This weekend, there is so much trail running activity, it’s almost unbelievable. Debbie and I have been around this sport since 1999 and its amazing to see the growth. Last weekend, we were at the Mt. Greylock Trail Races, which was 17 years in a row for Debbie. We met at a trail race (the 1999 Vermont 50 Mile Ride & Run), so trails, running, and the trail running community are very important to me. The sport has been a huge part of my life. Because so much of my trail running experiences involve Debbie, it is as important to me as cycling, which is another one of my true loves. Writing is another passion, so the collision of this weekend’s events, news, and friends is a joy to share.
This morning, Debbie and our two kids drove back to the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, to intercept and cheer for Scott Jurek on his Appalachian Trail (AT) supported speed record (fastest known time). I had a crazy week at work and had to spend some time at Horst Engineering’s East Hartford plant, so I missed the trip. I was able to help them track and find Jurek from afar. Jennifer Pharr-Davis has the overall AT speed record, 46 days 11 hours and 20 minutes. She set it in June/July 2011 and went from Maine to Georgia. She broke Andrew Thompson’s 2005 record. Karl Meltzer attempted to break Thompson’s record in 2008, but fell short.
Debbie and I took our son to see Karl in New Hampshire/Vermont and cheer him on during his record attempt. Despite his promotion of the trip, sponsorship, and the emergence of social media, there was far less fanfare than today. Thompson broke Pete Palmer’s 1999 record. Palmer broke David Horton’s 1991 record. Trail running has come a long way! The AT record is really more about speed-hiking than trail running, though Jurek, Palmer, Horton, and Meltzer are all known for their ultrarunning prowess. Jurek has his work cut out for him if he is going to beat Pharr-Davis’ time. Debbie and the kids found him just north of Goose Pond and joined him until he crossed Interstate 90, the Massachusetts Turnpike. The AT crosses the Pike on a footbridge that we have driven under hundreds of times in our lives. I’ve never actually been on the bridge. Debbie was last on it when she was leading trips for the Springfield College Outing Club in the mid-1990’s.
Jurek’s attempt is being followed by many people all over the world. He has had crowds of runners join him on the trails and many other folks coming out to greet him. When my family first saw him today, he was in a group of eight, including Meltzer, who is crewing and pacing. Social media, GPS technology, and real-time tracking have made this attempt an inspirational spectacle to follow. The Maine based mapmaker, Delorme, is helping with the Scott Jurek AT15 tracking website. Horton had a lot less attention in 1991. Ironically, Horton is getting more attention in 2015 because he has been helping out as part of the crew. After seeing Jurek and then running/hiking along with him for 10 minutes or so, they went in search of the crew and found Horton. We packed a goodie bag full of items, including Shenipsit Striders t-shirts, vegan “cheese,” and vegan chocolate with the plan to deliver it to Jurek and crew.
David Horton is a wonderful race director and one of the legends of our sport. We last saw him at the 2013 edition of Hellgate, one of the races he directs. Our son told me that “Mr. Horton” gave them all kinds of energy “junk food” to eat including GU Chomps and other sweets. My daughter must have been thrilled! Debbie and I have been vegetarian for nearly 20 years, and like Jurek, I observe a vegan diet. I stopped eating eggs and dairy in 2008 after failing miserably at 7 Sisters that May. In 2009, with a changed attitude and changed diet, I had my best ever time at 7 Sisters. Debbie gave up her streak of 7 Sisters finishes after 16 years in a row, when she did the Miwok 100K Trail Run last month. Scott Jurek won Miwok three times.
The race director of 7 Sisters is Fred Pilon. When Debbie and the kids were with Horton this morning, Fred showed up to run with Jurek. Fred is an Editor Emeritus of Ultrarunning magazine, and a major influence on the growth of ultrarunning and trail running. Another Editor Emeritus is Tia Bodington. She is the Race Director of Miwok. We saw her last month in Stinson Beach at the finish. When I got home from work today, I fetched the mail and the latest issue of Ultrarunning was in the pile. Amazing. They timed the publication and shipment perfectly! Are you starting to understand more about the trail running community?
We have been following Jurek’s progress since he started on the AT in Georgia, three weeks ago. We were hoping to catch him in Connecticut, but he came through yesterday and the timing didn’t work out. The “cheese” and chocolate that Debbie brought to him and the crew came from Divine Treasures, one of our favorite local businesses, in Manchester. We were inspired to contribute some vegan “treats” when we saw that someone picked up Vegan Treats for the Jurek team when they were in Pennsylvania last week. We have been to Vegan Treats several times over the years including a couple of times on our way home from the Laurel Highlands Ultra.
