The Great American Trail Race

A few days before this year’s Escarpment Trail Run, I wrote a note on Facebook that spoke about the feeling of ‘family’ that this event has become to me.   In reviewing the entrants list that was publicly posted, it occurred to me that more than 10% of this year’s field was comprised of people who I could call personal friends (on some level or another).  And besides just the friends who would be at the event, the entry roster was chock full of familiar names, people who I had seen in many of the ETR results pages over the years since I had begun running it regularly.

Yes indeed, this event has become a family affair for me, an annual re-union of some of the most intrepid trail runners in the northeast, and I now beam with pride when I tell people that I am one of race founder and director Dick Vincent’s most ardent disciples.  It is always a tremendous privilege to make the trek from East Windham to Haines Falls on the last Sunday in July, and is an experience which I now covet more than most any other, either running or non-running.

Dick himself is also proud to be a part of it all, situated appropriately at the center of “all things Escarpment Trail Run,” yet at the same time, sitting quietly in the background, watching his runners experience the combined suffering and joy that only a person who has conquered the Wall of Manitou him/herself could possibly understand.  He calls the ETR the biggest highlight of his summer, and many of his closest friends are people who he has met at the Escarpment Trail.  That in itself says a lot about the power of this event to bring people together in positive ways.

To be sure, the Escarpment Trail Run has never been a race.   Yes, ok, there is a winner declared each year, and for anyone who has paid attention in the past dozen years or so, the names Ben Nephew and Sheryl Wheeler will probably sound more than just a little bit familiar.    But although someone does finish first, and another finishes last, it’s not about that at all.  It’s never been about that, about individual competition.  For you see, as I’ve said, the ETR is not a race.  Rather, it is a group challenge, with the primary goal always being to make it happily out of the woods at North Lake – perhaps a bit bruised, and maybe even a little bloody, but delighted to have shared the joy of running in the mountains with 200 of your closest friends.

Although some might consider it a bit heady of me to do so, I would dare call this event “The Great American Trail Race.”  As most endurance runners know, there are many other races that are longer and more challenging – Western States, Angeles Crest, Leadville, Mountain Masochist; the list goes on and on.  But those races are different, as to run in any of them is to run for a different reason.  In those races, you may be looking to build your credentials for the Badwater Ultramarathon, or to check off a bucket list item, or to achieve a belt buckle that will give you bragging rights with all of your running friends.

But when you run on the Escarpment Trail, none of these things are involved.

For again, the ETR isn’t even really a race, so winning it or snagging an Age Group award is simply not in the mix.  At the finish line you’ll get some great food and soft drinks, and you will be able to share your war stories with all of the other runners.  But there are no awards, and no schwag.  As Dick says in his narrative on the event entry form, it’s just you, the mountains, and some refreshments at the finish.

And it certainly isn’t a bucket list item, at least not for most.  People who run it want to come back and do it again and again, and that they do!  Going into this year, there were 93 people who had run ETR ten (10) times or more.  With the understanding that the field is capped at about 200 each year, the fact that nearly 100 people have run it this frequently shows that runners strongly relate and ascribe to the very ideals that Dick Vincent holds in his heart.

And the ETR is definitely not a stepping stone along the way to something bigger and better.  Simply put, the Escarpment Trail Run stands on its own, as neither the biggest nor the best of trail races, but certainly unique and special in all the ways that you can only know by running it.

On July 31st at 9:01am I answered the horn in East Windham for the 6th time.  Upon arriving safely at the North Lake Campground 4 hours, 38 minutes and 3 seconds later, I had earned a special embroidered shirt welcoming me to the Escarpment Trail Run’s “100-Mile Club.”  Officially, I have now traversed about 112 miles in all on the ETR, every one of them both a great challenge and a great joy.  When I first arrived at the start line in July of 2005, I had no idea what I’d gotten myself into.   In the years since that maiden voyage of mine, it has become a love affair, or at the very least, an annual tryst between my soul and the Wall of Manitou.

Until we meet again……


About Todd Jennings

I am a runner, a father, a philosopher, and a writer. I am also a seeker. Among the things that I seek are beauty and truth. From an external perspective, I've found both of those things when I run in the woods or on the quiet trails of the mountain tops . With each new run, more truth and beauty reveals itself to me. And so I keep running....
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6 Responses to The Great American Trail Race

  1. mark says:

    Excellent article, Todd. It makes me want to try the race! Mark

  2. Trail Todd says:

    Glad you enjoyed it, Mark. 🙂 The article, I mean. And some day, the event. 😉

  3. Jeff P says:

    Great read Todd. I knew the ETR was something special when I was lining up for the start. Running this trail for the first time was truly epic! its people like you who make this event what it is today. I will return to the ETR year after year. happy trails ; )

  4. This entry really makes me want to participate in 2012, the day I heard about it (running a trail half marathon with a fellow who had completed it this year), I immediately looked it up and sent in my request for an application. I have no worries about completing the run, my only fear is that I won’t get to be one of the 200 participants, but here’s to hoping! Thanks for the story Todd!

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