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Singletrack Maniac 50K ultramarathon features rare female winner in record-setting field

The Virginia Gazette

Last Saturday's fourth annual Singletrack Maniac 50K ultramarathon race at Freedom Park in Williamsburg was noteworthy for two main reasons.

One, the race continued its upward trend in terms of entrants, and cracked the 100-runner barrier for the first time. And two, as has happened less than a handful of times in the history of the Colonial Road Runners, the overall winner of the race was a female runner.

Two CRR Grand Prix races have had females as the overall race winners. At the 2006 Governor's Land 5K, Aurora Scott, 16, of Chesapeake won in 16:37, her time still the Governor's Land women's race record and still the CRR's women's age 15-19 all-time record.

More recently, two-time Run the DOG Street Challenge 5K women's winner (2014 and '16) Kathleen Lautzenheiser, 22, of Midlothian and a William and Mary graduate, won the Warhill 8K Run in 2014 in a time of 30:31, ahead of all the men.

Although the two Williamsburg ultramarathons (the Singletrack Maniac 50K in May, and the Midnight Maniac 13 Hour Run in October), both directed by Ellen Womeldorf (formerly the Health and Wellness Coordinator for James City County's Parks and Recreation Department), aren't CRR Grand Prix races, they still are affiliated with the CRR.

Last October, Lindsay Mock had the highest mileage total of all runners in the Midnight Maniac, male or female, although that event is pretty low-key.

In contrast, the Singletrack Maniac 50K is the premier ultramarathon in the Williamsburg area, and in its fourth year, is becoming increasingly popular. This year's race had a record 106 entrants, the first time in three digits, and increasing from 94 in 2015. The total number of finishers has risen from 34 in 2013 to 54 in 2014, 74 in 2015 and 84 this year.

Catherine Sykes, 34, of Midlothian won the race in a women's course record 4:13:06, and was followed for the women by Whitney Richman, 35, of North Chesterfield (fifth overall, 4:55:44), Charli McKee, 24, of Raleigh, N.C. (seventh overall, 5:01:05), Jennifer Ford, 36, of Hampton (10th overall, 5:24:10) and Megan Cassiday, 40, of Henrico (15th overall, 5:46:16). Four women were in the top nine overall, and those five are all in the top-10 times overall for the race — Sykes and Richman at No. 1 and 2, McKee at 4, Ford at 6 and Cassidy at 10. The previous course record was by Lindsay Mock (4:59:34 in 2015), the same runner who won the Midnight Maniac last October. Mock was entered last Saturday, but could not run.

For the men the top six were Patrick Holmes, 35 of Washington, D.C. (second overall, 4:30:37), Brian Quintana, 21, of Burke (third overall, 4:48:53), Ricky Welborn, 45, of Alexandria (fourth overall, 4:49:47), Seth Jayson, 46, of Annandale (sixth overall, 5:00:39), Danny Mathieson, 26, of Richmond (eighth overall, 5:09:49) and Corey Gray, 38, of Williamsburg (10th overall, 5:25:13). Jayson was the 2014 race winner (in 4:41:36) and placed second last year in 4:31:31. Holmes, this year's winner, is now No. 3 on the all-time list with his 4:30:37. The only two faster are 2015 race winner Andy Goodstein, 24, of Williamsburg (a course record 3:54:22) and 2013 race winner Dennis Welch (4:29:53).

The weather was cool for the 7 a.m. start, and although it got warm during the race (into the 70s), the humidity was low, and the trail conditions were dry for the mostly shaded course. There were three aid stations, manned by The North Face, James City County Parks and Recreation, and the Colonial Road Runners, which were encountered multiple times during the race on the multi-loop course. The race is described as "over 75 percent rooty, twisty, challenging singletrack mountain bike trails, with approximately 1,500 feet of elevation gain and loss in the park."

It starts and finishes at Lois Hornsby Middle School and utilizes the adjacent Freedom Park bike and nature trails.

Sykes was running her first ultramarathon, although she does have a fast 3:01 marathon PR to her credit. She said, "I was pretty nervous coming into it and didn't know what to expect from my body after 26.2 miles (since that was the longest distance I had run prior to this race), so I started off at a very comfortable pace and stayed conservative for the majority of the race. I was very conscientious about fueling and hydration."

The race went smoothly for Sykes, who said, "Maybe it was the camaraderie of other runners early on, the constant challenge of the ups and downs, twists and turns, or the awesome support of the volunteers at every aide station, but the time and miles flew by! At some point, I hit my Garmin and lost my total mileage count, but I didn't stress over it since I had already decided to let go of the pressure to run any certain pace and just have some fun. When I came off the trail at the last aide station, I asked 'How much farther?' and the volunteers told me, 'One more mile, just back to the school.' I remember asking twice, 'Are you sure? That's it?' I just couldn't believe that 30 miles could pass that quickly, even though I knew I had run A, D, and E (trails) twice each, it was hard for me to wrap my head around 'one more mile' and done! I loved the warm reception at the finish line, and the swag was top notch!"

Sykes has run seven marathons, one 5K and one 8-miler in her running career. After a number of injuries kept her from running the Richmond Marathon last November, she decided to change directions, overcome a childhood fear of the woods and listen to her running coach, who advised her to switch to trail running instead. She said, "I wanted my children to see a mother who is physically and mentally strong, not one who is injured and afraid." She looked for a local race so that her family could travel with her. The Singletrack Maniac was the "perfect fit" as her husband and two kids were at Freedom Park's Go Ape! adventure park while she was running the 50K. "Other than nearly stepping on a 3-foot black snake on the last E loop, the race was anything but scary! I had a blast achieving my biggest goal, which was to finish the race."

Other local finishers included Chris Robertson, 43, of Williamsburg (20th, 6:00:56), Amber Lewis, 32, of Williamsburg (23rd, 6:04:04), Randy Bartel, 45, of Yorktown (6:08:48), Zachary Bass, 34, of Fort Eustis (6:19:03), Rose Crist, 61, of Lanexa (6:40:48), David Blanchard, 53, of Yorktown (7:23:29), Jeff Combs, 48, of Yorktown (7:33:09), John Hale, 33, of Williamsburg (7:37:46), John Griffin, 35, of Yorktown (7:56:15), Amber Roberts, 33, of Williamsburg (8:03:32), Jim Hopkins, 60, of Williamsburg (8:57:01), and Paul Walker, 33, of Williamsburg (9:03:46). Robertson and Hopkins are the only two runners who have completed all four Singletrack Maniac races.

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