Trail runners rejoice: New races coming to town

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MANCHESTER — "Every runner, every distance."

That's the mantra of local husband and wife Adam Schalit and Eliza Hamm, who recently announced the debut of their Shires-based trail running series "Nor'east Trail Runs."

Through the series, which will bring at least five races of varying intensity to the state in 2018, the couple aims to foster a burgeoning community of trail runners, while also introducing beginners to the sport Schalit and Hamm love.

"We really want everyone to feel that running is for them," said Hamm, who became the first-ever female finisher of New Jersey's Wawayanda Wonderful Wonhundred last October. "It'd be great to see first time runners or walkers at all of our races."

In all of their events, Hamm says, showcasing Vermont's natural beauty and "long tradition of excellent hospitality, food, and crafts" will be a top priority — with a larger goal of promoting Vermont as a destination for trail runners. The couple hopes to plan most races for times when tourism is low — spring, late summer, and post-peak foliage fall — while also involving local businesses and organizations as much as possible.

"This particular bowl of mountains is really a place that we love," Schalit explained, noting that most races coordinated by the organization will take place within a 100-mile radius of the Shires. "A couple of dream courses that we'd love to facilitate in coming years incorporate both the Greens and the Taconics."

While experienced and elite runners will enjoy the challenging courses, most certified by either the U.S. Track and Field Association (USATF) or the International Association of Ultrarunners (IAU), Schalit notes that "every level of runner" is welcome at every event.

"The competitions are open to elite athletes looking to set records, but first time participants will also get a great experience," he explained. "In a sense everyone is supporting each other, and everyone is a champion in the end."

Having met in Hamm's home state of California, both ultrarunners enjoyed the tight-knit community of athletes found in the Bay Area before relocating to Schalit's childhood home of Manchester last year. While Southern Vermont boasts similar terrain and talent, he says, a similar culture has yet to emerge.

"In the Bay Area there's races with distances between a half marathon and 100 miles on any given weekend, which really fosters a cohesive community," he explained. "We really want to try to bring that culture to the mountains, where there hasn't really been that coalescence yet."

"We'd love to create a similar vibe not just by offering the courses, medals, and t-shirts — but by really fostering that running and racing community that we had out in California," Hamm added. "We're hoping that people won't just sign up to race, but also to volunteer and spectate."

The series will kick off on July 14 with the "Ethan Allen 24,"— a fixed-time track race with 6, 12, and 24 hour options — hosted at Bennington's Mount Anthony Union High School.

"Fixed-time races are a great introduction to not only the sport of running, but also the joyful atmosphere that it fosters," Schalit says. "People who maybe haven't considered themselves runners may discover that they can actually smash their goals."

"The 24 hour race will be going on the entire time, so people who sign up for shorter distances can also see how those racers are strategizing," Hamm added, noting that participants are welcome to walk or take breaks as needed. "I think that makes it fun, to see what the people who are out there for the whole 24 hours are doing."

That race will be followed almost a month later by a running festival — to be held in Dorset on Aug. 25 and 26 — featuring a long distance race that traverses both trail and gravel alongside 5K and 10K road races in Dorset Hollow

"The longer race will most incorporate trails and ATV roads up Mount Aeolus, but the shorter races will be on gravel roads," Hamm explained. "People who are looking to run fast might enjoy Sunday's road races, while Saturday will provide more of a challenging trail race."

In the fall two mountain races will be sponsored by "Nor'East," — one ascending Londonderry's Magic Mountain on Sept. 15 and the other climbing Bromley Mountain on Oct. 13. If all goes according to plan, Schalit and Hamm hope that both races will qualify for USATF's Mountain, Ultra, and Trail running series in which participants accumulate points for various races.

Finally, the couple has coordinated a Halloween themed half-marathon, full-marathon, and 50K in the town of Norwich — titled the "Nor'witch Marathon" — on Oct. 28.

"My grandfather lived in Norwich for many years, and I grew up visiting him and learning how lovely it is to run there," Hamm explained. "As runners it's really easy for us to think of where we like to run, and envision which courses we'd enjoy racing."

Having toed the starting line themselves countless times, both Schalit and Hamm are eagerly anticipating the opportunity to provide other athletes with that same satisfaction — a sensation that they hope will spark solidarity and friendship among local runners.

"I love those moments of anticipation that lead up to the starter pistol," Schalit said. "That excitement that builds at the starting line, and watching runners transform in those last couple of seconds — that's my 'happy place.'"

"There's been this supportive vibe at every race I've ever run or volunteered at — all of the runners have trained and showed up, the volunteers are psyched, and everyone is just there to support each other," Hamm said. "I can wait until that's one of our races."

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