The great thing about running is all of the different ways you can go about it. You are able to find which type of running (indoor, outdoor, trail, road, track, the list goes on) fits you best and easily tailor activity around that.
For those who want to ‘find their fit’ in trail running, this one is for you.
We share the best trail running shoes for the rugged and smooth trails of 2021.
BREAKING DOWN THE TRAIL RUNNING MYTH
Daily summits on local mountains, hitting trails to get thousands of feet of vertical gain, jumping on, off and over rocks and roots. These things are all cool, and yes are the experiences of some runners who have access and time to commit to The Trail™, however, the reality of trail running is that these experiences don’t need to be everyone’s experience nor are they a prerequisite to being considered a trail runner.
Breaking down this trail running myth is essential to entering the sport. So what is daily trail running? It’s your local trails, your local bike paths, the one-foot-long span of dirt you have in your neighborhood. It’s running up the hills in your neighborhood and conquering those local summits.
These two worlds do have one common intersection – shoes – and this is where we’ll breakdown the best trail running shoes for you.
Sunrise summits on rocky and uneven trails? Sign the Altra Lone Peak up. The Lone Peak is a trail runner’s dream using Altra EGO midsole for a responsive yet soft ride and a MaxTrac™ outsole to give you that grippy and secure feel on the trail.
Road shoes, meet trail shoes. Trail shoes, meet road shoes. The HOKA Challenger ATR combines the best of both shoes to make the doorstep to trail a smooth and seamless transition. All Terrain is in the name, afterall.
This neutral trail running shoe was designed with broad, closely spaced zonal lugs so you can stay in control on the trail and still have a soft landing while on the roads.
Ditch the roads and the hit the trails in 2021 with the help of our friends over at Altra Running! The Altra Red Team athletes have compiled a list of their favorite trails to run on throughout the United States.
If you are predominately a road or treadmill runner, trails are a great way to mix up your training and can offer a breathtaking escape from the every day pounding of the pavement.
Check out the recommendations from the Altra Red Team as they highlight their favorite trails from each region across the United States.
“There are over 100 miles of trails with lots of great hills and plenty of space to explore. The Skyline trail is a favorite—it leads you to an outlook with impressive views of Boston and the Atlantic.” -Katie Kloss
“Devil’s Path in the Catskill Mountains is not for the faint of heart—it lives up to its name! Just over 24 miles point-to-point with close to 9,000 feet of climbing, it’s considered one of the toughest hiking trails in the Eastern US due to the rugged terrain over multiple peaks.” -Laura Kline
“You’ll experience rolling hills as you climb through a mature forest on rocky single track. Keep your eyes up as you climb for a glimpse of the majestic Holy Hill basilica, which sits on a hill perched high above the surrounding area.” -Annie Weiss
Mines of Spain 100 Loop
Location: Dubuque, IA
Elevation Gain: 2,388 ft
“This route has everything from fast, flat, dirt single track, to steep, technical climbs, prairie, dense forest, creek crossings, and everything in between. The route offers stunning views of the Mississippi River, a tour through the iconic Horseshoe Bluff, an old farmstead, and the Julien Dubuque monument.” -Christine Burns
“The trail is shaped like a lollypop, going up, around and back, and is about 6.5 to 7 miles long. The trail looks up to Death Canyon and you have a decent chance of seeing bears while you’re out.” -Pam Reed
“Along the route, you will find brilliantly colored glacier lilies, wind-blown subalpine firs, and some vociferous marmots. Once you’ve reached the top of the mountain, you’re greeted with a breathtaking view of Chimney Rock, Hunt Lake, Priest Lake, and the surrounding mountains. It’s spectacular.” -Steph Rodgers
“You’ll have big sections of the trail to yourself and climb more than 6,000 feet from Mount Baldy village to the summit. You’ll enjoy wildflowers, stunning panoramic views of the Angeles National Forest, and you might even see a mountain goat or two.” -Sarah McMahon
“You can see the view of downtown Denver in one direction, and a view of Red Rocks in another. There are lots of wildflowers in the spring and summer and you may run into some deer if you are lucky.” -Junko Kazukawa
“It’s a great trail for short runs, hikes, rides, or 50k-plus long runs or rides. You can stick to fast flats or take on more technical hills and climbs by hitting the various peaks. It’s really a fun place to play. In the summer you can even take a swim in the lake after your run.” -Marc Henn
“The Mount Kessler Trail System is a great representation of the Ozarks. I love the rocks, boulders, roots, the views of the Boston Mountains to the south, and downtown Fayetteville and the University of Arkansas campus to the northeast.” -Cliff Pittman
“Just a short drive west of Atlanta, you will be transported to stunning views over approximately 8 miles of whitewater-filled creeks, boulders, and remote forest. Additionally, this route passes the ruins of the New Manchester Mill, which was used as a filming location for The Hunger Games. This route combines the Red, White, and Yellow trails in the park and provides a pleasant change in scenery every few miles, which keeps my mind and legs engaged.” -Amanda Yu-Nguyen
“It has roots, sandy trails, and even some rocks. It also offers a little bit of climbing which is hard to find in this region. This 4-mile loop which combines a few different trails within the park offers some scenic views of the Neuse River and combines singletrack and doubletrack trails. While not overly technical, the Park is great for all ages and is perfect for running those short to mid-range distance runs.” -Justin McLamb
Special thanks to Altra Running and the Altra Red Team for sharing their trail recommendations!
