Bay Circuit Trail Southern Terminus parking lot. Bay Rd, Kingston MA. Dec 4th, 2023.
The stars align for the four of us to meet up on this cool Monday morning: Me, the new Bay Circuit Trail (BCT) Coordinator; Appalachian Mountain Club Social Media Manager Meghan Lien; AMC Content Developer Matt Morris; and the man of the hour, Cole Crosby, the current Fastest Known Time (FKT) holder for the BCT. We interview Cole at the scenic southern terminus of the BCT, where his FKT race of the Bay Circuit began on Nov 9, 2023. Cole ran the length of this 230-mile trail in two days, five hours, 51 minutes, and 14 seconds. He was supported by his wife, crew, several pacers, and many local onlookers who came out to cheer Cole on in this impressive challenge.
We make our way across muddy trails and the beautiful open landscape that is Bay Farm. The cloudy skies are clearing, and I spot a sizable deer gazing at me from across the field. The short walk leads us to Kingston Bay, the official Start/Finish point of the BCT. From here the path loops around the Boston Bay Area to Plum Island on the North Shore.
The idea for the Bay Circuit originated almost 100 years ago and became a tangible thing in the 1980s. Since then, through the efforts of hundreds of volunteers, it has evolved into the beautiful path that it is now. Cole, a Rhode Island resident and renowned endurance athlete with an impressive repertoire, chose the BCT as his latest race.
I began working as the coordinator for the Bay Circuit Trail just two weeks prior and figured that interviewing Cole about his experience on the trail would be a great starting place. Who could know the current state of the trail better than someone who ran the whole thing? Thankfully, Cole was fully onboard.
Kingston Bay is a small alcove of a beach at low tide. The sun peers out from behind cloud cover, the gulls swoop and holler across the bay, and a light breeze sets a relaxed scene for us. Meghan and I set up camp chairs that I’m very glad I brought with me while Matt adjusts his tripod and camera. Cole chats amiably throughout, and I’m immensely grateful that he’s so willing to do this and already so easy to talk to.
Cole and I settle into our chairs, I shed my coat (a decision I will later regret), and the show begins. I pull out the sheet of notes and questions I’ve prepared, but after a few minutes I realize they are not necessary. The conversation ebbs and flows naturally, and we have a blast talking about Cole’s thrilling experience, the Bay Circuit Trail and all its potential, and the power of community and inclusion in the things we love.
Motivated by Community
Cole is a young guy, early thirties, and has been ultra running for about ten years. He races everything from marathons to ultras up to 350 miles to national snowshoe competitions and holds several FKTs. By day he’s a traveling salesman, and he warmly mentions his amazing wife, Ashlee, when talking about his race’s support crew. He’s quite a talker, and I’m loving it. I start off by asking him what leads him to choose certain challenges and races and why he picked the BCT as his latest.
Cole speaks openly about how his motivations and goals have shifted over his decade of endurance racing.
“In the past it was all about trying to race the most competitive events. At the time it was trying to place in these USATF National Championship events, and I was like I want to represent the country,” he says.
“Then Covid, I think for a lot of people, was like What am I doing with my life? Why am I here? And that’s really where I had some self-reflection, and I realized that I love running, I like being outside, and I just want to see what’s possible, right?”
His idea to race the Bay Circuit Trail stemmed from his experience running the entire length of New Jersey in 2021, where families came out to cheer him on and offer moral support in the form of ringing cowbells, cheering, and snacks.
“The longer these events go on, the more you can bring other people in. In the past I was so focused on ‘How can I make myself look good?’ And I have pivoted in a sense, where now it’s more like ‘Sure, I’m running this whole trail, but is there a way that you can make these projects more inclusive and be able to pull people in that may not have been able to otherwise?’”
One of Cole’s aims for this run was to raise awareness of the Bay Circuit Trail. This extensive route is accessible via MBTA bus stops, T-stops, parking lots, by bike, by foot, and in some cases, by horse. And yet it’s still underutilized, given its vicinity to four million Boston area residents. Cole loves this trail and wants folks to know about it and enjoy it as much as he has.
“I wanted to make a statement for this trail… We can do amazing stuff here in New England, too! We don’t have high alpine mountains like Colorado or those really nice buttery trails that you see in California. You know our trails are rugged and tough, and they deserve just as much credit and attention as some of these iconic trails that everybody talks about out West.”
