BREAKNECK POINT TRAIL RUNS 42K PREVIEW By Brian Vanderheiden
The Breakneck Point Trail Runs are in a nutshell, one of the toughest, most beautiful trail races you will ever run. It has a little bit of everything: super technical trails, twisting/turning single track, long climbs up to beautiful vista points, rocky jeep road trails, some fire roads for good measure and one iconic climb at the start of mile 8 that will test your will, your fear, and your resilience.
The race has been in existence since 2015 and has steadily gained the aforementioned reputation. Runners have a choice of doing the 42K or 21K distances with one race on each day of the weekend. The course is a beast with 8K of vertical both UP and DOWN. If you’re looking for a marathon PR, you will not find it here, unless it’s your first! Breakneck is the brainchild of race director Ian Golden fromRed Newt Racing and Ben Drew. He’s been putting on some amazing events and this is one of the best! It is my opinion, having run it a few times myself, the toughest trail marathon in the Northeast.
This year’s race, slated for Saturday, April 30 has some added spice in that the 42K is a USATF qualifier for the USA Mountain Running Team and the chance to represent your country in the World Championships for the 40K distance in Thailand in early November. That has brought in quite a few quality contenders, even some from the west coast. Over 260 runners will take a crack at being the top man and woman and put on that USA singlet.
THE COURSE Located primarily in Hudson Highlands State Park in Beacon, NY, the course has had a few different iterations over the years; the popular infamous climb up Breakneck Ridge has remained. It’s not the longest climb on the track, but it’s certainly the steepest with about 900’ of vertical straight up from the Hudson River in just a ½ mile, an average of over 35% grade!. Most of it is pretty much rock scrambling and using all fours at times. The views at the top are simply stunning with 360' views of the Hudson River and surrounding landscapes. The 42K course boasts approximately 8K of elevation with 5 pretty significant climbs and corresponding descents on very technical trails.
If you want to get a good sense of the course, please see these two videos from 2019/2020.
WOMEN’S RACE PREVIEW There are quite a few women with plenty of trail/ultra running pedigree and the chance to win at Breakneck. With just over 50 women signed up less than a week out here is a list of women that in my opinion will be challenging for the podium as well as the win.
Kristina Randrup (23) - Seattle, WAKristina may be fairly new on the trail ultra scene, but certainly has put up some stout results. Since graduating from the University of Washington in 2019 she has won both the Seattle Marathon (2019) and the American River 50M (2021). More recent results include a top 5 at the JFK 50M last November in 6:29 and a 7th place finish at the always competitive Chuckanut 50K just over a month ago. She appears to be putting in good mileage, decent vert, appears to be fit and if she’s injury free will be the one to beat.
Michelle Merlis (33) - Albany, NYMichelle is a perennial Beast Coast runner and is super experienced on the technical trails in the Northeast. She has podium finishes on technical courses such as the Escarpment Trail Run 30K and the Traprock 50K. She has one previous finish in the 42K at Breakneck in 2017, but the course was long that year at about 28.5 miles so her time of 6:40 is a bit misleading. She does however hold the course record on the 21K at Breakneck after winning last year in 2:36. She has been averaging close to 70 mpw the last three months and has spent recent weekends doing recon and training at Hudson Highlands getting to know the new course changes for this year’s race. She is super efficient on the techy stuff and will be ready to pounce come race day. Experience and course knowledge is certainly an advantage at Breakneck.
Miquela Ingalls (32) - State College, PAA two-time winner of the Tussey Mountainback 50M in 2020/2021, Miquela has some leg speed having run 7:22 last year on a pretty hilly course. She also had a 2nd place at the Rothrock Challenge 17M last year on one of the tougher courses in PA. She looks to have put in decent mileage in the past month. She won the Hyner 50K just this past weekend how she recovers after that hard effort will determine her standing at Breakneck.
Sarah Dellett (26) - Ithaca, NY Sarah is also fairly a newbie to the trails, but finished 3rd in 2020 at Breakneck in 6:09 and had a win at the Beast of Burden 25M earlier this winter. She did however just run the Boston Marathon in 3:12 so we will see how her legs recover from that effort on the pavement.
Emma Raub (42) - Brooklyn, NYEmma is an experienced trail runner, having run several races in the last 10 years including Escarpment, Bear Mountain, and the Green Monster Challenge. More recent finishes include a 2nd place at the Pikes Peak 50K (2021) 1st at the Great Schunemunk Traverse (2021) and a win at the FebApple Frozen 20M in February of this year. She appears to be comfortable running on the technical trails and will challenge for the podium.
Kelly Wei (31) - Woodbury, CTKelly is very new to the trail/ultra scene, but is quickly making an impact. She was on the podium at the Vermont 50M last year in 9:04, but then ran a minute faster earlier this month at Lake Sonoma 50M to finish in the top 10. She’s less experienced on the trails than others on this list, but is gaining confidence and has the leg speed to challenge for the podium.
