Exploring the Limits of Age-Group Running at the 2023 Jackpot Ultrarunning Festival

A recap of and reflection on the age-group races at the 2023 Jackpot Ultrarunning Festival.

By on March 10, 2023 | Comments

AJW's TaproomLast weekend I had a front-row seat at the USATF 100 Mile Road National Championships, which were part of the Jackpot Ultrarunning Festival, a celebration of running which takes place in beautiful Henderson, Nevada. As a commentator for Aravaipa Running’s livestream coverage of the race, I got to see all the runners stream by our booth every mile or so. It provided a wonderful insight into the challenges and opportunities of 100-mile road racing.

While the competition for the overall national championships was a bit less stacked than in previous years, in several of the age groups, there was intense competition. In particular, the men’s 80-to-84 age group featured five seasoned ultra veterans who had clearly come to compete and to compete hard. And in the women’s age group races, five women in their 60s and 70s took on the distance and the competition in their various age groups.

2023 USATF 100 Mile Road National Championships Men’s Age-Group Races

In the men’s 80-the to-84 age group, there was 83-year-old Edward Rousseau, a veteran who ran his first ultra in 1990 and who has competed in more than 100 ultras over his career.

Eighty-one-year-old Todd Leigh was returning to the Jackpot Ultras. Leigh, who ran his first ultra at the 1986 Angeles Crest 100 Mile, also finished the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning in 1992.

Ian Maddieson, 80 years old, was the true veteran of the group, having completed his first ultra back at the 1980 American River 50 Mile and has, among many other things, 15 Western States 100 finishes.

Denis Trafecanty, also 80 years old, ran the Spunky Canyon 40 Mile as his first ultra in 1991 and has multiple finishes at the Western States 100, Angeles Crest 100 Mile, and Vermont 100 Mile.

Finally, there was 80-year-old David Blaylock, who ran his first ultra at the Wasatch Front 100 Mile in 1991 and went on to complete the race 12 more times over his illustrious career, which in recent years has included six trips to the Jackpot Ultras.

Ian Maddieson - 2023 Jackpot Ultras

Ian Maddieson racing the 100-mile distance at the 2023 Jackpot Ultras. All photos: Kevin Youngblood

There was a touch of electricity in the air as these five elder statesmen of the sport began their journeys to 100 miles. The course, a 1.17-mile loop around Cornerstone Park in Henderson, Nevada, gave spectators ample opportunities to see the runners. It was interesting to note the differences in pacing and fueling strategies of the five octogenarians. Rousseau started out relatively hard, running the flats and downhills and walking the uphills. Blaylock was locked into a strong powerhike for most of the first day and began to run more over the last six hours. Maddieson mixed in walking and running while Leigh, the tallest and lankiest of the five, used his long stride to eat up the miles. Trafecanty, finally, who ran most of the time in long pants and a puffy jacket, appeared to take what the course gave him, mixing in running and walking and spending minimal time at the aid stations.

In the end, Blaylock passed Rousseau, who had been in the lead for nearly 29 hours, with about five miles to go and ended up being crowned the USATF National Champion with an impressive 29 hours and 47 minutes finish. Rousseau held on for second place in 30:09 while Maddieson and Trafecanty finished third and fourth in 37:15 and 37:59. Leigh, who had run steadily all day, was forced to withdraw a mere seven miles from the finish.

David Blaylock - 2023 Jackpot Ultras

David Blaylock on his way to winning the men’s 80-to-84 age group at the 2023 USATF 100 Mile Road National Championships.

2023 USATF 100 Mile Road National Championships Women’s Age Group Races

While the women’s race did not have any 80-plus-year-old runners, the older folks were, nonetheless, well-represented at the USATF 100 Mile National Championships.

Seventy-year-old Kit Brazier has been running ultras since at least 1994 and has been at nine prior editions of the Jackpot Ultras before this year. She ran strong and hard through the halfway point before ultimately calling it a day at mile 57.

Yolanda Holder, age 64 and from California, won the women’s 60-to-64 age group national championships in a time of 28:21. Holder came to ultra-distance events somewhat later in life, completing the JFK 50 Mile in 2008 at age 50 as her first ultra. However, at that time, she’d been a walker for decades and had already completed hundreds of marathons — literally. In her 50s and 60s, she has been a prolific ultra racer, quickly moving up to very long distances. She’s best known for her race-walking style of movement.

Yolanda Holder - 2023 Jackpot Ultras

Yolanda Holder was the top woman over 60 years of age at the 2023 USATF 100 Mile Road National Championships.

Louise Mason, age 69, and Yen Nguyen, age 60, finished just a few minutes apart from each other in 34:11 and 34:17, respectively. In doing so, Mason captured the women’s 65-to-69 age group and Nguyen second place in the women’s 60-to-64 age group.

Mason is a prolific ultrarunner whose UltraSignup profile contains 140 race finishes from 1991 to the present, and she most certainly has more ultra finishes than the website has captured. If we thought Mason was prolific, then we’ll have to think again with Nguyen, who has 223 ultra finishes in UltraSignup, including nine total finishes in the Jackpot Ultras.

Finally, 67-year-old Pamela Chapman-Markle gave the distance a shot and tapped out after 8.5 hours and 40 miles of running. Chapman-Markle is the “newbie” of the bunch, though anything that, with an ultra career starting in 2011 at age 55.

I suspect we’ll be seeing all of these talented senior athletes at future editions of the Jackpot Ultras. It was an incredible and inspiring day for me to see these ageless wonders do their thing. Not only did it give me hope for my future as a runner, but indeed, it gave me hope for all of us that maybe age really is just a number.

Bottoms up!

Yen Nguyen - 2023 Jackpot Ultras

Yen Nguyen at the 2023 USATF 100 Mile Road National Championships.

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Texas Leaguer Brewing Company in Missouri City, Texas. The Hot Stove porter is a rich and creamy porter that weighs in at a strong 8% ABV and features many of the classic smoky and chocolatey characteristics of some of the best porters I have had.

Call for Comments

  • Were you following this race?
  • Do you hope to be still racing ultras as the years progress?
Edward Rousseau at the 2023 Jackpot Ultras

Edward Rousseau on his way to second place in the men’s 80-to-84 age group at the 2023 USATF 100 Mile Road National Championships.

Andy Jones-Wilkins

Andy Jones-Wilkins is an educator by day and has been the author of AJW’s Taproom at iRunFar for over 11 years. A veteran of over 190 ultramarathons, including 38 100-mile races, Andy has run some of the most well-known ultras in the United States. Of particular note are his 10 finishes at the Western States 100, which included 7 times finishing in the top 10. Andy lives with his wife, Shelly, and Josey, the dog, and is the proud parent of three sons, Carson, Logan, and Tully.