BREAKNECK POINT TRAIL RUNS 2023 RACE PREVIEW By Brian Vanderheiden
The Breakneck Point Trail Runs is one of the toughest, gnarliest, 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.
Breakneck race director Ian Golden fromRed Newt Racing and Ben Drew, started the event in 2015 it quickly gained a reputation as one of the most challenging in the Northeast. I raced both distances last year and it was BRUTAL! Runners have a choice of doing the Marathon or Half Marathon distances unlike last year where the Marathon was on Saturday and the Half on Sunday. The Marathon course is a beast with 8600' of vertical both UP/DOWN and the Half course at 4400'.
With the MASS start, front runners racing for both the Half as well as the Marathon can now try to pull off both. Official finish times, credit, and awards will be provided for both distances. This allows Marathon athletes to also try to go for the GTS win enroute. Similarly, Golden Trail Series Half runners, if still having fuel left in the tank, can opt to keep going for the marathon placing as well. With approximately 600 runners in total between the two races, it's sure to create some fireworks right up the first climb. The elites better keep their heads on a swivel!
THE COURSE Just like in past years, the Breakneck course in Hudson Highlands State Park in Beacon, NY keeps getting some tweaks every year. The iconic climb up Breakneck Ridge around mile 8 is closed on the bottom half of the ascent. This year, runners will only have to do the top 2/3 of the climb, but still will be tough nonetheless with 450' in just over a 1/4 mile, almost all of it rock scrambling. 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 topography of the course, please see these two videos from 2019/2020.
2022 Winner Michelle Merlis near the top of the Breakneck Climb.
WOMEN’S MARATHON There are quite a few women with plenty of trail/ultra running pedigree and the chance to win at Breakneck. The field this year is SUPER DEEP compared to last year with even more women making the trek across the country to give it their shot on this epic course. It's going to be fun to watch!
Michelle Merlis (33) - Albany, NYMichelle is again back on one of her favorite courses. She won Breakneck last year in dominating fashion by over 20 minutes to earn a berth on the US Mountain Running Team. She followed that up later in the summer with a win a the Escarpment 30K on an equally technical course. She has been training on the course as usual this Spring getting a feel for the new approach to the Breakneck Climb and the slight changes in the second half of the course. I have no doubt she will be ready!
Kehr Davis (45) - Pittsfield, MA Kehr is one hell of a runner and usually finishes on the podium at almost every race she does. She is a 2X winner of Breakneck 42K, 4X champion at Manitou's as well as top finishes at Seven Sisters, Riverlands 100, and Cat's Tail Marathon. If there is a tough technical race in the Northeast, she is there. She prepared for Breakneck by winning the Traprock 50K just a few weeks ago.
Britta Clark (29) - Goshen, VT Britta has some great results in the last few years on her resume coming into Breakneck. She has some wins at several races up in Vermont including Moosamaloo 36M, Catamount 50K, Infinitus Marathon and a speedy 7:33 at Vermont 50M in 2021. She's hasn't been doing a ton of vert, but does plenty of Nordic Skiing in the winter so you know she's got a strong engine to deal with grind in this race.
Jess Marion (36) - Brunswick, ME Jess doesn't race a ton as she's more focused on nordic skiing at times, but that background helps her to do well on the trails. She did do UTMB TDS in 2022 and finished in the top 10. She gets after the FKT's in the White Mountains in NH having set prior FKT's on both the Pemi Loop and the Presi Traverse.
Miquela Ingalls (32) - State College, PAMichaela is back at Breakneck after finishing 4th last year. She didn't race too much after that last year, but is a 2X winner of the Tussey Mountainback 50M in 2020/2021, 2nd at the Rothrock Challenge 17M in 2022, and won Hyner 50K right before Breakneck last year. She looks to be recovering from a slight injury earlier this month, but will call upon the muscle memory from last year to have another successful race.
