10 Epic U.S Trail Running Events to Test Your Grit

ultra marathonFrom the adventure-fertile lands of the Rocky Mountains to the otherworldly wonders of the American Southwest, whether you’re looking to go the distance or race against the steepness, America’s wide variety of epic trail races will give you some big goals to train for, and huge accomplishments to brag about (if that’s your thing).

YouTube Preview ImageMoab Trail Marathon—Moab, Utah
Just on the outskirts of Canyonlands National Park, the Moab Trail Marathon takes runners in and out of canyons, across fixed-line traverses, and through an otherworldly red landscape, all fixed upon the dazzling backdrop of the La Sal Mountains. Using a variety of hard surfaces to complete the trail, including abandoned jeep roads, singletrack, and a few spots of slick rock, this trail marathon is no easy walk in the park—with your average athlete finishing between five and six hours. Race date for 2017 is November 24th, which might just be enough time to train properly.

Gorge Waterfalls 50k/100k—Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
Whether you’re aiming for the Gorge Waterfalls 50k or 100k, the good people at Rainshadow Running who put on the event recommend having some experience with ultra-distance running before trying their race. It’s not that they are trying to discourage people from running in their scenic event, it’s that on top of the dense mileage required, the course comes with 6,000 feet of elevation gain (12,000 for the 100K), plus rocky and slippery trails throughout the entire way.

Ice Age Trail 50 Endurance Runs—La Grange, Wisconsin
Consisting of a point to point course, the Ice Age Trail 50 meanders through hardwood forests and tall prairie grass along singletrack and forest service roads, providing a variety of landscapes the entire way to help ease the mind of the runners with the long-distance task ahead of them. With first-aid and resupply stations along the way, as well as aptly named Confusion Corner section, the Ice Age Tail 50 is a popular event for those looking to get their first ultra-event under their belt, or for those looking to add another medal to the collection.

YouTube Preview ImageThe Rut—Big Sky, Montana
Located on the Big Sky Resort property in southwestern Montana, the Rut 50K is an extreme alpine race that will not only test the runner’s legs, but double-check their fear of heights as well. What gains the Rut sometimes the most attention is the incredibly exposed sections that leave runners feeling like they’re holding on to the side of the world. The Rut is really a three-day celebration of the mountain in September, with the 50K occurring on the last day.

YouTube Preview ImageLoon Mountain Race—Lincoln, New Hampshire
While a race distance of 6.6 miles doesn’t seem too epic, once racers start digging into the uphill route of the Loon Mountain Race in New Hampshire, they’ll realize just getting to the finish line is quite the challenge enough. Featuring a literally straight-up-the-mountain route, the Loon Mountain Race follows a straight path up the North Peak of the Loon Mountain Resort, including sections on the black-diamond ski route “the Boss,” which touts a falling-backwards 40-degree grade at times.

YouTube Preview ImagePikes Peak Ascent and Marathon—Manitou Springs, Colorado
While the 13.3 miles of the Pikes Peak Ascent is hard enough (7,815 ft. elevation gain), to complete the Pikes Peak Marathon you must follow the same path back down. Because of the grueling route and physical demands of either of these two accomplishments, runners who wish to participate in either the Ascent or Marathon must first qualify to enter. Qualifications can come from past half or full marathons completions in a specified amount of time (2:25:00 for ½, 6:00:00 for full), or completion of either the Pikes Peak Ascent or Marathon within the past three years.

Western States Endurance Run—Squaw Valley, California
The oldest ultrarunning event in the country, the Western States Endurance Run has been testing athletes for over four decades. Starting in Squaw Valley just outside of Lake Tahoe, the Western States Endurance Run finishes 100 miles later in Auburn. To participate in this bragging-rights worthy event, runners must first complete an equidistant qualifying event. With 41,000 feet of elevation change and scenic areas along the entire way, runners will have plenty to keep their brains and bodies engaged.

YouTube Preview ImageSpeedgoat 50K—Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort, Utah
Hosted by the world-renowned ultra-runner athlete Karl Meltzer, the Speedgoat 50k winds its way up down the Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort of Utah, exposing runners to not only a good dose of elevation gain (14,000+ ft.), but also an array of amazing views. The Speedgoat 50k isn’t recommended for a first ultra-event, but with enough time on your feet and plenty of training behind you, it can provide a sense of accomplishment like no other, plus a pretty good bragging token.

Equinox Trail Marathon—Fairbanks, Alaska
Featuring 26.2 miles of autumnal equinox Alaska scenery, and two climb-up-and-overs of Ester Dome, this race provides sights to see and legs that burn. Although competitive athletes always show up at the starting line, the Equinox Trail Marathon has a generous cut-off time and relay option for anyone looking to participate in the fun. For no other reason than to experience Alaska in the autumn, the Equinox Trail Marathon will prove to be worth it every step of the way.

YouTube Preview ImageHardrock 100 & Leadville Trail 100—Silverton & Leadville, Colorado
The Hardrock 100 is first up in July, and provides athletes a challenging 100 miles through several distinct climate zones and over 60,000 feet of elevation change. Following shortly in August, the Leadville 100 has similar qualities in its challenges, but adds a whole new 100 miles of terrain to explore. Both the Hardrock 100 and Leadville 100 represent some of the top challenges in organized ultrarunning, and even attempting either is quite the exercise, giving those varied few who have completed both a gold-star running status.