It's not exactly like opening day at Fenway Park; in fact there is no official opening day for the mountain running season but rest assured you can feel it coming. Just as you can feel the approach warmer weather, mountain runners begin venturing out of their low-land dens onto to higher and muddy trails previously covered in snow.
Mountain running season kicks off in fits and starts first in the Appalachian chain along the Eastern United States, then the Sierras and Cascades before finally reaching the resistant snow pack of the high Colorado Rockies.
In the Northeast the USATF New England Association's 17th annual Mountain Running Circuit begins this weekend with the first ever Sleepy Hollow Mountain Running Race in Huntington, VT. Sleepy Hollow is organized by 2011 World Mountain Running Champion and US Mountain Running Team (USMRT) member Kasie Enman. The rest of the races in the series are:
May 26 - Wachusett Mountain - 4.7 miles - up/down - trail
June 3 - Pack Monadnock - 10 miles - uphill - road
June 24 - Mt. Cranmore Hillclimb - 6 miles - up/down - trail
July 8 - Loon Mountain Race - 5 miles - uphill - trail (selection race for the women's USMRT)
July 22 - Ascutney Mountain Challenge - 3.7 miles - uphill (2300') - road
The USATF New England Mountain Running Circuit was founded in 1996 by mountain running legend Dave Dunham (pictured above). Dave won a silver medal at the 1993 World Mountain Running Trophy race in Gap, France and was a long time staff member for the US Mountain Running Team. Dave passed organization of the circuit on to me in 2003. In 2006 I moved to Oregon and handed the series over to it's current head of state Paul Kirsch. Paul is also the Junior Team Leader for the US Mountain Running Team.
While not part of the New England Mountain Running Series the grand-daddy of all mountain races is without question the Mt. Washington Road Race (MWRR). Often called the race to the clouds, it features only one hill which ends at the summit (pictured above). The first timed run up the mountain was by George Foster in 1904 in a time of 1:42. The MWRR is a 7.6 mile road race climbing 4200' up the auto road to the 6300'. There are mountain races that climb more vertical feet (Mt. Ashland Hillclimb - 5600'); there are races finishing at higher elevations (Pikes Peak Ascent - 14,000') but NONE are as steep at Mt. Washington's 12% average grade for as many miles. The 52nd annual MWRR will be held on June 16, 2012 and is the men's selection race for the US Mountain Running Team.
While New England has a rich history of mountain running there are other great races across the country. The aforementioned Mt. Ashland Hillclimb Run (pictured above) will be held on August 4 (my birthday) in Ashland, Oregon. This races climbs 5600' over 13 miles of mostly dirt road and trail from Lithia Park to the summit of Mt. Ashland (elevation 7533'). The race was first held in 1978 and has been run continuously ever since. Up the road from Ashland at Applegate Lake is the Graniteman Mountain Run - a 10 mile up/down trail race that climbs 2200' before dropping back to the lakefront finish (pictured below). The 2012 Graniteman will be held on June 17.
Naturally Colorado has many epic mountain races made even tougher by the high elevation courses. Some notable races include:
July 7 - Vail Mountain Hillclimb - 7.5 miles - 2500' ascent
July 15 - Barr Mountain Trail Race - 12.5 miles - 3630' up/down
August 5 - Berry Picker Trail Run - 3.2 miles - 2100' ascent
August 18-19 - Pikes Peak Marathon & Ascent - 7800' ascent
Historically most members of the US Mountain Running Team have come from New England or Colorado because those were the regions with the most mountain running races. Now we're seeing more elite mountain runners and fantastic mountain races outside these core regions. Christine Lundy from Sausalito, CA has been on the USMRT several times and organized a team selection race on the famous Dipsea Trail in 2007. Some current mountain races from around the country include:
May 12 - New York - Prospect Mountain Race - 5.6 miles - 1600' ascent
June 10 - California - Dipsea Trail Race - 7.4 miles - 2000' up/down
August 4 - California - Squaw Mountain Run - 3.6 miles - 2000' ascent
August 5 - New Mexico - La Luz Trail Run - 9 miles - 4000' ascent
August 25 - North Carolina - Continental Divide Trail Race - 6 miles - 1600' up/down
September 22 - New York - Whiteface Mountain Uphill Race - 7.5 miles - 3500' ascent
October 27 - California - Palm Springs Tram Road Challenge - 3.7 miles - 2000' ascent
The list above is not a complete list but rather a sampling of some great sub-ultra distance road and trail races featuring lots of vertical climb or climb & descent. All the races above have hosted some of America's best mountain runners.
Speaking of our top elite mountain runners; where do they go to race against the world's best? There are highly competitive mountain races on nearly every continent but the best of the best meet at the World Mountain Running Championships held each September. The 28th annual championships will be held in Italy for the 7th time on September 2. Pictured below is the 2008 bronze medal winning US men's team.
Other highly competitive international race include:
June 7 - Balkan Mountain Running Championships - Bulgaria
July 7 - European Mountain Running Championships - Turkey
July 21 - NACAC Mountain Running Championships - Canada
August 11 - CONSUDATLE Mountain Running Championships - Columbia
August 18 - Skaala Uphill - Norway
October 6 - Smarna Gora International Mountain Run - Slovenia
October 14 - Mt. Kinabalu Climbathon - Malaysia
November 29 - African Mountain Running Championships - Nigeria
Here are some resources for following the US Mountain Running Team through the 2012 mountain running season:
See you in the mountains (or online)!