Laurel Moyer (26) - Lock Haven, PA Laurel finished 5th at Breakneck in 2022 and is looking to improve upon that in 2023. She's had a good start to 2023 with a 5th place finish at the FOURmidable 50K in CA and she was 5th at the Sunapee VK last weekend.
Katie O'Reagan (38) - Lititz, PA Pennsylvania must have some tough runners, because we've got a third on this list. Katie is no stranger to the trails as she seems to race quite often. She's got a couple of wins at the Hyner 25K, a second place at Escarpment 30K and recently a win at the Mount Tammany 40M, which is similar terrain to Breakneck. She also doubled up at Sunapee last weekend placing 13th in the VK, but a strong 7th in the Up/Down.
Brittany Charboneau (34) - Denver, CO Brittany has one hell of a 2022 racing season. She had wins at the Moab Red Hot 55K and Lake Sonoma 50M, a 2nd places at both Broken Arrow Skyrace 46K and the Pikes Peak Marathon. She's got some leg speed too as she was 2nd earlier this year in the USATF 50K Champs in 3:13. She looks to be ready having put in several 70-80 mile weeks in the last few months.
Bailey Kowalcyk (27) - Nederland, CO Bailey is pretty new on the trail scene in the last 2 years, but has put up some pretty solid results. She's got podium finishes at Pikes Peak Marathon, Run the Rut 28K, and Broken Arrow Skyrace 23K. Her most recent result was a win at Gorge Waterfalls 30K at the end of March. She will be ready to contend at Breakneck no doubt.
Kristina Mascarenas (33)- Colorado Springs, CO The Colorado invasion continues with Kristina, winner of several smaller races in her home state. The big that stands out is the Pikes Peak Marathon which she has won twice, most recently in 2022.
Lindsey McDonald (32) - Flagstaff, AZ Lindsey had some great results in 2022 including wins at Kendall Mountain 12M, Flagstaff High Peaks 10K, but can race the longer events as evidenced by her 3rd place at Speedgoat 50K. She also recently finished top 5 at Gorge Waterfalls 100K in early April. She's a couple good vert weeks in Flagstaff in April so will be ready to race in my opinion.
Klaire Rhodes (24) - Anchorage, AK Klaire is from Alaska, but looks like she's been spending time in Nevada this year. She doesn't have a ton of results out there, but did win 3 races last year: Bandera 50K, Mammoth Trail Fest 50K, and Moab Trail Marathon. She also has to her credit a 3rd place finish at the FOURmidable 50K in February. She's been averaging 65 mpw the last month with over 10K vert so she is certainly trying to peak for Breakneck.
Samantha Lewis (28) - Moscow, ID Samantha loves the mountain races and has been quite successful in recent years with a top 5 finish at Broken Arrow 23K, top 10 at Gnar Gnar, and top 5 at Whiteface MMR. She only raced the VK at Sunapee finishing in 13th so appears to be saving her legs for the pounding downhills of Breakneck.
Renee Metivier (41) - Bend, OR Renee doesn't race trails too much, but has a top 5 at Broken Arrow Skyrace 23K last year. She's got some speed though with a marathon PR of 2:27 and set the 50K treadmill world record in 2020 with a 3:11.
Lindsey Herman (25) - Gunnison, CO Lindsey has some good results from last year with a win at the Silver Rush 50M and a top 10 at Broken Arrow 46K. She has not yet raced in 2023.
MEN’S MARATHON Last year's men's finish (see above) was EPIC with Max King narrowly edging out David Hedges by just 6 seconds. They both destroyed the course record by over 20 minutes in competing for the sole spot on the US Mountain Running Team. This year, the field is even more stacked than in 2022! Max is back to defend his title, but there is bigger contingent of runners coming from the West Coast along with the usual Beast Coasters to compete for those coveted two spots. Some runners are coming in well-trained while some are trying to race themselves into shape after the winter. Several are doubling up from the Sunapee Scramble last weekend in New Hampshire in an attempt to qualify for one for the US Mountain Running Team
RETURNING CHAMPION Max King (42) - Bend, ORMax is back! After his 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.
