Pizzi Delivers Dynamite Performance in Ultra Debut at Watuppa

FALL RIVER, Mass. – When Becca Pizzi completed the World Marathon Challenge in 2016, becoming the first American woman to do so, it was no surprise that the ultramarathon world quickly came knocking.

Pizzi fielded calls and emails from race directors inviting her to their events, but the native of Belmont, Mass., wasn’t yet ready to venture beyond the 26.2-mile distance. Ultras would have to wait.

It wasn’t that Pizzi doubted she could handle the five additional miles to complete a 50K – after all, she’d just completed seven marathons on seven continents in seven days, and she routinely cranked out 100-mile training weeks. She simply had more goals she wanted to achieve at the marathon distance before taking the plunge into ultras. Those goals included a second running of the World Marathon Challenge in 2018 where she earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for the fastest finish by a woman, as well as a nationwide marathon project.

After running close with other runners for the first three loops, Becca Pizzi blew the race open in her fourth and fifth loops and earned the overall win in the 50K at the 2023 Watuppa Trail Races. Photo by Chris Wristen/MassUltra

“I’ve been on a 50 states marathon journey,” Pizzi said. “I finish this September, and I said ‘well, I’ll just wrap up the 50 states because that’s been a long-term goal, and then I’ll run my first 50K, 50-mile, 100-miler.”

Pizzi opted to expedite her plans after prodding from Zdeno Chara, who she helped prepare for the Boston Marathon following the longtime Boston Bruins captain’s retirement from the National Hockey League in September 2022, as well as fellow friends and training partners Karalyn Spadaro and Lisa Engler.

“He said, ‘Guys, we’re going to be in pretty good shape. What if we just went and did a 50K?’” Pizzi recalled of Chara’s nudging. “Our coach, Scot DeDeo, said ‘I know a great race; you guys will love it.’ I said ‘I’m so close to finishing the 50 states. OK, let’s do it!’” 

That’s how Pizzi found herself at the starting line on a warm and sunny Saturday morning, May 13, at Watuppa Reservation in Fall River. Standing alongside Chara, Spadaro, Engler and DeDeo, and with her husband and sister cheering her on, Pizzi took a deep breath and then took off.

The 50K race consisted of five 10K loops on a mix of grassy doubletrack trails, fire roads, a few stretches of pavement, some gravel and a bit of singletrack dirt. Collectively, the course was inviting for first-time ultrarunners and those looking to go fast. Pizzi fit both categories.

After running 99 marathons, Becca Pizzi made her long-awaited ultramarathon debut with a record-setting performance at the Watuppa 50K on Saturday, May 13, 2023. Pizzi won the race outright and set a new women’s course record. Photo by Chris Wristen/MassUltra.

Pizzi, 43, and DeDeo, 42, ran mostly side-by-side for the first three loops. As loop three neared its end and the temperature climbed into the low 80s after a 68-degree start, the heat began to take its toll on DeDeo and he slipped off the pace. Pizzi seemed unfazed by it.

“I went to college out in North Carolina and we hit 100-degree days like four months out of the year,” Pizzi noted of her years running track and cross country at Mars Hill College. “If it comes down to racing somebody and it’s humid or the weather’s bad, I always seem to do better.”

Pizzi reached the 30K mark a few strides ahead of DeDeo. Minutes later, she disappeared from sight and took complete control of the race.

“What was hardest for me was crossing the 26.2 threshold because I was in nowhereland,” Pizzi said with a laugh. “I hit 29 (miles) and was like, ‘Oh gosh, there’s still a long way to go!’ But you just chip away at the miles.”

Pizzi chipped away quickly. Less than four hours after the race began, she danced through the final stretch of root-covered singletrack, exploded from the forest and sprinted across the finish line as the overall champion. Her winning time of 3:59:11 smashed the women’s course record by 35 minutes and was the 24th-fastest 50K performance by a woman in the United States this year based on UltraRunning Magazine’s results database.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Pizzi’s debut ultra performance was her consistency. As the miles added up, the temperature rose and fatigue set in, she essentially never slowed down. The slight variation in her loop splits – 47:10, 47:11, 48:33, 48:00, 48:15 – could easily be chalked up to pauses at the aid station.

Pizzi sported a grin from ear to ear as she relaxed at the finish line, chatted about her race and recounted the day.

