Posted August 6th, 2010
Summer training in Craftsbury can be a repetitive pursuit. Day after day we rollerski the same roads, run the same trails, and bike the same loops. Going through the motions so consistently makes it easy to forget the purpose of all this training, which, simply put, is to race faster.
Since for a cross-country ski racer the off-season is nearly twice as long as the competition season, keeping some familiarity with putting a number on and going as fast as you can becomes especially important. Over the course of the summer my Green Racing Project teammates and I try to squeeze a mountain bike race or a foot race in here and there to remember what it’s like to really go for it. One of the great things about being ski racers is that we thrive on pure fitness; being in great shape makes it fun to jump into any kind of endurance event and see how things go. That’s why on a hot day in mid-June, another teammate and I took off for the weekend to the Adirondacks to toe the line at the 6th Annual Great Adirondack Trail Run in Keene Valley, NY.
Keene Valley is an amazing place to be outside in the summertime. The High Peaks of the Adirondacks encase this little village and hiking trails wind from town to the tops of some of the most beautiful mountains on the East coast. The Great Adirondack Trail Race cruises 11.5 miles up the backside of Hopkins Mountain and Spread Eagle and finishes down in the Keene Valley Mountaineer’s front yard. With 2,900 feet of vertical gain and 3,100 feet of loss, it’s not exactly an easy stroll through the woods.
The course is easily one of the toughest trail races I’ve done. Like any Adirondack hike, the footing is tough, the stream crossings slippery, and the downhill descent makes your legs scream for more of that uphill you couldn’t wait to be done with only a few minutes before. But in those smoother sections of trail where it’s possible to briefly glance away from your next foot placement, the views across the undulating Great Range of the High Peaks are breathtaking—even more than usual for the runner already sucking wind.
The race climbs gradually and then steeply until finally poking out of the woods along the rocky ridges of Hopkins and Spread Eagle, which open up magnificently for a few hard earned minutes of panoramic views before dropping back into the woods. From there the trail descends consistently until hitting the dirt roads that cruise the last couple miles all the way into Keene Valley and the finish line in front of the Mountaineer. The cold Ausable River running behind the store is the only cure for throbbing thighs after the long descent into the valley, and most runners hardly break their stride across the finish line. Instead, they add a few hundred meters to the race in exchange for immediate cold water relief.
The Great Adirondack Trail Run is the brainchild of Keene Valley’s famous Mountaineer shop owner. Vinnie McClelland started the race as an “event to celebrate spring, bring the community together, get some exercise, drink beer, dance, support two great river associations, and have fun.” He tells us racers as much on the shuttle ride from the store to the start line on the trailhead off of Route 9N close to Elizabethtown. And the event certainly delivered on all of his promises. While entries are capped at only 60 runners due to the sensitive nature of the race course (it runs through part of the Giant Mountain Wilderness Area), the post-race BBQ and live music was packed with folks from town, racers and their families, and plenty of volunteers from the beneficiaries of the race—the Ausable and Boquet River Associations. After the run I kicked back to Lynard Skynard covers with a cold 46er Pale Ale donated from Lake Placid Brewery and scoped out the prize table, glowing with a rainbow of gear from the Mountaineer’s stocked shelves.
To seal the deal on the Great Adirondack Trail Race, the race winners, in accordance with event tradition, toasted from the massive race trophy that otherwise sits dormant on the store counter for the other 364 days of the year. The former tree stump and old running shoes turned trophy proved a difficult vessel to drink from, but it seemed a fitting embarrassment for the fastest runners of the day. There’s certainly nothing like putting it all on the line for a couple hours of hard running and then enjoying the post-competition camaraderie to help remind a skier lost in summertime what racing is all about.
For information on the 2011 Great Adirondack Trail Run go to