The Bearded Long Trail Runner
Name: Phil LaCroix
Family: Wife, Morgen LaCroix; son, James (8); daughter, Hazel (3); cat, Zack
Age: 35 From: Bolton
Occupation: Auto Mechanic
Primary: Running, Skateboarding, Mountain Biking
After losing seven friends in the last three years to opiate overdoses, Phil LaCroix decided to do one thing he knew how to do to bring change: run. Starting August 24, the auto mechanic from Bolton sets out to run the Long Trail in ten days. The trail is 273 miles long. His goal is to raise $50,000 in support of Vermont Foundation of Recovery and the Vermont Recovery Network through his Enough is Enough VT initiative. You can contribute to his campaign at: www.gofundme.com/vfyef-enough-is-enough
In 2019, filmmakers Bob Wagner, Nate Steinbauer and Al Teodosio teamed up to create a short documentary film about Phil’s journey on the Long Trail and the opioid crisis in Vermont, called “No Easy Mile.” He successfully completed the trip in 10 days in the summer of 2018. The film premiers at Arts Riot in Burlington on Oct. 2, 2019 at 7 p.m. Proceeds benefit the Enough is Enough Recovery Fund.
How would you describe yourself as a runner?
I like to call myself an elite mid-packer. I love telling people that. They think ultra-marathoners are all fast. I’m not. I think I have the potential to be faster, but that’s ok. I’m a dad.
For example, I was planning to run home to West Bolton after running the Catamount Ultra 50K. But my wife and kids surprised me at the finish line. They’d never seen me finish a race before, and when my three-year-old daughter ran out to meet me for the final stretch, I decided I’d rather go home with them.
Why did you choose to run the Long Trail for opiate addiction?
My wife and I have lost seven friends over the last three years to opiate addiction. The people we lost were Vermonters, and all of them had been through treatment and rehab. They didn’t have a clean place to go afterwards. When I was growing up in Essex, you never heard of anybody going through this. My wife and I thought, we’ve got to do something to let people know how big of a problem this is. This was the only thing I could think of to do to raise some money. I think it will draw attention to the issue because not a lot of people are crazy enough to try to run the Long Trail in a week and a half.
Have you ever done anything like this before?
I have never done anything like this—274 miles is a long, long way. I was supposed to run my first 100-mile race this summer, but it didn’t work out. The longest single day run I have ever done was 45 miles during the Vermont 50. For this trip, I’ll be running about 27 miles per day for 10 days.
How did you choose Vermont Recovery Network and the Vermont Foundation of Recovery?
I came up with the idea after my friend overdosed in 2016. He’d gone to rehab a few times, but kept getting right back into the same group of people he’d been using with. He didn’t have a clean group of people to support him, or a place where he could live and count on there being no drugs and alcohol.
In each case with our friends, transitional housing could have helped them. A lot of insurance only covers a few days of treatment. The big thing is that people struggling with addiction don’t need to be locked up– they need a house to go to that feels normal and safe. The funds raised will be split evenly between the two organizations. I picked $50,000 because that’s roughly the cost of setting up a sober living home for four to five people through Vermont Foundation of Recovery.
How did you get into running?
I was never a runner until after high school, but I’d done a lot of cross country mountain bike racing and skateboarding. I threw discus and shotput and thought the one-mile warmup run I had to do every day at practice was the worst thing ever.
Then, in 2012, I was diagnosed with Celiac disease. At that time, I weighed 235 pounds and had smoked cigarettes for some time. My doctor told me I needed to lose weight. I figured running would be the best way to do it because that’s what everybody else does, right? So I signed up for the Essex Half Marathon and told my wife I was going to do it.
How did you transition from being a runner to being an ultra runner?
It took about three years for me to go from not running at all in my adult life to running ultra distances.
I would have been content with half marathons, but in 2013, my good friend Andy “A-Dog” Williams was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. When he got sick, I decided I would run the Vermont City Marathon in 2014 for Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training. I raised a good bit of money for research. He died the day after Christmas in 2013 and never got to see me finish. I like to tell people he was the kind of guy whom you could call and he would come anytime and anywhere to give you ten bucks to put in your car for gas if you were stuck somewhere.
He went through a couple of bone marrow transplants. Watching how hard he fought for so long, I was inspired to see how far I could go with running. I thought, what can I do with my body to be better? Now every race I run is for him.
I ran the 2015 Vermont City Marathon and my first Catamount 50K in 2015. That sounds like a big step, but it’s really not that much longer than a marathon. I ran my first 50-miler as part of the 100-on-100 Relay in 2016.
I started running for Andy, and I keep running for him.
What do you love about ultra-running?
My family and I live about two miles off of the Long Trail in Bolton. I love running on trails. The surface is forgiving. Unlike in road races, nobody looks at you any differently for walking up hills. You run the downhills, jog the flats. I like that people help each other out, where in road races, it feels like everybody is in it for themselves.
I also love being surrounded by nature. When you’re out in the woods, it doesn’t matter if you’re slow or fast. You learn that you can get through just about anything for four or five miles with enough water and calories.
What have you learned or been surprised by since starting Enough is Enough VT?
You’d be surprised what some people tell their mechanic when they get comfortable with them. It’s probably kind of like a barber shop. Since I’ve been talking about opiate addiction and how it’s affected people in my life, I’ve had customers come to my shop and share their own addiction stories with me, or stories about people they know and love. I had one customer break down in tears the other day. It reinforces my belief that this is a really important topic and we need to do something as a state about opiate addiction.
Do you think you’re addicted to running?
I’m too busy! I’ve got two kids and a wife. I’m a mechanic. I have a lot of things that I do, but I do like running.
What’s in His Pack?
LaCroix plans to run light and meet people along the trail every day for food if possible. He’s using Orange Mudd’s 20L Adventure Pack, which holds a two-liter bladder for water s. He plans to get daytime calories from liquids mixed with Tailwind powder or from Drinkmaple maple water. For water treatment, his Katadyn BeFree collapsible water filter and flask, together weigh just 2.3-ounces and compress down to the size of a tennis ball. For sleeping, he’ll use a light-weight inflatable sleeping pad
and a combination bivy sac-sleeping bag with a hammock. Other gear includes:
ENO JungleNest Hammock
ENO Guardian DX Bug Net (for hammock)
Orange Mud 20L Adventure Pack
Leki Micro Vario PAS Collapsible Trekking Poles
Hoka One One Torrent Men’s Running Shoe
Topo Athletic Runventure 2 Running Shoe
Katadyn BeFree Collapsible 1L Flask and Microfilter
Petzl NAO+ 750-lumen Headlamp
Squirrel’s Nut Butter Anti-Chafe Salve
1 pair Salomon S-Lab shorts
Salomon Bonatti Pro Waterproof Jacket
Lots of Darn Tough Socks
Delorme inReach GPS locator with tracking
Survive Outdoors Longer Escape Bivvy
Jetboil Flash stove
Tailwind Nutrition Endurance Fuel