Tag Archives: race

It’s like Riding a Bicycle

Long before I was an avid runner, my favorite endurance sport for many years was cross-country skiing. I picked up the sport as a grad student at Dartmouth in the early 1980’s and my first race was as the anchor leg (having only skied maybe 10 times in my life) on the DFL relay team at the old Hanover Relay race, that was won by a team anchored by ski legend Bill Koch.  Even though my cross-country ski racing abilities have waned over the last decade, I have always loved the sport, and looked forward to the opportunity to ski every winter, especially at the nearby Rikert Ski Touring area.  Nonetheless, the winter two years ago was so miserable, that I kept waiting for “the big storm” to hit, and it never did, so suddenly I realized that I had missed an entire season.  So, of course, I was even more ready and eager to ski last winter, and as my friends know, I injured my shoulder last December, which kept me away from the sport I loved for another year.  So, on Saturday, I pulled out my skate skis from the basement for the first time in close to 3 years, and headed up to the Rikert area to finally go for a ski.  I had never gone so long without skiing, and I wondered how easy it would be – in other words, I was going to test out if skiing, like bike riding, is something you never lose once you learn it.

After skiing the “Old Rikert” for many years, I still can’t get over the “New Rikert”, even though it has been upgraded for at least a half dozen years.  Of course, with better skiing, comes a higher price, but it is still a recreational bargain in my mind.  I was amused, however, to see that they now charge to get your “Pooch” a seasons pass!  Setting out for my first loops, through the open fields and into the old beginner area originally called “Turkey Trot”, but known to most as the Battell loops, I felt a little shaky at first, but soon got into an easy, albeit not entirely fluid rhythm.  I also wondered now my incompletely recovered shoulder would fare.  Fortunately, while it ached some, it didn’t seem to get worse or feel debilitating, especially since my ski racing aspirations are currently on hold.  This loop has one short, not particularly steep hill – a hill that I knew I used to be able to tuck down pretty easily, but the uneven early season conditions (although still pretty good!) combined with my concern over falling on my untested shoulder forced me to descend more conservatively, and with a little more wobble than I would have liked.

After some messing around in the beginner terrain, I headed up onto the hillier train in the rest of the area, I saw that one of my favorite outer loops, the Frost trail was open, so I headed up the hill, heading in that direction.  My curiosity was piqued by a series of small rectangular yellow squares on trees, with the words “Burgin Lodge” written on them.  I had no idea what they were referring to.

Mysterious Trail Markers

As I neared the higher elevations of this trail, I had the feeling that there might have been some re-routing of the trail, as the climb seemed a little longer, and with a few more twists and turns than I remembered.  I also noticed a large stone cairn, that hadn’t been there a few years ago, almost as if it was there to mark something.

Mysterious Snowy Cairn

At least some of my questions were answered shortly thereafter, as I came to a beautiful cabin in the woods, decorated with prayer flags, and identified as the Burgin Lodge! I noticed it, as I was skiing past, and trying to stop, I took my only fall of the day, and landed on my elbow, jarring my bad shoulder. I breathed a sigh of relief, when I realized that I hadn’t re-injured it – and this was comforting, in that it gave me the confidence to ski a little bit more aggressively. I did discover the one aspect of cross country skiing that I had seemed to have forgotten – how to get back on my feet! Glad that nobody was watching, I took a while to get upright again, with my humiliation only internal. Getting up, and dusting myself off, I tried to look inside, and found the windows covered and the doors locked, but I later learned that the lodge had been there for a little over a year, and was built in memory of a Middlebury alum who met an untimely death, and was a lover of the outdoors. So, his family had the lodge built in his memory, and is available for use by members of the college community.

Burgin Lodge

Just as I was getting ready to leave the Lodge, and begin the descent back to the touring center, I saw a relatively new sight on the trails – a fat tire cyclist! Although Rikert has been renting out fat tire bikes for a few years, I had never seen a rider this deep into the trail system. Although I noticed he had left some ruts which might catch a skier, I am more than happy to share the trails with enthusiasts using other means of propulsion. See? It is kind of like riding a bike.

