Joy of running on a perfect autumn weekend

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(Host) Not long ago, Vermont celebrated a weekend of running. Commentator John Morton says that running in Vermont this time of year is especially rewarding.

(Morton) As forecast, the remnants of hurricane Lili drenched New England. But after such a dry summer, no reasonable person could complain about the weather. In Thetford, Vermont, however, there were plenty of furrowed brows.

Saturday, October 5 was the twelfth annual Woods Trail Run, a gathering of high school athletes which has grown to attract almost 2,000 competitors, from as far as Pennsylvania. Dan Grossman, the organizational guru who originated the event, has a list of more than 400 volunteers, all eager to donate their time and energy as a member of “Dan’s Team.” You can count on Byron Hathorn and Dave McGinn to judge the close calls at the finish line, while Linda Ide controls the P.A. system and broadcasts “Chariots of Fire,” “The William Tell Overture,” or even Scottish bag piping tunes as hundreds of runners stampede from the starting line.

Fortunately, Lili left only a few branches on the trail, and a brilliant autumn sun broke through as the races began. Roots, rocks and occasional slippery footing are part of cross country running, but angry yellow jackets are not. So when several finishers reported to the first aid tent for treatment of stings, a volunteer was dispatched… to dispatch the insects.

Listening to the comments of high school runners from urban communities to the south provided a great reminder of how lucky we are to live and run in the natural beauty of Vermont.

Sunday, October 6 was a classic autumn day, crisp and clear. The foliage was close enough to peak to validate the popular Leaf Peepers Half Marathon and 5 K in Waterbury, Vermont. At the starting line, eager runners listened to a recording of the Star Spangled Banner, a tradition begun last year following the terrorist attacks. I glanced at a competitor I had met in the parking lot, a young guy wearing an Annapolis t-shirt. He was a retired naval aviator who had seen combat in the Persian Gulf and Bosnia. I doubt listening to the National Anthem was simply a formality to him, nor was Vermont’s remarkable autumn beauty something he took for granted.

The course, a combination of paved and dirt road, rolled gently beside the Winooski River, in the shadow of Camel’s Hump. We ran past diehard anglers, casting into pools that reflected the fiery maples and sumacs. I smelled a wood burning stove from one of the farm houses, and I heard the excited honking of geese overhead, as they followed the spine of the Green Mountains south for the winter.

No matter what your level of conditioning, a half marathon is a demanding race. But the fatigue evident at the finish of the Leaf Peepers was tempered by the joy of experiencing to the fullest, one of Mother Nature’s spectacular autumn gifts.

This is John Morton in Thetford, Vermont.

John Morton designs trails and writes about sports.

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