Message from the Race Director - George Bower

On Sunday May 7, 2017, the Amherst Land Trust will host the fourth running of the Joe English Challenge. Whether you are returning to take on the course again or running for the first time, I want to thank you for supporting the events of the Amherst Land Trust and our effort to preserve open spaces for public use. Since we ran the inaugural event in 2014 and introduced the course and the concept of the trail challenge in NH, the response has been overwhelmingly positive, and the Amherst Land Trust invites you to join us for another successful run this spring.

In 2015 we added a 12.5-kilometer version of the trail challenge, and this year we are introducing the 5-kilometer sprint challenge. We have heard from runners that they are hesitant to take on either the 12.5- or 25-kilometer course but would like to get a taste of what a trail challenge has to offer. If you have thought about running the Joe English Challenge, the 5-kilometer sprint is a great way to get started. I believe that once you do, you will make the commitment to do the training that will allow you to run one of the longer events in 2018.

Getting you to train for the long haul is one of our objectives. For the new 5-kilometer distance, we have laid out and built a trail that will give you the same dynamic running terrain and surfaces as the longer events -it's just shorter. The 12.5- and 25-kilometer courses continue to take you across the Denning Loop. I believe you will agree that it is one of the true jewels of trail running with a layout that constantly changes and finds new ways to challenge every runner on an adventurous and narrow footpath. We open it to runners once per year.

For the most dedicated runners, we have scheduled the 5-kilometer sprint and the 25-kilometer events so that you can double up if you want a bit more time on the trails.

What is a trail challenge? It is a footrace across the rough-and-tumble hills, hollows, and ravines of rural and backcountry America. It is not a "fun run." It is not a "road race." It's much more: A fantastic chance to put yourself to the test to show you can do the training, and to show you can persist against the terrain, the distance and the weather. Quite simply, it is a physical and mental challenge at the most fundamental level. I believe that it is running in its purest form. The new 5-kilometer sprint course does not depart from this standard.

Here is my one warning about running the Joe English Trail Challenge: It is neither intended nor designed to be easy. If you run the 25k, prepare for a run that will take as long as a marathon and will be harder on your body. The 12.5k course will generally take as long as a half marathon. Do not even think about a 5k PR on the new sprint course. The uphills, downhills and turns are relentless. If you are not trained or you try to run beyond your fitness level, the terrain will beat you down. You do not have to be an elite athlete to master this challenge, but you do have to be trained and smart about how you approach it.

One finisher had this to say about his experience on the course: "This is a unique event-and the trail, the challenge, and the "off the beaten" path piece is what makes it fun. And at no point have you set a standard where folks have to be top-end runners to get through this. You can be really fit/experienced or you can be in moderate shape and take longer/go slower but still "meet the challenge" (this is my grouping-and I loved the event). And you have set up a support system and environment that helps all levels of runners."

Whether you're a runner or hiker, we have laid out a course to bring you close to nature in the raw. The route can delight your senses and sense of adventure. It will demand that you prepare like an athlete and persist like a New Englander. I've suggested some training guidelines. These aren't for the faint of heart. But they will help you get fit enough to make the challenge an event you can look forward to and finish with confidence. I have also provided some technical guidance do's and dont's for survival.

When the winter weather breaks, we plan to open the course on some weekends for training days. Watch for notices here on the web site and on our Facebook age and plan to visit the course for some focused training.

If this is your first time on the course, I don't suggest you train to compete against others, but train to compete against yourself. Learn the technical elements of wild running before you attempt to race. Ask: How well can I do? Make conditioning and completion, not running and winning, your goal. Plan to approach the challenge as a continuum from today until the event and through recovery. And when you finish, make a commitment to return next year to go yourself one better.

Study the route map and profile: The terrain is classic New England, a bumpy route with 2,500 feet of cumulative climbing on the 25 kilometer course. You need to relish ascending and descending steep slopes, even scrambling on all fours, and pushing on in spite of stream-soaked feet and a scratch or two.

The course is not just for the endurance runner. It is for the serious hiker or speed hiker as well. Just be sure you make a commitment to get fit. Look at the terrain and trail surfaces: Are you up to it? Do you see the fun and sense of achievement I see? If so, if you're more than a leisure walker, if you thrill to go the distance, register now.

Don't worry about finding your way on the challenge course. We'll mark it generously with flags. We'll have four resupply and first-aid stations on the 12.5 kilometer course and seven on the 25 kilometer course, either at roadside or nearby. And as part of our commitment to your safety, we will respond to cell-phone calls; they work everywhere. If you tire and feel you have to, you can bail. But the challenge is: Will you?

We'll have volunteers to give you fuel and drink, and cheer you on. In fact, we'll have a viewers stand at the start/finish, with vistas across the hilltop pond so friends and family can see you depart into the wild and watch for your return.

So begin the Joe English Challenge and share the day with us on May 7. Allow us to lead you down new pathways. Let us showcase our corner of rugged New England. Be safe with your training. Email me with questions: trailchallenge@joe-english.org

Good luck on challenge day. And as we've become fond of saying, come Find Your Inner Wild

George Bower, Race Director