Fat Tire (not Fat Tired) Cyclist

Continuing my ski, I did the immediate descent on the Frost Trail – the steepest sustained descent at Rikert, and a great chance to revisit my snowplowing, I returned to the touring center, for a 10Km “first ski” of the season. It may take a little while to get my rhythm back, but it sure felt good, especially as a light snow storm started, covering me with snow. Walking back to the car, I admired the icicles on the side of the building, and was reminded by the beauty of the place, although I would not stand underneath them! It’s good to be back.

Breadloaf Barn Icicles

Google Earth of the run

Altitude Profile

what is whiteness?: a critical examination

The Davis Family Library has highlighted a variety of groups through displays over the last 10 months including racial minorities, the LGBTQ+ community and the disabled. Take the opportunity now to critically examine whiteness as an identity and system of privilege. Visit the Davis Family Library lobby December 1st through the 17th to see works that highlight this topic. Also, listen to Drs. Laurie Essig and Daniel Silva interrogate whiteness as a social and historical construct via StoryCorps with transcript found at On Whiteness with Laurie Essig, Daniel Silva, Katrina Spencer. Use the whiteness glossary to enhance your vocabulary surrounding this topic. All underlined terms and more appear in the glossary.

Listen to the “On Whiteness” interview here.

From left to right, Daniel Silva, Katrina Spencer and Lauries Essig

From left to right, Middlebury College Portuguese Professor Dr. Daniel Silva, Literatures & Cultures Librarian Katrina Spencer and Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies Professor Dr. Laurie Essig participate in an interview in which they address the topic of whiteness. Listen to it via StoryCorps.

Names; Hometowns; Roles on Campus; Times At Midd:

AM: Addie Mahdavi; Newfane, Vermont; American Studies Major— Part of Middlebury Anarchist Coalition; Women’s Ultimate Frisbee. I’m entering my fourth year at Middlebury.

AF: Amy Frazier; Memphis, Tennessee; Film & Media Librarian; 2 years.

KS: Katrina Spencer; Los Angeles, California; Literatures and Cultures Librarian; 10 months.

LE: Laurie Essig; from a lot of places, mostly NYC; Professor of Gender, Sexuality & Feminist Studies; 11 years

DS: Daniel Silva; Newark, New Jersey; Professor of Portuguese; 4 years

TA: Tara Affolter; Peoria, Illinois; Professor of Education Studies; 9 years

Do you identify as white? 

AM: I do identify as white. My relationship with whiteness can feel complicated by my also being Iranian (and vice versa), but I am read and I move through the world as a white person, so that’s how I identify racially.

AF: It’s just an acknowledgement of reality: I’m so, so white. My family is all WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) on one side, and Scots-Irish hillbillies on the other. Being from the South adds a flavor, if you will, to my whiteness, but not always a welcome one.  

To the left, a list of ethnicity estimates categorized by geographic regions and percentages; to the right, a word map highlighting areas that coincide with Katrina Spencer's DNA

A screenshot of Katrina Spencer’s ancestry.com results revealing that 81% of her DNA is shared with groups originating in Africa and 19% of her DNA is shared with groups in Europe, originally posted on Glocal Notes, a blog from the International and Area Studies Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

KS: No, I don’t, but, as I was once told, my skin didn’t get to be this color on its own. That is, there is some history of miscegenation in my genes. When I had my DNA evaluated, it was revealed that 19% of my ancestry is European. So, no and still no. But maybe a little?

LE: I am white. Whiteness is written onto my body, but it is an unstable whiteness as a Jew. Jews became white in the US after World War II, but that whiteness has always been a not fully completed project as we can see from the present rise in anti-Semitic groups and politics. Also, in Russia- where my family is from and where I have lived a lot- Jewish is a different racial category than (white) Russian.

What is whiteness?

AM: Whiteness is a racial category that changes over time to include and exclude different ethnic groups based on relationships of power. There is no discernible culture or shared set of features that all white people have in common, aside from the shared experience of holding race-based power and privilege.

