Take to the Trails with Alabama’s Southeastern Trail Series

The Southeastern Trail Series is welcoming to beginners interested in starting trail running.
The Southeastern Trail Series is welcoming to beginners interested in starting trail running. Courtesy of the Southeastern Trail Series
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Designed for beginners as well as veteran runners, the Mountain High Outfitters Southeastern Trail Series offers the structure and support runners need to improve steadily, and even compete in an ultra run.

“Every year we get beginners, and I work hard to make sure it’s fun and a good experience for them,” said David Tosch, organizer of the Southeastern Trail Series. “We’ve had people go on and eventually finish their first 100-mile race.”

Launched in 2013, this series of seven trail running races takes place from March to November in the Birmingham area. With each race, the distances and difficulty increase, so beginners can progress to eventually participate in a 50K run. For each event they complete, runners receive points based on their time and distance. At the end of the series, the points leaders receive special awards, including product from race sponsors Salomon and Suunto.

The 2016 series begins on April 9 with a 3-mile or 6-mile run on gentle terrain beside Tranquility Lake at Oak Mountain State Park. Throughout the spring and summer, the races get tougher, including the Memorial Day Trail Race where runners make the steep climb up Double Oak Mountain. In July, the Hotter N’ Hell Trail Race at Oak Mountain State Park adds more heat and more hard climbs. On November 19, the series concludes back at Tranquility Lake with a 25K or 50K run.

A Plan for Success

Oak Mountain State Park is a popular destination for trail runners and the site of several races in the Southeastern Trail Series.
Oak Mountain State Park is a popular destination for trail runners and the site of several races in the Southeastern Trail Series. Eddie Freyer

For a beginner, a 50K might seem like an impossible goal. But Tosch said the series allows people to train and progress at a steady, reasonable rate. Also, the races provide regular, periodic goals and definite structure for improvement.

To stick to a goal, people need a definite plan, said John Norcross, clinical psychologist at the University of Scranton. “People who push themselves prematurely into a resolution without having a specific action plan are quite likely to fail,” Norcross told NPR in a “Talk of the Nation” report.

While competing in each Southeastern Trail event, runners improve physically and gain the knowledge and experience necessary to handle an ultra race, said Tosch. With each race, competitors achieve little victories, but also get opportunities to learn from failures and setbacks.

“There was one woman who suffered terrible cramps during the Hotter N’ Hell race, and she learned the importance of being hydrated,” said Tosch.

Built for Beginners

Organizers work to keep a fun atmosphere at the races.
Organizers work to keep a fun atmosphere at the races. Courtesy of the Southeastern Trail Series.

While newcomers benefit from adversity, Tosch said he takes steps to ensure that they don’t suffer needlessly while racing.

“I make sure that the courses are well marked,” he said, explaining that people with less experience are more likely to get lost deep into a long race when fatigue hinders their ability to navigate.

Because the races are often grueling, Tosch also blends in plenty of fun to make each event enjoyable. “After the races we don’t eat a bunch of junk, but have good food,” said Tosch, noting that he brings in good beer, local barbecue, and his wife’s tasty Santa Fe soup.

Because beginners also need tips on training and nutrition, Tosch also encourages participants to contact him personally to get advice. Now retired, Tosch has been running since high school, and the first trail race he completed was Mobile’s Azalea Trail Run in 1978.

To achieve a racing goal, it’s critical to have the support of others, said Norcross. “The buddy system works. And the buddies can be co-workers, family members, friends or fellow resolvers,” he told NPR.

People interested in the Southeastern Trail Series should seek advice from Birmingham Ultra Trail Society, said Norcross, noting, “It’s a really active group, and they can provide a lot of support.”

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