Every ultramarathon runner, regardless of experience, has had a first run of 50 km or more (31.0 miles, the minimum distance to be considered an ultra). Last Saturday’s ninth annual Singletrack Maniac 50K at Freedom Park in Williamsburg had a mix of veterans and newbies, but it certainly helped to have previous ultramarathon experience.
The 50K started at 7am and the accompanying Cray Cray 10K started at 8am, both from Lois Hornsby Middle School on Jolly Pond Road. The paved bike path from the school becomes the main park trail as it enters Freedom Park from Jolly Pond. Riders then did a combination of the A, D, and E single-track mountain bike trails (wide for one person for the most part), doubling each of those loops. The weather was ideal for racing, among the best ever for the first ultramarathon in all of Williamsburg, with lots of cloud cover, low humidity, little wind and temperatures between the mid 40s and upper 50s .
Nicholas Wirz, 33, of Leonardtown, Maryland, dominated the race, winning by more than half an hour and with the third fastest time in race history, clocking 4:02:11. Two other runners broke the five-hour barrier, Ethan Ford, 30, of Richmond (4:33:39) and female winner Erin Williams, 47, of Manquin (4:51:49). Fourteen more runners were under six, including top local finisher Cole Fricke, 44, of Yorktown (5:09:50).
Wirz’s time trailed only William & Mary graduate Andy Goodstein (3:54:22) in 2015 and Nick Cruz (3:59:14) in 2021. The women’s record (4:13:06, fourth best overall time) is by Catherine Sykes in 2016, followed by Erin Williams this year (4:51:49) and Christina Bertone last year (4:53:08). Williams was also under five in 2017 (4:56:40), when she also won the women’s title.
Wirz emailed: “What a great course! Ellen (Alexander) was amazing and I would sign up for any race she organizes. Communication before the race was perfect, check-in easy, great quantities of food and drink at the aid stations and a well-organized arrival. What is important to me is the speed of the race results and the photos, and Ellen managed both. Wirz is a runner of ultra experienced, with 32 so far, the longest being a 100 miler. “My take on ultras is that our BODIES can do amazing things that we never thought possible, but our minds will give up first. He didn’t learn about the course folder until after the fact and emailed, “Ugh, now I know about the course folder. I should have gone there. Guess I’ll have to come back next year with the course record in mind!
Kevin Bumgarner, 47, of Chesterfield (5:12:00), Drew Snead, 32, of Lanexa (5:19:06), Ricky Wellborn, 51, of Alexandria (5:27:33), Patrick Kennedy, 38, of Virginia Beach (5:30:09), second wife Connie Cassidy, 39, of Williamsburg (5:36:26) and Fran Curtis, 54, of Westminster, Mass. (5:47:52) were in the top 10.
Other top local finishers included Sean Wheeler, 31, of Williamsburg (11th, 5:51:04), Joe Calkins, 51, of Lanexa (12th, 5:53:50), Kevin Grierson, 56, of Williamsburg (16th, 5:56:04), Megan Schulze, 39, of Newport News (19th, 6:01:58, third woman overall), Robert O’Brien, 43, of Williamsburg (20th, 6:02 :43), Michael Lester, 30, of Williamsburg (21st, 6:05:08), Madison Cross-Kaplan, 22, of Williamsburg (22nd, 6:06:33, a William & Mary student) and Brian Webb , 45, of Yorktown (27th, 6:14:04).
For female winner Erin Williams, the 2017 Singletrack was her first ultra. She emailed: “I fell in love with the atmosphere of the trail, the great production of Ellen and the fact that I was the first woman and fifth overall, the pain in my legs after running is less painful!” She often hikes the trails at Freedom Park, bringing her Commonwealth Trail Runners ultramarathon training team from the Richmond area several times a year, and has returned to volunteer and train her athletes. The week of the race she helped Alexander mark the trails and on Friday walked the trails to make sure all was well. Familiarity with the course certainly helped, as she went from sixth overall at the midpoint to third overall at the finish.
