12 Must-Do Races in West Virginia

Bike Race, West Virginia
Bike Race, West Virginia Michael Briggs
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The following article is a paid collaboration with Wild, Wonderful West Virginia.

It’s no secret that the Mountain State is home to some of the best terrain on the east coast, so it just makes sense that it’s also home to some of the best trail running and mountain biking races in the nation.

Trail running events like the Babcock Gristmill Grinder and the legendary Highland Sky 40 are well-known throughout the trail running community, while mountain bikers throughout the Mid-Atlantic regularly make the trip for West Virginia Mountain Bike Association (WVMBA) races. Gravel grinders, like the Hilly Billy Roubaix and the Spruce Knob Gravel Stage Race, are getting more popular with roadies and mountain bikers alike. West Virginia even has off-road and non-traditional multisport races, like the Richwood Scenic Mountain Triathlon and Captain Thurmond’s Challenge.

Do yourself a favor and sign up for one (or a few) of these. You won’t regret it.

Trail Running Races

1. Gristmill Grinder

Babcock State Park, April

The Gristmill Grinder is a technical half marathon.
The Gristmill Grinder is a technical half marathon. Donnie Hudspeth

The Gristmill Grinder Half Marathon trail race winds its way through the full spectrum of West Virginia trail experiences—rocks, roots, rhodo-tunnels, creeks and wooden bridges are all on the menu for this one. The race gets its name from the historic Glade Creek Gristmill that you will pass twice on the course, plus the uphill second half of the race, where you will definitely need to grind it out for a win or a personal record. Expect fully stocked aid stations, a strong line-up of racers, and a well-organized race.

2. Canary in the Cave

New River Gorge, November

The Canary in the Cave starts and ends in “America’s Coolest Small Town” of Fayetteville, WV, so it’s a great race to bring your entire family out for a long weekend. It's no walk in the park, though. It covers 16.5 miles with a total elevation gain of more than 2,300 feet. Stewart Caldwell, the race director and a local trail runner, has picked the best trails on the south side of the New River Gorge Bridge to give you a high-quality trail running experience.

3. Highlands Sky Trail Run

Canaan Valley State Park, June

The Highlands Sky 40 should be on every ultrarunner's list. That being said, it's not for the faint of heart. The race covers 40 miles of some of the most wild and diverse terrain in West Virginia, from hardwood forests and bogs to windswept plains. The course runs through the Roaring Plains and Dolly Sods Wilderness in the Monongahela National Forest, and with elevations ranging from 2,500-4,700 feet, be ready for any type of weather on race day.

4. The Frozen Sasquatch

Kanawha State Forest, January

Choose between a 25k or 50k race on a 15.8-mile loop up and down the rugged trails of Kanawha State Forest, just outside of Charleston. Since both races are on the same loop, 25k racers run just one lap while 50k racers run two laps. You never know what kind of weather you are going to get on Frozen Sasquatch race day: it can be quite nice for trail running or downright brutal. Needless to say, have your race kit dialed and don’t forget an extra pair of socks and shoes for wet/cold conditions.

5. West Virginia Trilogy

Spruce Knob/Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area, October

This legendary three-day stage race brings out some of the best trail runners in the United States. You can run just one or two days if you want, but the true essence of this race is the perseverance you need to get through all three days: Day one is a 50k, day two is a 50-miler, and day three is a half marathon. And it all happens when the bright fall colors are at their peak—it's hard to put the experience into words.

Mountain Bike Races

The following races are part of the West Virginia Mountain Bike Association (WVMBA) race series:

6. Revenge of the Rattlesnake

Davis, September

The Rattlesnake will have you weaving through some of the best backcountry trails in Blackwater Falls State Park. At nearly 40 miles with usually muddy conditions, be ready to get gritty in order to podium here. Wet, techy trails are the name of the game, and you will quickly learn that the Rattlesnake is the final exam in old school-gnar riding.

7. Slatyfork Ultra

Elk River Touring Center/Slatyfork/Tea Creek, August

The Slatyfork Ultra is the heavy hitter of the Slatyfork Fat Tire Festival. This nearly 50-mile course will have you winding your way through epic trails like Tea Creek Mountain Trail, Propps Ridge and Red Run. Expect rugged trails with off-camber sections, loads of rock gardens, gnarly descents and a strong field of racers. The after-party, with live music and free kegs, is a great way to relax after a hard ride out on the course.

8. Coopers Rock Benduro

Coopers Rock State Forest, May

Enduro racing is all about maximizing downhill excitement on trails. Like other enduros, the Coopers Rock Benduro consists of timed stages that will test your ability to handle speed while navigating extremely technical terrain. This race is the brainchild of local mountain bike legend Benji Klimas (hence the name Benduro instead of Enduro), and you can bet that he’s picking the rowdiest trails and lines that will put the biggest grin on your face. Do your best to hold off the brake levers, and you just might have a chance to podium.

Gravel Cyclocross Bike Racing (aka “Gravel Grinders”)

9. Hilly Billy Roubaix

Morgantown, June

The Hilly Billy Roubaix covers a variety of surfaces.
The Hilly Billy Roubaix covers a variety of surfaces. Michael Briggs

Considered to be "dirty road” racing at its finest, the Hilly Billy Roubaix is a mixed-surface race that will have you covering all sorts of “roads” on the outskirts of Morgantown. The 72ish-mile (expect distances from 72 miles up to almost 100 depending on the race director's mood) race is known for loose and muddy conditions that have been challenging, to say the least, in years past. You will undoubtedly go home with tons of stories about your adventure.

10. Gravel Race Up Spruce Knob (GRUSK)

The Mountain Institute, Spruce Knob Recreation Area, July

Spruce Knob is perfect for this type of racing. The area has it all—beautiful mountain scenery, pristine dirt and miles of gravel roads. There’s even enough singletrack to justify bringing out the mountain bike for some trail time the day after. There are two distance options and one non-competitive race, so whether you are a beginner or an elite racer, there is a race for you.

Multi-Sport Adventure Races

11. Captain Thurmond’s Challenge

New River Gorge National Park/Fayetteville, August

The New River Gorge is home to an abundance of trails for running and biking.
The New River Gorge is home to an abundance of trails for running and biking. Mark Doliner

Captain Thurmond’s Challenge is a three-sport race that will have you mountain biking, whitewater kayaking, and trail running through the New River Gorge National Park. The race is heavily supported by local restaurants and shops (and even the National Guard!), turning the town of Fayetteville into one big party. Captain Thurmond's Challenge is part of the New River Gorge Games, which also has a beginner and family-friendly triathlon, and a fun run.

12. Richwood Scenic Mountain Triathlon

Monongahela National Forest, July

This is the longest-running triathlon in West Virginia, and for good reason—the course for this adventurous tri is entirely within the gorgeous Monongahela National Forest. Start off by swimming a half-mile across Summit Lake, then jump on your bike and ride more than 17 miles of rolling asphalt along the Scenic Highway to the Cranberry Mountain Nature Center. Finish by running the six out-and-back miles to the Cranberry Glades boardwalk and then back to the Nature Center. A kid’s duathlon and a killer post-race cookout round out the day's festivities.

Find more Mountain State adventures.

Originally written for West Virginia .

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