Do you have a favorite trail or hidden gem? Share it with us on social media on Facebook or Instagram
If there is something all runners have in common, it’s that we could do a little better pre-, during- and post-run nutrition.
This year for the holidays, help yourself and the runner in your life stay on top of their nutrition game with these easy items.
Ultra-runner Laura knows a thing or two about the how prep, fuel and recover from a run. Ready on to learn her best nutrition offerings available at JackRabbit to fuel your next adventure.
There’s about a 50/50 split between runners who eat before every run and those who can’t fathom the thought.
Which camp do you lie in?
Eat now, thank us later. The Picky Oats Performance Oatmeal has some of the cleanest ingredients around and contains the perfect amount of carbs, sugar and protein to make every run just that much better. Plus, these are made with beets which studies have shown to potentially help running performance over a period of time.
I-refuse-to-eat-before runs, runners
If you don’t like stoopwafels, you probably just haven’t had one yet. These Honey Stinger Waffles are the perfect size for any stomach.
Trying to procrastinate your run? Pro tip: warm this sucker up over the stove or coffee.
Virtual raise of hands for those who eat during their runs. Hardly any? That’s what we thought.
After about 90 minutes your body becomes more or less depleted and needs additional sugars and energy to remain efficient.
Choose your nutrition below:
Gels: For those who just want the nutrition to be over with. GU Energy Gels are a runner’s staple with the variety of flavors and calories to meet your needs. A JackRabbit fave flavor? Lemon Ginger GU
Snack: For those who want to take their time or maybe munch over a longer period of time, try these Honey Stinger Energy Chews. They’re like gushers but for running and minus the gel filling.
After running, there’s about an hour long recovery window to get the nutrients your body needs at a rate that is most effective.
Ideally, your body will be taking in carbs and proteins within an hour after your workout.
Recovery drink: Get all the protein and carbs in one delicious drink. The Skratch Labs Sport Recovery Drink has been a go-to drink for us after long runs and hard workouts.
Consistent nutrition and hydration intake during the day is also essential to being at the top of your running game. UCAN has a great Hydrate Electrolyte Mix that’s easy to drink throughout the day.
Runners, we’re just scratching the surface here. There are myriad other ways to get your calories and your recovery on at JackRabbit. We’ve spent years mixing, chomping, chewing and digesting (yes, the latter is probably the most important of all) many different types of sports nutrition for all types of adventures.
Check out all the running nutrition options at our virtual ‘Nutrition Kitchen’ at JackRabbit.com.
EMBRACING THE LAND WE RECREATE ON WHILE PROTECTING OUR ELDERS AND THEIR STORIES
By Tiona Eversole
I begin to walk up the rough road on the edge of the Sangre de Cristo mountains through the darkness. A few faint lights from the nearby town Alamosa, Colorado, are visible below in the vast San Luis Valley. I look down at my watch — the time is 3:23 a.m. I’m not typically this early of a riser, but I want to reach the summit of Sisnaajiní, or Blanca Peak, by sunrise. With a few friends by my side, I quicken the pace as the minutes move toward dawn.
THE FOUR SACRED MOUNTAINS
Sisnaajiní, also known as the Dawn or White Shell Mountain, is one of the four sacred mountains of the Diné, or Navajo people. This impressive, 14,345-foot mountain signifies the eastern boundary of Diné Bikéyah, the traditional homelands of the Navajo.
I have chosen to begin my journey across Diné Bikeyah with Sisnaajiní because of the reverence my people hold for the dawn, signifying the beginning of a new day. It was the first mountain created by the Diyin Dine’é, or Holy People. The Diyin Dine’é stir in the early hours of the dawn, which is why our hogans — traditional houses — are built with the door facing east. It is why I always try to start my morning runs heading east.
I reach the summit of Sisnaajiní, and facing towards the sunrise, offer a prayer to the Diyin Dine’é with corn pollen from my medicine pouch. I am in a sacred space, so I tread lightly and do not overstay my welcome. The wind carries the chill of late September. We take each gust as a word of caution, and begin our retreat to the basin below.