AF: “White” is what we (white people) inadvertently made ourselves when we decided that color was an acceptable basis upon which to oppress and subjugate other human beings. If they were black and brown, then we were white, even if we didn’t intend to define ourselves in the process of dehumanizing others. And I think whiteness is the baggage — the habits, the assumptions, the presumptions and privileges — that we acquired when we separated ourselves from other people. In more popular terms, I think whiteness encompasses whatever is easy, comfortable, accessible, and unchallenging for white people.

KS: “White” is frequently an “unmarked” identifier, mistakenly understood to be the default category for “authentic American” and synonymous with “standard,” “neutral,” “morally right,” “upstanding,” “correct,” true,” “sincere,” “altruistic,” “wholesome,” “pure,” etc. In our society, too often, “white,” as a noun, is equivalent to “person,” which renders non-whites something else.

Whiteness, on the other hand, is quite closely correlated to the multiple ways in which the dominant culture protects, promotes the interests of, perpetuates and preserves the privileged status and wealth of the [frequently] lightly complected descendants of Europeans and those who “pass.” (Those who “pass” may trace their ethnic and racial origins to groups outside of Europe but may share enough physical features that resemble whites that, to some degree, they are integrated into this group, are not perceived as imminent threats, and benefit from this acceptance.)

In essence, whiteness encompasses how our societies receive and respond to people identified as “white.” It is important to note that the category has been mutable for centuries and that its impact and power are transnational. Through art, media, economic relationships, and the legacies of colonialism, this system of privilege has been spread across the globe. It is not uniquely [North] American.

one white woman at left and a black woman at right in the post-Civil War southern United States

A still image from the 1939 cinematic production Gone With the Wind. Actress Vivien Leigh (left) and Hattie McDaniel (right) are featured in their roles, respectively, as Scarlett O’Hara and Mammy. The characterizations are race-based, Scarlet being prim, cultured and privileged; Mammy being wide, uneducated and subservient. Image Source: Creative Commons

LE: Whiteness is a historical project, one that began in earnest in the U.S. after the Civil War. When racial hierarchies were unmoored from slavery, they were reestablished, as W.E.B. Dubois tells us, through “the Color Line.” Jim Crow policies in the South, but also federal immigration policies, incarceration of “enemies” like Japanese Americans, and the denial of employment and educational opportunities were all linked to this Color Line. Who achieved “whiteness” and who did not in the past 150 years or so is not set in stone, but an ongoing battle.

How does whiteness manifest itself at Midd?

AM: In a lot of ways, but maybe most clearly in the assumptions made about what people need and don’t need in order to thrive here. Socially, academically, economically, and culturally, Middlebury is definitely designed to be a place where whiteness and white people can flourish, which doesn’t necessarily mean we will, but we are certainly better situated to do so than people of color.

AF: I find it genuinely difficult to address this question articulately, because the degree to which whiteness is manifest here is… kind of overwhelming. I mean, how does water manifest itself in the ocean? Look down; you’re soaking in it. One of the more pernicious habits we still frequently perform is to regard a “typical” member of our community as white. What does a Vermonter look like? What does a Middlebury student look like? The first face that pops into my head is still a white one. Demographically, that’s probably not so far from the reality, but the assumption behind it can lead us to dismiss, discount or even just overlook the perspectives of people of color as those of “other people.” They’re not other people; they’re us.

Cover art from Sara Ahmed’s book Living a Feminist Life

LE: Sara Ahmed tells us that in historically white educational institutions like Midd, the very space itself is oriented around whiteness. To enter this space as a non–white body is to be immediately hypervisible and, in many ways, suspect of not belonging. That certainly happens at Middlebury. It has the look and the feel of a gated community- golf course, tennis club, the “rural,” even the use of an “e” at the end of the Grille to mark it as “olde English”– make this a space where bodies that have primarily existed in white spaces are “comfortable” and also unmarked/invisible.

