by Matt Gray
photos to come soon!
Most every runner has a series of runs that they return to again and again in their local area. Whether on the road, in the parks, around lakes, across the plains, or up and down hills and mountains, these routes become a part of their favored training circuit. With my brother on his way to Colorado, I thought it would be fun to put together a brief look at five runs from my training circuit which cover a fine variety of trails and landscapes in and near Denver.
The Local Lakes
1 mile ... 3 miles ... 15 miles+
Sometimes in order to ensure high weekly mileage, convenience is absolutely key. Across the street from my house, Rocky Mountain Lake offers three different one-mile loops to circumnavigate the park. To the West, Berkeley Lake offers another one-mile loop, and a couple miles South, the Sloan's Lake trail comes in at 2.6 miles. Great views of mountains, changing trees, wryly geese, and the enchanting calls of Red Wing Blackbirds make any of the loops aesthetically pleasing even with the roar of traffic. Depending on my mood, how much time I have, and the snow/melt conditions, I might run around just one lake for an hour, or connect all three for a much longer day. No matter what, these runs are a great time to practice speed, form, and meditation.
The Red Rock-Hogback Loop Challenge
6.5 miles (4 mile, 9 mile and 13 mile variations)
There are several mileage and route variations to the trails leaving from Matthew Winters Park just north of the famed Red Rocks Amphitheater. My favorite though is to head across the street and up onto the hogback (incredible geologic feature which displays dinosaur fossils) for a heady 2.5 miles of rolling and rocky trail. Views abound as you cut back across the valley into the Red Rocks and then up onto an incredible inter-canyon mesa. The trail remains challenging, but the Colorado panorama unfolding all around you keeps the rewards high.
The Waterton Canyon Half
13 miles (and shorter variations)
This run will always hold a dear place in my heart as it was the first continuous half marathon I ran. It became the foundation for all the many incredible trail runs and ultra-marathons that have followed in the last 18 months. The route follows a dirt road into the canyon, winding around bends in the river, skirting the granite walls, and offering the occasional Big Horn Sheep siting. Like all canyons, there's a special poetry that exists in the light and the air, which keeps the focus of the run on the surrounding wilderness.
The North Mesa Mash
2 to 14 miles (loops, out-and-backs, flats, steep hills)
Named for the highlight of this run, traversing across the North Mesa above Golden while looking up at the Front Range peaks and smelling the aroma of malts mashing at the Coors brewery, I return to this set of trails again and again. The wide diversity of terrain, with some extremely challenging hills, keeps me feeling tuned-in and in-shape. While I don't always enjoy dodging speedy mountain bikers, everyone stays pretty courteous. This is single-track I'll happily share.
The Infinite High-Line
1 to 66 miles (seriously)
Okay, it doesn't go on forever, but it is THE place for me to knock-out long mileage days. The High Line Canal trail might not have the elevation gain and loss that I need throughout my training, but it is a reliable route, even in the heart of winter. I've run some of my fastest times on this wide dirt trail which parallels the historic canal across wetlands, into McMansion neighborhoods, and up against beautiful ranches. And with the wide open expanse of the plains, Rocky Mountain vistas, and multiple trail heads, the High Line Canal trail is a familiar, comforting friend that prepares my mind and body for full-day adventures.