Written by USATF Championship Liaison Lin Gentling.
The 2019 USATF 50 Mile Trail Championships were held in conjunction with the Cayuga Trails 50 Mile within the John H. Treman and Buttermilk Falls State Parks just outside the city of Ithaca, NY. The day dawned cool, but with hints of pending rain throughout most of the day, creating high humidity conditions.
Favorites to watch on the men’s side included Cole Crosby, 30, Princeton, NJ, Conner Matheson, 26, Chicago. IL, Scott Trummer, 25, Livermore, CA, and Drew Holman, 26, San Francisco, CA. Top master prediction was Ian Schoten, 54, Lititz, PA. Crosby came into the competition with a 6th place finish at the very competitive 2019 50K road national championships, 1st place at the 2018 Cayuga Trails Marathon, , 9th place at the 2019 JFK 50 mile, and a 4th place finish at the 2019 100K National Championships. Matheson’s credentials included 2nd place at the 2018 Minnesota Voyageur 50 Mile and 1st place in the 2019 Ice Age Trail 50 Mile held only 3 weeks prior to this race. A former soccer player, Trummer’s recent accomplishments include a 1st place at the 2019 Ohlone 50K, another 1st place at the 2018 American River 50 mile and 3rd at 2107 Way Too Cool 50K. Holman, a transplant to CA from northern MN where he played hockey, like every good Minnesota boy, had a 1st place finish at the 2019 Quicksilver 50K and 4th place at 2019 Way Too Cool 50K. Master’s runner Schoten was coming off a lengthy injury to his knee and didn’t know what to expect. Although he had plenty of cross training under his belt, his running specific mileage was significantly limited until only a few days prior to the race. In the 2018 50 mile national championships on the Cayuga Trails, he placed 6th overall male.
Under overcast, cool, and humid conditions runners lined up for the 6 AM start. Race director, Ian Golden started the race with a simple “Go”. Support crews can easily reach the course at the aid stations. The course has only 4 unique aid stations, with the runners passing each aid station between 2-4 times. The area is well known for its many waterfalls formed by the area’s gorges. Ithaca’s calls itself “Gorges Ithaca”. There are single, double, and triple track trails, several creek crossings, stair climbing, and amazing views along the course. The 50-mile runners complete the 40K course twice. Elevation gain is around 9,000’.
After 3.3 miles, Crosby, Trummer, and Tyler Wolfe, 23, Berkeley, CA, led the pack all running very closely together. The same three continued in the lead but had switched positions with Wolfe leading at 7.6 miles. The positioning did not change into 12.9 miles. At 22.4 miles, Holman joined the party of three with Wolfe dropping back. At the marathon distance Trummer dropped. The now 3 contenders were familiar with one another as Wolf moved into the #3 position. A new runner joined the top 3 at 29.3 miles with Ryan Clifford, 22, Seaford, NY entering into the picture. Crosby led from 22.4 to 33.1 when Holman took the lead. Coming into 38.4 miles, Holman was leading and it was substantial relative to how close the runners were to one another through 33.1 miles. Crosby was dealing with GI issues and was forced into the woods to deal with that dreaded interruption. From this point to the 50-mile finish, the order of the top three runners remained the same with the distance between one another increasing. Drew Holman won the 2019 50 Mile Trail National Championship in 7:07:40, Approximately 26 minutes behind Holman, Crosby finished in 2nd place with a time of 7:33:27. Third in the national championship was Ryan Clifford in 7:51:41. Rounding out the top 5 were Connor Matheson in 4th place, 8:00:31, and 5th place, and top master runner, Ian Schouten in 8:03:39.
Holman, who works in sales and marketing for a health tech firm in California, stated with a broad smile, that he was ”happily hurting”. He went on to applaud the volunteers. “The volunteers were absolutely amazing. They made it so much easier to suffer. I could not have made it without them.” “This was an amazing event, even better now after finishing. The course is marked extremely well. There was about 60% buttery single track, 65% straight muck, and 110% stairs. I guess that does not add up to 100%. I can’t think right now.” When asked how he found ultra running and why this race, he mentioned that, “growing up in way northern Minnesota, I hated running. I was a Frisbee player and on the school ice hockey team. I started running in college to disconnect. Cayuga came at a good time of the year for a 50 miler, a great way to start my summer racing season.”
