There are a lot of great ways to enjoy the outdoors here in Alaska; and for many who love energetic, cardio-based exercise, there is no better way than to get out and do some running.
Summer of course is ideal for this with it comfortable temperatures and plentiful daylight.
While the majority of casual runners enjoy the roads or Anchorages’ extensive system of paved pathways, for those seeking a more adventurous or challenging run there is trail and mountain running.
Trail running can be defined as running that is done on dirt trails or mountain single track.
The opportunities here in our state are vast. From the great mountain trails of the Kenai Peninsula to the elaborate trail systems of Kincaid and Far North Bicentenial parks in Anchorage, as well as many other areas.
With a bit of thoughtful planning and the right gear, any runner can find a trail with in the range of their skill level that will allow them to enjoy their workout and the beauty of Alaska ‘s northern, woodland landscape at the same time.
Before heading out for a run, like any adventures into the woods or mountains there are several things one should consider to make their trip a safe one. Even if you are intending to run on a trail that is in Anchorage make sure you tell others about your plans, don’t just run off into the woods.
Always carry sufficient amounts of water and some high-energy snacks. It’s a good idea to bring along a windbreaker, hat and gloves in the no-so-unlikely event that the weather turns foul while your out.
We are in Alaska where there are vast amount of wildlife, so it is wise to wear bear bells or try to make some noise as you run and/or carry bear spray.
Remember that animals always have the right of way and if you’re a total newbie to backcountry travel, be sure to find someone who has some experience to go with you.
With all of that said, there are many great organized trail/mountain running events out there to participate in and get you started.
The U.A.A. Nordic Ski Team sponsors the race that is considered the first trail race of the season. The Turnagain Arm Trail Run takes place just south of Anchorage on a trail that roughly parallels the Seward Highway. There are 4-mile and 8-mile versions of the race, which changes direction of travel every year. It is a challenging trail that undulates up and down along the mountainside. The course offers some great views of Turnagain Arm.
If you venture here alone use caution and beware of bears. There have been encounters on the trail.
There is also a “Grand Prix” Mountain series every summer put together by Alaska Mountain Runners. This series includes a race up Bird Ridge as well as the famous Mt. Marathon race in Seward, which is the third oldest footrace in the U.S. and climbs 3,022 feet up before turning around and coming back down.
Some of these races finish on top of the mountain rather than racing back down but either way be prepared to do some climbing.
For those seeking a little variety there is even an “off-road” triathlon that takes place at Kincaid Park – the Hammerman triathlon.
A swim in Little Campbell Lake wakes you up before you embark on a 14-mile mountain bike ride and finish up with a 4-mile trail run. The crowd is a diverse one ranging from the seriously competitive to the weekend warrior looking for a challenge. Spirits are festive and along with the awards ceremony is a raffle for all participants and volunteers.
Another great event takes place in the little town of Hope, on the Kenai Peninsula. This is part of a weekend that includes a pancake breakfast live music and other events, which all benefit the communities Fire Department. The run is a fast 5K that starts on Main Street in ‘downtown Hope’ and then follows an old mining road and then some single track trail through the woods before returning back downtown.
About 300 people showed up to take part in this event, which has a fun run, feel to it, welcoming participants of all ages and levels. Every one there seemed to have a good time despite slightly damp weather.
If you’re in great shape and want to race 3,000 feet up a mountain or if you just want to take it easy and get some exercise in. Chances are there is a trail running event happening sometime over the course of the summer that fits your tastes.
If you are a runner or aspire to be and enjoy experiencing Alaska’s beauty trail running is the way to combing the two. Just be sure to use common sense while out on the trail, and like any outdoor adventure, make safety a priority.