KS: I was reading a piece covering Dr. Angela Rose Black that features a question she regularly poses: “Who gets to be well?” and it’s a relevant one for our campus and “community.” Who gets to to see himself/herself/themselves regularly reflected in our curriculum, faculty and staff? Who gets multiple and diverse opportunities to pick from a sea of mentors they trust? Who gets to be inspired by high-ranking Middlebury personnel who look like them? Who gets access to high quality mental healthcare provided by people who intimately know of their cultural experiences? Who consistently has their presence on this campus accepted, lauded and taken as a given? Who can attend a lecture by a controversial figure whose writings imply a racial hierarchy, enter it with a neutral mindset, and walk away utterly unscathed by its implications? Who is welcome to make serious mistakes and be excused for them? If we honestly answer these questions then we can see the ways in which whiteness manifests itself here in Middlebury.

In what ways can whiteness be problematic?

AM: When whiteness is equated with normalcy, as it often is (e.g. in the language of referring to people of color as “minorities”), it positions all other races as deviant, and leads to marginalization and invisibility or hypervisibility. Because white colonizers, scientists, politicians, theorists, etc. have violently maintained power for so long, whiteness is centered as the dominant cultural narrative in the United States and as a result institutions like Middlebury, which should be accessible to everyone, are designed only to meet the needs of white people.

AF: If “whiteness” is a product of our dehumanizing of other people, it has also served to partially separate and disconnect white people from most of the rest of humanity. This weakens us as individuals and as a society; it has led us to do things and construct systems that make us, in turn, less human.

three images of Katy Perry dressed in intercultural garb

A 31 July 2014 screenshot from Twitter user @CraigSJ‘s feed featuring white singer Katy Perry with an ancient Egyptian hairstyle and bejeweled teeth (at left), in a kimono (at top right) and cornrows (at bottom right).

KS: A large debate over the last few years addresses cultural appropriation. When white people or other groups tap into a tradition that is distinctly not theirs and profit from it while frequently and simultaneously demonizing the originators of said tradition and/or divorcing the originators from their cultural product, we encounter serious problems. We see this in music, fashion, art, culinary practice and more. As the many think pieces suggest about the Internet suggest, white people twerking in cornrows while wearing “grills” is seen as edgy, “adult” and alluring; black people twerking in cornrows while wearing grills is seen as low-class, shameful and hypersexual.

LE: Hegemonic whiteness is problematic because of a long history of being used to create social hierarchies- not just against people of color, but against sexual “degenerates” and “white trash” (poor whites). Whiteness is also problematic because, like gender, it can operate as “commonsense” and “real,” when in fact it is historically specific and culturally determined. But perhaps this is also the contradiction that can be exploited within whiteness- the space where hegemonic whiteness can begin to fall apart.

What motivated you to be a part of this display? 

AM: One of the reasons it’s easy to center whiteness as the norm is because we seldom engage with it as a phenomenon worthy of critical examination. When we question the development, maintenance, and impacts of whiteness, we come closer to de-centering it from seeming “natural” in the American social landscape and create space to value and support different racial and ethnic identities and experiences.

AF: “When all you’ve ever known is privilege, equality feels like oppression.” We see this in aggressive, destructive action all around us, and the fundamental lack of self-awareness and perspective in large swaths of white society is fuel on the fire. And as a white person, I think I have two absolute obligations: to be proactive in working to combat my own gaps in awareness and perspective; and to be open, responsive, and frank in conversation with others. So things like this are an opportunity, even in a small way, to challenge white supremacy from the white side.

KS: If you come to the Davis Family Library regularly, where I am the only black employee, you’ll know that with the help of many students, staff, and faculty,  I’ve been helping to develop displays about various cultural identities since Spring 2017. When I started, I had no intention of critically examining whiteness. But after Jonathan Miller Lane’s Rifelj lecture and call to action in September, I felt motivated to do so. Essentially, if we talk about blackness, brownness, yellowness and redness, we must establish opportunities to talk about whiteness as well. They all exist in a system together. It doesn’t make sense to talk about four of them and not the fifth. We must position our lens of scrutiny and inquiry on the dominant culture, too.