Four weeks after smashing her marathon PR at the Boston Marathon, Karalyn Spadaro ran her first ultramarathon and finished on the podium in the 50K race at the 2023 Watuppa Trail Races. Photo by Chris Wristen/MassUltra

“I’m really competitive to win, so part of the reason I didn’t want to get into 50Ks and ultras was I didn’t want to get hurt,” Pizzi admitted. “But I loved it, actually! I had a really fun time. I thought it was less pressure since you’re not going as fast as a marathon, but the course was great. And I don’t know ultras, so I didn’t know how the crowd support would be, but everybody from the runners to the volunteers were really, really supportive and encouraging. I loved it – I’ll be back!”

For DeDeo, it was a treat to see his friend and one of his athletes have such a strong showing in her ultra debut, though he admitted he wasn’t at all surprised.

“She’s got more grit than anybody else I know. If you want to challenge her, you’d better be careful,” DeDeo said. “I’m really happy for her. She’s done 99 marathons now, and one ultramarathon. She’s actually going to do her 100th marathon next week on Martha’s Vineyard.”

While Pizzi was busy rewriting the course record board, she wasn’t alone in that effort. Pizzi may have been the front-runner, but both Spadaro and Engler also turned in big days. 

Six years after running her first ultramarathon, Lisa Engler joined four of her friends and training partners in running the 50K race at the 2023 Watuppa Trail Races. Engler raced to a podium finish, placing third in the women’s field. Photo by Chris Wristen/MassUltra

Spadaro, 33, of Arlington, Mass., ran the entire race with Chara. The friends and training partners kept each other accountable throughout the day, taking turns pulling and pushing each other along as they weathered high and low moments and battled through the heat. Their pacing had Spadaro in fourth in the women’s field after the first loop and in third by the 20K mark, with just Pizzi and Engler ahead of her. Meanwhile, Engler, 45, of Belmont, Mass., ran solo and was consistently about a minute ahead of Spadaro and Chara for the first 30K before her pace began to slip and she fell behind her friends early in loop four.

Spadaro and Chara ultimately finished in 5:07:29, earning Spadaro second place in the women’s field and the fifth-fastest women’s time in course history. Engler fought through fatigue during the final loop and secured the final spot on the podium, finishing third in the women’s field in 5:12:37. Her time was the sixth-best by a woman in course history.

Elizabeth Lynch, 57, of Medford, Mass., finished fourth in 5:32:43, followed by 29-year-old Amelia Crigler of New York, N.Y., in 6:01:38.

Coletta Clips Speedy Veterans to Top Men’s 50K Field

Eleven months ago, Donald Coletta made his ultramarathon debut at the Mountain Lakes Backyard Ultra in New York. The then-19-year-old tallied 29.19 miles, his first time going beyond a half marathon. The experience lit a fire in him.

Coletta went on to run two more ultras in 2022, the Lover’s Lane 6-Hour in Vermont and the Bimbler’s Bluff 50K in Connecticut, placing in the top five at both events. He entered 2023 eyeing a return to Mountain Lakes to test himself once more at the backyard format. The big day is almost here, but he decided at the last minute that he could use one final tune-up – the Watuppa 50K.

Donald Coletta signed up for the Watuppa 50K at the last minute, and that decision paid off with a victory in the men’s race on Saturday, May 13, 2023. Photo by Chris Wristen/MassUltra

“I signed up on Thursday,” Coletta said. “I just wanted to get another run in. (Registration) closed Thursday at 11:59 p.m., and I signed up at 11 o’clock.”

What Coletta discovered over the course of the day was that his legs are in prime shape for the backyard ultra. They certainly were ready to fly at Watuppa against a field that was stacked with speedy runners.

Coletta was in the mix from the start, though the 20-year-old from Branford, Conn., opted to let others set the early pace. In addition to Pizzi and DeDeo, Coletta was joined among the leaders throughout the day by 46-year-old Michael Pulli of Medford, Mass. Pulli set the men’s course record at Watuppa in 2019 with his victory in 3:44:12.

While Pizzi and DeDeo led for the first three loops, Coletta and Pulli traded places in third and fourth overall (second and third in the men’s field), never more than two minutes off the lead and often within less than a minute. Coletta and Pulli were within 30 seconds of Pizzi and DeDeo after 10K, and the duo dashed in after 20K just 18 seconds apart and 75 seconds behind the overall leaders. At the 30K mark, Pulli was in third, less than 90 seconds behind DeDeo and 40 seconds ahead of Coletta.

Pizzi soon disappeared from the pack and cruised to the overall win, but the battle for the victory in the men’s race remained tight enough that anything could happen during the course of the last two loops given DeDeo’s lethal footspeed, Pulli’s experience, and Coletta’s unknown potential. The wild card was the temperature, which climbed to 84 degrees and tested runners on the hottest day of racing yet in 2023.

