Experienced runners know that trail running and road running are two separate beasts. These races are different in style as well as the way runners approach them, some would say like night and day. Trail racing is often less about speed and more about the journey. Due to their unique nature, these races can be anywhere, they can take you and your quads over mountains and through other terrain you may have never seen before.
The location of these races makes them pretty easy on the eyes. Some are more urban than others and some require an overnight boat ride just to toe the starting line. Whether you’re looking for a cool, fall run or a hot and humid “stare death in the face” kind of run, there’s something on our list for you.
X-Terra Trail Run World Championship
This race is on this list because of the beautiful scenery in Hawaii and because it’s an obvious pick. The trails in World Championship of Trail Running race boasts running through thickets, battling the hot sun in the clearings and a 15 degree ascent up the mountain. This race will test all of your training. It will use all of your muscles but the incredible views of the ocean are all worth it. Watch that mountain though, the elevation increase isn’t for the weak minded.
These California trails have beautiful views of the Dipsea. The Dipsea is surrounded by hill after hill after hill. These lush hills are stunning, which is what put this race on the list. Don’t let them fool you though, they will take everything you have and give nothing back.
There is only word to describe this race, EXTREME. If over 100 degree temperatures, swamps, and dangerous wildlife in a mosquito infested jungle in Brazil sound like a feat you’d like to attempt, this race is for you. The jungle is not a terrain you get to visit often, so this once in a lifetime run is certainly well worth the trek. If you want to sign up for this race, you should like boat rides. That’s the only way to get to the course. The boat ride is overnight and may not lend itself to good sleep. Maybe take a few cruises, to, um… prepare? Seasickness and marathons do not go together like peas and carrots.
Catalina Island Eco Marathon
Set on the Catalina islands, this run takes you through very different parts of the island chain. You’ll see flora and fauna from all distances from the equator in this race. A huge hill around mile 18 will likely break your spirits. However, no matter how broken those spirits are the views are incredible and make it worthwhile. Until you get to the drop at the end of the race. All downhill. Really downhill. Each pound of the foot on the pavement is grueling.
This race is named exactly how it should be, because honestly, (and I’ve never said this about a race before) but that’s where it puts you. Brutal, Gruesome, terrifying, those are my words to describe this race. Starting at a very cool midnight, in mid-December on a mountain range, the beginning of this race is run in the dark. Mountain climbs, cold treacherous winds and overgrown trails and tunnels are what you can look forward to. The stark climb at the end up the mountain followed by the most excruciating downhill you can imagine due to the cold temperatures, will test even the best of runners. The stillness and the beauty of this part of Virginia in the winter is so picturesque, even Hellsgate is worth it.
Shut in Trail Race
Another winter race in the mountains, the Shut in is a quick 17.8 mile run through the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. The finish line is reached, after a 1.5 mile, 1,100 foot climb, on the summit of Mount Pisgah. This course is overall fairly straightforward and runnable. There are some technical sections running over the ridgeline battling rocks and fallen wet leaves. You can expect to face snow, sleet, rain and cold blustery winds during this race. The mountains of Western North Carolina are some of the most beautiful in the country and the cool crisp air here this time of year is some of the most refreshing you could ever breathe.
The Sehgahunda Trail Marathon & Relay
Hidden in a part of New York that most people don’t know exists, is the Sehgahunda trail. Usually, the weather on race day in June is less than desirable. These trails are highly technical. An abundant supply of roots, rocks, puddles, gullies and near canyons litter the course. The gullies bring some unknown challenges at the bottom and can easily slow you. The scenery here is beautiful and it almost makes you forget the rocks, but don’t look too long. The possibility of falling into a gully is pretty high.
Bridger Ridge Run
Montana shows up on this list with one of the most physically demanding down-hills in America. You have to resist your way down 9,500 feet of terrain over the course of this 19.7 mile run. Don’t let that fool you, you also climb 6,800 foot, so it’s by no means all downhill. It’s safe to say that a good portion of this race is run with unstable footing. If the views from the Bridger Range aren’t pleasant enough, there’s a post-race hot tub. (That’s really why it made it on this list)
Grand Canyon Race
This race is more than stunning in views. You run the Grand Canyon and start at an elevation of 6,000 feet. It’s a beautiful and eye opening experience with an easy first few miles featuring only a couple of hills. There are some steep inclines, rocky footing and some elevation to contend with before a quick downhill to the finish. It’s a beautiful and fun trail run inside one of the most visited National Parks in the country.
I know… I said 10 races. I said I was going to give you 10 races. However, I have to add this race. It is for the extreme ultra runner only. It’s exclusive, extremely hard to get into and only the elite finish it. If you want to run the “Big Daddy” of trail races then this is the one.
The “Race Across the Sky” starts at an elevation more than 10,000 feet above sea level in Colorado. A race that takes nearly an entire day of running in high elevations, brutally long quad killing inclines and river crossings has stopped many runners from finishing the race. The elevation, the winds, the obstacles and the voice of doubt creeping into your head are sure to tear you down. The goal to this race is to finish it before it finishes you.
Trail running, while exquisitely beautiful, can be dangerous. These trails are definitely worth the risk, however, you have to prepare for these races appropriately. You have to focus training efforts toward your goal races. Any of these races, whether it be a 100-miler or a 17 mile race, will invigorate you and give you an experience you’ll never forget. We’re sure that you’ll be stunned by the both beauty and the beast in these trail races.