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Chris Wristen and the MassUltra Website: Merging Running, Writing, and Community

Chris Wristen, founder of the ultrarunning website MassUltra, shares his story into running and sports journalism.

By on July 4, 2024 | Comments

If you’re a trail runner or ultrarunner in New England, there’s a good chance you’ve read the region’s ultrarunning race recaps on the local community news site MassUltra, the most centralized and comprehensive running publication for the area to date. Or perhaps you’ve stumbled upon the site’s race calendars for regional events that are aggregated for readers.

Either way, it’s hard to believe that the publication is completely operated by a sole journalist, Chris Wristen, a longtime trail ultrarunner, lifelong runner, and sports reporter.

Chris Wristen 2021 - reporting at the TARC Summer Classic

Chris Wristen has been part of the ultrarunning and trail running scene in New England, as a writer and runner, since 2010. All photos courtesy of Chris Wristen.

Wristen launched MassUltra eight years ago, motivated by a curiosity to learn about what was at the time his new backyard and the trail runners who live there. He has kept the publishing calendar pages turning ever since. His articles help elevate the names that create the community, provide a space for athletes to feel seen and celebrated, and serve as a valuable resource to help folks stay connected and involved in events and volunteer work.

As a creative philanthropic project, the publication’s purpose is no different from Wristen’s dedication to being a public servant and leader throughout his journalism and reporting career.

“Most Inspirational” Award

Wristen grew up in Leawood, Kansas, in the Kansas City metropolitan area, participating in every sport as a kid: soccer, football, baseball, and track. He shared that in high school, “I played basketball and football for a year and ran track for four years as a sprinter for the 4 x 100-meter relay and long jumper, ran cross country for two years, and then was the latter’s team manager as a senior.”

His cross-country coach, Greg Wilson, was “legendary” at Saint Thomas Aquinas High School, where about 15% of the high school ran cross country, which was around 183 student athletes. “He made you believe you could do more than you thought you could. And, you know, I always found that always had stayed with me as I got older,” said Wristen, who went to compete at the state championships in track his junior and senior years and carried the school record for the long jump. His 4 x 100-meter relay team also set the school record.

By the close of high school, Wristen earned the “Most Inspirational” award as the team manager. “I helped a girl who passed out during the first race of the year. It was really hot. She’d sprained her ankle and had it taped too tight and then overheated. She ended up throwing up all over me,” he laughed.

Journalism School

Pursuing his childhood dream of becoming a sports writer, Wristen attended the University of Kansas. He joined the student newspaper his freshman year and wrote for the sports page of the “Kansan” all four years. His sister, who was two years older, was also a journalism student and on the newspaper staff. He also covered sports for the “Topeka Capital-Journal,” the daily paper in Topeka, Kansas.

Chris Wristen reporting for the Lansing Current in 2004

Chris Wristen always wanted to be a journalist and was a sports reporter for several different newspapers.

While growing up, Wristen and his sister loved creating a mock neighborhood newspaper with their grandma, who’d been the editor of her high school newspaper in the 1930s. Dubbed “The Leawood News,” it had a hand-drawn cover, and they typed up stories about their stuffed animals using their grandma’s old typewriter. Comics and movie postings were pasted inside the pages, too. Wristen still has a copy.

“We both had that itch to go into journalism. And my parents were avid readers of the newspaper. Every morning, the newspaper was out on the table,” he said.

After receiving his undergraduate degree, he jumped into earning a master’s degree in sports administration at the University of Kansas. In September 2003, while studying, he transitioned to working as a part-time sports writer for the “Lawrence Journal-World.” He covered high school sports 38 hours a week while also working a full-time 40-hour-a-week job at a friend’s office supply company.

When the paper launched a new community weekly newspaper in Lansing, Wristen was hired to get it off the ground. The paper ran from October 2004 to 2008. “I’d cover Friday-night football and work until about 3:30 a.m. writing the story, working up a photo gallery, and putting video highlights together so that people on Saturday morning could flip open their computer and read about what happened in last night’s game while having breakfast,” said Wristen. Working 70-hour weeks, “I would try to be at basically everything, everywhere, all the time. I ran myself into the ground with it.” Wristen adds about the experience, “I was lucky.”

When the paper shuttered, he shifted to the company’s other community papers in Shawnee, Bonner Springs, and Basehor.

Entrance to Ultrarunning, Ambulance Rides, and Love

Wristen got turned onto ultrarunning in 2008 when he wrote a summer feature story on the local trail running scene, and he started running trails in the summer of 2010.

Chris Wristen's trail running article in 2008 where the spark was lit

Chris Wristen’s first article about trail running in 2008 when the spark was lit.