Over the course of the next few weeks, I will travel across Diné Bikeyah to summit the three other sacred mountains, which include Tsoodził (Mount Taylor) to the south, Dook’oosłííd (San Francisco Peaks) to the west, and Dibé Nitsaa (Hesperus Peak) to the north.
Tsoodził, also known as Blue Bead or Turquoise Mountain, is next. This is the mountain that watched over me as I lived out my adolescent years in the tiny New Mexico town of Bluewater Village. Despite growing up a short distance away, I have never stood on the top of Tsoodził.
Next is Dook’oosłííd, or Abalone Shell Mountain, an area that I am unfamiliar with. I’ve traveled through Flagstaff, Arizona, but have not spent much time in these prominent peaks easily seen from town. I plan to summit Dook’oosłííd close to the same time as Tsoodził, as the snows of the coming winter will soon arrive (one storm already has this year), which could put my mission in jeopardy.
The fourth and final summit of Dibé Nitsaa, or Big Sheep Mountain, is the summit I’m most concerned about. In my current home of Durango, Colorado, Dibé Nitsaa is, debatably, the tallest peak in the La Plata Mountains at 13,232 feet (some argue that nearby Lavender Peak is slightly taller). This mountain is also known as the Jet Stone Mountain for the dark, heavy rain clouds that reside among the peak. This late in the season, snowfall has the potential to make this ascent tricky. Only time will tell.
TYING THE LAND TO CREATION STORIES
Many of our creation stories are tied to the four sacred mountains and the land within their boundaries as well. The mountains are home to the Diyin Diné’e, and demand the most respect when one visits these spaces. Tread lightly through these breathtaking landscapes, respecting the plants and animals that call this place home while also practicing leave no trace ethics.
Prominent landmarks such as Tsé Bit’a’í (Shiprock in northern New Mexico) and Tsé Biiʼ Ndzisgaii (Monument Valley on the Arizona/Utah border) tell their own unique stories of monsters and warriors, with the rock monoliths serving as reminders of the slain monsters that once walked the earth.
Other places such as Tséyiʼ (Canyon de Chelly in Arizona) are the settings for stories that include key deities such as Spider Woman, who is known as a protector and advisor to the Diné, and gave them the gift of weaving. Her home is Spider Rock in Tséyiʼ.
These stories tell of who we are, of where we came from and how to live our lives in hózhó, in beauty and harmony. This is why we are meant to stay within the boundaries of the four sacred mountains. Everything we need is right here: water, food, herbs for medicinal purposes and ceremony, shelter and our people.
PROTECTING OUR ELDERS
The Diné are a people of oral tradition, with many of the creation stories passed down from one generation to the next. Our songs reverberate through our traditional ceremonies, and are tied to the creation stories that help to remind us of our existence in this world. The stories of our ancestors live in the voices of our elders. However, our elders need our help.
While the land within the four sacred mountains is beautiful, abundant and diverse, the living conditions for Diné living on the reservation are similar to those of a third world country — and it’s happening right in our backyard. Many families do not have access to running water, healthy food options and immediate medical care.
My journey to the top of the four sacred mountains across my homelands is not only for myself and to deepen my understanding of the land — it is also a means to raise money for Navajo elders ahead of the winter. Pre-COVID, Our elders were already struggling to make ends meet. Now, COVID-19 has added another threat to their overall health and well-being, and has wrecked the entire Navajo Nation. I have teamed up with nonprofit, Adopt a Native Elder, to help bring supplies to elders in need.
The Diné stories of these lands are nizhóní, beautiful. So are the elders that keep these stories tucked away in their hearts, waiting to share them with those who will listen. These tales and folklore are deeply embedded not only in their memories and traditional upbringing, but in the rivers, canyons and night skies of the Southwest as well.
Many areas of Diné Bikeyah are now considered public lands. Public lands are defined as “land owned by a government.” I urge you to gain a new understanding of what public lands are, and to learn about the history and creation of public lands. Spoiler alert: It’s not pretty. Many of these public lands we know today came into existence through wars, displacement of tribes from their homelands and broken promises. These lands weren’t “saved” by the government; they were stolen.
On this National Public Lands Day, I encourage you to reevaluate your perception of the lands that you recreate on. Who lived here before the government stepped in? What stories are tied to common landmarks and popular destinations you visit in the Southwest? The Diné were not the only ones who inhabited this area. Many other tribes such as the Ute, Pueblo, Hopi and Zuni all roamed these lands, and have their own stories to tell.
Listen, and you will find that these lands are rich with culture and history.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Ya’ah’teh’ shi’ keh’ do shi’ Dine’. Chishi’ nishli. Bilighaana bashichchiin. Tl’aaschi’i’ da shi’ cheii’. Bilighanna da shi’ naali’.
Hello my relatives and my people. I am Apache born for Anglo. My maternal grandmother clan is Red-Cheeked People. My paternal grandmother clan is Anglo.
