Trail Running

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Intro

I should write something here about how I ended up trail running. I think it was mostly by accident. I started running around the bogs near my house and things got out of hand quickly.

What is it and why is it awesome? Trail running is… running around in the forest by yourself or with friends. Maybe for a really long time, but maybe not. If it’s for a long time, there are definitely snacks involved.

Why is that so great? I think it might be the combined effects of being outside in nature and running. Both are great by themselves for reducing stress. But combining the two is incredible. I work in technology which can be extremely stressful at times. Trails are my antidote for stress.

Why for so long sometimes? I don’t know. I guess when something is good, we want to do more of it. So running trails often leads to running ultras. But it doesn’t have to. There are no rules to this stuff. Well maybe a couple – be excellent to each other and Leave No Trace.

But back to the ultra thing, the trail/ultra running community is very special. The culture is extremely supportive and friendly. Everyone is cheering for you. Everyone has decided to do something weird, difficult, and unreasonable. I didn’t get this at first, but the move is to bring a chair and hang out at the finish to cheer everyone in. The last finisher or "DFL" (Dead Freakin’ Last) is a special honor.

At ultra events, people are attempting to do things they may or may not be able to do. There’s a real chance of failure. Even at the shorter distance/duration events there are ups and downs. There’s a certain amount of shared suffering that brings people together. Sometimes there are those magical moments where you break through and find another "gear". You think you can’t possibly go any farther…and then for some unknown reason you can. It makes you realize that anything is possible.

Todo:

  • I should link to some Golden Hour stuff up here
  • Move Trail Culture to its own page
  • Add a section about books
  • Add a getting started section

Groups

The best local trail races are put on by the Trail Animals Running Club (TARC). They also do monthly group runs at various spots – Blue Hills, etc. More TARC Links:

Another awesome local group is the Northeast Trail Crew – they do weekly Wednesday night group runs at Middlesex Fells. NTC Links:

The trail sisters are great – they setup outreach group runs and work with local races to make them more friendly and accessible for women. Trail sisters links:

Quick story about the trail sisters. Lizzie was with me on a course preview of the TARC Winter Classic last year and we passed by a trail sisters group run going the opposite direction. She was so stoked to see a bunch of ladies out there on the trails! And someone said "Hey there goes a future trail sister!". Lizzie was really excited and still talks about it. Small world, I was talking to Julie W at a womp romp group run and trail sisters came up in conversation….she heard about a daddy and daughter running at the fells. That was us! 🙂

News

The best local trail / ultra running news site is MassUltra by Chris Wristen. Check out Chris’s blog. Chris is usually at almost every local event taking great pictures.

Events

Info about local events. (most are trail)

Podcasts

Trail running podcasts:

Humor

Blogs

It seems like blogging about trail/ultra stuff is less popular now but there are still folks who seem to like doing it. Here are a few:

Trails Near Me

Some of these are closer than others. And the Bay Circuit is near you if you’re anywhere in the eastern part of the state. I have routes for some of these, I need to build out this section a bit more.

Best Trail Reference for this area

Ben Kimball’s Trail Running Eastern Massachusetts book is easily the best reference. I didn’t realize it at the time, but one of favorite loops at North Hill in Duxbury is featured in this book. And he mentions Carolina Hills in Marshfield which is also pretty great.

He made a version for the Western part of the state – Trail Running Western Massachusetts

If you run trails, hike or mountain bike, these books are pure gold – highly recommended.

Also check out Ben Kimball’s site.

Bay Circuit Trail – Eastern MA

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This is the big one. The Bay Circuit Trail is a 230-ish mile epic from Duxbury (southern terminus) all the way to Newburyport (northern terminus). I had no idea this existed until I saw the blazes for it when running around the East Street Bogs in Duxbury.

There are a few local runners that have done FKTs on the Bay Circuit Trail (Art B and Matt D and now Cole C), which is awesome as hell. I love hearing about people doing epic stuff around here. Cole C just completed a Bay Circuit FKT attempt. Check out Cole’s site. Mass Ultra wrote a great piece about Cole’s Bay Circuit FKT attempt . It’s so cool to see the community and culture in action. Traditionally the previous FKT holders will share info and and even assist the newcomers in trying to break their records. And that’s exactly what happened here.

There’s a short local loop that I’ve covered (Duxbury, Kingston, Pembroke) which is about 27 miles roughly – not at one time, although it’s on my list for when I’ve got my mileage back up again. It’s not part of the typical FKT route. I think I’ve been as far out as Hanson.

North Hill Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary – Duxbury, MA

North Hill Marsh WildLife Sanctuary

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This is in Duxbury, MA.

I love this trail network. It’s really close by and it’s awesome. I’ve seen other local runners casually log a 50k here (Go Matt! Go Taylor!).

You can connect to this Network from Crowell Conservation Area (more info below), Round Pond Conservation Area…and it’s maybe 1/2 mile of road section in between the East Street Bogs and Round Pond.
The Bay Circuit Trail runs from Mayflower to East Street and then East Street to Elm St.

The direct trail linkage from Crowell to North Hill was destroyed with some new home construction on Lincoln St. I’ve stumbled through it a few times but found its easier to just run maybe 1/8th mile or less up Lincoln and then pick up the Waiting Hill trail near the cell tower.

Anyways, you can get really creative exploring the different areas. My favorite sections are the single track on Waiting Hill and North Hill.

The main blue loop is enjoyable, but pretty busy.

I think I made these routes public on Strava..yeah here they are:

  • Dux Waiting Hill Loop (5.1 miles, 425 ft) – Strava Link – this is right off the trail head on the left
  • Dux North Hill Loop (5.4 miles, 501 ft) – Strava Link – this is single track that starts in right of parking lot
  • Merged Waiting and North Hill loops (10.5 miles / 976 ft ) – Strava Link – this is the two merged if you want to just keep looping – I’ve only done two full loops in one day, but rounding it out to 3 to make it 50k is on my list for when I get better.

