Killington’s Polly Lynn wins a free wedding reception at Riverside Farm in Pittsfield, Vt., a value of $50,000
KILLINGTON — Rachel Corvington, 34, was on her way to the Spartan World Championship in Lake Tahoe in August when she heard about the Spartan Fittest Bride challenge, which took place this past Sunday, Oct. 18, in Pittsfield, Vt. First prize (a fully-catered wedding at Spartan founder Joe De Sena’s Riverside Farm) had a value of approximately $50,000. That’s over three times what first place earned in cash and prizes (a $15,000 total) at the Spartan World Championships in Tahoe earlier this summer.
The 2.5-mile course would have contestants running 878 stone stairs up a mountain to Shrek’s Cabin—a 1,000-foot elevation gain—before descending on a rocky trail. It was a winner-takes-all event; there would be no prize for second or third.
Corvington, an elite racer who has multiple podium finishes to her name from races all over the world and who recently finished in the top 35 at the Worlds, canceled her plans to compete in another race this past weekend and booked a flight from her home in St. Petersburg, Fla., arriving four days early so she could train on the course. In mid-August, around the country, Spartan racers were getting blips on their phones informing them of the event. The only requirement for entry: you had to be engaged and the field would be limited to 100.
The first 15 brides accepted to compete received two nights of lodging at Amee Farm Lodge ahead of the competition.
Tara Pendergraft, a veteran of the Killington Spartan Ultra Beast and multiple other obstacle races, signed up as well. She and her fiancé own Urban Fit Inc., an obstacle course racing training facility in Haleyville, Pa. “When I saw who else had signed up, I didn’t think I’d have a chance to win,” she said after the race. “There were women who have won other Spartan elite races. Even though I’m in pretty good shape, I wasn’t sure I could win but I figured, what the heck.”
In fact, the race background of some of the top contenders looked like a bucket list of endurance events: triathlons, sprints, obstacle course races, Spartan races.
“I knew with women like Laura Fasciano competing I’d have a tough chance winning. She won the Tri-State New Jersey Super Spartan Race in September,” Pendergraft added. Fasciano finished fourth. Pendergraft finished 12th.
Killington’s sole entrant, Polly Lynn, 32, editor and co-publisher of The Mountain Times, was the exception. Except for running one leg of this summer’s 100 on 100 relay, Lynn had not raced this year.
But she had one advantage: She and her fiancé began training on the course in late August. “I must have run those steps at least 24 times,” Lynn said. And in doing so, she was able to drop her personal best time from 14:10 to 12:58 from the base of the steps to Shrek’s Cabin.
Though 98 contestants signed up, only 35 showed up at the starting line at Riverside Farm for Sunday’s race. They stood at the starting line jumping up and down to stay warm in the sub-freezing temperatures. It had snowed earlier that morning (in fact, on the same day, just four miles south Killington Resort was the first ski area in the nation to open for skiing and riding.) One girl wore a wedding gown, another a tutu; but most were dressed in running garb. Then the gun sounded and they headed off in three waves of 10 each.
The race began as a sprint across a wide field to the stone steps. The first wave stuck together until midway up when three broke away, Polly Lynn initially took the lead but Rachel Corvington, one of the elites favorited to win, passed her early on. Corvington has run a 1:31 half marathon and has a personal best 10K time of 41:07; she was flying up the hill.
“I kept Rachel within 20 feet all the way up to Shrek’s Cabin at the top of the mountain,” recalls Lynn, who was in second place at the top.
“Number 222 and 250 are neck-and-neck,” fans heard officials radio from the top.
Though Lynn has only done one Spartan race (and she wasn’t competing, she was on a team with fellow Middlebury College alumni who set out to simply finish the Spartan Beast at Killington Mountain together in 2014) and doesn’t often run races, she’s a natural athlete and has often jumped into physical challenges on a whim.
“Every year since she was born, we’ve headed out to our family cabin in Rocky Mountain National Park and all three girls hike with me since they could walk,” recalls her father, Angelo Lynn of Middlebury. “She first climbed Long’s Peak, elevation 14,256 feet, at age 8 and she’s been running and hiking mountain trails ever since… She also helped me guide a father-daughter team up Gannett Peak, the highest mountain in Wyoming, in 2010. We did what the guide books call a five- or six-day trip in three days — 25 mile hike in to camp on day one with 40-pound packs, a 20-hour summit day, and the hike back out the following day. She’s no stranger to pain and pushing herself.”
As the race downhill began to steepen, Lynn’s mountain training took hold and she passed Corvington. “Every time the trail flattened out a bit, I could hear her footsteps catching up to me,” Lynn recalls. “I knew I had to put enough distance during the steeper downhills so she would not be able to out-sprint me in the last flat 200 yards to the finish.”
Gasping for breath and pumping her arms, Lynn came into the last open stretch looking strong and crossed the finish line at 23:03, beating her own personal best time. Just 12.5 seconds behind, Corvington finished second and Georgina Norton, a former New York University runner who has competed in the USATC XC Club Nationals, finished third.
Killington’s Polly Lynn had just won herself a wedding.
“I’ve never wanted to win anything this badly, I trained as much as was reasonable without quitting my day job or giving up other obligations,” Lynn said after. She and Mikula had gotten engaged in June and had been saving up and dreaming about Riverside Farm for the reception, but the costs were high. Now, they will have a catered dinner for 100, accommodations for six guests, and full use of the property. As Lynn’s sister Elsie Parini said: “You can now afford a pretty amazing wedding dress.”
Race organizer Peter Borden was grinning at the finish. “I knew Polly was strong and probably a top five contender, but I didn’t think she would actually win it,” he said. “There are a lot of women out here with some impressive Spartan and other race credentials.”
“Many of the other girls were shocked that I was even a contender because they haven’t seen me on other race circuits—I’m not on any,” admitted Lynn. “And, to be fair, I probably had no business winning this race. But the fact that I did just goes to show that if you put your mind to something and give it your all, you can accomplish even the most challenging of goals.”
Mikula was grinning at the end as well. “Honestly, in the end I wasn’t even thinking about the wedding. I just wanted Polly to win because she’d worked so hard for this,” Mikula said.
Riverside Farm Owner and Spartan Race Founder Joe De Sena congratulated Lynn on her success, saying: “With so many phenomenal women competitors who come out to each of our races, we thought this would be a perfect way to help celebrate those who will be tying the knot. Polly showed true grit and determination and as a result was able to come out on top.”
Sometime this spring Lynn, Mikula and 100 of their closest friends and family will return to Riverside Farm, its six beautifully restored barns, and 700 acres of sprawling fields and forest. It will be a wedding well worth running for.
Video footage of The Spartan Fittest Bride will be aired nationally Nov. 7, details TBA.
By Lisa Gosselin