Ti lives in Durango, Colorado, and spends her time romping around the Southwest. She is an avid runner, mountain biker, rafter, hiker and snowboarder. Follow her adventures on Instagram at @run.wander.ride.
TWO NIKE TRAIL RUNNING STYLES ARE BACK WITH NEW EDITIONS
Trail running season is still on! Brian Metzler reviews the Nike Pegasus Trail 2 with added love for the Nike Terra Kiger 6.
Both these styles feature Nike’s dynamic React foam debuted two years ago in road running shoes. The combination of shock-absorbing cushioning and energy return bounce is ideal for the trails too. Cushy but not mushy, it reacts swiftly in every step, providing a comfortable, lively ride.
Read on to learn about these two dynamic trail shoes for your next outdoor adventure.
NIKE PEGASUS TRAIL 2 REVIEW
The Pegasus Trail was Nike’s original trail running shoe. Although it has come and gone, it was brought back to the forefront in recent years. It’s been greatly improved over the past two editions. The Pegasus Trail 2 replaces last year’s Pegasus 36 Trail but it’s more of an overhaul than an update. It’s a mid-range, do-everything trail shoe for mild to moderate terrain for novice to expert level runners.
This year’s Pegasus Trail has undergone numerous updates that have improved its fit, feel and performance. First and foremost, the shoe now has Nike’s energetic React cushioning foam in the midsole, creating a softer, springier ride. The upper and outsole have also been improved to be more durable and performance-oriented. This makes the Peg Trail 2 adaptable for a wider range of surfaces and weather conditions.
The reinforced upper, semi-firm heel counter and interior neoprene bootie provide locked-down security, holding the foot in place in the heel and saddle while still allowing the toes wiggle and splay.
The upper and tongue are perforated to enhance breathability and drainage. A pull tab off the heel allows for easy-on, easy-off functionality.
The full-coverage durable rubber outsole has low-profile directional lugs inspired by mountain bike tire design, meaning some are designed to aid a runner going uphill and others are designed to provide braking securing while running downhill.
The only drawback to the Pegasus Trail 2 is that it’s slightly heavier (about 2 oz.) than its predecessor, the Pegasus 36 Trail, and some other contemporaries on the market. While the soft, energetic demeanor doesn’t allow it to feel heavy, the extra ounces are definitely noticeable.
FIT, FEEL, RIDE
The Pegasus Trail 2 fits true to size without the typical snugness common to most Nike road running shoes. It has a medium to wide interior from heel to arch to toe, so narrow-footed runners might have to cinch the laces down extra tight. The step-in feel is soft and plush rounded out with a supple and comfortable tongue and heel collar.
The thickly cushioned midsole feels both shock absorbing and lively, soaking up the impact force of hitting the trail and then returning some of that energy in the next stride. The width and reliable traction provide consistent stability and confidence on all kinds of terrain. All in all this serves up a sturdy but springy ride.
WHO IT’S BEST FOR
Trail runners who love a consistently comfortable and springy shoe will really appreciate the new Nike Pegasus Trail 2. It’s ideal for dirt roads, smooth dirt trails and mildly technical routes with rocks and roots. Although it’s not super light, it’s light and flexible enough to be nimble and definitely race worthy for longer distances.
Several key features offer protection against rocks, roots and other trail obstacles. This includes reinforced toe bumpers and sidewalls. There is also a faux gaiter collar that helps keep dirt and debris out of the shoe.
Our wear-testers liked the soft feel and springy ride of this shoe, but we loved the flowy, run-wild vibe that it oozes. It offers an ideal mix of cushion, support, stability, traction and freedom.
If you’re looking for a lighter, more agile trail shoe that’s engineered for more technical terrain, consider the Nike Terra Kiger 6 ($130).
It features both Nike React foam and Zoom Air packets for dynamic cushioning. It also features a flexible, segmented rock plate for protection and a sticky rubber outsole for optimal traction on dry surfaces.
It’s a lightweight shoe (9.3 oz. for men, 8.3 oz. for women) with a lower heel-toe offset (4mm) and a low-to-the-ground feel.
This blog is about racial and ethnic representation in running. We feature input from those who have participated in sport at every level, on every surface and are non-white.
From the everyday runner to collegiate to elite and Olympic trial qualifiers, from road to trail. Each take and experience is unique and most importantly, both valid and essential.
Why do people care about representation in running so much? We’re all just here to run and improve, so why does what everyone looks like have to be so important?
We all have the chance to lace up our running shoes and hit the road or trail for a run. Right?
In theory, everyone can just throw on running shoes and walk out the door for some easy miles. In theory, what people look like doesn’t matter and we all have equal opportunity when it comes to sport.
In theory, representation in sport shouldn’t be such an issue.
