by Jim Flint
BRADFORD ‒ April Rogers Farnham of Plainfield was not feeling ready to tackle the Devil’s Den Ultramarathon on October 9. But after pushing the race off a year because of the pandemic, she was eager to see what the trails in Bradford had to offer.
The devilish event involved running a six-mile loop as many times as possible within a 12-hour time limit. Runners climbed Wright’s Mountain, elevation 1,822 feet, and wound their way back to the start. The trail traversed through a deep ravine called the Devil’s Den, which is steeped in local folklore.
Farnham, 54, is a fitness instructor, salon owner, and running coach. She had just completed the Notch View Ultramarathon on September 10-12. Farnham ran 121.6 miles in 48 hours and placed third overall in the Windsor, Mass., race. She repeated a gently rolling 1.9-mile loop a mind-boggling 64 times.
The Notch View Ultra surpassed Farnham’s previous long-distance record. On November 2, 2019, she ran the Hamster Wheel Ultra in New Boston, N.H. Farnham completed 20 loops on a flat four-mile course. She finished first overall in the 24-hour race.
The Devil’s Den race was much more rigorous than Farnham’s previous ultramarathons. The six-mile loop had 1,400 feet of elevation gain. Farnham completed six laps in 12 hours. The mostly single-track course had an abundance of rocks and roots, including a steep section with a knotted rope to aid the runners.
“I decided to keep it slow and steady on the rugged loop,” said Farnham. “This was the kind of course where your calves and glutes complain on the way up and your quads scream on the way down. I finished with 10,000 feet of elevation gain and almost 38 miles. It’s one of those runs that you look back on and think, I can’t believe I did that.”
Farnham was not the only runner with ties to the greater Hardwick area who succumbed to the tempting allure of the Devil’s Den. After a two-year hiatus from ultramarathoning, Sterling College graduate Lance Parker heard the long-distance Siren’s call.
Parker, 27, came into the Devil’s Den Ultra with four races of 100 miles or more under his belt. His first 100-mile race was the Big Horn Mountain Ultra in 2015. He rode his bicycle from Craftsbury to Dayton, Wyo., to compete in the race.
In 2017, he completed the grandaddy of Vermont ultramarathons, the Infinitus 888-kilometer race through the Moosalamoo Wilderness Area in Goshen. With help from Sterling College friends, he covered the 551-mile distance in just under 240 hours.
Before Parker left on his trek to Wyoming, Sterling College professor John Zaber gave him a Susan B. Anthony dollar coin. Parker still carries the coin for safety and good luck. During the Infinitus 888k, he left the coin at the highest point on the course.
“Whenever I felt like quitting, I knew that I needed to go just one more loop to the top of the mountain to pick up the coin,” said Parker.
Parker ventured to Alaska in 2019 to work for Alaska Crossings, a wilderness trekking organization serving youths ages 12 to 18. He took time off from ultramarathoning to focus on other sports. Parker spent summers paddling and mountain climbing in Alaska and winters conquering the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.
Alaska Crossings shut down during the pandemic. Parker headed to Colorado and on to Vermont. He found a new job as field director for True North Wilderness, a family guide service based in Waitsfield. On days off, he reconnected with the New England ultramarathon community.
During July, Parker served as the lead pacer for his friend Ben Feinson, who set an end-to-end speed hiking record on the Long Trail. Feinson splashed through a puddle on July 14, touched the Long Trail welcome sign, and completed the 272-mile trek from the Canadian border to the Massachusetts border. Feinson accomplished the supported journey in four days, 11 hours, and 44 minutes.
Like a 21st century Forrest Gump, Parker kept on running. On September 12, he placed tenth of 169 finishers in the Mad Marathon. His time for the hilly 26.2-mile race was 3:24:24. Two weeks later he placed ninth in the Vermont 50 Miler. His finish time was 8:39:15.
The Devil’s Den was Parker’s ultimate challenge. He opted to run in the 30-hour version of the race, starting on October 9 and finishing on October 10. Ultramarathoning friends, including Ben Feinson, supported Parker’s attempt during the day and night. They cooked food for him, helped to repair his wrecked feet, and provided encouragement.
“The weather conditions were unreasonably perfect,” said Parker. “Daytime temperatures were in the low 60s and dropped to the low 40s at night. I ran the loop the day before the race and camped in a tent at night. I got to know every person in the race. My focus was on community over competition.”
Parker ascended and descended the arduous six-mile mountain loop 17 times. He climbed 29,800 feet. On the last lap, he picked up his Susan B. Anthony coin from the summit of Wright’s Peak and ran the final mile to the finish line. He reached the 102-mile mark in 27 hours and 45 minutes.
“There are few things in my life as overwhelming as running a race like Devil’s Den,” Parker wrote in a post. “It makes me face all the realities of life with none of the constructed comforts I’m so used to. It makes me face the fact that I think I’m an imposter. It makes me feel undeserving. And it brings me right back around to the deep gratitude I have for those in my life that have faith in me through it all.”