Written by USATF Championship Liaison Lin Gentling. Photos by Karl Leas.
April 13, 2019 – On a very cold and blustery day in Madison, WI at Vilas City Park, the USATF 100K Road National Championships were held. This is a 10K undulating loop around the University of WI arboretum. On any other day, this would be a beautiful scenic course, but with the low temperatures, the exhausting winds, and overcast skies, it was a grueling effort just to simply adjust to the weather. This was the 12th year that the city of Madison and race director, Timo Yanacheck have hosted these championships. The hospitality is outstanding, runners’ needs are always accommodated, the personal touch is omnipresent, and everything that can be controlled in favor of the runners was done with perfection and clearly noted by all the runners.
While the 100K field is never large, the effort and commitment illustrated by those runners who take on the challenge is amazing and so courageous. This was an eclectic field to say the least. Among those runners entered included Israel Merkle, the 2016 winner of the national championship 50 mile road Tussey MountainBack Race, Derrick and Cole Crosby, 3rd and 6th place finishers respectively at the 2019 USATF 50K road national championships, Jameelah Mujaahid, a single mother of 5 children, Chris Raulli, member of the 2018 USA ultra-trail team (competing in the world championships in Spain) and 2017 USATF 50 mile trail national champion, the 2015 Katalin Nagy , the 2015 24H world champion and former world record holder, Caroline Cotsakis, 2018 Rocky Raccoon 50K winner, Rachel Ingle, addicted to lipstick, nail varnish, hats, and Doctor Who, Francis Steib, a free-lance musician who plays the tenor trombone, Lindsay Simpson, the 2018 Vermont 100 mile 1st place woman, Robert Bondurant, a Marathon Maniac, Scott Kummer, a runner who overcame obesity and heavy smoking as well as an addiction to drugs and alcohol, Adam Benkers, a committed peanut butter consumer who eats an entire jar in one sitting, Pamela Chapman-Markle, diagnosed with cancer at age 19 and given 6 months to live (that was over 40 years ago), a registered nurse anesthetist, a Harley motorcyclist and a licensed sailboat captain, Mike Bialick, previous Mad City 100K winner, Jean Pommier, an IT international executive, and runners with several American age group records.
Based on the above, the race on paper looked like an exciting and in many ways, an evenly matched event. This is not an automatic 100K team selection race as the 100K world championship is held during the even years. However, the times run during the 2019 race will serve as qualifying times for the 2020 team.
At 6:30 AM, Timo Yanacheck started the race. Runners were dressed in everything from singlets and shorts to multiple layers that could easily be disposed as the day would maybe heat up. In fact, quite likely the warmest part of the day seemed to be the 33 degrees at the start. While the winds were more like a breeze in the early dawn, that certainly was not to last and actually became a primary contributor to the attrition of several runners. Thirty runners had registered for the race, 26 toed the start line, and 16 hardy souls found the finish line.
Immediately Chris Raulli, 30, of Cornelius, NC took the lead and ran unopposed for 60K. Running comfortably his lead grew until about the 50K mark when his wheels started falling off. His legs (unprotected from the gusting cold winds) began to buckle. Behind Chris were Israel Merkle, 30, Akron, OH, and Cole Crosby, 30, Princeton, NJ running very close to one another with a mere 8 seconds separating them on the first 10K loop. Running in 4th position was Martin Erl, 27, Milwaukee, WI, one minute behind, and in 5th was previous Mad City 100K winner, Mike Bialick, 37, Minnetonka, MN, 2:09 in back of Erl. These positions stayed the same until the mid-race shake-up began at 60K. By this time the runners had been battling the weather and cold harsh winds for over 4 hours. Winds came directly off the lake into the faces (and bare skin) of the runners. With the loop course, there was a segment with the wind at their backs, but this occurred in a much protected part of the course, so not much of a benefit.
At 60K Raulli dropped and Merkle took over the lead followed by Crosby, Erl, Bialick. Masters runner, Billy Mertens, 52, Louisville, CO, rounded out the top 5. Now it was just a matter of mental toughness, fighting off hypothermic conditions, and willing the body toward the finish. Bialick moved up to 4th pace exchanging positions with Crosby at 80K. Bialick is an amazingly tough runner. Although he did not look particularly good (no one does in a road 100K at 80K), he found the strength to dig deep, moving up to 3rd position at 90K and holding onto it.
The 2019 100K national champion, Israel Merkle, crossed the finish line in 6:54:33. He was consistent throughout the race moving from 3rd place to 2nd place and into 1st after Raulli dropped. He was followed by Martin Erl in 7:14:03, Mike Bialick took 3rd place in 7:15 24, and Cole Crosby 4th, in 7:30:52. Of special note, Billy Mertens, finished first masters runner in 5th position overall. His time of 7:31:50 erased the previous American age group record (50-54) of 7:38:32 set 3 years earlier at the Mad City 100K.
On the women’s side, the drama was primarily between Caroline Cotsakis, 25, Midvale, UT and Nora Bird, 35, Madison, WI. Of the 9 women who registered, only 5 started and 4 finished. Cotsakis led from the start, but things got interesting on the final lap with Bird. After 10K, there was a 17-second gap between Cotsakis and Bird. By 60K Cotsakis had increased that lead to 19 minutes. However, from that point on, Bird started to catch the Rosman University nursing student. By 80K, the lead had shrunk to 7 minutes. From the finish line, you can see across the road adjacent to the lake about 1.5 miles before the finish. We could see the two runners leap frogging one another and could only imagine the mental stress and physical toll that last 1.5 miles was taking as the two runners battled for first place. At the finish, Caroline Cotsakis hung on for the win in 9:48:48, with Nora Bird placing 2nd just 32 seconds behind in 9:49:20. Both runners were totally spent, leaving everything on the course.
Following in 3rd place was 62 year old Pamela Chapman-Markle, San Leon, TX, in 11:30:52. She had hoped to go for the age group 100K record of 11:13, but the day was too brutal weather wise and she would save it for another time. She currently holds national age group records in the 100 mile, 12 hour, and 24-hour events.
Kudos to all the Mad City 100K finishers, and especially to the 2019 100K USATF National Champions, Israel Merkle and Caroline Cotsakis. Special thanks to race director, Timo Yanacheck, the Mad City LOC and to all the amazing volunteers who did such a great job of making each runner feel they were the most important person in the world on race day. Standing for hours in that cold and wind truly tested the dedication and perseverance of all those volunteers. They provided their services for the love of the sport and it really showed!