This magazine regales readers with a lot of pictures, and recaps, of epic runs: multi-day, even multi-week adventures that include mountain ranges and passes, 100-plus miles and plenty of accompanying type-two fun.
As trail runners, we’re naturally drawn to the aesthetic of the epic. But the reality is, most of us have constraints—jobs, family, geography—that make regular backcountry traverses out of the question.
The good news is, there are plenty of ways you can make your next long run epic in its own right, even without three weeks off and support from a corporate sponsor. Here are a few tips we’ve gleaned; add your own in the comments below.
1. Go Local
You don’t have to live in the Rockies to have access to expansive wilderness. A lot of cities are close enough to a major state or national park or forest—the kind of space big enough that you can’t run it in one swoop, as you might with your favorite local slice of singletrack—to make a weekend trip.
New York City is situated just down the Hudson from Palisades Interstate Park and Bear Mountain State Park; Washington, D.C., is only about an hour and a half from Shenandoah National Park and some bordering national forests. Even if it’s just for the weekend, you can put in some solid, remote days by planning ahead and venturing out of the city.
2. Take the Road More Traveled
It’s easy to assume that if a route is popular, it isn’t remote or challenging enough to constitute a truly epic run. Purists might also balk at following in the footsteps of other runners who have documented the same route ubiquitously on social media.
But there is a reason some of these routes are popular. They’re beautiful and fun, and may well be remote and challenging. You probably can’t squeeze Nolan’s 14 into a few vacation days, but you can take on the Maroon Bells Four-Pass Loop (about 26 miles) near Aspen, or Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim in the Grand Canyon (43-45 miles). The R2R2R trails in particular are popular with hikers as well as runners, but the majesty of the Grand Canyon will quickly win you over. And trust us—you won’t feel like a coddled tourist when you’re trying to climb 5,000 feet back up the south rim.
3. Put a Twist on Your Usual Route
Trail runner Kyle Dietz, 30, of Davenport, Iowa, lives about as far from the mountains as possible. But he makes the most of the trail systems and natural preserves around the Quad Cities by occasionally dipping off-trail.
“All the time, I’ll just go out and wander, just go through the woods, never taking the same route twice,” says Dietz. “Especially [in the spring], when it’s not overgrown yet, I’ll wander through ravines and river bottoms, scramble on whatever I can find, and just go as far as I can go.”
If you’re getting bored with the same route form your local trailhead, going off the beaten path can bring out your inner explorer. Just pay attention to the environment around you to minimize impact, as Dietz does.
“I’m not stomping on stuff, and I make sure to tread as lightly as possible to respect the woods,” he says.
4. Embrace the Suck
Part of any truly epic experience in the backcountry involves some degree of misery and suffering. Short tempers, low food or water reserves, and cold, wet conditions provide the sort of fun we only usually appreciate after the fact.
We typically try to avoid these complications on a longer trip. But for a shorter one, actually seeking them out can take a routine run and turn it into one you’ll remember and recount to friends.
Dietz says he’ll intentionally seek out bad weather for this reason. “When it’s crappy out, if it’s raining and cold or snowing, I’ll go out and run or ride my bike immediately,” he says. “The harder the downpour, the better.”
He says if a storm is forecasted on a given day, he will typically wait until it’s supposed to hit to go out.
“One time I went off-trail in a blizzard, and it was snowing and blowing so hard that by the time I turned around my footprints were gone,” he says. “I got lost, but I still remember that run pretty clearly. I love it.”