Trails of Glory

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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Destination Races and Places

I compiled the following list of 15 races based on my desire to visit these beautiful and challenging courses. I broke the list down into 3 categories: Top 5 for Beauty and Challenge; Top 5 in the Northwest United States - an area where many of us in the Southwest do not frequently travel to; and my Top 5 Vacation Locales. Check out the links and plan your own destination race.

Top 5 for Beauty and Challenge

Hardrock 100 - Silverton, Colorado, July

It is kind of crazy to call this a dream race but in modern times it is very difficult to get into as an entrant. You need to qualify by running one of several of the most difficult 100-milers in the country. Then you have to beat the lottery where 1,000 people are vying for 130 spots. This will be my third year of trying to get in. The race itself is in the San Juan Mountains of Southwest Colorado, dotted with 14'ers like Handies Peak which is the highest point on the course. The elevation profile boasts of 33,000 feet of ascent and 33,000 of descent. Most people don't really want to get in the race but if they don't enter then they never stand a chance...scary.

Superior 100 - Lutsen, Minnesota, September

Being originally from Minnesota I had always wanted to visit the North Shore in the fall when the leaves are changing color. We traveled to this race in 2006 and I ran the marathon distance covering the last 26.2 miles of the course. It was gorgeous with bright yellow, orange and red leaves next to cool running creeks and views of Lake Superior. I would like to see the first 75 miles of the course as well. It's also a Hardrock qualifier. It's a great time of the year to visit Minnesota, especially that far north. It hasn't started to snow yet but is cool enough to kill off the mosquitoes. An extra Boundary Water Canoe Area sidetrip after the race wouldn't be a bad idea either.

Western States 100 - Auburn, California, June

Western is billed as the oldest 100-mile race in America starting in 1974. I ran Western States in 2006 and it became my first 100-mile finish. The course is challenging with more downhill than up but also absolutely beautiful with well-stocked aid stations and volunteers galore. Going to Western is like attending a running party. With the increased popularity of ultrarunning, this race is entered by lottery and must have completed a 50-mile race of less than 11 hours to qualify. I want to go back just for the Western experience and then soak my legs in the Yuba River with a craft brew for a week after I finish.

Miwok 100K - Marin Headlands, California, May

Miwok is held on a variety of trails in the Marin Headlands north of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Trish and I ran the Headlands 50K two different years and enjoyed the trails as well as the area and everything you could do before and after the race. Like Waldo it is a 100K and is a distance that I have not put emphasis on in the past. The Miwok course is non-stop ups and downs and the ridges are not filled with trees allowing expansive views of the coastline. Miwok is an annual trainer for many who are entered to run Western States 7 weeks later.

Imogene Pass Run 17.1, Ouray, Colorado, September

Imogene Pass Run (IPR) takes place in the Western San Juan Mountains. The distance is just over 17 miles but the challenge is in the elevation gain of over 5,000 feet in the first 10 miles and then a descent of over 4,000 feet over the next 7 miles. It is a point-to-point race from Ouray to Telluride held the weekend after Labor Day. The whole thing sounds fun to me; a great time of year transitioning from summer to fall; the high alpine mountains; and two great towns to hang out in and tell trail stories, of course with a craft IPA in hand.

Top Five Northwest Destinations

Gorge Waterfalls 50K - Columbia River Gorge, Oregon, March

I discovered this race by reading the 2011 race report after its inaugural run just outside of Portland, Oregon. I came very close to hitting the "send entry" button this year before it filled up but I was supposed to get deployed and wasn't sure if I would still be in country on race day. The pictures of waterfalls abundant and greenery everywhere make it look like you are running through an enchanted forest. The race is in March so it will be wet and chilly but exhilirating.

Cle Elum Ridge Trail 50K, Cle Elum, Washington, September

Another Northwest destination race located outside Seattle, WA in the Wenatchee National Forest. The race is held in mid-September on an oblong loop course with 7,000 feet of elevation gain. It is advertised as Washington State's second oldest ultra at 16 years running.