Jurek is well-known for his ultrarunning exploits. Debbie and I first met him in the early 2000’s when she went west to race in California and Washington, where he used to live. Notably, we saw him in 2007 when he attempted Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc for the first time. Debbie also attempted it, as did Karl Meltzer, and Hal Koerner. Our friend, Nikki Kimball, who traveled with Debbie and also ran her first ultra at the 1999 Vermont 50, won UTMB in 2007, but the others mentioned didn’t finish. It was a tough weekend for all, but we did have a nice meal together in Chamonix. Jurek has amazing palmares, and his race resume is punctuated by his seven consecutive Western States Endurance Run victories.
Western States is happening right now, as I type. So, Jurek, one of the all time WS100 champs is in Massachusetts while Kimball, and several other friends, are at the race in California. Tia Bodington is a member of the Western States Endurance Run board of directors, and she is running today too, as is one of our fellow Shenipsit Striders, Sean Greaney. His crew, Jordan Leigh and Steve LaBranche, are also Shenipsit Striders. A year ago, Debbie was at WS100, pacing and crewing Larisa Dannis to her second place finish.
There was a big trail running relay in Massachusetts yesterday and today. The Ragnar Trail Relay was at Northfield Mountain, just east of the Berkshires and not far from the Appalachian Trail. We had many friends at that event. Has this sport grown or what?
Tomorrow, the Shenipsit Striders are hosting our second major trail race of 2015, the Nipmuck South Trail Race in Mansfield. Last month, Debbie race directed the Soapstone Mountain Trail Race. It is part of the Connecticut Blue-Blazed Trail Running Series that Debbie and I founded, and also part of the New England Grand Tree Trail Running Series. I’m on the Board of Directors of the Connecticut Forest and Park Association the non-profit organization responsible for the Blue-Blazed Hiking Trails. Next month, Debbie and I are headed to Utah so that she can run the Speedgoat 50K. The Race Director is the “Speedgoat,” Karl Meltzer. Another important record on Scott Jurek’s resume is his 2010 24 Hour USA Record. He held that until it was broken.
The week that Jurek was in France for his record attempt, I moderated a YPO-WPO Tri Sports Network Global Conference Call that featured him as a resource along with Debbie and fellow ultrarunning champion, Krissy Moehl. We spoke about the impact of the book, Born to Run, on the sport of trail running. Jurek featured prominently in the story. A movie version of the book is in production and due to come out soon, just like the movie version of Bill Bryson’s book, A Walk in the Woods. When that film comes out, we are bound to see a boom in the number of people interested in AT thru-hiking.
So, if Jurek is going to break the AT record, he has more hiking/running to do over the next couple of weeks. The toughest part of the trail is ahead of him. Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine await. Those states are home to some of our favorite trails. Debbie and I spend a lot of time in those mountains and we know how hard it will be for him. Pharr-Davis, like Meltzer, when north to south. They tackled the toughest trails first. Jurek is doing it the other way around and I like his style. I would want to finish on Katahdin too. That mountain is one of the most special places in the world for me. I was last there in 2012.
Once Jurek gets to the White Mountains he will get to see the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) Huts. We have spent many nights in the huts and have done some tough runs in the White’s. Debbie and I are both members of the AMC Board of Advisors. AMC volunteers maintain many miles of the Appalachian Trail in New England, including the stretch through our home state of Connecticut. Before he hits New Hampshire, he has to go through Vermont and the southern Green Mountains. That is where the Appalachian Trail overlaps with the Long Trail (LT). This weekend is also the 10th anniversary of the start of our Long Trail End-to-End Hike. Volunteers from the Green Mountain Club maintain the section of the AT that overlaps with the LT. When Jurek does get to the White’s, he will climb many 4,000 footers, the same hills that Debbie and I have climbed many times before.
For Scott Jurek, there is no question that the trail ahead is tougher than the trail behind. When Debbie was with David Horton earlier today, she sent a text to our longtime trail running friend, Stanley Tiska. His backyard in Hinsdale, is practically on the Appalachian Trail. She told him about Jurek and he ended up running backwards on the trail to intercept him. He got to run four fun miles with him. Tiska was an early mentor for Debbie when she was a 24-year-old rookie trail runner. In those days, all of the “men” on the trail running circuit, referred to her as Pony Tail.
Debbie and I are fortunate to have been part of the trail running community the past 17 years. We have met some awesome friends. We have developed an even deeper appreciation for conservation, education, and outdoor recreation. Our support for many of the organizations I’ve mentioned includes our volunteerism and our philanthropy. Through Horst Engineering, we are members of 1% For The Planet and support many environmental organizations. We love the trails. When Debbie and the kids headed out this morning, I knew I was missing out, but truth be told, I didn’t miss anything at all. Their adventure got me excited and all of these great memories came flooding back. My blog has chronicled this journey, at least over the past eight years since I’ve been publishing it. In this post, I’ve missed as many connections as I’ve remembered, but that is how it goes. I’m sure I’ll remember more later.
Thank you Scott Jurek for continuing to inspire and for unleashing all of these great thoughts for me; your running has brightened my day.