Victoria Junious recounts her journey as an African American runner. She shares her experiences as the only Black runner on her cross country team.
“I distinctly remember my coach proudly announcing in our post-race briefing that my teammate was the ‘first non-African runner to cross the line’. My teammates all clapped at this feat. He got fifth place, but that didn’t matter. In this moment, he was first. When I asked my teammates why they cheered, they said that it was ‘pretty much like winning.’ They said it was a ‘compliment to the African runners.’
They did not see a problem with it. I let it go. In the weeks following, I found that it happened after every race in which a white person did not win outright. My coach would give the standings, then add on the standings as if every African runner did not finish. Micro-aggression does not feel like a strong enough word to describe it.
I was the only black girl on my team for the first two years of my college cross country career. I felt every bit of that “only-ness.”
I was only person our coach thought could teach her how to dance or know the hip-hop or r&b songs she flipped past in on the van radio. The only person with “interesting” hair. The person expected to translate “what the sprinter girls meant by…”
Even when I stood on the starting line and looked past our team box, I saw very few non-white people. This was true from the athletes to the coaches, to the support staff.
It was frustrating and alienating, especially when the few black people who made it to top of our field were invalidated by my coach. Over and over, I questioned my place. What was my value to my team, and my standing in the sport as a whole?
I had a sense of longing that at the time that I could not put my finger on. Now I know that I longed for belonging. I wanted to train with someone who shared in my experience. I needed someone to tell me that when I heard something offensive, I did not have to let it go. I did not want to be the only one anymore. I wanted to be represented.”
REPRESENTATION IN RUNNING: WHAT IS IT?
People most often participate in activities where similar backgrounds and interests are shared. Without much thought to that space, we can move into it easily. It’s an automatic safe, and familiar space when it’s with people we can identify with.
Being able to find your identity with those who look like you can be essential to one’s participation and longevity in a sport.
73% report a household income of $75k+, 56% reporting a household income of $100k+.
The half marathon has the largest year over year increase and is thus, the most popular distance to race.
Road-runner participation increases every year
Fun fact, in 2020, over 450 women participated in the marathon Olympic Trials.
When looking at the NYTimes article on the marathon Olympic Trials, there are many things that stand out. Firstly, let’s acknowledge the fact we have are over 450 females to celebrate for breaking barriers down in the sport.
There are many more reports showing higher participation from females as opposed to men in the sport. Female representation is there, so what other kinds of representation are we talking about?
We’re talking race.
Non-white, colored bodies that have vastly different experiences from the white people who come to participate. Take a look at the very bottom of this The New York Times article, you’ll see what I mean.
What follows are some candid comments from the BIPOC running community sharing their journeys and experiences. If we as a running community are going to raise representation in running, we must first understand the experiences of all of those in our sport.
We each come with our own stories. Together we can learn, change and continue to share our running passion with all races, genders, ages and paces.
“One of my favorite runners is Des Linden. She’s hardworking, dedicated, keeps showing up, and has a great sense of humor. In 2018 I watched her cross the finish line at the Boston Marathon. She was the first American woman in 33 years to win the race. However, for me it was more than that. For me, it was watching a Latina cross that finish line and accomplish an amazing feat.
As a Latina runner who has been trail running for two years, I have noticed the lack of diversity in the sport. Unlike road running, where we see more BIPOC participate, we do not see that as much in trail running. In fact, when I run trails on my own, it is rare for me to see another BIPOC on the trail.”
Have you ever entered a space and just felt, weird but unsure of why that is? Or maybe you’ve been to a social group where you just haven’t fit in for one reason or another. Not because people are malicious, but just because. Enter Black, Indigenous, and people of color and the wide experiences of coming into running spaces knowing the misplaced feeling will be there and actively preparing for it.
“To me, representation means respect. It means I can go to a race that is serving Mexican food and not have to worry about getting looks for eating it. It means I don’t have to listen to people mock the Spanish language or accents.
Representation means seeing my identity on the starting line at every level, not just elite or beginner. In this way, I not only have something to aspire to, but to also it promotes accessibility of the sport at all levels.
Representation gives me a mental break; I don’t have to be perfect every race. Representation in running can provide a mental break that so many other people feel.”
REPRESENTATION IN RUNNING AT EVERY LEVEL
This is what we talk about when we talk about representation.
At a high level, having that automatic safe space comprised of people you can share your identity and experiences with, is the foundation of two thing. It advances participation in sport but also keeps athletes involved. Not only that, but representation at all levels gives people the grace to start wherever they are. It removes the pressure to be the best right out the gate.
On an elite level, representation gives people someone to look up to. Someone who likely shares similar backgrounds and struggles and is relatable beyond just an athletic level.
As Black, Indigenous, people of color and just non-white runners, when we find that space, it becomes manageable and accessible.
