POWNAL — It was at a trail race in another state when another runner passed Valerie Abradi and commented on her running club’s gear.
The man wanted Abradi’s T-shirt. And offered to buy it. But she explained it was not for sale.
“Not anyone can be a Trail Monster,” Abradi said last weekend as she helped time a snowshoe race.
Since 2006, the Trail Monsters of Maine have been spreading monster envy. Their monster-claw hats and T-shirts are for members only, and their Bradbury Mountain running series sweatshirts are earned by those who run all three events in the series.
What started eight years ago as a way for local trail runners to bond together has grown into a club that offers an ultra race of 50 miles, three other summer trail races and a winter snowshoe series.
The snowshoe series includes races of 3.5, 4 and 5 miles, while the summer series offers distances of 6, 9 and 12 miles.
The “Big Brad Ultra” features a 31-mile race as well as the 50-miler.
The summer races draw as many as 160 racers and are now capped. The winter races are heading in that direction, said race director Ryan Triffet.
At a snowshoe race last weekend, 60 runners – ranging in age from 11 to 76 – gathered at Bradbury to run in snowshoes up 725 vertical feet. The other snowshoe races this winter drew 70 and 62 runners.
It’s a sign the sport of trail running is growing in Maine.
But Triffet and Trail Monster founder Ian Parlin insist it’s not about the numbers. Above all else, the Trail Monster club exists to gather like-minded woods runners who love to pound dirt, or snow and ice.
“There will be icy spots,” Triffet said as he welcomed the racers to the snowshoe race last weekend.
“You may refer to them as other things in language of your own. That said, you are really going to like this course.”
The Trail Monsters envision hosting a 100-mile trail race some day, similar to the 26-year-old Vermont 100 Endurance Run, one of the oldest 100-mile runs in the nation.
But where all this trail running madness will go is unknown. All many of those in the 70-member club know is that they train for local and far-flung trail races with an addictive passion, and they believe in giving back.
“It’s a fairly select group,” Parlin said. “People in the group have to go above and beyond, to show a willingness to give back to the community.”
It’s a club with membership awarded only to proven workers. On the other hand, entry to this club comes cheap.
There are no dues, and once an interested Trail Monster proves trail devotion, Parlin simply tells the person that they’re a member and hands over some swag.
“It’s important to me to get the right kind of people,” Parlin said before he raced last weekend. “There are other clubs with hundreds of members, but they’re not a tight community that work together.”
Most members are from Greater Portland, but as long as Trail Monsters show dedication and interest, they can come from wherever.
The idea started with small intentions but just kept growing. The races were started on a hunch that others would enjoy them. And they do.
Ben Cantara of Biddeford isn’t trying to earn membership into the Trail Monsters, but he loves and competes in the races, summer and winter.
The sweatshirt a runner gets for completing a race series is a bonus.
“There are no weekend warriors in these races,” said Cantara, 34.
Entry fees are just $15 for a snowshoe race and $20 in the summer.
The Trail Monsters will never be about large-scale events like the Tough Mudder series that draws thousands of entrants despite fees in excess of $100, says Trail Monster Mindy Slovinsky of Scarborough.
“It’s really the community that drives you to be a part of it. The community drives the volunteers. You want to help,” said Slovinsky, as she timed snowshoe runners.
“Whether you go out and run five miles or 100 miles, we’re all Trail Monsters. A Trail Monster can run two miles.”
No doubt. But remember that the woman timing you with a stopwatch at a Trail Monster race just might be training for a 100-mile race.
It all goes back to the Trail Monster motto, which might as well be their ethic: The Road to Hell is Paved, Run Trails.
“We’re not doing these races to make money,” Parlin said. “We want it to be the right experience.”
Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or at: