WESTWOOD, Mass. – On paper, Robert Lynch’s decision to go back out for one more loop seemed like wishful thinking.
Lynch already had seven loops and 24.5 miles on his legs. His previous three trips through the 3.5-mile course had taken the 46-year-old from Sharon, Mass., 47, 48 and 54 minutes, respectively. If he wanted to complete one more and have it count, he had to do it in less than 46 minutes.
For Lynch, there was no wishing – and no hesitating. He dashed out of the aid station and back into the woods for one more loop on the trails of Hale Reservation. He and his fellow runners at the Trail Animals Running Club’s To Hale and Back 6-Hour Ultra had been blessed with perhaps the most ideal running conditions of the year on Saturday, March 26, and he was going to savor every last minute of it.
He pushed hard and found another gear when he caught sight of Powisset Lodge, his finish line destination; so close, but so little time remained. Lynch danced through the web of ankle-threatening roots and rocks during the final half-mile. More than three dozen people – fellow runners, support crews and volunteers – roared with approval when he came into sight with just seconds to go. He dashed across a wood bridge, up a short hill, then quickly down the other side and back up to the finish line, crossing with 31 seconds to spare.
Lynch’s determined finish put an exclamation point on a day that had literally been years in the making for the Trail Animals. To Hale and Back was the club’s first race to be canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, and it was canceled for a second straight year in 2021. Race directors Melissa Arnold and Josh Katzman and their support team worked hard to make the race’s return from a two-year hiatus a great experience for the runners. They received tremendous cooperation from Mother Nature in the form of race-day temperatures ranging from the low 40s to low 50s, sunny skies and minimal humidity. The trail was also devoid of snow, unlike the 2017 and 2018 editions of the event. It was darn-near perfect.
“What a great day!” exclaimed Shaun Daylor, the 43-year-old from Lakeville, Mass., echoing the sentiments of many other runners as he neared the end of his fifth loop through the course. “It’s fantastic out here!”
The temperature and the trail conditions combined to create an environment that enticed many runners to stick around for the duration. Lynch was the final runner to cross the finish line at To Hale and Back, but he was far from the only runner to undertake a spirited final pass through the course. In fact, as Trail Animals veteran and To Hale and Back racer Dane LeBlanc noted, the event enjoyed something similar to the Western States Endurance Run’s “Golden Hour” with many runners digging deep and crossing the finish line during the final minutes.
Of the 105 runners who took part in the race, 18 completed their last loop with less than 10 minutes to spare. Joining Lynch in having a particularly close call on their final loops were Victor Pereira, 43, of Foxboro, Mass., who finished his ninth and final loop with 78 seconds left on the clock; Amy Faraone, 48, of Attleboro, Mass., who closed out her sixth loop with three minutes to spare; Israel Agront, 27, of Arlington, Mass., who finished his ninth loop with 4:06 remaining; and Henning Smith, 46, of Northbridge, Mass., who finished his eighth loop with 4 ½ minutes left.
Indeed, even some of those who considered stopping an hour or two early found themselves tempted to continue because of the trail conditions. Trail Animals veteran Kevin Mullen was among them.
“Tapping out. What. A Day. That was fun!” Mullen announced as he finished his sixth loop with an hour remaining on the clock. After chatting with friends at the aid station, however, Mullen changed his mind and charged back out to complete one more loop.
Eighteen runners completed at least eight loops of the course, surpassing the marathon distance and achieving ultra mileage for the day. Mat Ridley, 31, of Mystic, Conn., and Jerry Audet, 36, of Douglas, Mass., led all runners with 35 miles apiece. Ridley finished in 5:34:37 to secure the overall win while Audet followed in 5:54:59. Another seven runners completed nine loops and 31.5 miles, with 47-year-old Rufus Chaffee of Worthington, Conn., doing so the fastest to finish third overall in 5:30:17. Matching him in mileage were Brian McClelland, 38, of Berlin, Mass., in 5:45:41; Greg Vasquez, 33, of Chelsea, Mass., in 5:48:50; Durgesh Mankekar, 44, of Medford, Mass., in 5:51:33; Matthew LeBlanc, 36, of Somersworth, N.H., in 5:51:48; Agront in 5:55:54; and Pereira in 5:58:42.
Kathryn Zioto, 35, of Winchester, Mass., led the women’s field with 28 miles completed in 5:37:03. Shayna Milstein, 26, of Somerville, Mass., also completed 28 miles and finished second in 5:50:09. Faith Marrano, 38, of Mattapoisett, Mass., rounded out the women’s podium with 24.5 miles in 5:12:25.
Aubri Drake, 35, of Southampton, Mass., led the nonbinary field with 21 miles in 5:15:41.
Smith, Flynn Victorious in 5K Race
In addition to the 6-hour ultramarathon, another 25 runners took part in a “heavy” 5K race that circled the 3.5-mile loop course one time. The top two men were in close contention throughout, but 37-year-old Travis Smith of Westwood, Mass., held off 34-year-old Jeffrey Gluckstein for the overall win, Smith finishing in 26:51 and Gluckstein in 37:15. Shortly after, Jullien Flynn, 28, of Somerville, Mass., dashed across the finish line in third overall and first among the women’s field in 28:13. The top trio were the lone runners to finish in less than 30 minutes on the winding, mostly singletrack course.