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Colleen O'Neil November 06, 2013 TWEET COMMENTS 8

Trail Running's First U.S. Varsity Team

Vermont's Sterling College launches first-ever collegiate Trail and Mountain Running athletic program

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Teammates at the Jack London 10K. Photo: Sterling College

While most college athletes spend their weekends flinging Frisbees, pumping iron in the gym or slamming into each other on the football field, students at Sterling College in Vermont now have the option to lace up their shoes and take to the trails instead.

This week, Sterling College announced the creation of the first collegiate mountain and trail running program in the United States. Student athletes will compete in local and regional events in the Green Mountains, White Mountains and the Adirondacks. They plan to run in an annual 5K trail series at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, a world-class Nordic Center, as well as 50K and 50-mile ultramarathons in and around New England.

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Vermont's Green Mountains are an excellent place to run. Photo: dvs on Flickr

"Sterling College proves that being community-oriented and supportive doesn't mean we can't be competitive," said Allison Van Akkeren, faculty in Outdoor Education, in a press release.

The 10 teammates run on dirt three days a week at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, Sterling's Virginia Russel Sugarbush Trail and sections of the nearby Catamount Trail and Long Trail. They’ve also done a few weekend mountain runs, including Mt. Elmore, Mt. Mansfield and parts of Jay Peak.

The team is looking forward to running in the Wolf Hollow Half Marathon in New Hampshire later this month. Their next training block includes next summer’s Cayuga Trails 50-Miler, the New England USATF Mountain Running Series in the summer and in the fall the Vermont 50. One team member is even gearing up for his first 100-mile race in 2014.

The team evolved from a trail running class taught by Sterling’s dean, Pavel Cenkl. The class meets in the early mornings and evenings to run and covers planning, route-finding and trail-running techniques. Each student also keeps a running journal, reads trail-running books and watches films. It complements Sterling’s extensive outdoor education curriculum, which includes classes in rock climbing, whitewater canoeing, bicycle touring and mountain expedition skills, to name a few.

“I've learned that trail running can be just one facet of a year-round connection with my body and the land I live on,” says new team member Harley Meyer. “Being on the team has given me the chance to learn how to plan out goals and celebrate achieving them, to de-stress and stay grounded during a demanding semester and to interact with the natural features of the Northeast Kingdom.”

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Sterling College campus in the fall. Photo: Sterling College

While this new program might seem progressive to lovers of traditional collegiate sports, it seems fitting with Sterling’s flannel-loving philosophies. The College has a course catalog heavy on outdoor recreation and environmental studies, with academic majors offered in Ecology, Environmental Humanities, Outdoor Education and Sustainable Agriculture (as well as minors in Climate Justice, Sustainable Food Systems and Draft Horse Management).

Sterling also has a Nordic Ski Team, a Trap & Skeet team and a Quidditch team.

After browsing the course catalog and clicking around the website, we at the Trail Runner offices have decided to go back to Sterling College to supplement our college degrees.

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