Please welcome the sixteenth American Trail Running Association (ATRA) Trail Ambassador presented by CamelBak, and fourth in 2018. Meet 46-year-old Connecticut resident Michael Lo Presti, whose love of trail running led him to found CT Trailmixers. He’s a married father of two daughters, a volunteer running guide with Achilles International, and hopes to run an ultra in every state.
Nominator Charity Uman wrote, “Michael started the CT Trailmixers, and it is the most friendly and welcoming group of people I have ever met. They host weekly trail runs or hikes, and list them as beginner, immediate, advanced. One thing I love about their runs is they always start with introductions of everyone present, and they make sure no one is left behind. This may mean any combination of stopping along the way, having someone as the ‘caboose,’ or having longer and shorter mileage runs at that same time.”
Lo Presti hails from Huntington, Long Island, New York, and has lived in Plantsville, CT, for the past 21 years. In his professional life, he is a communications director for Cigna, a post he’s held for 17 years. He started trail running about 15 years ago.
“I had run eight or nine road marathons, and started searching around for bigger challenges,” said Lo Presti. “I stumbled upon the world of ultramarathons, and ran my first one – a 50k road ultra – in Rhode Island. I was hooked and ready to run another.
“The more I researched, the more I found that lots of ultras take place on the trails,” continued Lo Presti. “So, I started mixing in some trail running on the weekends with my road running, and haven’t looked back. I find I can hit my ‘flow’ more easily in the woods, dodging rocks and roots, moving through nature. It’s a different kind of high than road running. Both are wonderful, but I reach deeper into myself, and into the wide world around me, on the trails.”
Lo Presti runs 10-12 marathons and ultras each year, and his favorite distance is 50 miles. “That pushes me significantly harder than a marathon or 50k, and is enough of a challenge to offer an all-day adventure,” said Lo Presti. “My favorite trail race is the Cat’s Tail Trail Marathon in the Catskill mountains of New York. It’s 26.2-ish miles of some of the toughest and prettiest trails in the country. The first year I ran it, I hated it and tried to drop out, defeated by the cold, rainy weather. However, I couldn’t get cell service to tell my friends I was dropping, so I decided to finish it out of spite – which I did, avoiding my first DNF. I came back the second year with a completely different attitude and loved it. So Cat’s Tail went from being my most despised to my most loved race each year. My long-term plan is to run a trail ultra in every state; I think I have about a dozen done, with a lot ahead of me!”
Some of those upcoming races include the Zion 100K, the Vermont 100K and Manitou’s Revenge in New York. Lo Presti founded CT Trailmixers, in November 2014, with a few friends. “Our goal was simple,” said Lo Presti. “Form a Facebook group to better organize our weekend trail runs, as we were all spending more time on the trails and it’s cumbersome coordinating events just via texting. From there, things blossomed quickly, as our Facebook group participation surged.
“As we grew, we decided to brand ourselves with a few key attributes and activities,” continued Lo Presti. “Weekly group runs around the state, periodic Introduction to Trail Running events, book talks, dinner and movie nights, two annual races (the Spring Fling 600 ultra in May and the Fall Fling 400 ultra in November), an annual Green Friday trail run held on Black Friday after Thanksgiving (because being in the woods is much more fun than waiting in line at the mall), and lots of tasty food and baked goods after our group runs. We also spend a lot of time on the Appalachian Trail, as 52 miles of it run through our state. We do an annual run of the entire section in a day, run smaller sections throughout the year, and organize trail magic volunteer events during the summer to help the thru-hikers and section hikers.
“But, most importantly,” said Lo Presti. “We chose to focus on the people of Connecticut who run trails, featuring member interviews, ‘Meet Your Mixers,’ on our Facebook page, cheering each other on during races, and bringing people together both virtually and in person. As a result, I think we’ve bolstered and strengthened the trail running community that had already existed in the state. And we have great partnerships with other local trail running clubs as well, hosting joint events and sharing our love of the trails together.”
The club has been able to donate proceeds from their races to several local charities, including the Connecticut Forest & Parks Association (CFPA) which maintains the 800+ miles of blue-blazed trails in the state where they so often run. They have built a strong partnership with the Southington (CT) YMCA, as their two races are held on the trails at YMCA Camp Sloper. Additionally, the club has started a Shoe Scholarship Program in partnership with Fleet Feet in West Hartford (CT), through which they help pay for running shoes for students who otherwise might not be able to afford them for cross country or track.
It’s clear that giving back to the sport is something Lo Presti values. “I’ve volunteered at both road and trail races throughout my running career, primarily through staffing aid stations, serving as a course monitor, or serving as a pace leader,” said Lo Presti. “I’m the race director for our club’s two races, and I also run as a guide with Achilles International, a non-profit organization that pairs volunteer guides with athletes of different abilities who need support while participating in races.”
His favorite part about volunteering is the cheerleading. “I know how good it feels to hear my name called out during a race, or to have someone give me a fist bump when I’m struggling,” said Lo Presti. “When I’m staffing an aid station or serving as a pace leader, I know I can give that same love right back and help someone who may be having a hard time get through the next few minutes.”
Lo Presti says he has learned so much from trail running, which includes, “The desire and confidence to explore our world off the beaten path. The thrill of bombing downhill on uncluttered single track with your friends. The adventure of traveling around our country seeing what glories nature has to offer. The pain of pushing myself beyond my limits, and the rewards that brings. The ability to listen to my body and mind for hours on end. The comfort of being surrounded by people who love what you love. The feeling of being part of something bigger than just myself. I think lots of people have three pillars in their lives: Family, work, and a passion or hobby. Trail running is my passion and has taught me how to balance between all three.”
He prescribes to the motto…live urgently. “Trail running has sharpened my vision around this motto, and has taught me how to savor every step of every run no matter what the conditions or how hard it hurts…because someday it will end, and I will miss it,” said Lo Presti.
His advice to someone considering getting into trail running is simple, “Give it a try! It’s very different from road running, so don’t go into it expecting the same experience. The trail running community has its own unique vibe and personality. Don’t worry about your pace; everyone runs slower on the trails. Everyone falls. And find a friend or trail running club so you can learn together.”