I always thought it’d be cool to setup a low key event here. It doesn’t seem like there’s enough space though at least for parking at the trail heads. But there is a lot of parking at the Church…maybe I could redo it so the start/finish is behind the church.

Carolina Hill Reservation – Marshfield, MA

Carolina Hills Reservation

It’s a lot easier to get more elevation here – I have a (mostly) single track loop that I like. I need to clean it up and link to it.

But you can also just do hill repeats on the power lines.

Lansing Bennett Forest – Duxbury, MA

Lansing Bennett Forest
AllTrails Lansing Bennet Forest Loop

This one is small, but it’s pretty neat. Trail heads are off Union Bridge Road. You can connect to it from the Bay Circuit segments around Vine Street, King Phillips Path and Union Bridge.

You can connect to Thaddeus Chandler by crossing route 53 at Osborne’s (there’s a trail towards the rear right hand side of the parking lot).

Thaddeus Chandler Sanctuary – Duxbury, MA

Thaddeus Chandler Sanctuary

Also relatively small, but fun. The main trail head is on Valley Street (off route 53).

You can also connect to it from Lansing Bennett by crossing route 53 at Osborne’s (there’s a trail towards the rear right hand side of the parking lot).

Crowell Conservation Area – Duxbury, MA

Crowell Conservation Area

Small but you can connect to North Hill Marsh (with a tiny road section now).

Camp Nekon – Kingston, MA

Camp Nekon

Behind the Kingston collection. Trail head on Monk’s hill road. There’s also access from behind Walmart – to the far right of the parking lot.

Hoyt-Hall Preserve – Marshfield, MA

Hoyt-Hall Preserve

This is pretty small but neat. There’s a section marked "Old Pilgrim Trail". I need to read more about that.

Indian Head River Trail – Hanover, MA

Indian Head River Trails

Myles Standish State Forest – Carver, MA

Myles Standish State Forest

There are a few routes featured in Ben Kimball’s book (links above).

Wompatuck State Park – Hingham, MA

Wompatuck State Park
Wompatuck State Park
Friends of Wompatuck

I know about his because of Womp Romp (awesome local race).

Blue Hills Reservation – Milton, MA

Blue Hills Reservation

The infamous Skyline trail. Legit.

Hale Reservation – Westwood, MA

Hale Reservation

The site of a few TARC races – Frozen Yeti and To Hale and Back.

Jericho Town Forest – Weston, MA

Jericho Town Forest

The site of the TARC Spring Classic.

Middlesex Fells Reservation – Stoneham, MA

Middlesex Fells Reservation
Friends of the Fells

The other Skyline trail. Also awesome.

The site of the TARC Winter Classic.

Great Brook Farm State Park – Carlisle, MA

Great Brook Farm State Park

The site of the TARC Fall Classic.

Noon Hill / Shattuck Reservation – Medfield, MA

Noon Hill
Shattuck Reservation

The site of the TARC Summer Classic.

Finding more Trails

I constantly look around for trail heads when I’m out and about.

I follow local people on Strava that do epic stuff.

Garmin Connect heatmaps / start points are good source (Dave made a great video about creating courses in garmin connect).

Also Strava heatmaps are a good source. Strava maintains a heatmap of where people have ran and overlays it on the map view. You can browse the Strava global heatmap, but I normally use the route creation with a heatmap overlay.

Strava also collects popular starting points which can be helpful. Strava segment search can be good if the trail is popular enough that someone created a segment for part of it.

Enumerating local conservation organizations is a great tip I got from Paul at REI hingham. They have lists of all their properties along with maps and other information. Conservation organizations:

Searching on Alltrails is a good source.

Searching on Trailforks is a good source. I don’t mountain bike, but I find that I really enjoy running on the same types of trails that MTB folks do ("flowy" single track).

And just generally, if you pull up google maps and look for green spaces and cross check .

There’s a less popular site that I use sometimes called gpx studio. It’s pretty cool for creating courses and viewing various overlays, etc.

I should mention, this is outside of finding trails, it’s more of a race preparation/planning tool, but ultraPacer is pretty sweet for doing pacing charts based on gpx files ( has neat support for looped courses).

Gear

You don’t need a ton of gear. You just need shoes. And there are people that’d debate you on the shoes. But most people end up getting at least a few pieces of gear.

You don’t need a fancy GPS running watch, but boy are they fun! If you’re in the market for GPS watches, Dave does really in depth youtube video reviews of basically any fitness watch you can imagine (and other trail running gear and entertaining race/training vlogs) on his youtube channel – Chase the Summit. Link to his main site is here – Chase the Summit. Some great gear in the shop, check it out!

Patrick Caron’s Move Free Designs also has some great hats and TARC branded gear too.

What gear do I use? It depends on the season. I need to build this out:

  • Garmin GPS Watches (Started with 945LTE and now use the Enduro 2)
  • Aftershokz headphones
  • Salomon ADV Skin 12 Hydration Vest (and tons of soft flasks)
  • Patagonia Houdini jacket (in case of rain)
  • Altra Lone Peak shoes
  • Path projects shorts
  • Runderwear underwear
  • Smart wool base layers
  • Petzl head lamps
  • UltraAspire waist lamps
  • Injinji toe socks
  • XO Skin Compression Sleeves
  • Mudgear compression socks

Trail Running Culture

This should probably be its own section.

Notes from Trail Runner Nation podcast episode "Bob Crowley & Josh Katzman – Trail Running Culture, Are We at Risk of Losing it?":

Notes from Trail Runner Nation podcast episode "Ultra Trail Running Culture – Bob Crowley – Part 1":