Runner crushes Long Island Greenbelt 50K despite muddy course

A crowd of 25K racers took off at 8:30 a.m. on the drizzly morning of May 7 for the annual Long Island Greenbelt Trail Race. // Photo by Grace Giannatsis/Long Island Advocate

By Grace Giannatsis

Ryan Clifford started running at age 7 when he raced a mile in just under 7 minutes. Now 25 and a semi-professional ultramarathoner, Clifford broke the course record by 35 minutes at the Long Island Greenbelt 50K Trail Race May 7, ending in 3 hours, 44 minutes, 48 seconds.

A hundred runners sloshed and slipped through the rain and mud for either 50 or 25 kilometers along the north section of the Nassau Greenbelt Trail early that morning. As Clifford wrote at the top of his race recap posted on his website dedicated to his running career, “If you can’t beat the rain, be prepared to get muddy.” And that he did.

Ryan Clifford pressed on over the mud- and puddle-laden trails with trekking polls, water and fruit snacks in tow. // Photo courtesy Greater Running Club of Long Island

Before the 50K race shot off at 7:30 a.m., Race Director Thaddeus Nelson acknowledged Nick Palazzo, an important member of the Greater Long Island Running Club, who was in attendance. Palazzo was the previous race director for 25 years and is a longtime ultramarathoner himself. “There are documentaries about him running these races,” Nelson noted.

Palazzo addressed the crowd to explain the rules of the race. “I don’t know how many will be out there today, but people hike the north end of the trail,” he cautioned. “Don’t run up to them and say, ‘Can you get the F out of the way? Can’t you see there’s a race going on?’” he joked with the participants.

Fergal Byrne, 47, stopped briefly at an aid station to hydrate and remove a layer before heading back out onto the trails. // Photo by Grace Giannatsis/Long Island Advocate

An hour later, the 25K participants were released onto the trails. The course started at Greater Long Island Running Club headquarters in Plainview and followed the Greenbelt Trail until runners made a U-turn in Cold Spring Harbor. Competitors in the 25K race finished back in Plainview, but 50K participants had to make another U-turn and complete the out-and-back a second time.

Data courtesy Sue Fitzpatrick // Flourish graphic by Grace Giannatsis/Long Island Advocate

Clifford started seeing the 25K runners once he made his first turn at Cold Spring Harbor, “which was nice,” he said, “but once we got on the same course as them, the single-track trail became a lot muddier, and it was a little more difficult to get traction and kind of keep like your same speed that we initially started at. And then the rain of course was coming down at that point, so it was just becoming a mudfest.”

“I’m happy to report I did not fall until 29 miles into the race,” said Clifford, who wiped out after passing three people on the trail, but recovered quickly to finish the 50K in first place.

Byrne, from Yonkers, took a swig of Gatorade as he embarked on the rest of his race a layer lighter. // Photo by Grace Giannatsis/Long Island Advocate

Second place in the 50K was taken by Aaron Heath, 47, from Chappaqua, N.Y., with a time of 4:31:47, and third place went to Chris Crowley, 30, from Brooklyn, in 4:44:06. The 25K race was won by Dane Johnsen, 36, from Huntington Station, at 2:12:19, followed by Matthew Lovejoy, 28, and Aaron Long, 36, with times of 2:15:22 and 2:21:36, respectively. Check all race results here.

View the race course here:

The top female finisher for the 50K was Helen Huang, who came in eighth place overall, in 5:37:27, and in the 25K, Allison Ruggiero took 11th place overall, in 2:48:08. The day’s events concluded with offerings of pasta and nonalcoholic beer provided by the races’ sponsor, Athletic Brewing Company, at GLIRC headquarters.

Follow Clifford’s journey on his website as he prepares to return to the course where he ran his first ultramarathon on June 4 in Ithaca, N.Y. Also, watch out for the 555-mile journey he plans to embark on from Buffalo to Brooklyn in October. “Three marathons a day, about 78, 80 miles, and hopefully under a week … If it’s six days, 23 hours and 59 minutes, I would be super happy,” Clifford said about the ultra.

Ryan Clifford and Race Director Thaddeus Nelson stood outside GLIRC headquarters with non-alcoholic kegs waiting behind them. // Photo courtesy GLIRC