LE: All of the courses I lead are situated in critical race theory and one of them, White People, focuses specifically on the history, economy and culture of whiteness in the US. I truly believe that we don’t spend enough time trying to think critically about dominant categories, whether it’s hegemonic whiteness, normative heteroseuxality, or heteronormative masculinity.

What resources on whiteness might you recommend to Midd folk? 

AM: There’s a document called White Supremacy Culture from Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups, by Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun which is really useful for thinking about how white supremacy manifests covertly in group cultures. White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh is a good place to start for white people who aren’t sure how privilege affects their everyday lives.

AF: The podcast Scene on Radio did an excellent 14-part series on “Seeing Whiteness.” I think this can be an accessible place to begin for those who’d like to start their own work unpacking whiteness, drawing on the perspectives of both white people and people of color, and featuring some of the best scholars working in the field. It’s long, but absolutely worth the time spent.

a book cover with a thumbs up

The cover art for the book Stuff White People Like by Christian Lander

KS: There are more to choose from than you might expect and ultimately it will depend on the readers’ objectives. But, if you want something “light” and “fun,” I’d start with Christian Landers’ Stuff White People Like. I like it because, intentionally or not, it hones in on the conspicuous consumption as an attempt to prove one’s belonging to a social class. If you’re looking to develop a bibliography, you can visit this research guide, What Is White Privilege? , that I started shaping while in grad school. And if you’re looking for people of color to lead the discussion, I Am Not Your Negro, a documentary film that centers the late author James Baldwin, a vocal critic of whiteness, conjures some serious food for thought. It’s available through go.middlebury.edu/kanopy, free to people within the Middlebury “community.” And, of course, come see the display.

LE: There’s so much! Here’s a copy of my syllabus, which includes:

Click here to visit the whiteness glossary produced by Middlebury staff and faculty.

In Their Own Words: Alice Oshima ’15

“In Their Own Words” is an ongoing series featuring the experiences of Middlebury students at their summer internships. This summer Alice Oshima ‘15 interned with the Harlem Community Justice Center in New York City.

What did you do?

This summer, I interned with the Harlem Community Justice Center, which is part of the umbrella organization the Center for Court Innovation. Inside the Harlem Community Justice Center, there is a housing court, a family court, a re-entry court, and a youth court. The housing, family, and re-entry courts operate as legitimate New York State courts, but with a specific focus on restorative justice. The youth court on the other hand, which is the program I was working with, works outside the court system and relies of referrals from precincts, the law department, and schools. For my internship, I worked with my supervisor and two other interns to facilitators the trainings of the youth court members. I lead ice-breakers or warm-ups before most sessions—one of the most popular of which was the Enneagram personality test. I facilitated the introductory training, as well as trainings on appropriate sanctions, perceptions and assumptions, and jury deliberation. These lessons were based on the youth court training curriculum created by the Center for Court Innovation, but I was encouraged to make any changes or additions I saw fit. In addition to these curriculum-based trainings, I helped facilitate a session on feminism and gender roles created by a fellow intern. I also began developing curriculum for workshops on mental health and teenagers, and race and the criminal justice system, but was unable to finish and facilitate them due to time. I researched and compiled a list of suggest videos for the training sessions or for the coming year—this list included TED talks, spoken word poems, and documentary clips.

What did you learn?

Before this internship, I had very little knowledge regarding the logistics of our criminal justice system, as well as the flaws with this system. From leading training sessions, and watching my supervisor and fellow interns lead sessions, I learned a great deal about how the court system works and the possibilities offered by restorative justice, but also about some of the shortcomings of the current restorative justice projects available. The internship also gave me experience modifying curriculum, teaching lessons, and in general, working with young people. These experience was very educational, as well as fun! But it was also my first time doing any of these things, and so with time, I think I would have gotten better at making the lesson plans even more dynamic and fully engaging all of the youth. Although I feel I made progress, as a teacher, there is still a lot a lot of work for me to be done.

What are your plans for the future?

