WAITSFIELD, VT. — Want a tough race without the gimmicks? Then you’ll want to hone in on a new race coming to the mountains of Vermont this September.
The O2X Summit Challenge at Sugarbush Resort is the national debut of a new race series that combines intense trail running that challenge racers with the natural features of the terrain, including off-trail segments. The debut at Sugarbush ski area in Warren will be Sept. 13, with pre- and post-race events on Sept. 12-14.
O2X Summit Challenges are designed for a variety of fitness levels, from weekend hikers to elite trail runners with courses rated by using a Diamond Grading System (as in skiing). Single Diamond routes gain at least 1,000 net vertical feet over at least four miles, and Double Diamond routes gain at least 2,000 vertical feet up to 8 miles. All courses will blend single-track trails, double-track dirt roads, glades, rock scrambles and open slopes as they wind their way to the summit.
The newly-minted series will feature three other events in the Northeast —Sunday River, in Newry, Me., Sept. 27; Loon Mountain in Lincoln, N.H. Oct. 18; and Windham Mountain in Windham, N.Y., Oct. 25.
The series is a project of three Navy SEALs—Adam LaReau, Paul McCullough, Gabriel Gomez—and self-described “recovering attorney” Craig Coffey. In 2013, after losing a bid for the U.S. Senate in the special election in Massachusetts against Democrat Ed Markey to fill the vacancy left by Sen. Bob Kerry, Gomez was looking for a new venture and picked Coffey to be his business partner. Later, they met LaReau and McCullough, who were returning from deployments in various hotspots around the world while serving in the SEALs. While they came from very different backgrounds, they shared a similar commitment to physical fitness and overcoming obstacles. When the group came together last October, they laid out the principals they wanted to work by, as well as the environmental ethic they wanted to follow.
Less than a year later, the result was the series of races that kicks off its inaugural race this fall in the Mad River Valley. Presently, the O2X course designers are working with Sugarbush Resort mountain managers to finalize the trails that wind up access roads, single-track trail and ski slopes all the way to the summit.
Craig Coffey describes the O2X race as a different running experience. Unlike popular obstacle course races that feature lakes of fire, rope swings and other constructed features, Coffey says the races let the terrain speak for itself.
“It feels almost unnecessary and gratuitous to create those challenges when you’ve got some of the most beautiful trail networks and mountains in the country right there,” he says.
The organizers have taken that approach to the après race scene as well. The O2X BaseCamp area will feature local foods, environmental talks, and performance/training exhibits. The races will also feature local food and drink vendors.
“We don’t want to roll in with Coca Cola and serve 20-dollar cheeseburgers,” Coffey says. “We’re looking to find the local food providers, the local dairy farmer and bring their chocolate milk as a recovery beverage”
On the environmental front, O2X will also feature 1% for the Planet, and has made a remediation commitment with Leave No Trace to leave the place better than it was found.
Next year the group plans to expand to 12 races, including events in Colorado, Arizona, Washington, Southern California, and other points in the West.
Summer Trail Running Line-up
If the new 02X Summit Challenge appeals to you, here’s a line-up of some of the summer’s best and toughest trail and hill runs around the state that promise plenty of gut-busting hills, mud and glory for the finishers.
July 5, XIP Double Bypass
This trail race is the second of the three-part Bypass Series at Burke Mountain. The Double Bypass features two ascents of Burke Mountain, with obstacles along the way. For even more of a challenge, come back in September for the Triple Bypass.
July 13, the Stowe 8-Miler
In its 33rd year, the Stowe 8-Miler draws athletes from all over New England and Canada back year after year. The eight-mile course starts just off Mountain Road in Stowe and leads runners through beautiful— and hilly—countryside and downtown Stowe with a backdrop of Mount Mansfield.
Starting on a relatively flat section of road, elevation doesn’t change until roughly 2.5 miles. At this point the runner will go up a very steep hill and a gradual downhill. For miles five to seven the trail leads along a hilly dirt road with many ups and downs all leading up to the last mile, the entirety of which is a gradual uphill.
The race can be run by individuals or teams of two and finishes with a celebration at the Rusty Nail with craft-brewed beer and homemade ice cream. Stiff competition among the top runners, makes this a particularly tough race for those shooting for the top spots in the most competitive divisions. locorunning.com/stowe8miler
July 19, Goshen Gallop
This race carries the reputation of the “toughest 10k in New England.” Taking place in Goshen, Vt. at Blueberry Hill Inn in the Moosalamoo National Recreation Area, this rugged course takes runners up to elevations between 1,800 and 2,100 feet above sea level. The race is run on dirt and gravel roads, eventually leading to packed soil surfaces at the higher elevations following Nordic Cross-Country ski trails. Hilly, but beautiful running.
Despite its tough reputation, the Goshen Gallop welcomes runners of all abilities and is known to have a friendly atmosphere. The post-race picnic offers runners excellent food and often includes live music, all part of the Goshen Gallop’s philosophy to emphasize the fun of the event. For more information visit www.blueberryhillinn.com.