Whiskeytown Trail 50K, Redding, California, October

Whiskeytown Lake is just outside of Redding, CA. This race is a low-key ultra in Northern California with just around 50 people in the 50K and another 50 in the 30K. The area is beautiful and there are multiple creek crossings on the course (15 times across Mill Creek between miles 18-21) which has around 5,000 feet of ascent and descent. The main draw for me is the road trip possibilities that can be done in this area. Fly into Sacramento and drive to Redding for the race. After the race take Hwy 299 to the west over to Eureka, spend the night and then the next day take the Coast Hwy 101 down to Ukiah. The last leg takes you back to Sacramento. The drive goes around the Mendocino National Forest and through Humboldt Redwood State Park. We plan to take an extra day and drive the Lost Coast - Mattole Road and stop in and see Ken Young. Check out more info here:

Cascade Crest 100 - Easton, Washington, August

I have raced so often in the Southwest that I have a real desire to travel to the Northwest and check out more races. I had previously traveled to the White River 50-mile in 2002 and was treated to far off views of Mt. Rainier. The Cascade Crest course is a loop 100 which appeals to me because I like to feel like I reached a destination. The course is also run around the beautiful Cascade Mountain Range. Cascade has over 20,000 feet of elevation gain and is a Hardrock qualifier. Also, this race is hard to get into as it filled up in 7 minutes in 2012.

Waldo 100K - Willamette Pass Ski Area, outside Eugene, Oregon, August

Waldo is interesting to me because it is also in Oregon, a state that I haven't yet visited much less run in. I have also never run an official 100K and this one is tough, primarily single track with 11,000 feet of elevation gain. Here is a little better description of the course: There are three major climbs of more than 2,000′ each and two minor climbs of more than 1,000′ each. The highest point is 7,818′ at the top of Maiden Peak and the lowest point is at Gold Lake, about 4,900′. The name of the race was decided on when it was clear that runners could only ever “see” Waldo Lake from the high peaks and never arrive there. Cool!

Top Five Vacation Spots to Run

Tarawera Ultra 100K/85K/60K, Rotorua, New Zealand, March

Ok, I know there are famous ultras in France, England, Switzerland, Greece, etc. but New Zealand beats all of the old countries in my mind. Biggest problem with getting to this destination is the airfare - typically around $1700. Here is the description of the course: The Tarawera Ultra is a point to point run from Rotorua through to Kawerau. The vast majority of the run is on singletrack trails through native bush or forestry roads with less than 10% being on a sealed public road (between Blue Lake - Tikitapu to just past the Okareka Aid Station). In the Tarawera Forest you will be on deserted forestry roads, some of it, alongside the river. This is a trail run - not a road race.
It is a net downhill with a 357 metre (840 foot) elevation loss. The running surface is excellent with free-draining volcanic soils with some technical roots and rocks on the Oaktaina and Tarawera section of the course from Humphries Bay to The Outlet. There is a river, lakes and creeks for you to cool off if you start to feel hot during the run. Total evelvation gain for the 100k is estimated to be 2776m or 9100 feet.

The main draw for me is the exotic location and multitude of outdoor activities available on a week long excursion away from home.

Big Sur Trail Marathon, Big Sur, California, September

This is a trail marathon and not the road version of Big Sur which attracts a "few" more people. The run is held along the Old Coast Highway and is an out and back along a gorgeous hilly trail with constant views of the coastline. The event is limited to 300 so you have to sign-up early.

Equinox Marathon, Fairbanks, Alaska, September

Here is an interesting marathon which also has a 40-mile option. The race is in Faribanks, Alaska on the day of the Autumnal Equinox. The website states the race is in its 50th year. The race is run on trail and just below the Arctic Circle. Technically I have run a marathon in Alaska when I ran the Frank Maier Marathon in Juneau on the very southeast leg of Alaska along the Canadian border. Fairbanks is almost in the center of the state and leaves no doubt that you are up north.

Copper Canyon Ultra-Marathon 50 Mile, Urique, Mexico, March

If you haven't heard about this race then you haven't read Born to Run. For 2013 the race does have a new director after the passing of Micah True, the race founder. Some proceeds and prizes from the race go to the local Tarahumara people as well as many donations of food and clothing. It is billed as a 50-mile (80km) run at the bottom of the Urique canyon, in the Barrancas Del Cobre or Copper Canyons of Mexico with side canyon trips. I've never run a race in Mexico and this destination with the community of runners coming together with the local people looks like a worthwhile event.

Tahoe Rim 50K - Lake Tahoe, Nevada, July

Trish and I ran Tahoe Rim Trail 50K/50M in 2003. A couple of the races on my dream list are races I have done previously. That tells you something about why they are still on the list. One, they are worth going back to and secondly, they can be impossible to gain entry into either due to lottery or filling up so quickly that you get left out if you're not paying attention. Tahoe Rim Trail race is run on the eastside of Lake Tahoe and has spectacular views. The race has expanded to include a 100-miler. I did the 50-mile which is an out and back and would not be interested in covering the same terrain four times and in the dark.

Where would you like to travel to for a race? Please share your ideas of a destination race and explain why.