Written by USATF Championship liaison Lin Gentling.
Unusually cold and windy weather greeted runners at 2018 USATF National 100K Championships in Madison, WI, on Saturday, April 7. Spring was not in the weather gods’ cards. Regardless, all 25 pre-registered runners showed at the start line in 16 F temperatures. Many had the hope of finishing 20 – 5K laps sometime later, but only two would claim the prize of being auto selected to the 2018 US National 100K Team competing in Croatia at the World Championships on September 8.
After several years of the 100K national championships run at Vilas Park on a 10K loop, the race for 2018 was switched to Warner Park on a 5K loop due to construction at Vilas. The course was flat except for one slight hill, but much of the course was open to the gusting wind conditions that seemed to worsen as the day progressed. There is nothing worse in the northern environs than to endure not only very cold temperatures, but also very windy conditions sending the wind-chills into the low single digits (6F).
At 6:30 AM just as the dawn was brightening, the runners were off for what would become a day full of surprises. Pre-race favorites included 2016 100K national champions, Geoff Burns and Traci Falbo. Joining them were the 2018 50K road champion, Eric LiPuma, multiple 100K national team member, Chad Ricklefs, Anthony Kunkel and Liza Howard, both 2017 50 mile road champions and solid 100 mile veteran, Denise Bourassa.
The race was one of attrition. Of the 25 runners who started the day, only 13 finished, barely over 50%. Much of that can be attributed to the horrendous weather conditions. Burns dropped just prior to 70K, LiPuma at 60K, Falbo just after 40K. It was tough!!! With the loop being only 5K we saw the runners frequently and were able to monitor the effort and difficulty each was dealing with. Ultrarunners are a very stubborn breed. Despite the conditions, and the difficulty encountered when running on very hard surfaces, there some outstanding results.
Burns, 27, Ann Arbor, MI, and LiFuma, 24, Boulder, CO, ran together up to 25K with Kunkel, 26, Durango, CO, running about 30 seconds behind. At 50K, LiPuma was still in the lead by about one minute over Burns followed by Kunkel about 1:20 back in 3rd. At 60K Kunkel moved into the lead by 17 second on Burns who was now almost 2 minutes up on LiFuma. At this point the wheels fell off LiFuma who dropped, as Burns continued to lose ground on Kunkel. At 70K Kunkel was up by 7:35 over Burns, when Burns dropped. The remainder of the race for Kunkel was just a matter of forward progression and staying upright. This he did in great style and seemed to be running with ease and conviction showing very little strain on his face. Kunkel crossed the finish line in 6:52:10 as the 2018 100K national champion san shirt which he had thrown off 50 meters prior to the finish. This was his 5th attempt at Mad City, and likely no one wanted that win worse than Kunkel did to redeem his prior Mad City races. He did in great style and on his birthday, no less!!!!
Following in 2nd place for the men was Jadd Martinez, 36, from Arroyo Grande, CA, 7:34:46; and in 3rd place was his best friend, Thomas Reiss, 50, San Luis Obispo, CA and first master runner.
On the distaff side Jackie Dubnicka, 21, Hartland, WI, who just began dabbling in ultraruninng, hit the 25K mark first, leading Denise Bourassa, 48, St. Louis, MO, by about 2:40. Following the duo was Liza Howard, 46, San Antonio, TX, 4 minutes in back of 2nd place, and Traci Falbo, 46, Jeffersonville, IN, 38 seconds from 3rd place. Traci dropped at 40K almost 10 minutes out of 1st place. From this point on, it became a 3-person race. At the half way point of the 100K, Liza had taken over 1st place with a lead of 2:45 over Denise, and then Jackie, just over 4 minutes out of 1st. By 75K, Liza was building a commanding lead up by almost 19 minute over Jackie and by over 27 minutes from Denise. With plenty of real estate behind her, Liza crossed the finish line absolutely elated and relieved in 8:07:58 and was crowned the 2018 100K National Champion. Easily finishing 29:45 ahead of Jackie in 2nd place, and over 54 minutes ahead Denise in 3rd place.
Liza Howard said it best, “There was a 70 degree temperature difference between the 16 degree race start and the temperatures in San Antonio, TX so I was a little worried about how that would play out. The beautiful sunny weather mitigated the temperatures. The wind was quite something though later in the race.
The organization and warmth at Mad City is beyond compare. I’ve eaten my weight in chocolate truffles since the race that were in our pre-race bags.
I’d come to Mad City hoping to qualify for the US Team, and I’m over the moon that I did. I could not be more proud or humbled to be on team and represent the United States.”
Hats off to all the finishers of the Mad City 100K. Conditions never improved as the day progressed, despite the sun shining brilliantly. It was just plain cold and miserable. A special congratulations to Anthony Kunkel and Liza Howard who automatically qualified for the 2018 100K National Team that will head to Croatia for the world 100K in September and to Jackie Dubnicka for achieving a qualifying time for 100K team selection consideration.