When is a road race more like a trail race?

Written by Laura Clark and originally published in our Summer 2016 edition of Trail Times.

The answer is when it is Prospect Mountain Uphill Road Race. There is always a comfortable crowd, not too big; but not too small either, as well as a loyal contingent of regulars and Northeast Uphill Mountain Series participants. And while there is a road, there is no traffic congestion, with the only cars being race-related vehicles. The scenery, when it chooses to emerge from the fog, is more spectacular than that of many a trail race. Once I saw a mountain lion perched on a rocky crag; another time, an audience of us watched a porcupine climbing a tree in search of tender new leaves. Both encounters reminded me that I was far from the mall.

Most telling, this year the date was bumped forward to allow Dan Olden — holder of one of the few 27 year-old streaks —to participate, since the customary day before Mother’s Day was either his daughter’s graduation, or wedding. (Sorry Dan—I forget which.) But, this is an account, not a news report. Point being, this is something that might likely occur for a laid-back trail race but not for a die-hard road event. Kind of nice that family values and consideration still matter.

And the powers above tend to agree. ATRA includes mountain running in its mission statement which may mean a trail, but could also mean a road — paved, or not. According to its founder Nancy Hobbs, running uphill whether on road or trail, is considered mountain running. “It’s the ascending and significant elevation gain that can make a road run a mountain run,” said Hobbs. “At the same time, the uphill effort creates a challenge unlike that of the gently rolling terrain so often found in a road race where PRs are more important than the experience of being outdoors.”


It is the “trail experience” that is the defining criteria. So while all of us knowingly participated in a road race, some of us were just as certain we were tracing an upwards trail. And we were both correct.

This year’s race was staged from the newly refurbished Forum, providing a much easier walk to the base of the mountain. Plus, I didn’t have to get lost again trying to find that darn hotel! I’m a big proponent of easy navigation. This is one of the things that attracts me to uphill road races: there are no intersections, no opportunities for failure. Just head straight up the road, with only one hill to conquer. Remembering past years, this time I started farther back and gradually gained momentum, which is quite a feat going uphill! I achieved my goal of not dying before the finish line and charging the final miles. As a nice bonus I took roughly a minute off last year’s time.

I attribute this to our stair running club at work. At lunchtime, a group of us hit the stairs for a half hour workout about twice a week. It really has made a difference. I mostly stick with Trevor Oakley, who is a biker but had never run before. But now he is considering it! Anyway, over the last half, I envisioned him in his usual position one or two flights ahead of me and I guess it helped.

prospect 1

I consider the downhill jaunt part of the total experience and usually round up a group of like-minded individuals. This year it somehow didn’t occur to me and since it was such a once-in-a-lifetime bluebird-sky day, many paused longer at the top. Initially, I ran down with Gary Rockwell from MA, whom I had known from the Mt. Greylock races, but then he peeled off at the first parking lot. For a while I ran alone. Usually I enjoy pounding the descent, but it was such a beautiful day, I took the tourist option, enjoying all the viewing stands. Eventually I was joined by Matt Miczek, who had just summited his first Prospect. We made it back in time to wash up and scrape the chili pot.

I followed up with a Sunday shake-out run that should have been an hour, but stretched out to 2:40 as I got lost on the same miserable white trail behind my house that had defeated me the previous two Sundays. By cutting across someone’s lawn and back to GO! I finally figured out where I had gone wrong. The following day, after chasing toddlers for five hours, I sucked it up and joined Trevor on the stairs. Surprisingly, my legs felt OK, but my turnover was really forced. And end of the mission, a Fitbit check revealed we had unknowingly tied our all-time record of 88 flights in 30 minutes. I am so ready for another Prospect! Or maybe just a nice hot soak in the tub…

On April 30, 2016, the 5.67-mile (which boasts 1601 feet of climbing), Prospect Mountain Road Race celebrated it’s 27th running. Christopher Chromoz was the winner in 38:16, while the top woman was Jamie Woolsey in 45:49.

The course record is held by former US Mountain Running Team member Eric Morse who raced to a 34:52 in 2004. The event is organized by the Adirondack Runners at the Lake George Forum, in Lake George, NY. Details at adirondackrunners.org. The race is part of the Northeast Uphill Mountain Series.