STONEHAM, Mass. – A year ago, Sophia Farnsworth closed out her ultra season with a victory at the TARCkey Trot 6-Hour Ultra in mid-November. That set the tone for 2022 and what would be the biggest season of her life.
Farnsworth opened the year by taking on her first 100-miler – the grueling Hellbender 100 in North Carolina – and earned a top-10 finish. She followed that up in August with a top-five performance at the Twisted Branch 100K in New York. The Fells Winter Ultra marked the final race of her season on Saturday, Dec. 3, at the Middlesex Fells Reservation and Farnsworth once again hoped to end with a win.
“I was really excited to race on home turf,” said Farnsworth, who runs at the Fells every Wednesday night with Northeast Trail Crew. “The Fells is special. It’s a green getaway within the city and it’s home to the weekly NTC runs. That being said, I did feel some added pressure to have a good race. I wanted to defend my home turf.”
Adding to the pressure on Farnsworth was that her mind was a bit distracted – the lottery for the Western States Endurance Run 100-miler was taking place as the race unfolded. Her performance at Twisted Branch earned her a spot in the drawing. Though her odds of selection were small, the 28-year-old from Stow, Mass., was cautiously optimistic that she’d learn of good news from the California lottery.
Farnsworth was one of 18 runners to toe the starting line for the 40-mile race at the Fells (another 75 were there to race the 32-miler; see separate story for a recap of that race). She was prepared to take on five laps of the 8-mile Skyline Trail loop, amassing around 7,500 feet of climbing on the rocky, root-covered terrain by the time she was done.
Unlike prior years where temperatures were typically in the cold-to-frigid range and there’s often ice or snow on the trails, this year’s event was uncharacteristically warm. It was 50 degrees and breezy at the start, and warmed to the low 60s before a steady rain rolled in.
“When you sign up for this race you have to be prepared for any type of weather,” Farnsworth noted. “It’s December in New England. It’s bound to be unpredictable, and that’s something that appealed to me.”
Farnsworth led the women’s race nearly wire to wire. Her closest competitor, 41-year-old Theodora Textor Murray of Brookline, Mass., was just a few minutes behind for the first two loops, but Farnsworth steadily added to her lead with each pass through the course.
Though she was comfortably ahead – Farnsworth built a 30-minute gap by mile 24 – she still had to overcome plenty of challenges. In addition to the technical terrain and eventually the steady rain that made the rocks and roots slick, Farnsworth also dealt with an upset stomach for much of the race after pushing the pace a bit too much during the first two loops. Still, she didn’t let it stop her or disrupt her race.
“There’s always a lesson to be learned through those hard moments,” she said. “Those are the moments that make you grow and keep me coming back – more so than any result.”
Though her stomach attempted to bring her down many times throughout the day, those moments were countered by uplifting support from her Northeast Trail Crew friends each time she passed through the aid station midway through the loop. Around two-dozen friends cheered her on, offered snacks and refilled her bottles, and provided plenty of words of encouragement.
“Running through the NTC aid station was the highlight of each lap,” Farnsworth said. “This crew has become a family. We are always taking the opportunity to support each other, and I feel incredibly grateful to be part of that.”
She received the biggest boost from her friends during her final loop. Fatigued and ready to be finished, Farnsworth perked up when she was given good news about the Western States lottery. Though she wasn’t drawn for the race’s initial field, she was high on the waitlist.
“On my fifth lap I knew I was leading the female race, and when I rolled into the NTC aid station they told me I was 18th on the Western States waitlist,” Farnsworth recounted. “I couldn’t believe it. I shouted with joy, took a shot of ginger ale to celebrate, and gave everyone a hug. One of the coolest parts of that moment was how excited everyone was for me. It really speaks to the community we have created, and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to close out that race.”
Energized by the good news, Farnsworth pushed through the final miles and crossed the finish line first in the women’s race and sixth overall in 8:13:48. Murray was a distant second in 9:27:23. Of the 18 runners who started the day, just 10 completed the difficult course. Farnsworth and Murray were the lone women among the finishers.