Chris Robertson, 49, of Vinton but a former Williamsburg resident, finished 24th in 6:12:11 and is the only rider to complete every Singletrack Maniac 50K. There were 62 finishers, the slowest at 8:49:27, well below the 10-hour race limit.
Robertson also had the Singletrack as his first ultra, in 2013. He emailed “Yeah, I’ve done everyone. Already signed up for next year. That was my first ultra and the only race I have a streak on and I want to see how long I can keep going. Running in the woods in Williamsburg is always fun. His trademark is running with a kilt. “I don’t think I got my kilt until the second race. My family is all Scottish and my dad gave me a regular kilt which I wear on vacation so getting a race kilt seemed like the right thing to do. I only wear it for marathons and ultras .
Joe Calkins and Kevin Grierson ran 10 miles of the race together. For Calkins, he did two ultras, Singletrack last year and this year (his 5:53:50 was a 37-minute PR). Calkins emailed, “We stayed together until that last twisty hill. We wouldn’t have finished so well if we hadn’t met and discussed the pain of the last loops together. To me, that camaraderie is what makes these ultras so fun. Grierson had huge PR in his eighth Singletrack Maniac race. His first, in 2015, was over seven hours (7:19:01), then he volunteered for several years before returning in 2018, and he’s done the 50K every year since (including a virtual race in 2020, the COVID year). His previous record was 6:16:28 in a downpour (2019), next time was warm (upper 70s) and slower at 6:17:08, so drop that time to 5:56:04 this year was quite satisfying.
Third male Cole Fricke later discovered he was the first local finisher. He emailed: “Nicholas was crushing us from the jump! Only time I saw him after the start was on the out and back entry road around mile 11, he already had about a half a mile ahead and looked super strong! Shortly after I was grabbed by Erin. I felt great at the time and had planned on hanging out with her, but she absolutely dropped the ball. hammer and dusted me on our first trip through “The Pines” She was running so hard!
Similar to the 50K, the Cray Cray 10K was dominated by one runner, as Timothy Suhr, 50, of Williamsburg led from the start to a victory 50:14, 2 1/2 minutes ahead of runner-up Joaquin Sosa, 32. , of Harrisonburg (52:43), with Miles Davison, 36, of Williamsburg third (53:56), Joseph Roth, 56, of Yorktown fourth (56:34) and Luis Aviles, 48, of Newport News fifth (56:39).
The top three women were May Carlson, 45, of Hampton (1:00:34), Tabea Zimmerman, 29, of Williamsburg (1:03:02) and Laurel Henshaw, 41, of Williamsburg (1:04:02 17). There were 59 finishers in the 10K, for a total of 121 one-day finishers. As an indicator of the difficulty of the winding, windy and hilly trails at Freedom Park, Suhr ran 39:02 the previous Saturday on the Victory Road at Yorktown 10K, over 11 minutes faster. He emailed: “Damn, yeah, I wanted to do the 50,000k for sure, but downsizing for Boston, I thought maybe that wasn’t a good idea. I did about twenty ultra-marathons, including a 100 mile.
Both races were organized by Ellen Alexander and her organization Happy Cat Events. Alexander organizes half a dozen or more interesting and offbeat races each year, over longer distances, on trails and in beautiful parks such as Freedom Park, New Quarter Park, the Warhill Nature Trail and York River State Park. Without exception, all runners rave about his organization, attention to detail, attention to each runner, with extensive and well-stocked aid stations and well-marked courses.
One of these races, the My First 50 (choice of 50km or 50 miles), will take place on November 5, and Global Rewards and Masters (40+) will be exclusively for new ultramarathoners. Fourteen have already registered for this unique event at Freedom Park. One of Alexander’s races, The Night Owl 9K at Freedom Park (July 16) is a Colonial Road Runners Grand Prix event.
Rick Platt is president of Colonial Road Runners.