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Mud and Drizzle Don’t Deter 70 Black Fly Runners

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Ira O’Meara-Costello (left, 2nd place), Nick Lemon-May (first place) Jesse Holden (race director) and Alva Swing (3rd place) participated in the Black Fly Trail Run in Westmore.

WESTMORE – Drizzle and mud did little to dampen the spirits of runners at Saturday’s Black Fly Trail Run in the hills of Westmore, featuring the summits of Goodwin and Bald mountains along a 10- or 14-mile course. Seventy runners lined up in misty skies at 9 a.m. with showers commencing as the run began, climbing up the dirt road above Lake Willoughby. Although steep, the hill was to be one of the most mellow aspects of the race.

After a mile of uphill gravel running, the course veered into the forest on a seldom traveled, but relatively flat, woods road choked with brambles.

Short downhills into small gullies led to mud, then a series of steep uphill sections eventually gained the wooded summit of Goodwin Mountain, a low massif characterized by an open deciduous forest. “I love running in the woods this time of year because the leaves are only partially out, so you can see the sky through the trees” said runner LauraLee Sweeney, of Craftsbury. Sweeney grew up hiking in these mountains and ran the race on Saturday alongside her sister and nephew.

Descending the eastern side of Goodwin, there wasn’t really a “trail” in the true sense of the word, more a “route” that race director Jesse Holden marked out to link the summit to a network of ATV trails lower on the mountain’s flanks. Due to persistent rain and the recent departure of snow at higher elevations, the ground was soft and mud unavoidable, sometimes shin deep. “The course was hilly, muddy, and challenging,” Sweeny remarks, adding that “the temperature was ideal.”

Indeed, the mist kept things cool and runners tackling the 14-mile version of the course were able to wash off the first round of mud by stumbling through a brook that began the second climb of the course, up the iconic triangular flanks of Bald Mountain. The overgrown double-track ascended at a moderate, but unrelenting, grade through stands of mature hardwoods. A carpet of ramps released an enticing aroma as the leaves were crushed under dozens of sneakers.

courtesy photo 
Black Fly Trail Run race director Jesse Holden (right) and Female first place finisher Kae Ravichandran are at the conclusion of Westmore’s Black Fly Trail Run. 

That soon gave way to a steeper, muddier path that alternated between mossy rocks and roots and a washed-out gulch carved between dense conifers. Runners resorted to hiking and scrambling to gain the summit of Bald, touched the base of the fire tower and descended the same treacherous mud gully they had ascended only minutes before.

Upon reaching the base of the mountain, dirt roads led back up a long hill to the top of Hinton Hill, the home of Sentinel Rock state park, where runners navigated a mile of mellow, flowing single-track trail that was almost entirely devoid of mud. They then regained Hinton Hill Road and pounded down the steep dirt road to the finish line.

In the woman’s division of the 14-miler, Burlington’s Kae Ravichandran captured the crown with a finishing time of 2:25:49, positioning herself near the front of the pack on the initial hill and maintaining her lead throughout.

LauraLee Sweeney placed third in the 10-mile segment, with a time of 1:55:52. “My main goal was to have fun and enjoy the beautiful views. I was not disappointed!”

In the men’s division the first-place title was defended by the previous year’s winner, Nick Lemon of Wellsley, MA and Sheffield, VT, who powered mercilessly up the slippery hills to complete the course in 2:07:07.

Hardwick’s Ira O’Meara-Costello managed to snag second place with a time of 2:10:12.

“Downhills are not my strength by any means,” observes Lemon: “Ira blew me out of the water on both descents but luckily I had enough uphill strength in my legs in the end.”

Alva Swing, of Brookline, VT rounded out the top three finishing times at 2:14:39. “I’m super grateful to have an event like this that allows racers to explore lesser-known parts of the state and links a ton of great technical trails in a challenging and beautiful loop,” said Swing.

The event included a non-competitive 40-mile gravel bike ride, a 5K run, an evening barn dance, a huge raffle and multiple food and beverage vendors. It was the brainchild of local runners and bikers Jesse Holden and Chris Gagnon who envisioned the event to bring attention to local trails, promote health and wellness and showcase local goods and businesses. “We wanted to bring bikers and runners together at the same venue because they share so many core values but don’t always congregate in the same area,” said Holden. The event also was a fundraiser; over $1000 was raised to benefit Umbrella Inc, who does work supporting victims of domestic violence.   

Holden grew up almost within a stone’s throw of the event and spent years running on the trails around Lake Willoughby. Although most of the trails are on land owned by the state of Vermont, Alan Cole owns a large tract of land to the north of the lake where the Blackfly takes place. He was supportive of Holden’s vision and the generosity of the Cole family made this event possible.

Holden spent countless hours poring over maps and thrashing through overgrown woods. “After I explored them for the first time, I would scour Strava maps to see how I could connect the trails to Bald (Mountain), and we ended up cutting our way down from Bald to Telegraph Trail using a moose trail!” Just last week Holden and Gagnon were still hard at it, building wooden bridges over muddy sections in preparation for the race. “It’s a crazy amount of work to maintain them,” said Holden “But it’s a labor of love.”

Ira O'Meara-Costello

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