Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Dirt Circuit

I love trail running! This is not news. I’ve written an ode to it here, photographed it here and dissected it here and painfully again here. So it should come as no surprise that I’m really looking forward to the rumored arrival of spring and the beginning of the “Dirt Circuit”!

We are blessed to live in New England and have a great many local trail races to choose from. Short, long or ultra. Rocky, rooty or grassy. Flat, hilly or mountainous. Dry, wet or Muddy Moose. Whatever conditions you like, you can find them nearby. And, many of these great, local trail races have been included in a number of great, local trail race series!

The granddaddy of all trail series is the Western Mass Athletic Club’s “Grand Tree”. The GT starts in April and doesn’t wrap up until November. During that 8 month stretch, the series hits 19 different locations with race distances ranging from 7 to 26.4 miles. You can run as many (or as few) races as you like and can accumulate points proportional to your pace as a percentage of the winner's pace. Your best six races determine your final standing for the series.

This year’s series includes: The Mount Greylock Half Marathon which was one of the first trail races I ever did (back in 2001) and featured a 12 mile ramble up, around and over the Bay State’s highest peak followed by a terrifying 1-mile, free-fall down a black diamond ski trail. The Wapack 18 which I first ran in 2009 marked the one and only time I ever had to sit down (during a race) to collect my thoughts. And, Seven Sisters which has been known to make grown men weep openly. I hope to do ALL THREE this year, along with a handful of others, so that I can score at least 6 races in the series.

The Trail Monster Running Club puts on a 3-race series at Bradbury Mountain State Park in Pownal Maine and it's billed as
trail races by trail runners on some of the best single-track Maine has to offer. The series builds from the 6-mile Scuffle in July to the 9-mile Breaker in August and concludes with the 12-mile Bruiser in September. Runners completing all three races receive a special prize and will be known throughout the land as a "Trail Running Bad Ass"! How cool is that?
Another great trail series, and a little closer to home, is The Western New Hampshire Trail Series. This series has 8 events ranging in distance from 5k to 14k. The races begin in June and end in September and you can register for all eight for only $100 – that’s just $12.50 per race! Proceeds for this series go to help the Recreation Departments of the Upper Valley communities in which they are run. Plus, it’s got cool sounding race names like: Six in the Stix, Frenzy in the Forest and Lost a Lot. You can’t beat that!

While not technically a “trail series”, The USATF Mountain Running Circuit is certainly as rugged as they come. Beginning at Sleepy Hollow in May and finishing at Cranmore in July, this 6-race series draws the biggest and baddest competitors around. In fact, this year’s Cranmore Hill Climb will host the USA Mountain Running Championships and will determine the team that takes on the world in Poland! Runners who complete all 6 USATF Mountain races are designated as “Mountain Goats” and are “rewarded” with a by-pass to the Mount Washington Road Race lottery. I wrote about my own attempt at “Goatness” here.

A slightly crazier (if you can believe it!) trail series is the one put on by the Trail Animals Running ClubTheir TARC Series is a 10-race slate of varying distances from 10k to 100 miles!!! It begins in March with the Spring Thaw - a 6-hour race through the trails of Harold Parker State Park in Andover, MA. And ends in November with the Fells Trail Ultra – a 32m (or 40m - your choice!) race through the Middlesex Fells of Stoneham, MA. So, if you like dirt and really like going long, this is the trail series for you!

We’re also blessed with a wide range of weekly trail series events that are run from the same location every week and charge as little as $3 per runner. The first (and oldest) of which is the Lynn Woods races. The races take place on Wednesday evenings at the Lynn Woods Reservation in Lynn, MA. This XC series (organized by the great Bill Mullen) has been run every year since 1995 and features sweet course names like “Stone Tower”, ‘Dam Run” and “Tour de Lynn Woods”. And the season ending Lynn Woods Relay is a classic must-run event for most local running clubs.

The trail series that I direct is called the Mine Falls Summer Trail Series. It’s a fun, no-frills 12-week series put on by the Gate City Striders and is scored in two segments. The 5k & 5m races are held on Monday nights throughout the summer and run from Stellos Stadium along the scenic trails of Mine Falls Park in Nashua, NH. It includes a mid-series Relay Race and a series-ending Handicap Race where runners start in waves based on their times throughout the year. The cost for the races is only $5, or $4 if you register for all 12. Even less for the kiddos! Family fun in the summer sun. How can you go wrong?

Finally, a new weekly series has just hit the trail racing scene this year and it’s called the Harmony Hill Summer XC Series. It’s a summer cross country running series for all abilities and ages.  The events will be held on eight consecutive Wednesday nights starting in June and ending in August.  Races will be held on a combination of terrains and trails including open pastures, wooded areas, double-track, and single-track trails in Northwood, NH. The race series is put on by Acidotic Racing - no strangers themselves to getting dirty on the trails!

So there you have it! If you’ve got a trail racing itch that you just gotta’ scratch there’s plenty of places nearby to get your fix!

If all goes well, my own personal “2013 Dirt Circuit” schedule will include:

April 13 - Merrimack River 10m (WMAC)
May 5 - Seven Sisters 12m (WMAC)
May 26 - Pineland 25k
June 16 - Greylock Half (WMAC)
July 7 - Blue Hills 12k (WMAC)
July 21 - Cranmore Hill Climb (WMAC)
July 27 - Bear Brook Marathon
Sept 1 - Wapack 18m (WMAC)
15 - Pisgah 50k (WMAC)

As of right now, I’m still on the fence about what to do about a goal race for the Fall. Do I take another crack at breaking 3 hours at the Baystate Marathon? Or, do I give breaking 8 hours at the Stonecat 50m my full and complete attention? At the moment I’m leaning toward the marathon. But that could change depending on how things go this summer.


    Just sayin'...

    1. My apologies Ryan. I'd be happy to add a paragraph on the Brad!

    2. Thanks for the plug! You'd be even cooler if you came and ran 'em. :)

  2. This is a great post. I don't do much trail running, but I had no idea there were so many opportunities out there...

  3. what, no Muddy Moose this year? Is that a race to avoid?

    1. I was on the fence about MM. Hurt myself there last year. The section through the freshly chopped woods was a bit annoying/dangerous. Kinda left a bad taste in my mouth. I'll be back to avenge, but this year I really wanted to try 7 Sisters (which is the following weekend) so I can REALLY hurt myself. :)

    2. thanks, I read race reports but I also like to see who repeats the race to help me decide if I'm going to sign-up for the punishment. See you at The Rivah.