In terms of my future plans, I do not plan to specifically focus on restorative justice as a career, but I plan to be involved in social activism for my lifetime and engage with the mass incarceration of predominantly black and Latino men in this country, and the major flaws in our criminal justice system in general, are issues that I hope to continue to be work with in the future. I also am highly considering either being a New York City public high school teacher, or working with high-school aged youth in some other capacity, and so the experience I gained working with that age group will definitely be valuable.

Think this experience sounded pretty cool? Check out opportunities like this and more on MOJO.

Goshen Gallop, v. 2011

Once again, on Saturday afternoon it was time for the popular local trailrunning race, The Goshen Gallop!  The good news was that this year’s relatively dry conditions would make for good footing onwhat were more typically muddy trails.  The bad news was that Saturday was HOT!  The temperatures were probably hovering around 80 at the start of the race, but this, combined with a lot of climbing, didn’t bode well for any personal bests from this middle-aged runner.  So, I donned one of my oldest t-shirts from this race, and drove up to the Blueberry Hill Inn in Goshen.  My Goshen Gallop t-shirts make up some of the oldest surviving t-shirts in my collection – I first ran this run race in 1989, when it was held in September, rather than its now customary mid-July running.  My first Gallop was a memorable race – the remnants of Hurricane Hugo had just passed through the northeast, rendering the usual trail course impassably wet – given the typical mud on this race course, I can’t begin to imagine what the trail conditions must have been like!  So, the race was forced to the dirt roads of Goshen.  Since then, however, the race has been held on the same course on the Blueberry Hill ski trails on every year that I have run the race.

The race started off heading south on the Goshen-Ripton road for about a half mile, before making a sharp left turn into the trail system.  As the trail switchbacked up the side of Hogback Mt., I had the opportunity to chat with another runner named Andy, who I recognized from previous races.  As it turned out, he had actually taken a chemistry course from me in my first year or second year of teaching, roughly 25 years ago. I had no memory of his enrollment in any of my courses, but he was adamant, and I know from experience that when I meet up with former students, they ALWAYS remember how they did in chemistry.  The race crested the hillside of Hogback Mountain as we ran past perplexed wild blueberry pickers ( the berries were wild, the pickers probably not), and pausing for a quick sip of water at the first water station, Andy pulled ahead never to be seen again until the finish line.  After the short descent to the water station, climbing resumed as the trail angled back towards the inn.  About a half mile before the 5 km mark where the race returned to the inn there was a very overheated dog lying there panting alongside the trail, looking like it was in trouble.  Apparently, the dog had decided to try and run the race, and had overdone it by this point.  Many of the runners alerted the workers at the half way point, so we all went on assuming that the dog would be tended to.

About half of the runners stopped at this point, planning on only running the 5 km race, making this an excellent introduction to the pleasures of trail racing for neophytes.  The rest of us took the sharp right turn, temporarily bypassing the tempting swimming hole, and headed immediately up the steepest climb of the run.  At this point, the heat was starting to get to me, so I had to do a few short sections walking, but I took comfort in the observation that I was not the only middle-the-pack runner in the same state.  The trail climbed steadily to the 6 km point, where it did a series of gentle ups and downs for the next km or so, before a pleasant descent on the Steward trail until it joined a the forest service road connecting the Sugar Hill Reservoir with the Goshen-Ripton road.  The race headed towards the latter destination, and finished with about a mile on this dirt road before ascending one last road climb up the the by now very welcome finish line in front of the inn.  There was no personal best to be had on this day, but it was fun as always, especially after a lot of water, for drinking, as well as swimming – the aforementioned swimming hole behind the inn beckoned!  I was also relieved to see that the running dog was being administered to, and was recovering.

Cooling off in the swimming hole

While this race was originally advertised as a 10 km race, then as a 10.2 km race, my GPS measured it at 10.6 km. This was fine, as nobody in their right mind would expect to run anywhere near their normal 10 km pace on a trail race like this, with all of its climbing, descents, and summer heat. The excellent post-race picnic meal, prepared by the inn’s kitchen finished off a great afternoon.

