USATF New England Announces its 24th Annual Mountain Running Circuit

The USA Track & Field New England Association has announced races and dates for it’s 24th Annual Mountain Running Circuit. Founded in 1996 by Dave Dunham, the “mountain circuit” has been a popular proving ground for elite runners training for national and world championship competitions as well as newcomers to mountain running looking for a fresh challenge.

“The series really is unique in the United States; you have old style paved mountain road races mixed in with European style uphill and up/down races. It’s such a great chance to really test your racing skills on all types of terrain and surfaces,” said current circuit director Paul Kirsch.

All circuit races are challenging but approachable, ranging in distance from 4 miles to 10 miles. Most events are off road events with significant amounts of climbing and descending while others are historic road hill climbs finishing on mountain peaks.

The inaugural circuit featured just three races; Mount Wachusett (2006′), Pack Monadnock (2290′) and Mount Kearsarge (2937′). All three events are road races with mountain top finishes and were modeled on similar events Dave Dunham discovered while racing in Europe.

Series founder Dave Dunham (left) with Eric Morse (center) and Mike Casner (right) at the 2001 Wachusett Mountain Race summit finish.

According to Dave, “After traveling to Europe for a couple of years to race in the mountains I began wondering why there wasn’t any real organization to the many mountain races in my own backyard. I took it upon myself and approached the race directors and asked them to be part of a circuit, and so it began.”

Circuit participants in the early years used these races in preparation for the steeper and harder historic Mount Washington Road Race. Run continuously since 1961, Mount Washington is a 7.6 mile ascent race climbing 4400′ and has attracted World Mountain Running Champions like Joseph Gray (USA), Jonathan Wyatt (New Zealand) and Marco Di Gasperi (Italy).

US Mountain Running Team member Eric Blake battles Glenn Randall at Mt Washington in 2012.

Another feature of the mountain circuit are the “mountain goats”, runners who complete all events in the circuit. At the end each season there are awards for top overall men & women and top age group athletes in 40+, 50+ and 60+ age groups.  In the first year of the circuit in 1996 just 34 runners completed all three races. The highest number of “goats” was in 2017 with 149 runners completed all seven races in the circuit.

While initially a road mountain circuit, starting in 2001, up/down trail events were added to the circuit the first which was held at Windblown Ski Touring Center in Southern New Hampshire. This race was a hilly 11 km event and served and the first ever USATF New England Mountain Running Championship and selection race for the US Mountain Running Team. Nikki Kimball, who won the women’s race, would go on to win the famous Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run.

Nikki Kimball and Suzy West at the 2001 Windblown Mountain Race.

In 2005, another milestone was reached with six races making up the mountain circuit for the first time and over 800 total participants. 10 years later in 2015 the circuit would grow again to eight races and over 1500 participants. Last year over 2300 runners competed in the circuit with a record percentage of women at 39%.

While the circuit is approachable for runners of all ages & abilities, some of the best mountain runners in the country have come to New England to challenge the circuit. 22 women & 32 men participating in the series have gone on the represent the United States at the World Mountain Running Championships. Notable elite participants include 2011 World Mountain Running Champions Max King (Bend, OR) and Kasie Enman (Huntington, VT) and 2016 World Mountain Running Champion Joe Gray (Colorado Springs, CO).

In addition to world class speed, durability is another trait of mountain circuit participants.  Richard Stockdale (Mason, NH) holds the record for most number of total & consecutive mountain circuit races with 113 of a possible 129 race finishes. He’s finished every race since 2000. Among women, Emer O’Donoghue (Lexington, MA) has the most number of circuit finishes with 94.

“Mountain Goats” from the 2004 USATF New England Mountain Running Circuit.

The 2019 USATF New England Mountain Running Circuit will be:

Since 2007 the series has been organized by USATF-New England MUT Chairperson Paul Kirsch. Paul is also team leader for the junior US Mountain Running Team and co-race director for the Loon Mountain Race.

Dave Dunham & post author Richard Bolt at the 1998 Wachusett Mountain Race.

About the USATF-New England Mountain Running Circuit Paul says, “The series is a great challenge for any skill level. It’s a great introduction to mountain running without needing to worry about the logistics of preparing for an ultra so great for beginners. That being said, the competition is still pretty fierce for those looking to compete against some of the top mountain runners in New England and the country. The added benefit of getting to bypass the Mount Washington Road Race Lottery if you complete the series, is a great way to guarantee you can check off another bucket list item.”

You can learn more about the mountain circuit including results from past years at the USATF New England website.

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