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Running around the world

Madison's Paul Kirsch leading US Junior Mountain Running team to World Championships in Albania

MADISONíS PAUL KIRSCH (far left) poses with the 2010 US Junior Mountain Running Team in Kamnik, Slovenia, site of last yearís World Championships. Nancy Hobbs - Courtesy Photo. (click for larger version)
August 08, 2011
MADISON — Running can take a person many places. Madison's Paul Kirsch can certainly attest to that.

Kirsch, a member of the White Mountain Milers and a participant in numerous races throughout Carroll County over the years, has become an integral part of the US Mountain Running Team and will be traveling to Europe for the second year in a row for the world championships.

While Kirsch is well known for his running, he will not be competing in the event, but rather enters his second year as the coach of the US Junior Mountain Running Team

Kirsch first got involved with mountain running when he realized that it fit his style of running better than the flat 5K races that abound.

"It takes a slow but steady runner, that's the reason I got into it," he said. "I wasn't going to beat anyone in a flat 5K."

Of course, living in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, there's a pretty good chance that every race has at least one hill in it.

"Around here, it's not like you have a big choice," he joked.

Kirsch, who has run up Mt. Washington in the annual road race on numerous occasions, first got involved with the Mountain Running Team in 2005, when he was serving as race director of the Cranmore Hillclimb.

At the time, the Cranmore race was only an uphill race, but in 2005 the USATF Mountain Running chairman was looking for a race to serve as a qualifier for the US Mountain Running team and asked Kirsch if Cranmore would be interested.

The only thing that had to change was that the race had to be an up and down race, meaning racers run to the top and back down again, something that hadn't been the case in the Cranmore race.

The reason for the change is because of the World Championships. One year the course for the championships is an uphill course, the next it is an up and down course, so racers qualifying for the team have to prove their abilities on a course much like what they will face in the championships.

So, in 2005, Kirsch made the Cranmore course an up and down course and it became the northeast qualifier for the US Mountain Running team.

Through his title as race director and in his work with the White Mountain Milers, Kirsch also began to get to know many members of the US Mountain Running Team. The Milers host many of the elite runners for the Mount Washington Road Race each year and through that, many runners had passed through the Valley.

So, when 2007 rolled around and the USATF was looking for a site for the National Mountain Running Championships, Cranmore popped up on the radar and the site has served that purpose two times since, in 2009 and 2011.

Kirsch began helping out with aspects of the US Mountain Running Team, at first jumping in to help run the Web site for team manager Nancy Hobbs.

When former Mount Washington winner Dave Dunham, who was serving as coach of the US Junior Team, announced he was stepping down from the post, the team went looking for a new coach and didn't have to look too far.

"They asked me if I was interested," Kirsch said.

Kirsch jumped at the chance and last year traveled with the team to Slovenia for the world championships, an experience he said will live with him for a long time.

"Slovenia was incredibly beautiful," he said.

The championships were also quite a spectacle, as runners from 40 different countries descended on the town.

"It was like being part of the Olympics," Kirsch said, noting there were opening ceremonies and closing ceremonies and all the pageantry one would expect with the world championship on the line.

Since the junior team got started more than 10 years ago, a good chunk of the runners were focused in Colorado, but slowly over time, the team has found that good mountain runners come from all over and this year's team includes a runner from Vermont, another from New Hampshire, one from New Jersey and another from Virginia.

"Over time, with the Internet and college coaches, we've got just some real competitive athletes," Kirsch said.

He noted that there are four boys and three girls on the junior team and the four boys have 5K times ranging from 14:09 to 15:05.

"That would win a high school meet anywhere," he said. "And we have people from around the country who want to be on the team."

However, he noted that the selection process is tough, because not only are the coaches looking for the top runners, there also looking for kids who are mature enough to handle a trip to a foreign country and will represent the United States in a positive light.

"A lot of it is about who applies," Kirsch said. "If you're good at cross country, that usually translates well to mountain running.

"You want kids who are mature," he continued. "You want kids who are going to take it seriously and represent their country."

But Kirsch also acknowledged that it is a great chance to travel all over the world.

"It's an opportunity to travel the world and compete against the best," he said.

This year's junior team features 18 and 19-year-olds, but the team is open to anyone from age 16 to 19. Kirsch notes that one runner is back this year from last year's team, which makes life easier on everyone on the team.

"At the start of the race, there's lots of pushing and shoving, it's much different than what they might be used to," he said. "It's good to have one or two kids come back to help explain what it's like."

This year's team features a local runner, as Tuftonboro's Krisztina Dearborn will be competing in the girls' race.

Kirsch noted that her coach, Eric Blake, a former Mt. Washington winner himself, was a big help in getting her on the team.

"He knows what kind of exposure this can be for the kids," Kirsch said. "It's got a nice local feel to it this year."

This year's championships will be held in Albania and Kirsch is once again looking forward to the chance to see some of the best compete at the highest level up close and personal.

On a local note, Kirsch also has a big idea bouncing around in the back of his head, something he's been thinking about a bit and working on as well.

"I'm in the process of working with people in the Valley to see if we could bring the World Championships to the Valley sometime in the future," he said.

Kirsch is hoping to hold a meeting in late August, prior to his departure for Albania and will be looking for ways to raise enough money to allow his dream to come to fruition.

"It would be like bringing the Olympics to the Valley," he said. "It will all come down to if we can raise enough money."

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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