I can’t imagine living anywhere else other than right here in Kentucky. This is where my love for off-road racing was born. As a matter of fact, my first time running on a trail was right here in my own backyard. I made an agreement with a friend that I would try the trail at Freeman Lake if he would run on my favorite road route. It turns out that he really didn’t like my road route, and I REALLY loved these trails. I loved them so much that I started seeking out every dirty, rocky, rooty path I could find in our area.
There’s nothing like a trail race. It can’t be compared to the road. Don’t ask me what my pace is going to be. Don’t ask me where I expect to finish. I’m just taking it all in and enjoying the ride. I’ve done several trail races across Kentucky in the last few years, and while some of my favorites don’t exist anymore, there are plenty of great ones popping up.
Here’s your top 10 list of Kentucky trail races you need to sign up for:
Race director Steve Durbin has this race thing figured out. Durbin has a loyal following of his races and LBL is no exception. This March race in Grand Rivers, Kentucky just finished it’s 14th running with over 700 entrants. With a 50 mile, 60k, marathon, and 23K option, there’s something for everyone. Come with friends and stay at one of the 2 resorts, Green Turtle Bay, or Lighthouse Landing.
Relay races are not new to Kentucky, but TRAIL relay races are. Last year’s Ragnar Fort Knox was wildly successful, showcasing some of our local trails and attracting teams from around the country. It was one of my favorite memories of 2016. This year, Ragnar renamed the April race but kept the same venue at Otter Creek Park.
8. Louisville Lovin’ the Hills
I had the opportunity to volunteer for this chilly race in February. As the only 50k in the Louisville area, LLTH attracts several runners from around the state and neighboring states. Jefferson Memorial Forrest in Louisville offers a technical challenge to those wanting to step out of their comfort zones. Plus, if you like to run in cold temps, there’s a good chance you’ll be pleased with race day conditions.
The Cloudsplitter has the distinction of being Kentucky’s only 100 mile race. I have been told that it needs to be on everyone’s bucket list. Boasting a total ascent of 35,000 for the 100 miler, the Cloudsplitter is now a UTMB qualifying race.
This race is REALLY close to being at the top of my bucket list. The website alone will sell you on the beauty of the race. If you’ve never had the chance to check out the trails at Daniel Boone forest or Big South Fork, you are definitely missing out. We had the opportunity to do some camping in Big South Fork last year and it was absolutely breath taking.
5. Rugged Red Half Marathon
I was fortunate enough to be a part of the inaugural running of the Rugged Red Half Marathon in September 2014. A lot of memories were made that day with some gorgeous views, epic climbs, intense heat, (and a small bus wreck). This may be one of the hardest half marathons you’ll ever sign up for!
4. Otter Night Trail Runs and Otter Creek Marathon
Once you meet race directors Cynthia and Todd Heady, you’ll never forget them. As race directors and ultrarunning legends, their friendliness and hospitality is second to none. Sign up for one or both of the Heady’s Otter Creek races this year held in May and December. The Otter Night Trail Runs in May have an 8, 16, 25, 35 mile overnight run option and the December race has an 8, 16, and 26 mile option at Otter Creek Park. Be ready for great hospitality, great food, and great stories.
3. The Backside
My first trail race will always carry a special place in my heart. Race director and local ultrarunner, Troy Shellhamer, puts on a quality race on the trails of Seneca and Cherokee park in Louisville the day after the Derby marathon. Many runners will “double down” and do the Derby Marathon on Saturday and then the Backside Marathon on Sunday to get a distinct medal. Troy always has some really awesome prize tables set up for the top finishers. There’s also a half marathon option.
2. Freeman Lake Trail Series
The Freeman Lake Trail Series, put on by Running Soles (our local running store), has a lot to be proud of. Now in it’s 4th year, the Freeman Lake Trail Series has successfully donated 100% of All NET profits to ALL local HS Cross-Country programs in Elizabethtown City, Hardin County High Schools and The Greenbelt trails administration. As the parent of a high school cross country runner, this is greatly appreciated. As the only trail series in our area, the Freeman Lake Trail series is a must-do.
1. Backyard Classic
I may be slightly biased to make this #1 but I truly believe that we have created a spectacular event in our own backyard of Elizabethtown, Kentucky. As one of the race directors, I’m truly honored to be a part of the journey that this race has taken me on. The Backyard Classic is an 8 hour timed event held in August that you can run solo or as a team of 2. The course is a 3.25 mile loop in the Elizabethtown Nature Park, where you can set up a tent or canopy and run/walk at your leisure. Created with friends during my cancer journey in 2015, the BYC has since taken on a life of it’s own. Last year we were happy to donate 100% of net profits to Hardin Memorial Cancer Care Center where I received treatment and to our local Greenspace organization. The Backyard Classic is a race you won’t want to miss.