Trail Running in Boston

Boston is well deserving to be regarded as one of America’s top running – AND trail running cities. For those that are new to the area, they are surprised at the abundant choices of beautiful and challenging trails located within 15-30 minutes drive from downtown Beantown. And, the existence of a rich, tight knit trail running community typically found in more obvious cities out West. Everyone knows Boston has a storied road running history. But fewer realize that its trail running heritage is also impressive and actually growing faster. So here’s the summary:

What are the best trail running areas?

I’m going to restrain my comments to the Boston-metro area although the broader region and New England boast some of the most challenging, beautiful technical single track trails in the country. Working our way from city center out, you start with The Public Gardens/Boston Common, Emerald Necklace and running along the Charles River. Located just north of Boston (10 minutes) is the Middlesex Fells in Medford (http://www.mass.gov/dcr/parks/metroboston/maps/fells.gif) with miles of challenging trails and views of the City. This is home to the Trail Animals Running Club’s (TARC) Spring and Winter Fells Trail Ultras (32 & 40M)(http://sites.google.com/site/fellstrailultra/). Just a wee bit further north are the Lynn Woods in Lynn, MA and Breakneck State Park, home to a couple of ultras and convenient trails galore.


Just 10 minutes due west of downtown is the largest chunk of land for trail running. The Blue Hills Reservation is a 7,000 acre system of trails with a ski hill, six additional hills, plenty of single track, granite climbs, swamps, stream crossings, gnarly climbs and descents to keep the most experienced ultra runner busy all day. Home of the Trail Animals Running Club (www.trailanimals.com) and their twin ultras – Don’t Run Boston 50K (held every year on the day before the Boston Marathon) and TARC 50 Miler (same day as DRB)(http://www.trailanimals.com/photos/) – these ultras are classic fatass style with no fees, awards, minimal aid.

Moving further outside of the city center there are literally dozens of parks and trails to choose from. Boston is encircled by Route 128 and then further out I495. Between these two rings are some of the best trail runs in the entire area. North there is Bradley Palmer and Willowdale State Parks in Topsfield and Ipswich respectively – and location for the Gil’s Athletic Club (G.A.C.) ultra events including the Stonecat 50 (http://www.gaconline.net/clubrace.html). West there’s Noon Hill and Shattuck Reservation (http://www.thetrustees.org/assets/documents/places-to-visit/trailmaps/Noon-Hill-Shattuck-Reservation-Trail-Map.pdf) in Medfield, MA, Jericho Woods (http://www.trailanimals.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/TARC-Spring-Classic-Course-Map-Weston-MA.pdf) in Weston, MA, Whipple Hill in Lexington (http://www.trailanimals.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/Whipple-Hill-Run-Map.jpg), Walden Pond in Concord, MA, Estabrook Woods and King Philips Conservation Land in Sudbury, MA, Lincoln Meadows in Lincoln, Ma, trails of Wellesley, Ma (http://www.wellesleyma.gov/pages/wellesleyma_trails/trailmap.pdf) and on and on. And I’m really only hitting the most obvious locations but frankly missing dozens of other trail runner hot spots that are local favorites. You really have to live here to believe what’s available right out our back door. And finally, circumnavigating Boston is the Bay Circuit Trail (http://www.baycircuit.org/towninfo.html#guides) which is attempting to connect a contiguous trail from the north shore all the way around Boston to the south shore. Other trails in the area (http://www.nerunningco.com/trail-running/area-trails/). So clearly Boston is blessed with beautiful, challenging, convenient trails for the running enthusiast.
* What are the best trail races or trail race series, whatever the distance?
This one is a slam dunk since we’ve recently compiled a list of ultras in the metro-Boston area – thanks to TARC member Steve Latour (http://www.trailanimals.com/race-announcements/). TARC has started a ultra trail series this year (2011) which features eight ultras all located within 30 minutes of Boston (http://www.trailanimals.com/race-announcements/). In addition G.A.C. hosts a few fantastic ultras each year including the ever popular Stonecat 50 (http://www.gaconline.net/clubrace.html). And the Western Mass Athletic Club conducts their Grand Tree Trail Series (http://www.runwmac.com/links.html) which is by far the most prolific trail series in all of New England.
* Who are the top trail runners regardless of their specialty distance?
I’m not even going to go here because I’m not an expert on rating runners nor do I have a quantifiable way to measure and rank the athletes. New England runners are know for being extremely adept as “technical runners” but get discounted when thought of in terms of competing in the ultra out west with long and steep descents, arduous pulls and big altitude. I have the distinct advantage of having lived on both the east and left coast and witnessed their respective trail runners. Although I agree that New England runners are especially light footed on the technical downhills and can climb up almost any gnarly trail, they have more recently been showing up as top 10 finishers in numerous “national ultra” events. For instance, Brian Rusiecki (Westfield, MA)was recently named #10 on Ultrarunning Magazine’s 2010 Runner of the Year and of course probably New England’s most decorated ultra runner is Jim Garcia (originally from Westford, MA).
* What trail running groups are in the area?
Trail Animals Running Club (TARC) (www.trailanimals.com)
Gil’s Athletic Club (G.A.C.) (www.gaconline.net)
Western Mass Athletic Club (WMAC) http://www.runwmac.com)
* What are the best specialty running stores with trail running selections?
Marathon Sports (http://www.marathonsports.com/)
New England Running Company (http://www.nerunningco.com/)
My apologizes for the trails, parks and clubs that I’ve missed. But hopefully this gives you a better idea of the bounty of trail running Boston offers.