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Getting Stoaked For Trail Running: A challenging Race In A Beautiful Setting

Jun 08, 2024 10:02AM ● By Charlotte Albright Photography By Herb Swanson

On a cool, moist August morning—perfect weather for racing up a steep, muddy, wooded trail—runners of all ages, shapes, and sizes gather in the parking lot of Hanover’s Bernice A. Ray School. It’s the starting point for STOAKED, a 12 KM (7.5-mile) race sponsored by the Upper Valley Trails Alliance as part of the annual New Hampshire Trail Running Series.


UVTA Program Manager Kaitie Eddington.

“It’s probably the most challenging race in the bunch,” says organizer Kaitie Eddington, UVTA program manager. “A lot are 5Ks. Some take place on mountain biking or cross-country ski courses, with wide and well-groomed trails. But STOAKED puts you out in the woods, on narrow trails with a lot of branches and logs and roots. It’s a rugged experience, and it’s not for walkers.”


UVTA Executive Director Russell Hirschler with his daughter

Under a white tent, UVTA Executive Director Russell Hirschler registers entrants. “We’re a
community organization, and we work with other trails organizations, nonprofits, conservation
commissions, town municipalities, and select boards to help build and maintain community trails,” he says. “We will be celebrating our 25th anniversary in 2024.”

STOAKED honors the legacy of a beloved athlete. “Historically, this race was put on by a gentleman named Chad Denning, a world-class elite trail runner who put on a series of trail races throughout the year. He tragically died on a run in his thirties,” says Russell. “To honor his memory, all the groups that Chad worked with each year took on a different race. And since STOAKED falls right in the middle of our service area, we took this one on.” 

A Run Through the Woods

Russell’s 13-year-old daughter may be one of the youngest runners in the pack, and this is the third time she’s competed. Last year she came in first in her age class and—spoiler alert—she would do that again this year, too. But for her, trail running is not just a chance to shine. It’s a way to shed some of the pressures of being a teenager. “I do it just to get some time alone, away from distractions in everyday life,” she says. “You feel freer in the woods.”

Kaitie’s husband Adam, a medical resident at Dartmouth Health, is also lacing up. But today, he won’t try to surge ahead. He’ll intentionally stay behind to “sweep” the course during the race, making sure everyone is okay, and, at the end, removing all the signage. For him, trail running outdoors is vastly superior to treadmill tedium. “There’s a lot of variety. It’s never the same road twice or the same trail twice, especially here in the East, where the land is just so vibrant, alive, and changing all the time,” he says.

Nearby, three other contenders are chatting together. Suzanne Hoy from Surrey, New Hampshire, convinced her sister, Elizabeth Gline, and Elizabeth’s boyfriend, Zach Ferrie, both visiting from Loveland, Colorado, to test their mettle with her. “I’ve done a couple races in the Western New Hampshire trail series before and they’re just so beautiful,” says Suzanne. “I love that they’re small local races, and the courses are always very challenging, but gorgeous. It’s always a good time.”

“I’ve prepared enough, I think, doing a trail run a couple times a week in Colorado,” says Elizabeth. “The endorphins are amazing.”

“When it’s over,” Zach chimes in.

Crossing the Finish Line

After about an hour and nine minutes, a sweaty, triumphant winner crosses the finish line back into the parking lot. For Felix Hatton from Buffalo, New York, this is a brand-new experience. He runs cross country for his high school team, but mostly on pavement. “So I’m not used to hills,” he says. “My God, the hills. And going down was the hard part because I just kept thinking I was going to sprain my ankle.”

Clocking in at 1:13 with a trickle of blood running down her leg is Ayla Pearson from Cornish, New Hampshire. A rising junior at the University of Virginia, she’s a member of her college running club but, like Felix, new to trail racing. Because a recent storm had created some slippery spots, Ayla took a minor spill, but that didn’t stop her. “Most of the time during the race, my overall pace was not that fast, and I wasn’t tired, just breathing heavily,” she says. “It was just so technical. My biggest focus was on just not falling.”

For other runners, the focus was on merely finishing, which, for several, took more than two hours. But so what? Trail running is often more recreational than competitive—an ideal way to build physical strength and agility in picturesque natural settings.

Hit the Trails

If you just want to enjoy the scenery at a leisurely pace, on non-STOAKED days you can stroll through over a hundred miles of UVTA trails. That’s what more and more people have been doing since the COVID lockdown sent them outdoors for fresh air and safe fellowship.

“It was so important to their mental health,” says Kaitie Eddington. “Here in the Upper Valley, you couldn’t ask for a better place to take up the sport because there are so many trails around here, and the groups that we work with really stay on top of taking care of them. It’s amazing, considering the sheer amount of terrain the alliance covers.”

UVTA’s online trail finder provides
photos, maps, directions, and difficulty rankings for hundreds of routes. “A destination hike in the White Mountains or the Presidentials, the Green Mountains, Camel’s Hump—those are great,” says Russell. “But the most important trails are the ones in your backyard.” 

Find more information at the Upper Valley Trails Alliance website at

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