Since its founding in 2017, the Village Ultra has supported a new organization each year with the goal of making a positive impact. It began with helping a family with a child needing medical treatment for Pediatric Acute-onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome, and in later years raised funds for R.C. Mahar Regional Middle School and High School, the Swift River School in New Salem, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), and a LGBTQIA+ youth support organization called The Trevor Project.
When the U.S. Supreme Court in late June overturned Roe v. Wade, eliminating abortion as a constitutional right and opening the door to states to completely ban the medical procedure, Village Ultra founder Carla Halpern knew what the 2022 event would support: the Abortion Rights Fund of Western Massachusetts.
“I specifically chose a local group with ‘abortion’ in the name to be the beneficiary,” Halpern said of the decision. “I wanted to be very clear that we are raising money to protect the right to abortion, in part because of the Dobbs decision, but also because abortion is one of the most hotly contested issues when it comes to bodily autonomy. I wanted to leave no doubt where TVU stands. I did not want to hide behind terms like ‘women’s health’ or ‘civil rights’, although of course those broad issues are important, too.”
The sixth edition of the Village Ultra took place Sept. 3-4 on the New Salem Town Common in New Salem, Mass., and the event raised about $1,500 for the Abortion Rights Fund of Western Massachusetts.
While fundraising was a major objective of the event, so was celebrating community. The Village Ultra has done that in many ways in years past, establishing traditions such as beads and power buttons. Those traditions were once again on display for runners regardless of if they ran for 24 hours, 12 hours or dropped in for an hour or two of running on the multiple mini-loops Halpern concocted.
“Every year, I just love this race more and more,” Halpern said. “I love that it has grown into a relaxed running event rather than a race. TVU is an opportunity for people to strive for distance goals in a supportive, low-key setting, with no pressure. They can create their own course with the four different routes. I have found that over the years, participants find that they can do things they didn’t think they could. We’ve seen participants hit their first half, first marathon, first ultra, and many, many PRs! This event gives folks the confidence to go out and do a more traditional race at a distance they previously thought might be unreachable. It’s like a fully supported training run with medals and bling at the end!”
From deciding what names to put on their bibs to choosing their own numbers – including fractions, equations, Roman numerals and more – the Village Ultra set the tone with creativity. As runners completed the various mini-loops, they collected beads to keep track of the course they created and the mileage accumulated.
“People really seem to like the beads,” Halpern said. “It’s a little boost in the middle of every loop, touching or stomping the sign for POWER and adding a bead to your shoelace. “At the end of the event, the medal goes on the same lace, and you can look back on the order of the beads for a personalized map of your race.”
Though the beads have been a tradition at the Village Ultra since its early years, a new bead was added in honor of longtime volunteer Rebecca Gonzalez-Kreisberg.
“This year, we added a little raffle for the ‘Rebecca Bead,’” Halpern said. “She is a virtuoso volunteer, showing up at races all over the valley and the Berkshires. I first met her when she volunteered for one of my other races in 2017 and she threw down her first ultra at TVU in its inaugural year. To participate in the raffle, participants made an extra donation – any amount – to ARFWM and guessed what time Rebecca would return. Whoever came closest got a special bead.”
Shelley Seymour was the accurate guesser and recipient of the special bead, capping her 10+-mile day of running.
Runners were treated to warm temperatures and dry weather throughout this year’s Village Ultra – the event wrapped up a few hours before 24 hours of consistent rain began to pour over most of the Northeast. The conditions made it an ideal opportunity for runners to log many miles – and collect lots of beads.
Of the 27 runners and walkers who took part, 12 surpassed the marathon distance. The top two overall performers surpassed the 40-mile mark with Fiona Cosham of Southbury, Conn., leading all runners with 42.15 miles and Jennifer Nappilanutter of Lunenburg, Mass., following as a close second with 40.65 miles. Halpern – a New Salem local – shared race directing duties with Nancy Mead so both also had time to run. Halpern finished the weekend third overall with 34.2 miles.
Village Ultra regular Kym Lewis of Athol, Mass., finished fourth overall with 33.35 miles, and the husband/wife duo of Mike and Sarah Richardson of Berlin, Vt., tied for fifth with 31.6 miles.
Village Ultra volunteer and the event’s social media guru, Sarah Vular of Wendell, Mass., had a big day at this year’s race. She planned to run a little and volunteer a lot, but that plan ultimately evolved into earning her first ultramarathon finish with 31.55 miles.
“Sarah is always willing and eager to pace others to their goals,” Halpern said. “She has paced me many times in virtual ultras. She paced Eric Ciocca to his 100+-mile Village Ultra record last year. She ran many training runs with Heidi Bohn to get her ready for the Green River Marathon. This year, we were able to give back to Sarah a little. She started the 12-hour casually, and a little late. She took breaks to volunteer and help out, but as the hours clicked by, she realized that she could possibly make her first 50k if she revved things up a bit. So, on tired legs, she had to pick up the speed for those last few miles. Thor got up to run her in, just like when she ran Eric in last year. And she made it – and then threw on some bonus mileage!”
Lee Ann Zarger of New Milford, Conn., completed 31.35 miles, placing eighth overall. It was her second ultramarathon of the year; she completed 39.9 miles in the Notchview Ultra 24-hour race in July.
“We had a cheer bridge for Lee Ann Zarger, who finished a 50k, paced by Ben Manning,” Halpern said. “I do not know whether that was a PR for her, but it was a delight to cheer and holler as she finished!”
Rounding out the ultramarathon finishers were Benn Griffin of Pittsfield, Mass. – a race director for many Berkshire Ultra Running Community for Service (BURCS) races in Western Mass. – who completed 31.25 miles; Johanna Fawcett of Lawrence, Mass., finished 31.0 miles; Diana Duffy of Orange, Mass., logged 29.0 miles; and Su Hoyle of Shutesbury, Mass., completed 28.2 miles.
While the ultrarunners logged the most miles, Halpern noted that there were highlights all around for each participant, including the two youngest participants – 8-year-old Joey Muszynski and his 5-year-old brother Sammy Muszynski who finished 5.5 and 1.1 miles, respectively.
Place; Name; Total Miles
1 Fiona Cosham, 42.15
2 Jennifer Nappilanutter, 40.65
3 Carla Halpern, 34.2
4 Kym Lewis, 33.35
T5 Sarah Richardson, 31.6
T5 Mike Richardson, 31.6
7 Sarah Vular, 31.55
8 Lee Anne Zarger, 31.35
9 Benn Griffin, 31.25
10 Johanna Fawcett. 31.0
11 Diana Duffy, 29.0
12 Su Hoyle, 28.2
13 Deanna Leedy-Andreozzi, 20.0
14 Nancy Mead, 18.9
T15 Laura Luker, 10+
T15 Shelley Seymour, 10+
17 Cara Rigali, 9.3
18 David McGoon, 8.1
T19 Richard Geffen, 7.5
T19 Hannah Rachootin, 7.5
21 Carol Diesel, 6.2
22 Joey Muszynski, 5.5
23 Heidi Bohn, 5
24 Beth Bone, 4.65
T25 Janet Henderson, 2.2
T25 Bo Henderson, 2.227 Sammy Muszynski, 1.1