Move over adventure races and marathons, the latest trend in extreme fitness is mountain running. With a surge in new races, these Vermont ski resorts have you covered.
Cody Reed, 25, a winner of the 100-kilometer Ultra Race of Champions in 2016, is not someone you’d ever want to challenge to race up a mountain. Reed had already won the first event in the Under Armour Mountain Running Series when he set off to run the 50 kilometers of trails on the ridgeline between Killington and Pico in August, 2017. It was the first time the three-race national series had come to Killington, bringing Reed and other top runners to the Green Mountains. Not far behind was Saxtons River local Josh Ferenc. On the rest of the course, hundreds of other competitors were running through alpine forests and along ridgelines with 100-mile views, racing distances that ranged from a 5K to a vertical mile, to the 50K.
Running up mountains: It’s what local skiers and riders have always done to stay in shape after the lifts closed. But in recent years, the number of mountain races at ski areas has exploded.
This summer, no fewer than three mountain races take place on the weekend of August 25-26, alone. The 11th running of the Northeast Delta Dental Race to the Top of Vermont in Stowe, challenges runners and cyclists to see who can get up the 4.3-mile, 2,654-foot vertical gain route up the Toll Road the fastest.
The Under Armour Mountain Running Series brings back some of the best mountain runners in the country to Killington. And the Sky Run sends the vertically adept up the trails of Mad River Glen to the summit in either a 5K or a 10K, which has 3,700 vertical feet of climbing.
“It seems like more and more people are looking for different types of running challenges and running up a mountain feels like an extreme endeavor, but it’s attainable,” says Greg Maino, who runs the Vermont Running Company and serves as the communication director for the Catamount Trail Organization, the host of Stowe’s Race to the Top. “Each year, we’re seeing more and more trail races like that.”
The season kicks off with the Catamount Ultra, June 23, which lets runners take a 25- or a 50-kilometer route around the trails of the Trapp Family Lodge (ending with a von Trapp beer, of course). Bolton Valley Resort hosts its first 6-hour or 12-hour relay challenge to see who can run the most laps to the summit in Enough is Enough, to benefit addiction recovery. Magic Mountain is hosting its first Red Line Scramble — a grueling run up the trail below the Red Chair. “We’ve been hosting skimo races all year, so why not run up this route,” asks Magic’s race organizer Michael Christopher Owens.
New to Vermont too is Ragnar, a New England-wide running camp/festival and ultra trail relay races, which comes to Ascutney. Smuggler’s Notch challenges serious runners to a 25K or a vertical 1K up Madonna mountain on Aug. 11. Jay Peak hosts its 7th Annual Trail Festival over Labor Day with three different 5Ks (green circle to black diamond) all the way up to a 53.1K (yes, they made the 50K harder this year.) Then there are the historically brutal Mansfield Double Up (an 11-mile mountaineering race that involves trails so steep they have ladders) and Circumburke (a 26.2-mile run or a 27-mile ride on trails and singletrack around Burke Mountain). And the season ends at Stratton, with the North Face Race to the Summit (with $2000 in prize money) on Oct. 7, followed by the second running of the most grueling event of all: 29029, a challenge to run up Stratton Mountain 17 times, gaining the altitude of Mt. Everest, 29,029 feet. (You take the gondola down).
Out of breath just thinking about this?
It’s no wonder that Vermont turns out some of the top mountain runners in the nation, including world-class mountain runners Aliza LaPierre and Kasie Enman. To get a sense of how stiff the competition can be, at “fun” events like the race to the top, Montpelier’s Liz Stephen, the three-time member of the U.S. Olympic cross country ski team holds the women’s record for running the 4.3-mile course in 37 minutes 22 seconds. And Olympic mountain biking silver medalist Lea Davison, of Jericho, holds the record for riding it in 37:18.
Now, there’s a new crop of young runners. Last year John Kerrigan, a cross-country coach for more than 30 years at Waterbury’s Harwood Union High School, put together the first U.S. team to head to the Youth Sky Running World Championships. The event, held in Andorra, featured a vertical kilometer race (a 3.5K race with an elevation gain of 1,020 meters) and 15K races.
Erin McGill, of Moretown, a competitor on the Ski The East freeride tour, finished second in the vertical K and third in the 15K. This year, McGill and her brother Brendan as well as Waitsfield’s John Henry Bardes and East Burke’s Naia Tower-Pierce will be on the team and compete in Italy, Aug. 1.
“One of the biggest assets Vermont has is our terrain,” says running coach Ryan Kerrigan (John Kerrigan’s son) of Ripton. “There are not too many places where you get to run up and down as much as Vermont. Running flats might build up your foot speed but running hills builds strength.”
For actor Rusty DeWees, running mountains in Stowe did more than that: it got him back on skis this year for the first time in 17 years. “My back was shot, I had degenerative discs and I could barely walk in 2004,” DeWees recalls. “The mountain saved me. I started walking up Mt. Mansfield, then running and now I’m in better shape than ever,” the 57-year-old says.
As Ryan Kerrigan says, running mountains has another benefit. “Running on steep, hilly terrain through forests and over mountain tops, on and off trail is our heritage,” he says. “We don’t need to hunt for food anymore but we’re always hunting something; one way or another a run in the woods helps us find whatever we’re looking for.”