YORK — It was intended to be an introduction to trail racing, but it was tough to keep the diehards away from the Mt. Agamenticus Trails Challenge last weekend.

It’s off-road racing with nothing but foot power, and is continuing to grow in popularity around Maine.

Mt. Agamenticus, which towers over 10,000 contiguous acres of conservation land, has become the site of numerous trail races. In May there’s an annual 50K race that two local trail runners host as a way to give back to the trail-running community.

Last weekend’s race was the first for the York Parks and Recreation Department. It was a fundraiser for the conservation work at the Learning Center at the top of Mt. Agamenticus and drew 64 runners.

“The difference with this inaugural event is that it’s a trail challenge targeting individuals who are interested in completing individual fitness goals,” said Robin Kerr, the conservation coordinator at the Learning Center. “We are refraining from calling it a race because we’re hoping it will be less intimidating for people who might be new to trail running or perhaps recovering from an injury.”

Eleanor Whitney, 78, of Hampton, N.H., enjoyed something new, competing in the Mt. Agamenticus Trails Challenge for the first time. She’s been a runner for 40 years. Staff photo by Carl D. Walsh

Eleanor Whitney, who often runs on the trails near her home in Hampton, New Hampshire, gave it a chance. The 78-year-old Whitney, a runner for 30 years, came to Mt. Agamenticus last weekend for the first time to try something new.

“I like new adventures,” said Whitney, sporting a colorful running singlet.

But there are many others who have taken to the sport, some for an escape from the city and connection to the outdoors, some as an alternative to running the roads, and some just find it the perfect exercise outlet.

Chelsea Jackson, 25 of Standish, has become a stronger, faster hiker, and lost 75 pounds while competing in 17 trails races over the past year. Staff photo by Carl D. Walsh

Chelsea Jackson has done 17 trail races in the past year. Her martial arts instructor directed Jackson, 25, to running in the woods. It’s helped make her a stronger, faster hiker – while losing 75 pounds. But Jackson mostly runs trails because she loves the peace she takes from the woods after a long run.

“You learn how to reconnect with yourself in the woods,” said Jackson of Standish. “I’m an Earth spirit. I like the roots and rocks.”

Mike Baker was at the Mt. Agamenticus trail run last weekend.

He trains on the trails in the Mt. Agamenticus Conservation region and said during training runs he rarely sees another runner, which he enjoys.

He’s traveled to the Ragged Mountain trail race in Camden, as well as to races outside Maine. He said it’s a great way to visit other places. He switched from running on the roads to trails a decade ago to stay injury free.

“I run trails for orthopedic reasons. Absolutely it keeps you healthy,” said Baker, 61, of York.

Michelle Hanson of York leads a middle of the pack group over a bridge during the Mount Agamenticus trail race. Staff phoeo by Carl D. Walsh

And Kathy Ashburner, 50, of Berwick, has been an avid trail racer for several years. She’s trying to do a half-marathon trail race in every state.

But dirt distance races aren’t always easy to find. Running trails has made her a stronger runner, because the uneven surfaces work a variety of leg muscles, not the same ones repeatedly.

Although mostly, Ashburner likes running in the woods and up mountains to see what nature presents. It never disappoints.

“It is a growing sport,” Ashburner said. “I do it because I like being in nature. I’ve seen turkey, deer, owls. I saw a hawk take down a crow. That’s part of it. Stop and take a gander at what’s going on.”

There have been many other new trail races or events popping up around Maine in the past several years.

For the fourth year, on Sunday there will be a 5K trail race and obstacle course held at the base of the Snow Bowl in Camden. The Ragged Mountain Scuttle is a trail race with 500 feet of elevation and 20 obstacles competitors must get over, and through. It also is a fundraiser for charities.

In Jefferson, Hidden Valley Nature Center has held a trail race for six years on its 1,000 acres of forestland. The Race Through the Woods offers a 13-mile half marathon and a 5.5-mile race across trails. It sells out every year, said Ali Stevenson, communication director for the nature center, which is a part of the Midcoast Conservancy.

A couple of competitive runners bypass a more leisurely participant during the Mount Agamenticus trail race. Staff photo by Carl D. Walsh

And the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust hosted its first trail race in 2014 before turning it into a trail race series the next year.

Today the Trust draws 700 trail runners to the races that offer distances of 5K, 10K and a half marathon. Leia Lowery, the Trust’s director of education, said they’re hoping for up to 900 at their last race Oct. 8. It also is a fund–raiser for the Trust. Although Lowery said it does more than raise money for conservation.

“The power of the event is in the community building,” Lowery said. “It connects us to a different demographic. And it introduces people to our trails. It’s getting people outside, it’s getting neighbors to know neighbors. It’s connecting people to the land and to each other.”

Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or at:

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