somerville, Mass., was the only other runner to complete 11 loops, and he finished third overall in 5:49:43.
One loop behind them were Brennen Lord, 27, of Newmarket, N.H., and Ryan Carroll, 44, of Plymouth, Mass., who each completed 10 loops and 31.0 miles, placing fourth and fifth overall.
McInerney, Mullins and Burke became the seventh, eighth, and ninth men to complete at least 11 loops of the course. Only Patrick Caron has done more, finishing 12 loops at the inaugural race in 2016 and 13 loops (40.3 miles) at the 2017 race.
As McInerney, Mullins, and Burke relaxed at the finish line following their spirited race, they eagerly awaited Farnsworth’s finish. Both McInerney and Burke run with the Northeast Trail Crew, as does Farnsworth, and they were excited to see their friend and group-run teammate close out a strong performance. She had stretched a 7-minute lead to a half-hour advantage, so it was clear as Farnsworth finished loop nine that victory was hers. The only question remaining was whether she would attempt a 10th loop.
“I really wanted to do the 31 miles,” Farnsworth said. “I really wanted to do the 10 (loops). That was my goal.”
There was no thought of stopping as she closed out loop nine. She departed on her final trip through the course with under 39 minutes to get it done; she needed less than 37.
“The first mile or mile and a half was the hardest section of the loop for me,” she said. “When I went back out I had some self-doubt, but once I got through half the lap I was like, ‘Ok, I can do what I can do. I’ve just got to give it all I’ve got.’ I knew once I got to that last climb if I had a certain number of minutes left I could do it.”
Farnsworth, 27, of Stow, Mass., dashed across the finish line in 5:57:07, and was quickly mobbed by her Northeast Trail Crew friends and teammates who cheered her on. Farnsworth was the lone woman and one of just six runners to complete at least 10 loops for the day. She also tied the course record and became the fifth woman to complete 10 loops at the TARCkey Trot. The original mark was set by Alexandra Brinkert at the inaugural event in 2016. It was matched by Bess Ritter and Bridget Ferrin-Smith in 2017, and again by Justine Cohen in 2019.
Doneski, 50, of Hopkinton, N.H., finished the day with nine loops and 27.9 miles in 5:36:59, placing second in the women’s field. Doneski matched the distance that she ran when she won the 2018 TARCkey Trot.
Lindsay Colucci, 31, of Westerly, R.I., was one of five women to finish with eight loops and 24.8 miles, but Colucci covered that distance the fastest and finished third overall. Joining her at that distance were Valerie Su, 28, of New Haven, Conn.; Kathy Jacques, 56, of Taunton, Mass.; Tari Tan, 35, of Watertown, Mass.; and Michelle Swanson, 58, of Malden, Mass., who placed fourth through seventh.