Running for the border in the 2017 GMR

Running Up Vermont, One Kid at a Time

Submitted 6 months ago
Created by
Edie Morgan

The Green Mountain Run is a Memorial Day Tradition

Some people spend the Memorial Day weekend relaxing at the beach or chilling out with friends at barbecues. Other people prefer to spend it running day and night, often through the rain, up the entire state of Vermont.  The staff and students at Burke Mountain Academy are those other people.

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According to the Burke Mountain Academy website, the  concept of the GMR “started on a spring day in 1975 when two staff members were talking about the unique Burke spirit and the students’ love for physical and mental challenges. One said, ‘You know, it would be fun to run the length of Vermont.’ his imagination stirring, he said, 'We could start at the Canadian border and run south to Massachusetts on Rte 100 past all the big ski areas…'"

The business end of the 2018 "Day of the Dead" Van

Now, in its 43rd year the GMR covers the 211 miles south to north, and is a tradition that defines the school’s spirit, its celebration of bonding by suffering together. Every year, on the Sunday of the Memorial Day weekend, the first two painted-up vans of students—the senior class—leave Burke at 6 am to start the run at the Heath town line (a nondescript spot on the Massachusetts border), by 10 am. They are then joined by successive vanloads of kids, teachers and coaches as the relay progresses north, mostly on Rte 100. The run passes close to most of Vermont’s major ski areas, from Haystack to Mt Snow to  Stratton/Bromley, Okemo, Killington, Sugarbush, Stowe/Smugglers Notch and finally Jay Peak. By the time the caravan reaches the Canadian border, roughly 24 hours later, it will include nine vans and the entire school.

Kids are split up between nine vans to run 47 legs, that are 4-5 miles each. Each runner passes off a bib, originally made by 1974 Burke grad Lyndall Heyer.  Heyer repaired and remade the bib at some point, but after 43 years, "It's pretty nasty," one student readily admits. Nonetheless it goes along for every leg, either carried by hand, stuffed in a pocket or, by some brave souls, actually worn.

The Bib Handoff near Mt Snow

Long-time Burke coach Darrel Gray is now on his 20th GMR, and drives a pace car that closely follows the runners. He also times each leg and syncs his watch with the co pilot of the current van of runners. It’s all very official. Gray explains that there used to be one pace car all the way through, but “that was crazy.” Now there are two—one for day and one for night. Furthermore no single person must stay awake for the whole run, and each of the first six vans of kids has a designated sleep time slot. They’re sleeping on the ground or in the van, but it’s sleep nonetheless. When they're not sleeping they're taking turns jumping in to run with their teammates—often while carrying a speaker blasting music— and cheering from the side of the road.

Good timing, and good back up.

In 43 years, there have been plenty of memorable incidents, like the year three kids went down with heat stroke, and the year one had to seek shelter from violent lightning. Every so often, a kid wanders off and gets left behind by the vans. For one that meant hitching a ride on a farmer’s tractor, and for another it meant knocking on a stranger's door in the middle of the night and convincing the inhabitant to give him a ride. Most people greet the GMR with good cheer, though there have been a few late night exceptions, as when a heavily intoxicated woman blocked the pace car from the runner, and demanded an explanation for running on “her” road at night.

Despite the occasional mishap over the years, safety really does come first. All runners on the road wear reflective pinnies, and flashing lights at night. The school sends a letter to the state troopers in advance, and there have been no problems with local authorities…well, except that one time.  Gray recalls how one year a county game warden, seeing all the vans of young people gathered at night, and suspecting bad intent, called out the cops in force. The runner and the pace car rounded the corner to a sea of flashing blue lights and a scene that looked like an FBI raid.  The race stopped, Gray explained the situation, and the show went on.

Oh Canada! The 2017 finish.

The 43rd GMR finishes sometime before noon on Memorial Day at the Canadian border in North Troy. For a good visual history of the tradition check out this video from the 2015 GMR.

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