At JackRabbit, we know we take up space in a predominately homogenous environment. We aspire to support those who are less seen, and to help promote a space where change can happen.
As a first-generation BIPOC growing up, you’re not nurtured to realize what your self-actualization is. Rather, what it takes to be ‘successful’ in the eyes of society. As a result, the outdoors are not prioritized despite the many health benefits that come along with it.
Funding for shoes, running camps, etc. make it difficult for an equitable playing field. Being the mantle for this change starts on the ground level; to take it upon yourself as a BIPOC outdoor enthusiast and bridge the gap. This can be done by simply showing up.
Showing up to road, mountain and trail races.
Showing up to the podium to claim your prize.
Showing up for a group/trail run and encouraging dialogue/hard conversations.
Mother nature is inviting and all you have to do is show up.”
Candace Gonzales further shares her journey into trail running.
“Even when I first started trail running, I felt a bit out of place due to the lack of diversity and representation of LatinX trail runners. However, recently I started running with a local group called Trailtinos. A group formed to promote and connect BIPOC on the trail.
This group has been very special to me. Every time I run with this group, I feel represented. I am running with people who share similar experiences and a similar cultural background. More than that, I do not feel so alone, or out of place knowing there are others out there on the trail with me.
I’ll never run as fast as Des Linden, nor anyone in Trailtinos. But, knowing these runners exist makes me want to continue to work hard and show up to all my road and trail runs.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Laura Cortez, is a dog mom, intersectional environmentalist and runner living in Denver, Colorado. You can listen to an interview with Laura on ‘The Long Run’, a podcast about what keeps runners running long, running strong and staying motivated.
Laura Cortez admits that the first time she trudged up Colorado’s Mt. Elbert, it was quite a laborious task.
And who can blame her? Reaching 14,433 feet above sea level, Mt. Elbert the highest of the state’s 53 peaks that rise above 14,000 feet and the second highest mountain in the contiguous, lower 48 states of the U.S., behind California’s Mt. Whitney (14,505 feet). Oxygen is more scarce up there and it’s harder to breathe, so hiking at a slow walking pace can be a struggle for anyone, but especially someone who had recently moved from the lowlands of Texas to suburban Denver.
But more so than the thin air and the amazing scenery, Cortez was impressed by something else.
“We were hiking it at a slow pace and I saw a lot of people running down it when we were going up, and I thought that was pretty amazing,” says Cortez, 26, who works for JackRabbit.com as a brand retention strategist. “At the time, the concept of running up and down a mountain like that was a bit foreign to me. But then I started to hear people talk about and thought it was pretty cool.”
A few weeks later, when Cortez was with some friends in the San Juan Mountains in the southwestern part of the state, they decided to do a speedy summit of Wilson Peak.
“We kind of ran and speed hiked it and it was a lot of fun,” Cortez says. “To me it’s just fun to move fast on the trails and time is kind of irrelevant, but it’s amazing how much faster you can go up and down running than just walking.”
RUNNING 14ERS: WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT
Running up and down Colorado 14ers has become all the rage this summer given that most races have been canceled because of the Covid-19 pandemic. While there are no official records for each of the peaks, there are “fastest known times” recorded with a combination of GPS tracking devices and the honor system. And it’s not just Colorado 14ers, it’s also high peaks in every state across the country.
Why run up and down 14ers? Well, first, because there are trails leading to the top, and why not? It’s one of the ultimate challenges in running. Secondly, the scenery is almost always stunning. But mostly, it’s because the elective grind through the wild environment typically leads to an existential experience. Or at least the question: Why don’t I do this more often?
RESPECT THE 14ER
The key thing to remember with any high-altitude running adventure — but especially with 14ers — is the mountain almost always wins, even if you’re super fit. You’ve got to head into every 14er experience with realistic expectations, being properly prepared for changing conditions and other variables and, of course, be willing to be humbled by the slow pace and the possibility of not reaching the top. Be sure to read trail descriptions, trip reports and maps about the peak you’ll be running before you go.
Wearing proper attire and carrying essential gear is paramount to a successful 14er experience. It’s best to dress for a cool-weather trail run — because it’s often cool and windy on top — and carry a small backpack with a hydration pack, a waterproof running jacket, a hat, gloves and some energy snacks. But first things first, you need a sturdy trail running shoe with exceptional traction, like the Hoka Stinson ATR 6, La Sportiva Bushido II, Altra Superior 4.5 or the Nike Wildhorse 6.
No matter if you’re running fast or mostly hiking and running where you can, the act of moving up and down mountains quickly can be an exhilarating experience, says Nike Trail athlete Tayte Pollman, who started running Colorado 14ers in 2020.
“The reward is different hiking a 14er than it is running,” Pollman says. “When I’m running, I’m more focused and get into a flow where I don’t even really think about stopping or taking things in. I just try to go and hold my pace, do my base to stick to my rhythm and listen to my breathing. Then once I get to the top, I can click out of that and know that I made it and take in the reward at the end. And then the downhill can be just fast and fun.”
Understanding pacing and when to walk is important, too, Pollman says.
“I think the biggest thing about running 14ers is that you get fatigued fairly easy, so I think it’s really important to make each step intentional and look where you’re going to place each foot,” Pollman says. “And if you’re using trekking poles, you should know exactly where you’re going to place each pole. You don’t want to do things that will waste your energy or cause you to slip at all.”
8 RUNNABLE 14ERS
There are a lot of runnable 14ers in Colorado, but these are at the top of the list.
Mt. Belford (Buena Vista), 14,197 feet, 8 miles roundtrip
There are several routes up this peak located northwest of Buena Vista, but the best one to run is the northwest ridge.
Mt. Bierstadt (Georgetown), 14,060 feet, 7 miles roundtrip
The first mile is a combination of downhill and flat, but the switchbacking route up the 2,900-foot ascent is pretty runnable until about 13,200 feet.
Handies Peak (Silverton), 14,048 feet, 5.5-8.0 miles roundtrip
You might never get a chance to run the Hardrock 100, but you can explore the course and go up and down this peak in the heart of the San Juan Mountains from either Grizzly Gulch or American Basin.
Pikes Peak (Colorado Springs/Manitou Springs), 14,110 feet, 26 miles roundtrip
Running up and/or down Pikes is a must-do adventure for every trail runner, either in the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon in mid-August or as a do-it-yourself excursion.
Mt. Elbert (Leadville), 14,433 feet, 9 miles roundtrip
This is the highest peak in the state and definitely worthy, but there are some very steep sections that will require power hiking. For a bigger challenge, go up Elbert and adjacent Mt. Massive in the same day!
Mt. Princeton (Buena Vista), 14,197 feet, 6.0-8.0 miles roundtrip
You can start at the trailhead at 8,900 feet or you can drive part of the way up the mountain on an old mining road to a small parking area at about 10,800 feet. Best of all, there is two hot springs resorts in the valley below.
San Luis Peak (Creede), 14,014 feet, 11.5-13.5 miles roundtrip
This little-known peak located in the Gunnison National Forest portion of the La Garita Wilderness has two long, but mild routes. It’s a bit out of the way, but worth the drive.
Longs Peak (Estes Park), 14,255 feet, 15 miles roundtrip
There are several routes up and down this majestic peak in Rocky Mountain National Park and each one of them is fairly long. The Keyhole Route is the most straightforward, but the Loft Route and the Cables Route offer unique, white-knuckle scrambling challenges.
TIPS FOR RUNNING COLORADO 14ERS
1. Respect the Elevation
Elevation is a real thing and it affects everyone differently on different days. You can smash yourself early if you start out too hard, even if the terrain isn’t super steep. Start with a moderate, low-key approach and see how you feel as you get into it. If you’re not from a high-altitude environment, try to acclimate by arriving a few days ahead of time, drinking a lot of water, avoiding too much alcohol and getting a lot of rest. It’s not uncommon to get lightheaded, dizzy, disoriented or sick to your stomach — even when things are going pretty well. If those symptoms occur, take a rest break, refuel and rehydrate a bit and keep a realistic (and humble) outlook. Turning around and coming back another day is better than risking injury, illness or death.
2. Gear Up
As trail runners, we like to do everything light and fast and that’s what makes it fun. But you should always dress in moisture-wicking layers (because you’ll alternately be warm and cold often) and carry a small running pack with essential gear, including a lightweight rain shell, sufficient hydration, energy snacks, a first-aid kit, a mobile phone and a map of the route (possibly downloaded as a .gpx file). Wearing the right pair of trail running shoes for the terrain is key, and opting for a pair that offers more durability and protection. Lightweight, collapsible trekking poles (for example, like Black Diamond’s Distance Carbon Z) can come in handy, both going uphill and downhill.
3. Know the Route
Most 14ers have several routes and each are typically vastly different in terrain and difficulty. Study the route you plan to run and understand where terrain changes and where it becomes difficult, but also take a paper map or digital map with you. Keep in mind that up 14ers include every type of surface imaginable — loose dirt, packed dirt, mud, sand, streams, talus and scree — and often routes can head off in different directions from the summit.
4. Mind the Weather
Weather changes quickly in the mountains, especially above 12,000 feet. What might start like a calm, clear, sunny morning can turn stormy with snow and lightning in less than an hour. Also, wind patterns and directions can change at various elevations. It might be calm with no wind in your first 1,500 feet of elevation, but then you can encounter huge gusts during the next 1,500 feet of ascent, only to have it peaceful and calm on top. Check the weather the night before and the morning of your run and, most importantly, look for signs of dark clouds bunching up quickly, big wind gusts and lightning off in the distance.