Google Earth of the Race Course, from the west

Altitude Profile of the Race

 

PS: After I posted this race description, I found another racer had posted her insights on the race. These can be viewed at: http://www.dirtinyourskirt.com/2011/07/moosalamoo-goshen-gallop-post-race.html

A Run (Almost) to the Top of Vermont

The header for this blog describes it as “A blog for runners in and about Addison County, VT”.  While all of my previous posts have been describing runs in Addison County, this posting chronicles a run not far from our fair county, in the “Vail of Vermont”, Stowe.  Since a drive to Stowe isn’t that big a deal, and this run involves a well-known Vermont landmark, I figured I might as well include it.  I was looking around for a more epic run to finish off the summer, and I learned of “The Race to the Top of Vermont”, a charity race in support of the Catamount Trail, in which a few hundred endorphin-crazed runners and mountain bikers compete up the Mount Mansfield Auto Road to the saddle between the two prominent summits (aka “The Nose” and “The Chin”) of our own Vermont high point, Mount Mansfield.  While I enjoy running the hills, I had only attempted a run of this magnitude once before in my life, and it HAS been a few years since my run up Jay Peak….

The last Sunday in August was a perfect day for a race like sort – warm at the base of the mountain, cool, but not too cold at the top, with the perfectly cloudless azure skies of the sort that one expects in Colorado, not Vermont.  I must confess, looking up at the summit from the start line did get my heart pounding, even before the starting gun went off.

I had never hiked on this side of the mountain during the summer prior to this race, preferring the trails up from Smugglers Notch or Underhill for my frequent hikes to the summit. Nonetheless, I had descended much of the route many times in the course of the Stowe Derby, a cross country ski race from the top of the Lookout Chairlift on Mansfield finishing in the village of Stowe. Even though it has been a few years since I last competed in this little bit of downhill mayhem, I was pleasantly surprised by how well my memory of the Auto Road served me, albeit from a very different perspective – it always looks steeper going uphill.

I chose a conservative pace at the start: Some of those who took off like a bat out of hell were passed by as they fell by the wayside, and some were never seen again until the finish line. I chose an initial strategy of running the straightaways, and “power-hiking” the steeper pitches around the countless hairpin turns. I must confess that as the run got closer and closer to the summit, my fast-walking sections became more numerous, and of longer duration – this was a very tough route! Fortunately, most of the other “middle of the pack” competitors had similar issues. While most of the dirt road course was shady, as it got higher up the mountain and crossed ski trails more frequently, every bend in the trail seemed to bring on an even more spectacular view.

View from the trail

The finish line, where there is a small parking lot for drivers, while a few hundred vertical feet and about a mile from the true summit (“The Chin”), sure felt like the top! Prior to the start of the race, I had delusions of maybe finishing the run with a jog across Mansfield’s spectacular above-timberline ridge and bagging the actual summit, but in recognition of the fact that I still had to get myself back down the mountain on increasingly wobbly legs, I decided to save the ridge run for another day.

(Almost) Summit Finish Line

The only disappointment of the day came when I thought that I might instead take the short walk to the summit of the “Nose” the secondary summit just above the top of the Auto Road where the prominent radio towers are located. The trail to this bump on the ridge had a barrier across it claiming it was closed due to new Federal safety rules on radio frequency exposure! Most people know that there have been increased concerns expressed about radio wave exposure due to publicity about possible health risks from cell phones. What most people don’t know is that the claim that radio waves can cause cancer actually flies against some of the most basic laws of physics, which Einstein figured out in 1905, and are well understood by beginning college chemistry students.  There are many aspects of cancer which are not understood, but one thing is certain – to cause cancer, you need to break chemical bonds, and the energy generated by radio waves is only a tiny fraction of a percent of that necessary to do this. Saying that prolonged exposure to radio waves, or exposure to higher intensity radio waves can cause cancer is tantamount to claiming that if you stand on the Maine coast throwing baseballs for extended periods of time, one of the balls will eventually land in Europe. So….a scenic point in Vermont is taken away from us based on voodoo science.

