Click here to learn more about The Seven Sisters Trail Race and register for next year’s race.
Legend has it that The Seven Sisters Trail Race began in the 80s as an underground race between friends looking to test themselves along a challenging section of trail. These friends and their non-permitted race were promptly busted by local forest rangers, forcing them to downgrade (or was it an upgrade?) to a “fun group run”. This “fun group run” became an official event in 1991 and has since grown to be known as one of the most challenging and competitive trail running races in New England.
Ask any trail runner in the region about the race and you will receive one of two responses. Either they have run it, or they can’t wait to run it. This grassroots race now welcomes a field of 500 participants to test themselves on a 6 mile, out and back course over a section of undulating rocky trail along the 114 mile long Metacomet-Monadnock trail in Western Massachusetts.
A win for men requires a time under 1h 50m (1h 42m course record) and 2h 15m for women (2h 5m course record). Though the race is typically competitive among the top 10 places, competitors cover a wide range of abilities and motivations. The list of finishers is rounded out by participants taking it all in at a hiking pace. Click here to see results for this year’s and past races dating back to 1991.
Part of the appeal of the event is the festive atmosphere gathered in the small wooded enclave where the race starts and finishes. Runners arrive at the festival area after walking along winding single track from the parking area and are greeted by a crowd of excitedly nervous racers packed around a circus tent and various pop-ups. The scene is a picture perfect home grown trail race.
The race course starts along the edge of this woodland clearing and sends runners directly onto narrow single track that soon begins its climb to the heavens. From this point on racers are treated to 3500 feet of ascent rolling over crumbling rock, exposed roots, and slick mud. A number of sections require runners (at this point climbers) to scramble hand over hand up short, but steep rock faces. Ascending these sections are only outdone by descending them on the return trip.
Upon finishing the challenging course with at least a splash of mud and likely some blood drawn, racers are cheered into the festival area by a constant packed crowd around the finish line. As their senses return to them runners are congratulated with a steel pint cup (unique to 2019), hearty pieces of pizza, cider donuts, and various other calorie replenishing treats. The colorful range of shirts from past years’ races worn widely among the finish line crowd is a testament to the races’ long history and strong community support.
Having outgrown its rebellious beginnings, the race is now fully permitted and works closely with the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) to ensure a safe and smooth event. The annual Mud and Blood award, recognizing particularly dirty and harrowing stories from the race, speaks to the important role that the DCR plays as provider of on course medical support.
The race also partners with the Friends of the Mount Holyoke Range, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving Mount Holyoke range through land conservation, education, and recreation. Since its inaugural race, the Seven Sisters Trail Race has raised over $100,000 to support the non-profit’s work.
The great appeal of the The Seven Sisters Trail Race owes itself, in a large part, to the community that surrounds this race. Just as the trail remains rocky, rooty, and oh-so-challenging year after year, the crowd too will hold onto its nervous excitement at the start line and its inexhaustible support at the finish line. Make a note on your calendar for next year. Whether you go as a runner, hiker, spectator, or volunteer you can rest assured you’ll be part of something special. We’ll be there at the finish line to cheer you in.
***Due to the tight switchbacks and rolling nature of the course, GPS measurements of the course vary widely. The race organizers list the course as roughly "officially" 12 miles.