Perseverance Pays Off for Mankekar with Sweltering Summer Victory

Durgesh Mankekar was still a relative newcomer to ultrarunning when he made his first appearance at the Berkshire Ultra Running Community for Service’s Sweltering Summer 8-Hour Ultra in 2019.

He made his ultra debut just nine months earlier at the TARC Fall Classic 50K, finishing in just under six hours, and followed it up with a strong 45-mile run at the TARC Ghost Train Rail Trail Race three weeks later. He entered 2019 motivated to keep pushing his limits, and he signed up for a series of BURCS races, first the Vegan Power 50K and then the 12-hour race at the Notchview Ultra where he completed his first 100K.

Runners circle the cinder track at Clapp Park in Pittsfield, Mass., at the Sweltering Summer 8-Hour Ultra. Photo courtesy of Benn Griffin.

All of those races gave him a solid foundation for Sweltering Summer, and he handled the heat  and repetition of the unique 0.355-mile loop course at Pittsfield’s Clapp Park just fine, knocking out 125 loops for 44.41 miles within the time limit for a top-10 finish. 

Mankekar completed two more ultras by the end of the year and looked forward to an even bigger 2020. When the COVID-19 pandemic forced races to be canceled, he wasn’t deterred from his running goals. He took part in several virtual events, including a virtual Sweltering Summer 8-Hour where he logged 48.82 miles and finished second out of nearly 100 participants. When in-person racing returned in 2021, Mankekar returned to Sweltering Summer and logged 46.15 miles, placing second among the men’s field and third overall. It was one of six ultras he finished that year, including his first 100-miler at the Midstate Massive Ultra-Trail that fall.

Durgesh Mankekar cranks out the miles at the 2022 BURCS Sweltering Summer 8-Hour Ultra on Saturday, Aug. 13, at Clapp Park in Pittsfield, Mass. Mankekar finished first overall. Photo courtesy of Benn Griffin.

The Vermont 100 was Mankekar’s goal race for 2022, and that came in mid-July – four weeks before Sweltering Summer. The 45-year-old resident of Medford, Mass., had a fantastic day racing on the hard-packed dirt roads and singletrack trails of Vermont and placed 20th overall out of 188 finishers in a speedy 21:30:59. He recovered quickly from Vermont, spent a weekend volunteering at the TARC Summer Classic, and showed up at Clapp Park on Saturday morning, Aug. 13, ready to once again test his legs on the cinder track at Sweltering Summer. 

Despite both the name and history, the 2022 race was anything but sweltering in terms of temperature. Runners enjoyed a day in the 70s with mild humidity – perhaps the most perfect race-day conditions in the event’s 10-year history. Mankekar capitalized by having his finest performance yet at Sweltering Summer, hammering out 150 loops of the track and placing first overall with 53.25 miles. His mileage tally was the seventh-best of any runner in event history.

Michael Martinez, 42, of Manchester, N.H., pushed Mankekar throughout the day and finished second overall with 52.18 miles. Eric Ciocca – the 2019 champion (52.22 miles) and 2021 men’s third-place finisher (45.79 miles) – rounded out the overall top three as the 44-year-old from Northampton, Mass., logged 51.12 miles.

The top 11 men surpassed the 40-mile mark. Among them were New England residents Jeremy Shafer, 45, of New Hartford, Conn. (fifth, 44.02 miles); Stephen Foley, 50, of Pittsfield, Mass. (sixth, 44.02 miles); Jay Durand, 46, of Adams, Mass. (eighth, 41.89 miles); Michael Popham, 41, of Bedford, N.H. (41.53 miles); and Bill Odendahl, 57, of Trumbull, Conn. (10th, 41.53 miles).

Yuki Chorney shares some miles with friends while circling the track at Clapp Park in Pittsfield, Mass., at the BURCS Sweltering Summer 8-Hour Ultra. Chorney was the women’s champion for the third time. Photo courtesy of Benn Griffin.

Just like Mankekar and Ciocca, Yuki Chorney has been a mainstay at Sweltering Summer in recent years – and each time she has made her presence felt with strong showings. In 2019, she finished third overall and first among the women’s field with 51.16 miles. She followed that with an overall victory in 2021 with 50.76 miles. This year she placed fourth overall and topped the women’s field for the third time with 49.34 miles. She owns the second, third and fourth positions on the women’s course record board, trailing only Daniele Cherniak’s 51.83-mile tally from 2014, when the format grew from 6 hours to 8 hours.

Chorney outdistanced the women’s field by a sizable margin. Mary Bernier, 45, of Hamden, Conn., finished second with 40.47 miles, followed by 53-year-old Christina Friedman of Niskayuna, N.Y., with 39.76 miles. Lani Ralston, 51, of Farmington, Conn., completed one fewer lap and finished fourth with 39.4 miles. Other New England women who finished among the top 10 included Brittany Choquette, 33, of North Adams, Mass. (sixth, 36.56 miles); Katherine Jugler, 33, of New Milford, Conn. (seventh, 35.5 miles); Stefanie Clark, 62, of Cummington, Mass. (eighth, 34.43 miles); and Christine Da Silva, 35, of Everett, Mass. (ninth, 33.72 miles).

A total of 73 runners took part in the 8-hour race; of that group, 38 surpassed the 30-mile mark.

Ryan, Scherben Top 5K Field

In addition to the 8-hour ultra, another 22 runners took part in the Sweltering Summer 5K. Garrett Ryan, 15, of Woodside, N.Y., led all runners in 21:22, while women’s champion and overall runner-up Ashley Scherben, 37, of Pittsfield, Mass., followed in 25:29. Bethany Fitzroy, 37, of Plainville, Mass., was the third overall finisher in 28:02. Fitzroy set the women’s course record during the virtual 2020 event in 23:30 and won the 2021 race in 25:17.

Up Next in the BURCS Race Series

The BURCS Race Series will close out its 2022 season with the Free to Run Trail Races on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022. It will be the sixth in-person running of the event, and first in-person gathering since 2019. Virtual events to support Free to Run were offered in 2020 and 2021. The Free to Run Trail Races offer 50-mile, marathon and half-marathon distances on a loop course at Pittsfield State Forest.

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