We get into some nitty-gritty about Cole’s race. His trek began with little fanfare, just Cole and his crew at the secluded beach where we currently sit. Cole’s Bay Circuit FKT fell under the Supported FKT category as opposed to an Unsupported FKT. An unsupported race means that the runner cannot accept help in any form. Since Cole opted for a Supported FKT, he could accept help from others during the race and could work with a support crew.
Cole had a main crew of three. His wife, Ashlee Prewitt-Crosby, started up her own crewing company (Chaos Crewing) with friends Brittany Koether and Kelsey Rogers. They supported Cole with pre-planned pacers who helped him maintain a certain speed, and several other folks who volunteered their time. Cole’s crew helped him plan out his route, his pit stops, the food he ate, and the gear he needed. They met him at checkpoints throughout the trail, ranging from six to eighteen miles apart. At each meeting point, they provided anything from a place for a quick nap, thousands of calories worth of hearty food, changes of shoes, navigation assistance, and healthy doses of moral support. The team was crucial to Cole’s success, and Cole describes his pit stops with them like those in NASCAR—fast and efficient!
As Cole headed into day two of his run, not only did his crew and pacers meet him, but locals “started coming out of the woodwork” to greet him.
One child handed him a blueberry scone, another offered him a handmade friendship bracelet, a third showed a drawing of Cole running. Still others asked to run alongside him, offering companionship and moral support.
I know the previous FKT holder, Matt Dibb, was also involved in Cole’s FKT experience, and I ask him to elaborate on that.
“He not only paced and ran with me for the last marathon or so, but he also helped a lot with logistics… because we were trying to figure out what some of the best crewing points were, what were some of the safest places if we wanted to have a group of people show up with cars, the event management side of it. He was really pivotal with sharing his knowledge and helping to bring me into the finish, which was really special, too.”
This relationship with Dibb blends nicely with his community-oriented motivations and goals.
“I think it’s something when we’re 90-year-old guys sitting in our rocking chairs we’ll reminisce about. Moments like that are why I do these things. It’s what you hope for, and then when it actually happens, it’s like this is almost too good to be true.”
It is heartwarming to hear Cole describe these truly human connections. He offers some keen advice.
“I tell people, distance is just a number, and it’s because I don’t let the distance limit me; I let it empower me. Don’t put limits on your life. Open up your mind to what’s ultimately possible.”
Food as Fuel
As we reach the end of our discussion, Cole talks about the fundraiser that he promoted alongside his race. He likes to have another motivator and a way to make a broader impact during his challenges. For his Bay Circuit race, he supported the Food Recovery Network, a student-let organization that works to reduce food waste and end hunger in the U.S.
“They’re a big advocacy group, really focusing on trying to change policy in Washington D.C., but they also have the student chapter side of it. And then at the same time, they also try to educate people on the ways that they can be better with food waste and recovery and hopefully change things to be beneficial.”
My last question for Cole is a simple one: What have I not asked him in our interview that he wants to talk about? Cole takes his longest pause yet to consider his answer. He says that he and his crew are looking forward to what comes next.
“I know for me, I want to continue to work with AMC and be a voice for this trail and the experience that comes with it. Hopefully summer will see a lot more people out experiencing the trail for themselves.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Once we’ve finished up the interview, gotten a couple of photos, shorter clips, and some B-roll—“You want me to stand over there and stare pensively out at the water?” Cole jokingly offers to a chorus of “Yeses!”—we pack up our gear and head out.
I wanted to meet with Cole to speak with him about his achievement and to inspire people to go out and spend some time on the BCT. If Cole can run all 230 miles in just two days, then we can all find a few minutes or hours here and there to enjoy some aspect of this trail. The Bay Circuit Trail has a long legacy, but it also holds a vast amount of potential. We wish to help make this trail a place that people of all backgrounds and abilities can experience in whatever way they deem suitable, whether it be watching the birds from a nice bench, standing on a quiet beach, biking down an old forest service road, going for a short stroll through town, completing the trail end-to-end, or thru-hiking, the trail is there for YOU.
We shake hands, smiling and satisfied with our Monday morning achievement. As I climb into my car and start my drive home, I let that feeling of gratitude wash over me. Kind people, laughter, and a little bit of sun can carry us all a long way.