Alexandra Finn-Atkins (32) - Verplanck, NYAlexandra is somewhat new to trail/ultra running, but is steadily putting up some great results. She was second last year in the 21K behind Michelle, but almost 45 minutes back in 3:20. More recently she was 3rd at the Traprock 50K in CT earlier this month. Her most impressive finish though was a 3rd place at the Twisted Branch 100K last August, one of the more competitive races in the Northeast and a Western States qualifier. She has been on the course some this Spring so will look to be up in the top 5 for most of the day in my opinion.
MEN’S RACE PREVIEW The men’s race is to say the least, completely stacked! You have 4 former winners of the event including the course record holder, wily Beast Coast veterans, young guns chomping at the bit with amazing results on technical tracks, and even a top 5 finisher from Western States! This is definitely the most competitive men’s field ever at Breakneck and certainly for any trail/ultra race in the Northeast.
Ben Nephew (46) - Westborough, MABen is one of the most accomplished trail/ultra runners in the Northeast. He won Breakneck in 2015/2016, the first two years of the event. He also has won the Escarpment Trail 30K more than 10 times, Manitou’s Revenge 54M twice, Cat’s Tail Marathon and several podium finishes at the North Face Bear Mountain 50M including one win, not to mention his FKT resume. He is an absolute beast on the technical trails and is relentless on courses like this. Ben’s training is a bit scattered as he gets on his mountain bike a fair amount, but he’s had some long efforts of hill repeats as well as “Everesting” on his bike in, a monster ride of 142 miles in just over 21 hours at Northfield Mountain, MA. He always seems ready to race at Breakneck and will go hard from the gun…
David Hedges (24) - Ithaca, NYDavid is the course record holder having run 4:35 in 2020 on the same course layout as 2021. That race was held in September that year due to the Covid pandemic so there was a very small field and David ran solo the whole way and won by nearly 40 minutes. Despite being only 24, he already has a stout resume to his name, having the Ultra Race of Champions 100K (2021), Ultra Trail Hurricana 100M (2021) and also speedy results at JFK 50M (6:18 in 2017) and Bandera 100K (8:45 in 2022). He appears to be in excellent shape having averaged 100-120 mpw in the last few months with plenty of vert weeks topping 20K.
Liam Cregan (29) - Hadley, MALiam won Breakneck in 2019 in 4:36. He raced a ton that year winning the Cat’s Tail Marathon and a podium finish at Cayuga Trails 50M. He hasn’t really raced since 2019, but has spent plenty of time on the bike. He has been ramping up his training recently though with a 25M/7K vert effort in the mountains in southwest MA.
Andy Vermilyea (40) - Castleton, VTLast year’s winner at Breakneck in 4:45 at less than a minute over Nephew, Andy is a quintessential mountain runner from Vermont. He only races a few times a year, but gets after with monster results. He has the CR at Manitou’s (2018) and Macedonia 50K (2019), two second place finishes at the Grindstone 100M, a second at Vermont 100 (2016), and a top 50 finish at UTMB in 2017. He skimos all winter long in the mountains with plenty of vert, but has gotten back on the trails enough to be ready for Breakneck this year. He will probably hang back a bit in the first half, but once the real climbing starts, he will certainly move up and pick up the carnage.
2021 Winner Andy Vermilyea
Brian Rusiecki (43) - South Deerfield, MAWhen you think of Northeast trail running, Brian’s name is always up near the top of the list. He has a litany of podium finishes in his over 150 races, with notable wins at Vermont 100M (4X), Grindstone 100M, Massanutten 100M, Cascade Crest 100M, and Hellgate 100K. With the exception of Vermont, those courses are all pretty technical with tons of vert, but this is a shorter event so we will have to see if has the leg speed to keep up.
Dan Grip (42) - Wendell, MAI don't know if you can call Dan a wily veteran, but I only put him in this category because of his age. He has been doing a decent amount of Northeast style trail races in the last 6 years, but has burst onto the podium scene in recent years. He had a hell of a 2021 season, winning the Traprock 50K, Cayuga Trails 50M, and Manitou’s Revenge 54M. He’s never run at Breakneck, but has been putting in the time on the techy trails the last month including a win at the Mt. Toby 50K and with his climbing ability, he will definitely be up near the front.
Jayson Kolb (35) - Rutherford, NJJayson is an experienced trail/ultra runner with plenty of great results. He has 3 top 10 finishes at Breakneck, but the most impressive result on his resume is his win at Eastern States 100M in 2017. He didn’t race at all last year, but had a recent 2nd place finish at the Squatchapple 33M just a few weeks ago so appears ready to get after it.
Samuel Kirk (40) - Newtown Square, NYSam doesn’t have a ton of trail race results out there, but had some very good ones last year.. He was on the podium at The View 25K (right behind Hedges) and he’s got some leg speed for sure with a 6:07 clocking at JFK last year to finish in the top 10.
Jay Lemos (32) - Beacon, NYJay is the goofy dude posing on Breakneck Point in the cover photo on the UltraSignup registration page! He’s only 32, but has been trail/ultra racing since his early 20’s. He lives in Beacon, so this is his home course. No one knows these trails better than him for sure. He has run Breakneck every single year since its inception with 5 out of 7 years finishing in the top 10.