Crosby stated he “was feeling funky from about miles 35 to 38; however the last 5K I found another gear that I didn’t know existed.” The heat got to him creating a queasy stomach for about 8 miles. Crosby’s next event will be the Eastern States 100 in August and he will also toe the line at Tussey for redemption from a previous Tussey. Although this is his 3rd entry in a 2019 national running championship, Crosby also won the Snowshoe National Championships in Wisconsin last March and will go to Japan in February 2020 as a member of the USA Snowshoe Team where he will run the 10K. Ultimately, Crosby hopes someday to make a USA national running team.
First male masters was Ian Schoten. “I didn’t know what to expect today. Over the last 2 months, I have run only a total of 150 miles due to an IT issue with my right knee. I have done lots of cross training and hiking with a 50 pound pack. The key was changing my gait and it has made all the difference in the world.” Schoten broke his own 50-54 course record by 16 minutes. A true testament to the value of cross training in the aging athlete.
Meanwhile on the women’s side, the women to watch included Justyne Wilson, 43, Fairless Hills, PA. She took 1st place at the 2019 Hat Run 50K, placed 2nd at the 2018 Grindstone 100 Mile, and in 2017 placed 2nd at the Tussey 50 mile road national championship. Christen Doneski, 48, Hopkinton, NH, was familiar with the course having finished in 4th place at the 2018 50 mile trail championships at Cayuga. From Blue Mounds, WI, Jonnah Perkins, 35, recently placed 2nd in the 2019 Ice Age Trail 50 mile. A late entrant, Aliza Lapierre, 38, Williston, VT came in with a very impressive running resume. Among her accomplishments were placing 1st in the 2019 North Face Challenge, 2nd in the 2019 Mount Mitchell 40 Mile, 1st in the 2018 Vermont 50 Mile, and 8th at 2018 Western States 100 Mile.
From the start, it was a 4 women race with the 4 women mentioned above. The interval of separation was much closer than witnessed in the men’s race. Up to the marathon distance, only 3:30 separated the top 3 women. With the exception of coming into the 7.6-mile aid station Wilson led the entire distance, but was very closely followed by Doneski. For most of the race, Doneski and Lapierre were running so closely together that they changed positions at least 4 times during the event. At the marathon point, only 27 seconds separated these two women. In the end at the finish line, Wilson won the 2019 50-mile trail national championship in 8:52:25; behind Wilson was Doneski, finishing 2nd in 9:01:21. Lapierre took the bronze medal with a time of 9:03:53. Rounding out the top 5 were Jonnah Perkins in 9:18:35 in 4th position and from Clinton, NJ, 51 year old Melanie Lenahan finished 5th.
Crossing the finish line as first overall female and first female masters as well, looking like she had just finished a 10K, Justyne Wilson expressed a wonderful nonchalant approach toward he accomplishment. “I asked myself, what am I doing?” At 43 years, Wilson looks much younger. Born in Poland, she arrived in the USA 20 years ago and soon after earned her US citizenship. “I ran track in college then road races after graduating. About 4 years ago, I stated running longer distances. I love the hills and trails. When I started winning events, I realized how great this sport was. Trail running is not as boring as the roads and the time spent on the trail gives me time off from the intensity of my work.” Wilson is a nurse specializing in palliative care.
Christin Doneski also applauded the course and volunteers. “It was so gorgeous and so well marked. I went down twice in the mud just as if I was sliding into home base. The first loop was OK, but the second time on the loop; it was slippery after so many feet had been through the trail.”
Special thanks to race director, Ian Golden, for putting on a gold standard 50-mile trail race where all runners were made to feel very special and well taken care of. The runners repeatedly complemented the amazing efforts put forth by all the volunteers. Kudos to them for making a difference for all the participants and support crews.
The 2020 US 50-mile trail championships will be held Saturday, March 14, 2020, in Folsum, CA, with a $5000 total prize purse. Paulo Medina is the race director.