5. Safety First
Always tell someone in advance where you’re heading and when you think you’ll be back, even if that means sending a last-minute text or email. Then be sure to check in when you get back. Weather, injuries, navigational challenges and other variables can easily turn a 4- to 6-hour high-altitude run into a 7- to 10-hour ordeal. You can get a rough estimate of your time on the mountain by checking the FKT of each peak at the FastestKnowTime site and then add 1-3 hours for your expected pace.
Brian Metzler has run races at every distance from 50 meters to 100 miles. He has wear-tested more than 1,500 pairs of shoes, is a three-time Ironman finisher. He occasionally participates in the quirky sport of pack burro racing in Colorado.
He’s the founding editor of Trail Runner magazine, is a former senior editor at Running Times. He was and editor in chief at Competitor Magazine.
As an author, he has penned “Kicksology“, “Running Colorado’s Front Range” and the co-author of “Natural Running: The Simple Path to Stronger Healthier Running” and “Run Like a Champion: An Olympian’s Approach for Every Runner.”
Have you ever found yourself in a funk about running? Or feel like your training has plateaued? Or had the feeling you just don’t feel like running?
We all have!
As frustrating as those moments can be, they’re a natural part of training — especially in the dog days of summer and when we don’t have any races to focus on.
There are many ways to rejuvenate your running, but few as failsafe as trail running. Going for a trail run and implementing off-road running into your weekly regiment can work wonders for you with numerous physical, mental and emotional benefits. Here’s how …
6 BENEFITS OF TRAIL RUNNING
1. Trail running is different.
The best thing about trail running is what it is not. When we’re running on the smooth and generally flat roads, we’re often concerned with the pace we’re running, the mileage we’re running and how consistent our movements are. But when we’re on the trail, those aren’t the things that matter most.
Out on the trails, the surface is always changing, so our pace, our gait and our consistency can vary greatly. Embrace those differences and the inherent challenges that trail running brings and don’t worry about your pace or even there are some sections that are so steep you might have to walk.
2. Trail running is an escape.
Let’s face it, running on the roads or bike paths of the urban or suburban grid can be tedious. But running on trails — no matter if it’s a route through a local park, along a nearby river or over a mountain pass — can be a glorious and refreshing escape. Trail running allows you to get away from the monotony (and crowded places) for an hour or two, but it also provides you with a connection to nature, different scenery, a chance to view wildflowers and exciting destinations to run to.
Running to a through a forest, reaching the summit of a peak (no matter how big or small) or running to a waterfall can be a small but exhilarating way to stimulate your running.
3. Trail running is an adventure.
Trail running can put a dose of wild into our lives. Unlike running on the roads or doing workouts prescribed on your training plan, trail running can be a full-on adventure. Some trails are decidedly harder, more remote and more inspiring than others.
If you make it a point to seek out a unique, semi-remote trail once a week, you can experience that bit of thrilling, hard-to-describe excitement that is more common to mountain biking, rock climbing and backpacking than it is to road running.
4. Trail running is a great workout.
Even though you might not be doing tempo runs, intervals or even monitoring your pace, trail running can be a remarkable workout. Running on trails works different muscles groups, requires greater agility and typically involves unpredictable acute heart rate spikes than road running. There’s no question that it can build aerobic fitness, but it can also build your overall strength and endurance in ways that road running cannot. Plus, the softer surfaces of trails are easier on your body, too.
Consider doing your weekly long runs to the trails to discover an enhanced level of endurance. Or convert your 6 x 800-meter track interval session into a 6 x 3-minute hill repeat session on a moderately inclined trail for an enhanced level of fitness.
5. Trail running is fun.
As much as we all love to run, sometimes we feel like it’s a chore. That almost never happens out on the trails. Trail running has a different vibe that makes it feel less about the monotony of running. It’s more like you’re playing in the woods with your friends like you did as a kid. Checking out the views, spotting a deer, or even engaging in the shared struggled of a hard hill or a fast descent are all part of that fun vibe that can inspire you to run trails more often, plan long weekend trail running outings with friends and sign up for trail running races.
6. Trail running will light your fire.
Trail running will challenge you, inspire you and engage you in different ways. Just as there are ways to “think outside the box,” trail running is a way to “run outside the box” on a regular basis. As you become more proficient at running on trails — learning how to become more agile, carrying the right gear and knowing how to find fun, remote and scenic trails — you’ll likely find yourself enjoying it more and more.
You don’t have go far or run precarious trails in the mountains; it starts with a good pair of trail running shoes and a curious sense of adventure. It won’t take long before you’ve rejuvenated your running like never before.