Matt Lipsey (33) - Marysville, PA Matt is the quintessential beast coast runner. He goes out balls to the wall and leaves nothing out there. He's a winner of several East Coast iconic races including Escarpment 30K, Hyner 25K, Seven Sisters 12M, and Breakneck 21K. He was leading the race last year through the Breakneck Climb and just a few minutes behind Max with 8 miles to go. He had some bad luck and missed a turn (due to course marking stealing by some mountain bikers) and didn't get back on track. Matt did a ton of skimo this winter in PA, but in his preparation for Breakneck he's been dealing with a hamstring injury as of late. If he toes the the line this weekend, he will be back for redemption!
Stephen Kerr (31) - Greenfield, MA Building on his 6th place finish from last year, Stephen followed that up with some great finishes at some high level Northeast mountain events, placing 4th at Seven Sisters, 3rd at the Whiteface VK, 7th at the Whiteface MMR, and a 14th at Loon against a super elite field. He ran both events at Sunapee last weekend, but is hoping for a better result at Breakneck.
Ben Robinson (29) - Tunkhannock, PA Ben ran Breakneck in 2022 and was up near the top 5 in the first half of the race before stomach problems forced him to DNF. He has wins in 2021 at the Call of the Wilds 50K, Slate 25K and Hyner 25K. He has been dipping his toes in some big races out West as well. He looks to be pretty fit and ready to finish in 2023.
Samuel Kirk (41) - Newtown Square, NYThough Sam is 41, he's just recently in the last 3 years started his trail running career. He won Laurel Highlands 70 miler in 2022 and has a 6:07 at JFK in 2021 to his credit. He certainly got some speed and will itching to mix it up with the younger guys for sure!
Steven Lange (31) - Stanhope, NJSteven had a great year in 2022, having won the Breakneck Half, Manitou's Revenge, and Kismet Cliff Run. He’s also finished atop the podium at the Cat’s Tail Marathon (2021) and the Mount Tammany 40M (2018) and been on the podium at Breakneck 42K (2019), Escarpment Trail 30K (2018), Hyner 25K (2021), and Breakneck (2021). He's been ramping up his mileage and did race Sunapee this past weekend, though admittedly mailed it in early on to save himself for Breakneck. He has the speed to hang up near the front, but can he put it together in the second half?
Jared Burdick (36) - Fayetteville, NY Jared has a very accomplished resume from top 20 at Western States, winning the Hyner 50K in 2022, podium at Bandera 100K in 2018 and has a marathon PR of 2:20. He's been dealing with a hip injury as of late so hasn't been able to get in the usual lead up for a big race like Breakneck.
Ben Nephew (47) - Westborough, MA Ben is a beast and has the most lengthy resume of any runner in the Northeast. He's got 2 wins at Breakneck and Manitou's, multiple wins at Escarpment 30K, Cat's Tail Marathon, and North Face Bear Mountain 50M. He absolutely loves the technical and still one of the best on the descents. Ben seems to be getting on the bike a bit more these days, but still races on the trails. He raced the VK at Sunapee so hopefully building a little bit of confidence towards Breakneck. He know all these trails like the back of his hand. He's getting up their age a bit, but if the weather is a bit shaky, look for him to pick people off in the second half and possibly garner top 10 as he did last year.
Nigel Bates (28) - Waterbury Center, VT Nigel, a 2017 graduate of Williams College in MA is relatively new to the trail running scene and doesn't have a ton of races under his belt, but has 5 wins in his 7 races, including Blood Root 50M and the South Mountains 50K.