After hearing about the launch of the Meet Your Maker 50 Mile in Whistler, British Columbia, in 2012, he rallied a group of friends, and friends of friends, to meet up for the 2013 race. The seven-person group included his now-wife, Alex Brinkert.

“Alex and I just kind of hit things off. We’d all coordinated our flights to meet in Salt Lake City, Utah, and then take the connecting flight to Vancouver, British Columbia, and the three-hour bus ride to Whistler. While traveling, we spent most of the trip hanging out and talking. It was my second 50 miler, and it was going to be her first. She had a really good race — I had a really, really poor race,” said Wristen.

Two weeks prior, he’d paced a friend at the Leadville 100 Mile in Colorado, then he went back to Kansas City to pull an all-nighter at work and then flew to Canada. His system was run down, and eight miles into the race, his heart rate spiked. He said he “stubbornly” passed the medical tent at mile 38, “and promptly puked my guts out sitting on logs. I ended up finishing. Alex had finished about an hour and a half before me. She was eating pizza and sitting there recovering. I came through with an ashen gray face. Within a minute of finishing, my legs started to buckle, and I started to collapse.”

Fortunately, Brinkert was a nurse getting her master’s degree in public health. She took charge, getting his legs elevated on a bench while the other medics came over.

“I ended up going to the emergency room at the local clinic, and she was in the room with me because she was a nurse and speaks the language. The last time I saw her was when they were wheeling me out to put me in an ambulance for a three-hour ride to Vancouver for overnight observation in their emergency room because the Whistler clinic isn’t open 24 hours a day,” he said. Ultimately, he was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat caused by severe dehydration.

The next day, Brinkert flew back to Boston, Massachusetts. “I had always been afraid or uncomfortable talking to girls if I was interested in them. I lacked confidence and could come up with any excuse to not follow through. On the three-hour ambulance ride in the middle of the night, it gave me a lot of time to think — ‘She kind of saved your ass. If you don’t call her now, when are you ever going to?’” So he called her the next day. And they talked every day after that.

“As my brother-in-law likes to call it, I faked a heart attack to get a girl’s number,” he laughed.

Chris Wristen 2013 Meet Your Maker 50-miler hospital group shot

Faking a heart attack to get a girl’s phone number at the 2013 Meet Your Maker 50 Mile. Alex Brinkert, Chris’s future wife, is on bottom left.

That November, Wristen flew to Boston for Thanksgiving with Brinkert and her family. For nearly two years, every five to six weeks, they’d travel back and forth to see each other or travel together while Brinkert finished graduate school.

They got engaged in 2017 on a training run on Mount Osceola in New Hampshire while training for CCC. They married in 2018, and today, they have a six-month-old puppy named Toasty, whose coat looks like a toasted marshmallow. She’s a mix of nine breeds, including Pit Bull or Staffordshire Terrier, Labrador, and Husky. “The Husky seems to be the dominant of her personality — she has the blue eyes, whine, and sheds like a Husky,” Wristen said.

Chris Wristen 2024 - riding with Toasty

Chris Wristen with Toasty.

Launching MassUltra

Wristen left the newspaper business in January 2012 and is now the Senior Marketing and Proposal Specialist at CDM Smith.

“I write and edit business pursuits, engineering proposals, to help the firm win work,” he explained. He leads the development writing regarding the Northeast region’s municipal water, wastewater, transportation, and environmental pursuits. He’s also dabbled in freelancing, with published pieces in “UltraRunning Magazine” and “Trail Runner Magazine.”

Having a writing role outside of the newspaper industry has helped Wristen manage his time, of which he dedicates much to a passion project: MassUltra, the community news site that he launched in 2016 to cover the growing ultra community in Massachusetts.

Wristen said that it seems that MassUltra might be the first and only site dedicated to covering the sport on a smaller, localized scale.

Wristen publishes a weekly roundup of race recaps with results from each ultra event in the state. If he can attend, he’ll also capture images for a photo gallery. To prepare, he trolls the entrant lists on UltraSignup on Wednesday and Thursday of each week to fish out every runner from the region.

“My wife is from Massachusetts, and when I moved out here in August 2015, I wanted to learn more about the local scene. The more I was around, I realized: New England is pretty tight-knit. The local community spans six small states,” he said. “We want to celebrate everybody as much as we can, and it’s pretty special what everybody does.”

The Earn Your Dirt column outlines trail work opportunities, and there’s a Massachusetts race calendar. The site also has a race calendar for New England.

Occasionally, local runner Jennifer Rizzo has provided features, but otherwise, Wristen has been the sole operator. The site completely free to readers.

