Going the Dirty Distance
A runner tackles the tough trails of the Lookout Mountain 50k, part of the Rock/Creek Trail Series. Photo: Mark McKnight
If too much pavement gives you the blues, then it’s time to take to the trails. Fortunately the region is packed with plenty of off-road action. Lace up your shoes or grease the chain and join one of these trail series for a full season of dirt-raising fun.
Backyard Burn Trail Running Series
Hemlock Overlook Park
Clifton, Va. • March 4
One of the best examples of urban escape in the region, the Backyard Burn is a series of four trail running races in the Metro D.C. area. Using the best wooded sanctuaries surrounding the nation’s capital, each race in the series features both 5- and 10-mile courses that wind through twisty singletrack, traverse grassy fields, and climb forested fire roads. After the series opener at Hemlock Overlook, additional races take place at Wakefield Park (March 11) in Annandale, Va., Prince William Forest Park (March 25) in Triangle, Va., and Fountainhead Regional Park (April 1) in Fairfax Station, Va.
West Virginia Mountain Trail Runners Series
Haulin’ in the Holler 25K/5K
Eleanor, W.Va. • March 24
This Mountain State crew of hardcore trail runners often eschews fierce competition in exchange for the fun of group-based extreme challenges. Notable races in their annual series include the Dirty Dog 15K (May 19), where you can run with your favorite furry friend on the trails of the Kanawha State Forest; the epic Highlands Sky Trail Run in the Monongahela National Forest in the summer; and the tough Helvetia 10K Mountain Run that coincides with the annual fall fair in the hilly village. Last year the club also started the West Virginia Trilogy, three days of epic consecutive runs (50K, 50 miles, and a 13.1 miles) in the Mon’s Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area, which will return October 12-14.
Terrapin Mountain 50K
Sedalia, Va. • March 24
It takes a special breed of runner to conquer The Beast. None of the series’ six featured races has a distance shorter than 50K on courses that traverse the most rugged sections of Virginia Blue Ridge backcountry. With most of the courses initially designed by ultra legend David Horton and now directed by his protégé Clark Zealand, the Beast races are not for the faint of heart, especially the burly terrain of longstanding Mountain Masochist 50-miler (November 3) and the Hellgate 100K (December 8), which starts at midnight in early winter. Additional races include the Holiday Lake 50K, Terrapin Mountain 50K (March 24), Promise Land 50K (April 28), and Grindstone 100 (October 5).
Georgia Off-road Duathlon Series
Dirty Spokes Duathlon at Fort Yargo State Park
Winder, Ga. • March 10
Trail runners and mountain bikers in the Atlanta area can get a fix in the city’s wooded outskirts. With moderate distances on terrain that mixes plenty of challenges with opportunities to catch your breath, this is an ideal series for new racers to break into the off-road scene. The first race at Fort Yargo State Park features a 3.8-mile run, followed by a 10-mile bike ride and another 2.1-mile run, covering a mix of rooty singletrack, rolling hills, and wider doubetrack jaunts. Expect similar challenges at the following races at Mt. Tabor Park in Dallas, Ga., on April 14 and the series finale at Tribble Mill Park in Grayson on May 12. Racers accumulate points throughout the series.
Southeastern Regional Championship Series
Tsali Knob Scorcher
Bryson City, N.C. • March 31-April 1
There’s still plenty of time to make your mark at this regional 10-race mountain bike series that covers much of the classic singletrack throughout the South. With each event containing courses for every level from beginner to expert, riders of all abilities can accumulate points per race as they pedal some of Dixie’s best off-road terrain. The series’ second race (March 31-April 1) covers the legendary trail system at the Tsali Recreation Area in Western North Carolina, while race number three takes place at the Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers, which held the 1996 Olympic mountain bike action. Later in the series riders will tackle Tennessee’s Tanasi Trails (May 6), which features epic climbs and an infamous scorching downhill stretch known as Thunder Rock Express. Clemson, S.C. June 24.
Rock/Creek Trail Series
Rock/Creek River Gorge Trail Race
Chattanooga, Tenn. • March 24
Trail runners in Chattanooga never have to wait long for their next race. The active organizers of the Rock/Creek Trail Series keep local striders satisfied with a wide variety of challenges on the city’s vast network of surrounding trails. Races include the beginner-friendly River Gorge Trail Race, which offers both 10.2- and 6.5-mile options on Signal Mountain’s Mullens Cove Loop and delivers amazing bluff views of the Cumberland Plateau. Those looking to cover some serious distance will find what they’re looking for during the three-day Chattanooga Mountains Stage Race (June 15-17), as well as the rough and rugged Stump Jump 50K (October 6) or the aptly named Upchuck 50K (November TBA), which traverses some of the most technical sections of the Cumberland Trail.