Morgan Elliott (30) - Salida, CO Morgan always seems to be up near the front in mountain type events. He had top 10 finishes in 2022 at Speedgoat, Broken Arrow VK and 23K, and a top 3 at Whiteface. His biggest win was the Georgia Death Race in 2019. He ran Lake Sonoma 50M less than a month ago and also raced Sunapee. He just missed a spot on the VK team, but finished 2nd American in the Up/Down, earning a spot on the team for World's next month in Austria. Hopefully he recovers well for the jagged trails at Breakneck!
Garrett Corcoran (27) - Salt Lake City, UT Garrett has some speed for sure having won the JFK 50M last year in a blazing 5:29! Between skiing and running this winter/spring he has put in some serious vert and miles to get ready for this weekend. He appears to be peaking at the right time as he earned a berth on the US Mountain Running team as 4th American at the Sunapee VK. He doubled back the next day to finish as 7th American in the Up/Down. The question is will his legs be recovered by this Saturday. Jackson Brill (24) - Bend, OR Jackson is the definition of a young gun! He has been racing competitive in trail/ultras since he was 18. He's got several wins in Colorado ultras including the Quad Rock 50M, a top 10 finish at Broken Arrow Skyrace in 2022, but the result that stands out the most is his win in 2018 at the Rut 50K. He has definitely been putting in the miles and vert in the last few months including some time with Max King on a long training run.
Noah Williams (27) - Leadville, CO Noah lives in the highest elevation town in the US, so you can be sure that the lung busting climb of Breakneck Point will not be a problem for him. He doesn't have a ton of results, but does have a stout 2nd place at Pikes Peak Marathon in 2022. He ran both the VK (10th) and Up/Down (14th) at Sunapee so appears to be running himself into shape.
Michelino Sunseri (30) - Driggs, ID Michelino had a great 2022 including a top 10 finish at Broken Arrow Skyrace, top 5 at Pikes Peak Marathon, and a 3rd place finish at the Speedgoat 50K. He also won the Rut 50K in 2021. He has been putting in some serious vert this Spring and also raced Sunapee last weekend, finishing 17th. He seems to do well on the longer efforts like Breakneck, so look for him to be in the mix at the end. Lars Arneson (33) - Anchorage, AK Anyone travelling this far has to have some chops. Lars hasn't raced a ton of pure trail races, but has an elite OCR background with several top finishes including Spartan World Championships. One result that stands out is his 3rd place at the Mount Marathon 5K in 2019, the year that Max King won.
Kirby Mosenthal enroute to her Breakneck 21K win in 2022. Photo by: Ian Golden
WOMEN'S HALF MARATHON Kirby Mosenthal (33) - Peekskill, NY Kirby is the defending champion in the 21K running 2:41, just 5 minutes off of the CR. She followed that up with a win at the Cat's Tail Marathon in October, her second win in a row at that event.
Tabor Hemming (26) - Kremmling, CO Tabor has only been racing trails really since last year and has already put up some sweet results at some of the toughest mountain races. She was 3rd at the Broken Arrow VK, 4th at the Broken Arrow 23K, and won the Whiteface MMR. She is the favorite in my opinion and her race to lose.
Sarah Connor (34) - New Haven, CT Sarah loves running the technical trails in the Northeast. She's a holder of several FKT's and has some great results as well including wins in 2022 at the Traprock 17K, Tunxis 30K, Nipmuck Trail Marathon and Bimbler's Bluff 50K. She's pretty quick so will certainly be in the mix.
Alexandra Finn-Atkins (33) - Cornwall, NY Alexandra has run Breakneck a few times, both the 21K (2nd in 2021) and the 42K (8th in 2022) so has the experience to be successful on the course. She's a little stronger in the longer races with a 2nd at Manitou's in 2022 and a 3rd at Twisted Branch 100K in 2021, but she's good enough on the technical trails to challenge for the podium.
Catrina Beltran-Caro (29) - Boston, MA Catrina moved to the states from Colombia I believe in recent years. She's only got a couple of results on UltraSignup, but did win the Macedonia 25K and finished second at the Hudson River 50M, both in 2022.
