By Ben Talsma, co-Race Director
In a typical year, the Hungerford Trail Races offer uniquely challenging terrain. You won’t find ten thousand feet of climb. You won’t find rocks, or roots – at least not too many. What you will find is long stretches of punishing sand, especially along the iconic Powerlines.
This year, for the first time in the race’s four-year history, a light rain tamped down the sand. Moderate temperatures opened the possibility of a fast race. Right from the gun, defending champion Shelby Pankratz didn’t disappoint. After opening a twelve-minute gap in the first nine miles, Pankratz never looked back, extending his lead at each checkpoint and making a course record a foregone conclusion – but by how much?
Since the course was modified in 2014 to include two punishing trips through The Powerlines, no one but Pankratz had dipped under 8:40, with the course record standing at 8:29:36. On this day, however, Shelby powered home in a jaw-dropping 7:25:17, more than an hour better than his course record. Nicholas Bulson (8:37:46) edged Razvan Lazareanu (8:37:54) for runners-up honors in the third- and fourth-fastest times run on the new course.
On the women’s side, Laura Waldo ran an impressive race from start to finish to claim the chainsaw-carved champions’ trophy in 9:35:21, with Jill Maggi taking second in 10:00:42.
Spectators and crew traveling point to point weren’t so lucky. The rain produced some serious mud along the two-track roads, and the tow trucks got quite a workout. Fortunately, there were no accidents or injuries, although the night before the race, emergency responders responded to a tremendous truck fire. The smell of its charred shell reminded passersby not to tangle with the trecherous bogs.
“The terrain out here is underrated as far as difficulty goes,” Race Director Rob Atwood explained. “When it’s warm and sandy, we’ve had people tell us that our 50 Mile race was as difficult as some pretty highly-touted hundred milers, and when it rains the mud can get pretty rough as well. Even today, with pretty ideal conditions, it’s a deceptively challenging race; people who beat the sunset definitely earn bragging rights. This ultra will test you out.”
While it was a test that Pankratz, Waldo, and the other trophy winners passed with flying colors, others weren’t as lucky. Only 18 of the 25 starters earned the coveted Ultramarathon Hiking Stick. The time limit to earn the stick varies; the ultra always starts exactly at sunrise, and participants must finish before sunset to earn the stick. The Stick is complemented by a one-of-a-kind hand-branded woodallion, a Hungerford tradition since 2013 and a memento perfectly in keeping with the arboreal theme of a race through Michigan’s beautiful Manistee National Forest.
With incredible weather, record-breaking performances, tests of human endurance, and spectacular memories, the 2016 Hungerford Trail Races were truly a great success.