Enough of the rant of the day…..Most trail runners know that the climb up is harder on the lungs, but the descent is actually tougher on the legs. I thought I had enough strength left in my legs to do the descent as an easy jog, but discovered about halfway down that this was not the case, making the last mile or two of descent more of a fast hike than a running descent. I tried to get down promptly however, given the barbecue lunch awaiting me at the post-race party. All in all, this run was 4.3 miles each way, or 8.6 round trip, with a 2500 vertical foot climb and descent. What a day!

Altitude Profile

Google Earth Projection of the Route

The Middlebury Maple Run

After a few good long runs last week, I succumbed to temptation and ignored common sense by registering for The Middlebury Maple Run, a half marathon (13.1 miles) which attracted about 200 runners in its inaugural running last year, and filled up with 500 runners this year.  I don’t usually write up road runs for this column, but my hunch is that a lot of the runners who enjoy the trails would also enjoy this event, which draws upon the support of a wide variety of local businesses, and is planned and staffed by many of my friends who are among the town’s diehard runners.

Sunday morning was perfect for a long run – the low front which had threatened the day’s weather stalled to the west, giving us a cool and breezy bluebird day.  I like to arrive at local races like this at least an hour before the start.  This leaves plenty of time to stretch out and chat with running friends and acquaintances prior to the start.  For example, I had the pleasure or meeting a member of  the Long Trail Running Club Meetup group, a group of primarily Chittenden County trail runners with whom I have corresponded but never met.  For many of the racers today, this race was the first time they had ever entered a race of this length, and the opportunity to do a run like this without traveling proved to be just enough inspiration.  While I had not planned to run this race until Monday of this week, I was really looking forward to the opportunity to run on my home turf with 500+ other runners.  While races of this size are common in some parts of the country, Vermont’s miniscule population and plethora of sporting activities usually makes for much smaller fields in most similar athletic events.

Prerace networking

Prerace networking

The race started at 9:00 am sharp at Porter Hospital, and headed down South St., passing cheering spectators on Main St. before cutting through the Marble Works, and heading out towards the Morgan Horse Farm in Weybridge.  One of the great pleasures of this race was how it wound through the village and brought out healthy crowds of spectators, and all of the local runners enjoyed the motivation of their friends and/or family calling out their name as they ran by.  The north winds kept my speed (a word very generously applied) in check until the race headed south back into the village along Sheep Farm Rd.

The course then wound through the Middlebury College Campus past another high concentration of cheering spectators at the half way point on Old Chapel Rd., before leaving campus back towards Porter Hospital.  The last section of the course was made even more interesting due to the fact that while heading out past Porter on South St., the race leaders were doubling back in the opposite direction towards the finish line.  It is always inspiring to see stronger runners, and as I approached the turnaround point, I could see the runners just ahead of me who might just be catchable.   Reversing direction back  into the final few miles to the finish, it became apparent why the the previous few miles had been relatively fast and easy – what was once a stiff tailwind became a much more challenging headwind.  While this initially seemed a setback, the cool wind in my face actually was refreshing, and helped make the finish more attainable rather than less, just a little slower!

After surviving the last challenge of the race – Middlebury’s version of “heartbreak hill” at mile 12, it was time to put my head down and finish this event.   Thinking it was easy sailing from this point on, I slowed my pace almost imperceptibly as I entered the home stretch into the Porter parking lot.  As luck would have it, another gentleman in my age group (the full head of gray hair was a giveaway) caught me with my guard down and streaked by just a few yards from the finish line.

As I sit back writing this blog on Sunday night, rigor mortis is definitely creeping into my legs.  Nonetheless, this proved to be a very well run and friendly race on a near-perfect day, and I look forward to running it again next year.  I have a hunch that this race will soon become a regional favorite, especially if it proves feasible to further increase the size of the field.  Thanks to all the organizers and volunteers – it is events like this which make Middlebury a special place to live!

Google Earth of Race Route

Google Earth of Race Route