Since the Berkshire Ultra Running Community for Service’s founding in 2013, the organization has been committed to using running as a means to build community and support a wide range of causes. The Vegan Power 50K/25K has been a mainstay in the BURCS’ lineup for nearly the duration, launching in 2014 as a fundraiser to support animal sanctuaries.
Vegan Power was held virtually in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the event returned to in-person running for its ninth anniversary on Saturday, June 18, when co-Race Directors Alex Bancroft and Marie Gryszowka welcomed runners back to Pittsfield State Forest in Pittsfield, Mass., to take on one or two 25K loops of rolling singletrack dirt through the woods.
“It felt so darn good to hold an in-person race again,” Bancroft said. “My favorite part of being a race director is cheering every single runner down as they round each loop, and getting to see all the emotions on their faces is priceless. The excitement was literally buzzing.”
For Bancroft, Vegan Power is a particularly special event. It was both her first ultramarathon and her first BURCS event. Since then, she has become heavily involved in the organization, including co-directing Vegan Power. She sees many runners take part for some of the same reasons she was attracted to the race seven years ago.
“For runners I think it offers a few things – the ability to prove to themselves and to others that they can perform as well as non-plant-based athletes (and recover quicker!) and to support local animal sanctuaries that are providing safe havens to a variety of animals on a very tight budget,” she said.
The 2022 event was a major success from both fundraising and running standpoints. Proceeds from the race support a trio of animal sanctuaries, VINE Sanctuary in Springfield, Vt., Red Robin Song in West Lebanon, N.Y., and Bluebird Farm Animal Sanctuary in Cheshire, Mass. Profits from this year’s event were $4,147.20, so in the days following the race Bancroft and Gryszowka sent checks for $1,382.40 to each of the three sanctuaries.
“Expenses have really gone up this year, but I’m super-pleased that we at least were in line with profits from last year’s virtual race,” Bancroft said.
According to BURCS’ record-keeping, Vegan Power had raised $25,200 for the animal sanctuaries during its first eight years. The 2022 effort pushes that number above $29,000.
As impressive as the fundraising effort was this year, the running performances were equally notable. The 2022 Vegan Power 50K wasn’t just the return to in-person racing for the event, it also provided a full-circle moment for Manny Wineman. The 44-year-old from Northampton, Mass., made his ultra debut at the last in-person Vegan Power race in 2019, and he made quite the impression with a hard-earned second-place finish (4:12:27) to Brian Burke who threatened the course record as Wineman gave chase. This time, it was Wineman who emerged victorious in 4:26:48. He led the six-loop race nearly wire to wire, amassing a nearly two-minute lead on Ian Stowe after the first loop, expanding the gap to more than three minutes after loop two and stretching his advantage to eight minutes by the midway point. While Wineman’s victory was never in doubt, the battle for second grew heated as the race went on. Stefan Shirley was a distant third after loop one and remained in that position after loop two, 10 minutes behind Stowe. It wasn’t until loops five and six where Shirley really gave chase. Trailing Stowe by more than nine minute with 10 miles to go, He spent the next five miles trimming five minutes off the gap, setting the stage for a hard-fought final loop where he ultimately caught and passed Stowe.
Shirley, 47, of Falls Church, Va., used a 55-minute final loop to secure second place in 4:58:23. Stowe, 31, of New York, N.Y., followed moments later in 5:00:07 to round out the men’s podium.
Christopher Colangelo, 49, of Old Lyme, Conn., was the fourth-place man in 5:16:58, followed by Dan Cummings, 41, of Westfield, N.J., in 5:25:50 and Joshua Karlin, 45, of New York, N.Y., in 5:26:16.
Unlike the men’s race which saw Wineman pull away from the field early, the women’s front-runners were in close contention for much of the day. Anja Goetzinger, 34, of Hershey, Pa., and Erin Gonsalves, 35, of Fairhaven, Mass., were neck-and-neck for the first 21 miles, always within one to four minutes of each other. It wasn’t until loop five when Goetzinger stretched a 3 ½-minute advantage to nearly 10 minutes that she took control of the race, ultimately winning in 5:16:31. Gonsalves finished second in 5:28:56 and Tra Savage, 45, of Clifton Park, N.Y., was a distant third in 5:56:54.
Erin O’Grady, 41, of Milford, Conn., was the fourth-place woman in 6:10:04 and Jenny Cavanagh, 33, of Weymouth, Mass., rounded out the top five in 6:24:04.
Thirty-five runners finished the 50K race within nine hours.
Wolfe, Ritchie Set Course Records with 25K Wins
The course record boards received a facelift in the 25K thanks to dominant performances by the frontrunners. A trio of runners – 26-year-old Kyle Wolfe of Brooklyn, N.Y, 31-year-old Kristin Ritchie of Northampton, Mass., and 27-year-old Lars Van Galen of Woudenberg, NL – separated themselves from the pack early. Van Galen held a slight lead after the first of three loops through the course. He was eventually overtaken by both Wolfe and Ritchie and they gradually pulled away during the final two loops. Ultimately, Wolfe took home the overall win in 2:06:14 and Ritchie followed shortly after to place second overall and first among the women’s field in 2:09:15. Both runners set new men’s and women’s course records with their performances, and both ran faster than the previous men’s course record of 2:09:38 set by Jonathan Perrino in 2016. Van Galen finished third overall and second among the men’s field in 2:12:38. Carter Wilding, 44, of Lee, Mass., rounded out the men’s podium in 2:24:26. Laura Kessels, 25, of Woudenberg, NL, was the women’s runner-up and fifth overall finisher in 2:26:54, followed by Clarissa Cartledge, 25, of New York, N.Y., in 2:36:25.
Thirty-three runners completed the 25K race within 5 ½ hours.