Carmen Bango (27) - Sharon, VT Not many results to speak of, but did win Seven Sisters 12M in 2022 in a pretty quick time of 2:15.
Lee Berube climbing up Breakneck Point in 2021: Photo by Ron Heerkens, Jr.
MEN'S HALF MARATHON
Lee Berube (31) - Syracuse, NYLee is back to redeem himself a bit from last year. He came in as one of the favorites in the 42K, but had to drop out at 18 miles. Lee is beast on the trails and has excellent climbing skills as evidenced by is wins at the Whiteface Vertical K twice, Loon Mountain, and the Escarpment Trail 30K three times. He also holds the CR at Breakneck in the 21K, winning in 2021 in 2:03. He raced at Sunapee last week as well in both the VK and Up/Down, but should be ready for Breakneck.
Eli Hemming (28) - Kremmling, CO As good as Lee is, Eli might just be a bit better. He is a short race specialist, with 2nd place finishes last year at Broken Arrow VK and 23K, Whiteface MMR, Run the Rut 28K, and Flagstaff High Peaks 26K. He's due for a breakthrough win if he's in shape.
Liam Meirow (27) - Portland, OR Liam had an amazing 2022, winning every single race he touched. They were all on the shorter side with wins at Lone Wolf 25K, Run the Rut 11K, and Gnar Gnar 6M. He's continued the success in to 2023 with wins at the FOURmidable 13K and the Gorge Waterfalls 30K. His biggest result though may have been a 4th place at last weekend's Sunapee Up/Down. That result alone puts him as one of the favorites for the Half Marathon this weekend.
Tracen Knopp (24) - Wasilla, AK Tracen has had some great results since the beginning of 2022. Notables include a top 10 finish at Bandera 100K, 2nd at Moab Marathon, and 4th at Lake Sonoma 50M. He's been spending time in Nevada training this winter and spring in preparation for the early race season. He has the speed to keep up and should be up near the front.
David Jeker (35) - Montreal, QC n is David is part of a contingent coming down from Canada to race the Half. He's run races all over the world in the last 10 years. His recent results include a win at the Bromont Ultra 55K and a podium finish at Quebec Mega Trail. He also did well at Whiteface in 2019 finishing in both the top 5 in the VK and the MMR. Let's see if he can call upon some of that speed for Breakneck.
Samuel Poher (28) - Quebec, CA Samuel won the 65K at Ultra Trail Hurricana in 2022. The only other result of note is a top 20 at Loon Mountain in 2022, but that proves he's pretty fast as Loon is always a super competitive field.
Etan Levavi (31) - New York, NY Etan is more of a longer race specialist with wins at Rock the Ridge 50M (over Ben Nephew) and the Finger Lakes 50M. He also has a top 10 finish at Vermont 100 and an 11th place at Javelina Jundred. He hasn't been really running any trails as of late, so will be interesting to see how he does on the rocky terrain in Hudson Highlands.
Steven Young (28) - Boston, MA Steven was 6th in the 21K last year at Breakneck. Other recent notable results include a 7th place finish at Chocorua 25K in NH against a pretty competitive field.
I'm super excited to see how both the women's and men's race evolve at Breakneck this weekend! Because of the nature of the option of the half runners to continue if they so choose, you might see a runner or two decide they want to roll the dice with their fitness and attempt to place high in the full marathon. I think these fields at Breakneck are only going to get more competitive when runners keep spreading the word on how fun and challenging this course is! Check it out when you're planning your 2024 race schedule.
Brian Vanderheiden is the Founder/Race Director of Steep Endurance, a Connecticut based trail/ultra running company that organizes approximately 10 events every year including the Macedonia Trail Race, Mohawk Mountain Race, and the Mountain Lakes Backyard Ultra. He is also an experienced trail/ultra runner and has raced Breakneck several times. This year he will be running the Half with his son Tommy.