STONEHAM, Mass. – A year ago, Adam Ribeiro fended off a fierce challenge during the final miles before winning the Trail Animals Running Club’s Fells Winter Ultra 40-mile race by less than two minutes.
Ribeiro returned to defend his title on Saturday, Dec. 3, at the Middlesex Fells Reservation. Though the 31-year-old from Marlborough, Mass., once again faced a staunch challenge throughout the day, his biggest threat came from a four-legged trail-user who nearly upended Ribeiro’s race during the late miles.
Thirty-six miles into his race and hanging onto a roughly 12-minute lead on his closest competitor, Ribeiro closed in on the midpoint aid station of the course’s 8-mile loop of the Fells’ Skyline Trail when a leashed dog lunged at him and bit his right quad.
“A fellow member of the running community was there taking photos and had a dog on the leash with him,” Ribeiro recounted. “As I ran by him smiling for the photo, the dog jumped on my right quad already with its mouth open and took a bite.”
Shocked by the unexpected turn of events, Ribeiro paused for a moment and looked at his leg in disbelief before continuing on to the aid station just ahead of him. He arrived moments later and let the volunteers from Northeast Trail Crew know what happened.
“They immediately asked if I wanted them to clean it up and cover it up, and as much as I was in race mode when it happened I knew that would be the smart choice so I said ‘yes, please,’” Ribeiro said. “They were amazing in quickly cleaning the bite and putting a temporary tape to stop the bleeding.”
Ribeiro said he never considered ending his race after the dog bite. After around 5-10 minutes receiving treatment, he departed the aid station and pushed onward to the finish.
“I left the aid station still in first place and used that adrenaline from the accident with the dog bite to keep running faster so I could finish the race and have it properly taken care of,” Ribeiro said.
Ultimately, Ribeiro held on and won the race for the second straight year. After collecting his prize, his wife Taylor drove him to the hospital in Wakefield to have the bite cleaned and receive a tetanus shot. He said the person with the dog was dog-sitting for a neighbor and that the dog’s owners were cooperative in providing the dog’s vaccine information.
The post-race hospital visit wasn’t Ribiero’s lone time seeking medical treatment for the bite wound. Despite the clean-up at the hospital, the wound still became infected so Ribiero made a second hospital visit a few days after the race and was prescribed antibiotics.
“Thankfully now a week later from the race the wound is definitely showing signs of healing and I’m looking forward to returning back to running,” he said. “Let’s say this was a ‘forced needed rest!’
Prior to the dog bite drama, a competitive race unfolded with a trio of runners doing battle at the front. Ribeiro was in the thick of it for the first few loops alongside Mat Ridley, 32, of Quincy, Mass., and Eli Converse, 28, of Cambridge, Mass., as they raced around the 8-mile Skyline Trail loop, amassing around 1,500 feet of gain per lap.
Ridley entered the race having enjoyed a successful year with a victory at the TARC Spring Classic 50K earlier this season as well as a second-place finish in the Wapack and Back 43-miler. He led for the first two loops by hammering out even splits of 1:11 per lap. Meanwhile, Ribeiro and Converse stuck together, knocking out the first lap in 1:13:51 and their second in just under 1:22.
Though they trailed Ridley by 13 minutes at the 16-mile mark, their patience was rewarded as Ridley hit the wall during his third pass through the course. After finishing his third lap in 3:56, he withdrew from the race. Four minutes later, Ribeiro arrived at the 24-mile mark and headed out for his fourth loop as the new leader. Converse followed just four minutes later.
About 20 minutes behind the new leaders, a tight chase pack of Max Dore of Somerville, Mass., Lukas Janulaitis of Centerville, Mass., and Daniel Green of Boston, Mass., traded positions in what was shaping up to be a battle for third.
Once in front, Ribeiro seemed to grow stronger. It was familiar territory, given his success at the 2021 race along with wins at the Pineland Farms 50-miler and TARC Fall Classic 50K earlier this year. Despite being tested with a gritty, disciplined effort from Converse in his TARC debut, Ribeiro gradually extended his lead to 11 minutes by the time the fourth loop was complete and was on track to eclipse his winning time of 7:10:10 from a year earlier.
“Going into the race this year I wasn’t sure I could pull off the time I did last year,” Ribeiro admitted. “The majority of my races this year felt like they involved more speed than elevation gain training so I was a bit concerned. However, I still set my eyes on trying to get a PR.”
He was on track to do so prior to the dog bite. Ultimately, the pause for medical treatment cost him a few minutes and a likely personal record for the course. Still, the disruption didn’t deny him a second victory as he won the race in 7:12:05. Converse followed minutes later as the runner-up in a speedy 7:18:33. Janulaitis was a distant third in 7:54:05. Green and Dore followed in 8:06:32 and 8:08:42, respectively. Hank Xi, 40, of Malden, Mass., was the sixth-place male in 8:41:24, followed by 22-year-old Thomas Hayes of Weare, N.H., in 8:53:55, and 29-year-old Jules Godino of Guilford, Conn., in 9:54:28.
Though the dog bite cost Ribeiro valuable time and led to him missing a personal record on the course by less than two minutes, he isn’t looking back at the race with any what-ifs? Instead, he is using the experience to dream bigger as he looks to the future.
“I don’t believe I have unfinished business with the Fells Winter Ultra,” he said. “But I have a bit more of belief now that breaking 6 hours can be done and I most likely will return to it again in 2023 to try that out and if possible defend the title again!”