Scot DeDeo closes out his third loop of the five-loop 50K race at the 2023 Watuppa Trail Races. DeDeo finished second in the men’s field and third overall. Photo by Chris Wristen/MassUltra

DeDeo and Pulli felt the heat take its toll, but it didn’t faze Coletta.

“It wasn’t bad; there was a lot of shade,” Coletta said. “It definitely got hotter toward the end. The last couple miles I started feeling it and needed some water, but it wasn’t too bad.”

During the next few miles he passed both Pulli and DeDeo and surged to a three-minute lead by the 40K mark.

Coletta spent his final loop running solo, but he continually peeked over his shoulder expecting to see DeDeo and Pulli reeling him back in after battling so closely for most of the day.

“The last six miles I was alone,” he said. “It got kind of competitive. I couldn’t really see anyone behind me, but that fear of someone coming up that last six miles was definitely there.”

Coletta ultimately finished second overall and first in the men’s field in 4:11:20. His fears of being caught were well founded as DeDeo nearly succeeded, knocking two minutes off of Coletta’s lead during the final loop. DeDeo ultimately secured the runner-up spot in 4:12:13. Pulli rounded out the podium in 4:19:10.

Scot DeDeo, left, and Michael Pulli, were in a close battle for second place in the men’s race at the 2023 Watuppa Trail Races 50K. Photo by Chris Wristen/MassUltra

“Today was a lot of fun,” DeDeo said. “I ran with Becca for the first three laps. I don’t do well in the heat and I definitely haven’t done any heat training yet this year, so I melted a little bit but I got it together for the last lap.”

Coletta notched the sixth-best men’s time in course history while DeDeo and Pulli notched the eighth and ninth positions on the all-time chart.

Tino Fidalgo, 52, of Acushnet, Mass., was the final runner to finish in less than five hours. He placed fourth in the men’s field and fifth overall in 4:54:05. Jonathan Lagoa, 39, of Fairhaven, Mass., was next in 5:01:50, followed by 59-year-old George Nicholson of Dedham, Mass., in 5:06:55; 46-year-old Zdeno Chara of Weston, Mass., in 5:07:29; and 29-year-old Matthew Minigell of Andover, Mass., in 5:08:50.

Twenty-nine runners started the 50K race and 25 ultimately finished.

Friedman, Firth Victorious in 30K

Thirty-one runners took part in the three-loop 30K race and 28 ultimately finished within 5 1/2 hours. The course records survived in this heat-impacted year, but John Friedman gave it his best shot in the men’s race. Friedman, 42, led the race from wire to wire. He amassed a 2 1/2-minute lead after the first loop and continued to pull away during his next two passes through the course. Ultimately, Friedman finished first overall in 2:17:45, five minutes shy of the men’s course record. His closest competitor was 38-year-old Kyle Fontaine of Bristol, R.I., who placed second in 2:25:46. Fontaine was the runner-up for the second year in a row, and he came within three minutes of matching his time from 2022. Kevin Barnard, 40, of Amherst, N.H., rounded out the podium in 2:31:11. Jeffrey Wohlen, 43, of Lakeville, Mass., was a close fourth in 2:31:15. It was Wohlen’s third top-four finish in the 30K at Watuppa and his fastest yet. He also finished third in the 50K in 2022.

In the women’s field, 59-year-old Teresa Firth of Fairhaven, Mass., led throughout and won in 3:04:06. Kirsten Kortz, 44, of Hampstead, N.H., held firm in second place throughout the day and closed strong in the final loop to secure the runner-up spot 3:06:21. She was the 50K runner-up in 2022. Marianne Currie, 54, of Smithfield, R.I., completed the podium in 3:12:58. It was Currie’s second time on the podium at Watuppa; she finished third in the 50K in 2019.

Bailotti Blazes to CR in 10K

Ademir Bailotti’s trail-running debut was memorable. The 37-year-old resident of Fall River, Mass., dominated on his home trails, blazing to the overall win by nearly five minutes and setting a new men’s course record in 38:05. Thomas Hoff, 16, of Holbrook, Mass., also had a strong day as the teenager closed out his trail debut with a runner-up finish in 42:52. Alex Walecka, 30, of Bridgewater, Mass., followed in 44:29.

In the women’s field, Wendy Simas, 55, of Seekonk, Mass., earned the victory in 54:28. A close battle for second played out nearly a minute behind her between 52-year-old Brooke Nelson of Freetown, Mass., and 35-year-old Jessica Pilla of Acushnet, Mass., but Nelson had the edge at the finish and placed second in 55:19. Pilla followed two seconds later in 55:21.

Fifty-two runners completed the 10K race.


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