Burke Mountain Academy’s “Green Mountain Run”;
A Tradition Adjusts, Changes and Continues.
Yanked from sleep by a thundering on the stairs above my apartment in Witherell Dorm I land on misshapen old-man feet and sore ankles and scratch my head, staring stupidly about the room. Oskar comes out of his box and does one of those wonderful dog stretches that must feel really good…front legs out straight, head down between them with the jaws in a huge yawn and the butt up in the air, hindlegs almost on tip-toe. It is a little after 5 AM. There is a brief hammering on my door and an Alpine coach charges in; “Pete, where is the back seat of the Mini-van?” Burke Mountain Academy’s Green Mountain Run, the “GMR”, is about to begin.
It is the end of my third year as Head Nordic Coach at Burke, and in many ways I still count myself a new kid…(about the only thing new about me). The particulars of the tradition are not written down but “GMR” T-shirts in the pre-run lunch parade went back to the late seventies, so it has been part of Burke for a long time.
The gist of it is that as a year end wrap-up and a time to work together at a long and fun physical adventure BMA students run the North-South, or more exactly the South-North length of the State of Vermont on State Route 100. From the start at the Massachusetts’ line to the Canadian border at North Troy, the route winds along the spine of the Green Mountains. It takes just about twenty-four hours. Athletes run 4-5 mile legs in relay fashion and the crowd grows as parents, alumni, and vans bringing fresh runners join into the convoy. Along the way athletes who have finished their runs, hop out and run in support of those who are completing their segments. Times are kept and everyone is trying for a new fastest leg for “Jamaica Dipsy Doodle”, “Terrible Mountain”, “Killington Pass”, “Mt. Norris Descent” and the final “Run to Canada”. The run continues through the night gliding along, sometimes not quietly enough, past darkened farms and villages, along rain-slick roads through miles of fields and woods. At sunrise the run is in the vicinity of Waterbury and all nine vans are in the convoy, some pulling in to join again after a mandatory rest stop. The crowd thins at night, but no one ever runs alone. Around ten in the morning all the vans except the Mini, the pace van, pull ahead of the final runner and meet in North Troy where the athletes and ‘roadies’ ….parents, alumni and friends…form an arch of arms. The “Run to Canada” runner charges through the arch and it folds in upon itself and the whole school joins in to complete the “GMR”.
Athletes pick the run they want to do, with seniors given first pick and so on through the classes. People are divided up among vans and schedules are set. Van One leaves the Burke Campus in the Northeast Kingdom with the first five runners and two drivers at 6:00 to make the 10 o’clock start time, Van Two follows at 7:00 and so on through the day. This year I am driving Van Six and we leave at 7:30 PM to join the run around Stockbridge.
It is raining this morning and coming down pretty hard right now. That’s too bad. It doesn’t faze the runners but part of the tradition is that every van team picks a theme and mixes poster-paint with dish soap (so it washes off easily) and decorates the van. So far this morning the first Van took off in a livery of black and white checks and “Check Out our Vans” as the slogan…it even had wedge-shaped panels to imitate the popular “Vans” shoe. The second went out with a very good reproduction of “Starry Night” and “VAN GO (sic…of course)” painted on it and Don McLean’s song drifting into the morning. The rain is sad because it doesn’t take long until road-speed, soap and paint leave the vans looking like a senior girl with a little too much make-up and way too many sentimental Prom tears. No Matter. The Run runs.
Over the years traditions grow. Change comes hard and among the hardest people to convince that change is necessary are the youngest. Tradition is the stuff of stories. It is the connection to a past they have heard about, and of which they want to be part. Things around us change though and this year we have had to make some adjustments. Traffic is building on Route 100. It used to be on a sunny afternoon that 30 runners may have been supporting the athlete going for the run record on a given stretch. Even in the dark of night we have had as many as ten or twelve pushing the pace, trying to beat last year’s time. There is always a pace van with flashing lights and “Runner’s Ahead” moving with the runners. Reflective vests have been added and this year, sadly, we decided to limit the number of support runners. It is simply a matter of safety, and it is the right decision. Of course we can’t get in the way of family members wanting to jog along, or alumni that appear out of the blue to take part again in a favorite run, but we are trimming our own numbers to keep the show safely on the road.
Another change has been added that kids are swallowing a little more easily, because of why they are here and what their goals are. BMA is a ski academy. Athletes come to improve at Alpine and Nordic skiing, and to continue to develop academically at a level that makes them more than competitive for admissions to the college of their choice. In the past kids have hopped out of a van whenever they had caught their breath to run with a friend; coaches have determined to run a little with every one their own athletes; by the end of the run not a few have chalked up 30, 40 or even more miles. The kids are fit, but for what we need to do next, for the demands of summer training that is planned to be a progression into the work of the next season, 40 miles of pavement isn’t a good idea. Caught up in the enthusiasm and camaraderie of the event a Nordic athlete last year left himself unable to effectively train for much too big a part of the summer. A lesson. The Nordic training year, the building up for next season began in mid-May. The summer months have some of the most hours of the year and are among the most important for the returning athletes, the ones who have chosen to chase skiing as the main sport. It is a shame to let an over-use injury put one on the sideline. The Alpine teams will be on snow in two weeks, and several of the Nordics will be in a training camp both on and off snow in Sweden and Norway for the last three weeks of June. We have limited total running to 12 miles per athlete to keep wear and tear down and bodies ready to charge into the summer. BMA athletes have big projects ahead of them and because of that a tradition changes shape a little. But it is still a BMA tradition and I am guessing from the care and creativity of the van-painting, and the happy sounds of the stampede down the stairs this early morning that in one form or another, the Alpine and Nordic skiers of Burke are going to keep the “GMR” running along just fine!
At the first break in the rain we have to Paint Van Six and hit the road.