If you're a fan of extreme wandering, strenuous meditation, or the day-long wilderness expedition (the Ultra version of the one-hour day-hike, which is how I like to think of trail running), then the perfect event awaits your attendance in the Berkshires this weekend: the 2nd Annual Hancock Shaker Village 50.
The 50-mile ultra leaves (at 5:30 a.m.) from Pittsfield's Hancock Shaker Village, travels up Mount Zion, through Pittsfield State Forest, along the Taconic Crest Trail, to Mount Misery, and then back to the Village. After that, if you're still standing, there will be a celebratory gathering featuring food and beverage from the Big Elm Brewery.
Last year's top runners, both men and women, finished the course in about ten and a half to thirteen hours.
As I've noted previously here at Free Sport (see "Born to Run: How to Run for Fun?" Free Sport, 9/11/12), there's something downright romantic about ultramarathons. That is, about the idea of them. I've never run anything longer than a half-marathon in my life, and never plan to. But still, the idea that these folks are out there, pushing the limits regarding "what kind of endurance is possible," to use the phrase of local Valley marathon swimmer Sydne Didier, challenging the understanding and framework of what we are capable of, is very appealing. And very human.
"Running unites our two most primal impulses: fear and pleasure," Christopher McDougall writes in his most enjoyable book Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super Athletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen (which I've been re-reading recenlty). "We run when we're scared, we run when we're ecstatic, we run away from our problems, and run around for a good time." (As any parent of a young child can certainly attest.)
So, why not a 50-mile jaunt through the Berkshires on a lovely fall day?
For registration and course information, check out the Hancock Shaker Village website: http://hancockshakervillage.org/programs-events/hancock-shaker-village-50/
To register for the race, go to Ultra Signup: http://ultrasignup.com/register.aspx?did=19454
To see a course map of the race, click here: http://hancockshakervillage.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/HSVTrailRaceMap.pdf
To skip the race, but still indulge in the idea of, and appreciation for an ultramarathon, check out McDougall's Born to Run: http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780307279187
And to get a Big Elm beverage to go along with that, go here: http://www.bigelmbrewery.com/index.html