Chris Wristen 2022 TARCtic Frozen Yeti

Chris Wristen running the 2022 TARCtic Frozen Yeti.

Writing a Book: Trail Animals Running Club

Wristen is also actively working on a book about the history of the Trail Animals Running Club (TARC), a trail running club centered around the Boston area. He started interviews with people associated with the group in December 2020. According to Wristen:

“The club started in 1994 and was active for a couple of years. The Don’t Run Boston 50k was their first race, which was started in 1997. Shortly after, the club was mothballed for nine years, but the race happened every year during that time. It was what kept people connected. Bob Crowley — who served as the president of ITRA [International Trail Running Association] in 2020 and 2021 — helped revive TARC in 2006, and built it into the largest trail club in New England and one of the largest in the country.”

Last year marked 30 years since the club’s founding. Wristen said, “I want to capture and document the story of the early years of how the club started and how it came to be because so many people have come into this sport in our local community in the last few years. It’s really exploded. A lot of people don’t really know the history or don’t know it well.”

Wristen aims to have the manuscript finished by the end of 2024.

Treasure Hunt-Style Racing

Wristen and his wife have kept up with ultrarunning throughout moves, marriage, career shifts, and puppy parenting.

In November 2023, Brinkert ran the Hamsterwheel, a six-hour race in New Hampshire, and logged 40 miles. Wristen did the G.A.C. Fat Ass 50k in January of this year, which is a historic New England event. He also raced the TARCtic Frozen Yeti, where he ran 30 miles, and the Chesterfield Gorge Ultra 50k. He’s training for a 100 miler in July that is hosted by the Berkshire Ultra Running Community for Service on a 1.7-mile cross-country ski loop. Wristen ran the event last year, straining his hamstring at mile 76 and dropping. “I’ve got a little redemption in mind this year,” he said.

Ultimately, Wristen has found a true sense of exploration and community through trail running. “I love the community and the connections to people, the environment, and the goodness of the people that it’s brought into my life. I’ve run with people who think very similar to me, or who have had completely different life experiences and different views on things. But when you share a lot of miles with somebody on a trail, I feel like you remove any of the noise from an equation and can just gain a real sense of the humanity of the people around you,” he shared.

As for running ultras? He sees it as an opportunity in unknown territory, be it in the self, overall experience, or place. “You can run a race time and time again and have wildly different experiences,” he said.

Chris Wristen 2023 Don't Run Boston 50K

Running the Don’t Run Boston 50k involves many challenges, including routefinding on an unmarked course.

Wristen’s favorite and most frequented race to date is the Don’t Run Boston 50k, the original Trail Animals Running Club ultra at the Blue Hills Reservation in Massachusetts. He explained, “It’s free with an unmarked course. You have a map marked with different highlighters, and you have to figure it out, like a treasure hunt.” He runs it every year, as does his wife, and it’s become a tradition that he said, “embodies everything I love about this sport with its old-school nature.”

“You can study the course in advance, or get lost a lot on race day with your map and try to course-correct, or try to run the whole thing with somebody who knows where they’re going and make a friend along the way. I’ve had all of those experiences,” he said.

He first ran the course with Brinkert in 2016, and they covered 34 miles, with plenty of bonus miles involved, in nearly nine hours. The second time, in 2017, the couple ran every step with race veteran Jeff List, a 10-time Hardrock 100 finisher. “He always used it as a Hardrock training day, and we just about killed ourselves hanging on to Jeff. He knew the course by heart, and we did not let him out of our sights,” said Wristen. They were training for the CCC that year and finished in 6.5 hours. Now, Wristen has finished the route six times and studied the route segment by segment to master the run.

But his main goal? To create memories with other runners along the way. It’s not about a finish time.

Chris Wristen and Alex Brinkert 2017 CCC 100K finish line

Chris Wristen and his wife, Alex Brinkert, finishing the 2017 CCC.

Call for Comments

  • Have you had a chance to meet or run with Chris Wristen? What’s your favorite story that involves him?
  • Massachusetts, New England, and beyond runners, do you read the MassUltra website to get your local running news fix?
Morgan Tilton

Morgan Tilton is the WeRunFar columnist of iRunFar and a Staff Writer for GearJunkie and AllGear Digital. Morgan has covered outdoor industry news, adventure travel, and human endurance for nearly a decade. Aside from iRunFar, Morgan has written for more than 70 publications, including recent contributions to Outside, Forbes, Trail Runner, Runner’s World, Bicycling, and NewsBreak. She’s a recipient of more than a dozen accolades for her travel writing from the North American Travel Journalists Association. Based in Crested Butte, Colorado, Morgan enjoys mountain running and exploring the high alpine in the summer when she’s not splitboarding or mountain biking.