On July 21, 2013, the Cranmore Hill Climb presented by Northeast Delta Dental will welcome the nation’s best trail and mountain runners during an unprecedented trifecta. For the first time, the USA Mountain Running Championships, the North American Central America Caribbean (NACAC) Mountain Running Championships, and the U.S. Mountain Team selection will all happen simultaneously at one venue resulting in the, ‘race within the race,’ moniker and the promise of an amazing day of competition.
Organized by the White Mountain Milers, the race has attracted runners from across the country and around the world to North Conway, NH, for the past 26 years. In recent years, the race course has undergone quite a few changes as explained by director Paul Kirsch who has been at the helm for eleven years.
Says Kirsch, “One of the fun things about Cranmore is that every year since 2004, we have changed the course. The changes started first to emulate the World Mountain Running Championship course of that year, but I still change it for the other years too. I have been told by some of the USATF-NE Mountain Circuit regulars that they always enjoy the surprise of a new course.
“This year it is the biggest change since it went from an uphill only to an up/down course. To mirror the course in Poland, which starts each lap with a descent and ends with an ascent, the race will be starting at the top of the mountain for the first time ever. It should be interesting to see the different race strategies of people needing to finish with a strong uphill instead of downhill.”
The race will have a separate start for men and women. The women’s race will begin at 8:15 a.m. while the men will set off one hour later. The lap course features single-track, wide pathways, meadows, rocky terrain, and some steep ascents and descents over the four-kilometer route featuring 254 meters of elevation change. The women will run two laps; the men will run three laps. The chairlift will be running at the mountain starting at 7:00 a.m. on race day so that both competitors and spectators can get to the start and finish area.
With the infusion of a $4,000 prize purse up for grabs, as well as the U.S. Championship titles at stake the competition will be fierce. “The field is as strong as it ever has been,” said Kirsch, “There are the, ‘usual suspects,’ like Max King, Joe Gray, Megan Lizotte and Morgan Arritola, plus a group of really fast trail and cross country runners, most of whom have not competed in a USA Mountain Championship before. This to me shows how our sport continues to grow and confirms that there are plenty of new up-and-comers alongside the veterans.”
The international portion of the race is realized in the NACAC acronym with top mountain runners from Canada and Mexico slated to compete alongside the U.S. elites in the 10th installment of this area mountain running championship. With this influx of invited athletes, Kirsch sought out host families in the Mount Washington region, and more than 40 host families came forward to open their homes to athletes.
“The White Mountain Milers really take a lot of pride in welcoming people to our community. I’ve heard from more than one host family how they have made long term friends with athletes they have hosted over the years,” said Kirsch, “My family and I have been hosting people for almost ten years now for Mt Washington, or Cranmore and it’s striking how every one of the runners you host is working so hard to realize their dreams as a runner. It gives you a great feeling to have some small part in supporting them in their efforts.”
Kirsch expects nearly 300 runners for this year’s event comprised of elites as well as recreational weekend warriors ranging from age 10 to age 70. “As I always say, what other sport do you get to toe the line with the best in the country? I don’t get to play basketball with Michael Jordan or play hockey with Zdeno Chara, but I can run in the same race as Max King or Kasie Enman,” said Kirsch. “I remember back in 2011, after I got back from the World Champs in Albania where Max and Kasie won gold, I saw three of the USATF-NE regulars (we call them Mountain Goats) and they were all so excited to hear all about Max and Kasie’s victories. They all took a sense of pride in knowing they got to be in the same race as them at the U.S. Champs that year.”
Mountain running has certainly found a home in New England through the USATF New England Mountain Race Circuit of which Cranmore is the final race in the six-race series.
“Thanks to the hard work of my USATF-NE Mountain Ultra Trail chairpersons before me, Dave Dunham and Richard Bolt, we have the oldest mountain running circuit in the country going on in New England. You have every type of surface and course style, which gives people a chance to try out all kinds of mountain running,” explained Kirsch, “Because of the tie-in with the strong New England running community, you get a lot of road runners who will experience their first mountain race as part of the circuit. Exemplifying the vibe of the New England Mountain Running Community is the first race in the USATF-NE Mountain Circuit, which for the past two years has been the Sleepy Hollow Mountain race in Huntington, VT, organized by World Mountain Running Champion Kasie Enman. People in our mountain running community are so committed to giving back to their sport.”
The support of the USATF New England Association has been extremely valuable according to Kirsch. “The New England USATF Association continues to realize the value of hosting a National Championship. They have been extremely generous with funds to help support athletes coming to compete at Cranmore. In some ways you might think it’s counter-intuitive to be helping to support runners from outside New England, but really, this gives all of the local association runners an opportunity to compete against the best in the U.S. and also Canada and Mexico. What great exposure for New England runners this is. We’ve all had the opportunity to see how competing against people potentially better than you just raises your own efforts. It’s a win-win for everyone.”
To that point, the importance of introducing the sport to younger athletes is one of the missions of the event. “For the ones that are able to make it, it really gives them a chance to see what competitive mountain running can be,” said Kirsch who is also the manager of the U.S. junior mountain running team. “All of the top runners are very approachable and they are happy to talk with kids about the sport. They want to see it grow too. I only wish I had an unlimited travel budget for the race so I could fly in kids from around the country to compete, it’s such great exposure for them.”
The junior mountain running team (athletes who are at least 16 in the year of competition and not yet 20), will not be selected at Cranmore, rather the four junior men and three junior women who comprise the team are chosen based on their resumes which must be sent to Kirsch by July 15. However, the U.S. senior team – six men and four women – will be selected at Cranmore. The team will compete in Poland at the 29th World Mountain Running Championships on September 8, 2013.
In addition to title sponsor Northeast Delta Dental, sponsors include the host venue, Cranmore Mountain Resort, Inov-8, Julbo USA, USATF New England, World Fellowship Center, CW-X, Cabot Cheese of Vermont, SportHill, Swiftwick, Hammer Nutrition, RunReg Online Registration, Arts Jubilee North Conway, and Tuckerman Brewing Company.