When most people talk about a weekend getaway, they're talking about visiting someplace for a few days of respite and relaxation. Of course, trail runners aren't 'most people.'
For them, they'd much prefer an event where they can hit the trail, get dirty and exhausted while busting out some miles and socializing with other like-minded runners, and then wake up the next day and do it all over again. Cue the stage race—a multi-day type of trail running race that's been popping up across the country in recent years.
Most stage races take place over three days, with a different race held each day. After the run, you eat, recover, socialize, and enjoy your time outside in a spectacular setting.
The Southeast happens to be blessed with several amazing stage race opportunities where you can explore new trails, push your body, and have a weekend getaway unlike any other. Here are a handful of events happening this spring:
1. Grand Viduta Stage Race
Huntsville’s Grand Viduta Stage Race, which returns for its second year April 24-26, is a classic in the making. It's a spectator-friendly course with three races Friday, April 24, through Sunday, April 26. Course aid will be provided by three aid stations each day and there’s a playground, cookout, kids events, and hopefully some live music each day. Finishers receive medals worthy of the great accomplishment of completing this event, and there are age-group awards, door prizes, and other swag. The courses are challenging and include downhills, extended climbs, technical sections, and beautiful natural features. Over 95 percent of the courses are off-road on soft surfaces. The stages are 13, 16, and 14 miles and the distances are designed so anyone can finish, but it’s tough enough to be fun.
2. Chattanooga Mountains Stage Race
The oldest true Southern stage race, Chattanooga Mountains Stage Race was started in June of 2007 and is held on Father’s Day weekend each year. This challenging—yet attainable—series includes 18 miles on Raccoon Mountain on Day 1, 22 miles on Lookout Mountain on Day 2, and a 20-mile grand finale on Signal Mountain the final day. Each day offers spectacular scenery and a variety of challenges. The third day is the most technical with extremely rocky sections and stairs.
There’s an ice bath at the end of each day and a river for soaking. Full aid stations are available each day as well, and post-run food is provided. Each night there is a slideshow and party at The Crash Pad, where many participants stay each night. People bring their families so they can celebrate the holiday and enjoy all that Chattanooga has to offer.
“After doing a couple stage races in Europe, we realized we wanted an event that showcased the amazing trails and scenery in Eastern Tennessee and fostered the sense of community, and camaraderie we found so appealing in Europe,” says race director Randy Whorton. “Because of the small group (around 250 runners), and the amount of time the runners spend together, it is as much about the social aspect of the experience as it is about the physical. We have runners who return year after year for those reasons.”
3. Cumberland Plateau Stage Race
A near end of summer celebration from August 21-23, the Cumberland Plateau Stage Race provides a sampling of some of the best wild and scenic terrain that the Cumberland Plateau has to offer. Runners will be challenged each day with a different distance, starting with a 13-mile Friday afternoon ridge run, which offers spectacular cliff views and rocky technical terrain. Saturday’s 20-mile river run will challenge the most technically savvy. Sunday’s scenic 17-mile finale features a beautiful descent through a series of natural stone steps. Runners can attempt this race individually, or as a team of three.
This race also has long list of other activities for runners and guests, including: trail clinics, mountain biking, swimming, hiking, rock climbing, product demos, music, daily yoga classes, massages, wine tasting, film viewings, guests speakers, dirty dancing, and, as always delicious Jackalope beer. “The community feel is what we strive for with the event,” says co-director Cody Goodwin. “Everyone camps together, wakes up and runs together, then eats together, and spends the day swapping stories, going on hikes, swimming, climbing, etc. Our goal is to bring together runners from a wide array of communities: Nashville, Chattanooga, Huntsville, Birmingham, and across the country. The facilities have more than 100 miles of trails, striking bluffs, waterfalls, and plenty of swimming holes. It's an adult playground.”
4. Mountain High Outfitters - Birmingham Stage Race
The Mountain High Outfitters - Birmingham Stage Race will be held on three unique mountains in three parks in Birmingham, Alabama from September 26-28. The stages are held on Shades Mountain in the Moss Rock Preserve, which has some of the most amazing sandstone formations and beautiful waterfalls anywhere. Red Mountain has very runnable trails with minimal elevation gain. And Double Oak Mountain at Oak Mountain State Park features several steep climbs and occasional creek crossings depending on the weather.
“There were iron mines all over these mountains and many of the trails are on railroad beds that led to the mines,” says race director David Tosch. “The course on both mountains passes by a number of old mine portals and shafts. One of the trails at Red Mountain passes by an open ‘hole’ that leads down to tunnels below. On a hot day in the summer, as you approach the hole, you can feel the cool air flowing out of the hole and down the mountain.”
The race is very demanding. All three stages will be primarily on single track trails and some of these trails are steep and rocky. Although none of the mountains are more than 600 feet above the surrounding terrain, some of the trails are very technical and steep.
If you're looking for an exciting ultra weekend, put one of these races on your calendar and get yourself to it. You will love the experience, and you'll hate to go back home.