Written by USATF Championship liaison Lin Gentling. Photos courtesy of Mad City Ultras and Ann Heaslett.
The Upper Midwest is known for its windy conditions in the spring, but nothing compared with the gales that the 100K road national championships runners fought at the Mad City Ultras on Saturday, April 23. Although this is a loop course, the winds along the eastern part of the lake had some runners making little forward progress along this stretch. To say it was brutal is an understatement and undoubtedly affected the performance of all runners, causing several to question their desire and motivation to continue.
However, many came to this event with the intent of running a qualifying time for consideration of the USATF 100k National Team competing in August at the IAU 100k Road World Championships in Berlin, Germany. The top male and female would earn automatic berths (providing they run a qualifying time) while others had a chance to run a time worthy of consideration.
At 6:30 AM, with relatively warm and humid conditions, the lake was perfectly calm with a mist hanging over the water giving it a rather eerie appearance. Although the day would warm up with the wind blowing out the humidity, the winds gusting at over 50 mph would create havoc to race strategies. It simply wore the runners out causing a significant degree of attrition.
The men went out fast with Kallin Khan (2020 USATF 50K Road Champion) leading after the first loop in 39:23 and then a pack including Zack Beavin (2021 JFK 50 Mile 2nd place), Geoff Burns (2 time 100K US team and twice 5th place in the world championship 100K), Rajpaul Pannu (2021 HOKA Project Carbon X2 100K 2nd place in 6:28:3), Chris Raulli (2018 US Trail Team member), and Daniel Button following 15 seconds behind. Khan (25, Iowa City, IA), Beavin (27, Brookline, MA), and Button (35, Eagle, ID) were all clipping off between 6:09 to 6:13 minute miles through 50K. In a 100K race it is often said that the real race does not begin until 50K and Mad City was no different.
The fast pace that both Khan and Button lead with was taking its toll and Khan would drop at 50K followed by Button and Raulli (33, Davidson, NC) at 60K. This left Beavin who had never run longer than 50 miles previously, but had an Olympic Trials Marathon of 2:18 giving credence to his leg speed. By 70K, everyone was struggling and facing their own demons. The wind was pushing runners all over the road as they tried desperately to hold onto a reasonably straight line. But Beavin was on a mission. He came into this race with one goal only and that was to go for the win and get that automatic 100K team position. Pannu (31, Denver, CO) was fighting to stay in the race, doing everything to will his legs to continue. To his credit, he kept rounding the lake and counting down his laps.
Meanwhile first master’s runner, Paolo Natali (41, Brooklyn, NY) had moved into 3rd position ahead of Pannu and behind Beavin and 2nd place Burns (31, Colorado Springs, CO). From this point on, it was simply a matter of pride and grit, dealing with that inevitable pain and discomfort, re-establishing human limitations, and finding the finish line. Beavin ran lap 10 mostly to get it over, but also knowing that if he did anything short of his finest performance, there were guys behind him that would take that dream away from him.
As Zack Beavin crossed the finish line in 7:06:31, winning the 2022 USATF 100k Road Championships, there truly was nothing left in the tank. He had given his all and in so doing was going to Berlin, Germany, as a member of the 2022 US 100K Team. “This was super special, it might be the coolest thing I have ever done and also the hardest thing I have ever done. I wanted to drop so bad at 70K, but my crew would not let me. Walking hurt as much as running, so I just ran.” Finishing in 2nd, the same position he ran in the 2021 100K championships, was Geoff Burns in 7:34:47, and rounding out the top 3 and 1st master was Paulo Natali in 7:38:39.
On the ladies side was another stacked field. The youngest runner in the entire field, Shea Aquilano, was a soccer player prior to the fall of 2021. She found success in running, winning the Ice Age 50 mile in 2021. Aquilano (20, Carmel, IN) took the lead out of the gate guiding a talented and seasoned field with Lotti Brinks (2021 Javelina 100 mile 4th, 2021 Rocky Raccoon 100K 1st ), Kalie Demerjian (2022 Brazos Bend 100 Mile trail 1st and 2020 Javelina 100 mile 3rd), and Stefanie Flippin (2021 Jackpot 100 mile 1st, 2020 and 2021 Tunnel Hill 100 mile 1st) following a short distance behind. This order held through much of the first 50K with these women running steady between 7:11 to 7:20 pace.
As with the men, the 50K proved to be a demarcation position. Brinks (26, Austin, TX) was facing her own demons and dropped, followed by Aquilano whose blistering pace had taken its toll at 70K. At 80K Flippin (32, Evergreen, CO) tearfully called it, realizing that to continue would not be in her best interest as the day just threw too much in the face of these courageous runners. Demerjian (25, Trabuco Canyon, CA), whose consistency and strategy really worked to her advantage, now assumed the lead at 80K looking strong. Moving into 2nd position at 80K and another strong showing was Anna Kacius (2021 JFK 6th and US Olympic Trials marathon qualifier of 2:44).
Demerjian was able to hold her position in 1st place and crossed the finish line in 7:56:21 as the 2022 USATF 100k Champion, punching her ticket to Germany in August 2022. “This was the greatest challenge I have ever faced mentally. I had to trust myself and enjoy the journey, especially after taking the lead. The fast pace made it scary.” Finishing 2nd was Kacius (29, San Francisco, CA) who ran a time that will put her into the selection pool for the 2022 US 100k Team. Meanwhile Regina Lopez (31, Monrovia, CA) got her 2nd, 3rd, 4th wind at 70K and started to work her way through the field to finish 3rd in 10:23:54.
Meanwhile, Meghan Canfield, 61, Corvallis, OR, entered the race hoping to get a good result as she prepares for the 2022 Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run and to gain confidence after a couple rough prior races. Despite the very difficult weather conditions, Canfield toured the course utilizing her years of impressive experience to her advantage. She had set her sights on hoping to break the age group 50-mile world record of 7:32:44 set 30 years ago and the 100K age group record of 9:20:07 set 28 years ago. Moreover, she did achieve one; the new 60 – 64 50-mile world record was broken. An outstanding effort and a wonderful example to all aging runners. She went on to finish as the first masters runner and 4th overall in an American age group record of 10:30:43.
Geoff Burns may be summed up this day best, “This was a challenging day for a national championship. It was a 10 round title fight with lots of knock outs”. Timo Yanacheck and his amazing volunteers did another outstanding job performing the impossible to make sure all runners were attended to, while at the same time duct taping and tying anything down that could fly away in the winds. Included in their job descriptions for this year were chasing flying tents, duct taping cookies and pickles to plates, chasing cups, tissues, socks, bottles, shoes flying to Never Never Land. They have been doing this for 14 years as the USATF 100k Road Championships and have encountered every type of weather known to exist. They are simply amazing, flexible, and adaptive.
Full results organized by gender and age group are published on Google Sheets.
Additional photos can be found on Google Drive.