Best Ultra Race
The Western States Endurance Run
June 23-24, Squaw Valley, California, to Auburn, California
This is the granddaddy of them all, the 100-mile race that spurred the sport of ultra-distance trail running in the U.S. It morphed out of a horse race; when Gordy Ainsleigh's horse came up lame in 1974, he decided to run the entire course through the Sierra Nevada mountains himself. Since then, Western States has become the Boston Marathon of trail running, attracting the best trail runners from around the world. To get your body in shape for the 100-miler, follow these 9 Tips to Training for an Ultra.
ws100.com More: Are You Ready to Run an Ultra?
Most Challenging Short-Distance Race
Mount Marathon Race
July 4, Seward, Alaska
Although this legendary race is only 3 miles, it is brutally steep with precarious footing, sending runners up the face of Mount Marathon to a turnaround point 3,022 feet above the starting line. It's one of the toughest trail runs anywhere, requiring hand-on-knee power hiking on the way up and devil-may-care bounding, or sliding on your arse at times, on the way down. The climb might take 35 to 40 minutes but the return to the finish takes less than 15.
Most Competitive Hill-Climb
Loon Mountain Race
July 8, Lincoln, New Hampshire
This race up Loon Mountain is an annual benchmark on one of the country's most competitive trail running circuits. Among the most dastardly hill climb races in the country, the course of this five-miler has an average grade of 10 percent, but in some places it ascends at an unthinkable 40 percent, as it meanders upward on a combination of dirt trails, gravel service roads, and grassy ski slopes. Special bonus for this year: It's the sole qualifier for American women hoping to represent the U.S. at the September 2 World Mountain Running Championships in Italy.
More: Hill Running Made Easy
Best River Crossing
Crow Pass Crossing
July 21, Girdwood, Alaska
This is trail running gone seriously wild. A 22.5-mile point-to-point race with no course markings, no aid stations, and various alternate routes, Crow Pass Crossing sets runners on a voyage through the Chugach Mountains with the responsibility of choosing their own route to the finish line. Most follow Crow Pass Trail, that is, when it's actually visible. If all that isn't enough, runners must endure a sometimes thigh-deep crossing of the icy and somewhat turbulent Eagle River.
Best Urban Marathon
Eagle Creek Trail Marathon
Aug. 4, Indianapolis
This surprisingly secluded two-lap race in Eagle Creek Park is the antithesis of a big city marathon, even though it's set only a few minutes' drive outside one of the largest cities in the Midwest.
Most Raw Exposure
Bridger Ridge Run
Aug. 11, Bozeman, Montana
One of the most demanding trail races in the U.S., this 19.7-mile point-to-point race sends runners high along an exposed knife-edge ridge in the Bridger Range. More than 6,800 feet of climbing and 9,500 feet of descending, plus craggy, unstable footing, and gusting wind are just some of the technical features of this race. The course is sure to beat up your legs and test your courage, but there's a postrace hot tub party to help soothe your ailments.
Most Zany Fun
Half-Wit Half Marathon
Aug. 12, Reading, Pennsylvania
Trail running is fortunate to have zany race directors like Ron Horn, who likes to entertain his "guests" for this 13.1-mile race, which doesn't officially start until runners have recited a humorous, self-demoralizing rant known as the Oath of the Half-Wit. This is one of only a few races in the country that has beer stops at aid stations (miles 9 and 11 last year) and might be the only event with polka music at the postrace party. Horn also hands out a horse's ass award, literally shaped like an equine's hindquarters, to all finishers.