July 19 – 20, The Vermont 100
If you’re hungry for much more distance, send in your registration right away for this legendary Vermont race. Starting at four in the morning and ending at a 30-hour time limit, The Vermont 100 Endurance Race is one of the original 100-mile runs in the USA and is part of the Grand Slam Series of ultra-running. Clearly, this is not for the faint of heart.
Each year, a maximum of 300 runners attempt to finish a hilly race over Vermont back roads and trails under the cutoff point and only a well-trained few finish within the time limit. The course starts and finishes at Silver Hill Meadow in West Windsor. It is a shamrock-shaped loop, consisting of 70 percent dirt or jeep roads with the rest on woods trails (there are a couple miles of pavement). The course climbs and descends close to 15,000 feet. Racers are also required to complete eight hours of volunteer service at any event 50K or longer. www.vermont100.com
August 2, Moosalamoo Ultra
The Moosalamoo Ultra will feature two races – a ‘heavy’ half marathon (14 miles) and a 36-mile ultra through the beautiful and under-used Moosalamoo National Recreation Area, one of only two National Recreation Areas in Vermont. The two race courses start at the Blueberry Hill Inn in Goshen and include stretches of singletrack and access road leading to the top of Moosalamoo Mountain with views of Silver Lake, Lake Dunmore and Sugar Hill Reservoir. It’s hilly, it’s hot in August, it’s long — and that equates to one tough, but fun, day running mountain trails. To get there, go to Brandon toward Brandon Gap on Route 73 and turn north (about 1 mile in to the ascent) toward Goshen. From Middlebury, head south of Route 7, turn east on Route 125, and turn on the Ripton-Goshen road about 1 mile east of Ripton. Blueberry Hill Inn is located several miles from either highway on dirt roads. www.moosalamooultra.com
August 17, Stowe Trail Race Series: Cady Hills 5K
The next stop on the Stowe Trail Race Series in the Cady Hills 5K, which starts and finishes at the Golden Eagle Hotel. The course begins on a private dirt road and merges onto technical single-track trail. This course is technical and challenging with exciting features. Scenery includes hardwood forests along rocky outcroppings and over several wooden bridges. It’s short, but rugged. www.stoweadaptive.org
August 24, Race to the Top of Vermont
This yearly battle to the top of Vermont’s highest summit is organized by the Catamount Trail Association and climbs 2,564 feet over 4.3 miles. Bikers currently hold the ascent records, but runners are encouraged to challenge the current records — and come surprisingly close. It’s steep, sustained and a gut-buster if you’re pressing for a personal best. www.rtttovt.com
August 30 – 31, Jay Peak Trail Running Festival
A trail race series on the slopes of Big Jay, this festival brings a plethora of running events to the northernmost reaches of Vermont. The annual Jay Peak Trail Fest sees more than 600 runners and racers head up to Jay Peak for a weekend of sunshine and nonstop racing action. This year promises much of the same and race organizers expect crowds as large as 1,000.
The series of trail races over Labor Day Weekend features three 5Ks on Saturday rated in difficulty like ski slopes (green circle, blue square, black diamond). Pick the one that suits you, or enter all three for the “Trail Runners with Issues” award. Sunday follows with 25K and 50K ultra trail races. New this year, the series features the Tram Relay Races for teams of two or four and the course is a 3.05-mile run up the hill to top of the tram. At the summit, hand the baton off to your partner and enjoy the tram ride back down. www.jaypeaktrailrun.com
September 6, XIP Triple Bypass
The third and final of the XIP Bypass series is three ascents of Burke Mountain with the most number of obstacles of all the Bypass events. www.xiptraining.com/#!triple-bypass
September 20, GMAA Common-to-Common 30K
For those looking to challenge their long-distance running skills before taking on a full marathon, this 30k, or 18.64-miles, race provides a hearty challenge courtesy of the Green Mountain Athletic Association. The trail runs in farm country between historic Essex Center and Westford Commons, starting and finishing at Essex Center. Runners will gain a total of 300 feet in elevation with one large 270-foot hill between miles 12.5 and 13.5. Only the first and last 1.4 miles are paved, as the trail leads through expansive countryside with plenty of chances to see Vermont farms—if you’re not too tired. The course closes at 12:15 p.m., meaning that runners are expected to finish within three hours and 45 minutes. See http://www.gmaa.net.
September 21, Trapp Cabin 5 & 10K
The third and final stop on the Stowe Trail Race Series begins and ends in the Trapp Family Lodge Meadow. Both races wind through 800 vertical feet of forest, following dirt roads briefly before merging with double track cross country trails. The 5K race diverts at Old County Road and follows Russel Knoll Trail back to the finish while the 10K continues on to the cabin and returns on the new single track trails. www.stoweadaptive.org
September 28, Vermont 50.
Another classic challenging Vermont race, the Vermont 50 includes 50K, 50-mile runs and 50-mile rides around Ascutney Mountain in West Windsor. Since adding mountain biking to the lineup, participation in the race has been on the rise. This year, some 700 bikers and 600 runners will run over 77 different parcels of private lands. www.vermont50.com