Jay Lemos posing in 2021:
Photo by Ron Heerkens, Jr.
Eric Lipuma (28) - Richmond, VT This guy is at the top of the young guns list for a reason. Not only does he run well in the mountains of VT, he’s got some serious leg speed to his credit. He has won several shorter trail races 25K to 50K in his home state, but won the 50M last year in 6:24 and followed that up with a podium finish at JFK in a blazing 5:39! He has not been on the course, but has been doing plenty of good mileage weeks/vert recently.
Steven Lange (30) - Stanhope, NJNow this guy can run the technical terrain. He has an amazing resume. He’s got a good range as well with solid results at longer mountain races, plus speedy efforts at shorter ones. He’s got notable wins at the Cat’s Tail Marathon (2021) and the Mount Tammany 40M (2018), but also has podium finishes at Breakneck 42K (2019), Escarpment Trail 30K (2018), Hyner 25K (2021), and Breakneck (2021). He has put in a ton of vert recently (over 60K) in March alone with a mix of trails and concentrated workouts on the treadmill. Look for him to be in the mix from the start.
Mason Coppi (24) - Manlius, NYMason has recently moved to upstate NY from California. He’s a former college runner at Furman with sub-15 minute 5K speed. He has a win over Hedges at The View 25K in PA last November, a recent top 10 just last month at the always competitive Chuckanut 50K in Washington and has been putting in some 75-80 mile weeks recently, but will he be ready for the vert and technicality at Breakneck?
Elliot Cardin (29) - Quebec, CanadaComing from over the border, Elliot can get after it on the trails! He tends to run the longer trail/ultra events over 50M/100K quite well. He’s got a win at Ultra Trail Hurricana 65K (2018), but his podium finish and 8:19 at the Black Canyon 100K in 2020 really stands out. That’s a stout time on that course! It's a much less technical track than most of the races on the east coast, though he does have a couple of sub 8 hour finishes at the Bear Mountain 50M (2017/2018) just across the river from Breakneck.
Ben Robinson (28) - Tunkhannock, PABen is the only PA guy on this list, but the techy singletrack and mountain running are his specialty. He has wins last year in his state at the Call of the Wilds 50K, Slate 25K and Hyner 25K, the latter over Lange. He also has a couple of runner up finishes at the Whiteface Sky Race (2018/2019) and has gone out west to run to some of the more famous mountain races like Broken Arrow and finished top 10. He’s been averaging close to 80 mpw and 15K vert for the last month so he’s primed for a good result.
Corey Keehn (29) - Vilas, NCCorey’s new on the scene, but picked up a couple of wins last year at the Quest for the Crest 50K and Grand-Further Mountain Run 25K as well as a top 10 finish at the Broken Arrow Skyrace 52K out in Cali. He appears fit, averaging about 75 mpw recently.
WEST COAST INVADER
Max King (42) - Bend, ORWell look who’s coming to Breakneck this year! Max King is an elite trail/ultra runner with one of the best resumes in a wide array of distances over the last dozen years. He lives on the west coast, but went to school at Cornell in upstate NY so is somewhat familiar with Northeast style trails, but this will be only his second race (except for JFK) on the Beast Coast. He has won races such as American River 50M, Ultra Race of Champions 100K, Way Too Cool 50K, Chuckanut 50K, FOURmidable 50K, Broken Arrow Skyrace, has a sub 16 hour at Western States and a wins at the World Championship road 100K (2014) and the World Mountain Running Championship (2011). He has speed, he can climb, and has a solid block of training leading up to the race, but how will he react to the relentlessness at Breakneck and target on his back as the favorite.
THE X FACTOR Lee Berube (31) - Syracuse, NYIf you look at Lee’s UltraSignup results, he is a perfect 7/7. A former D3 college track and field standout at SUNY Geneseo in upstate NY, he is just plain quick and such a fast climber. He is a USATF Trail Half Marathon champion (2019), has won the Vertical K twice at Whiteface, Loon Mountain, and the Escarpment Trail 30K in both 2018/2019 obliterating the course record in running 2:42. He also holds the CR at Breakneck in the 21K, winning last year in 2:03. Lee is super comfortable on this type of trail, but his training is a bit of a mystery as he’s not on Strava or social media, but I've been told by a good source that he is definitely ready for sure.
Lee Berube climbing up Breakneck Point in 2021: Photo by Ron Heerkens, Jr.
Whew! This is going to be an amazing race! Just toeing the line in a race like this will get your veins pumping and when you get to that climb at Breakneck Point, it’s a lung buster that will test every bit of your training this winter/spring and the realization that you still have almost 20 miles to go. I’m super excited to see how both races play out considering there’s just ONE spot up for grabs for each of the men’s and women’s races.
Brian Vanderheiden is the Founder/Race Director of Steep Endurance, a CT based trail/ultra running company that puts on approximately 10 events every year. He is also an experienced trail/ultra runner and will be racing Breakneck as well!