ConVal track star turns college trailblazer

  • Lara Matthias Courtesy photo—

  • Lara Matthias runs during a trail race for Hampshire College. Courtesy photo

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Wednesday, March 28, 2018 5:14PM

Lara Matthias found herself with a void to fill after her freshman cross-country season at Hampshire College. Of course, the ConVal grad hadn’t picked Hampshire for athletics; the unique Western Massachusetts school offers students the chance to create their own majors, and Matthias was there to pursue a career in longform sports journalism. But with the college offering not a single spring sport, Matthias and her fellow cross-country athletes took matters into their own hands. The group created Hampshire’s first-ever track and trail team, which combines standard spring track competition with a series of trail running races.

“I think Hampshire is generally seen as place where you can really do whatever you want as long as you have the initiative and the drive and the passion,” Matthias said, “so to go from hearing that at first to seeing it really come into existence in the form of track and trail was really exciting.”

The team competes at track meets in the USCAA against schools like Tufts and Holyoke and also enters open trail races all along the Pioneer Valley’s robust trails network.

“We have really awesome trails, we’re really fortunate where we’re located,” Matthias said. “Right across the highway from us is one of the best trail networks in Western Massachusetts.”

Trail runs through mud and snow and ice are grueling, with devastating uphills — Matthias said it’s more like “power-hiking” at some points — but getting out in nature to compete is a thing of beauty.

“Being out in the woods, it’s so nice, it’s nice to get off the roads, not have to worry about cars or traffic or any of that,” Matthias said. “I also feel like it’s more mentally engaging - you’re always thinking about ‘Where do I need to step next?’ so it’s not just this flat, monotonous, just running. You’re always thinking about what’s around the next corner, seeing what’s out there. Sometimes you’ll see an owl fly overhead or something cool like that.”

The team took the course for the first time in the spring of 2017; now in its second season, the improvement is showing.

“We don't have a big enough team where we're going to score a massive amount of points,” Matthias said, “but for the individual runners, we're able to be pushed and have competition around us, but not feel like we're trailing off the end of the pack, which is really nice.”

Matthias and her team will compete at the Snowflake Classic at Tufts on Saturday. Now a junior, Matthias hopes the track and trail will live on after she graduates.

“I think that now that we've got this established and we're figuring out how to run it efficiently and effectively,” Matthias said, “it has a potential to just become a program at Hampshire that will “stay.