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5 Warm-Weather Trail Races to Cure the Winter Blues

Three women run on a trail through the mountains

It’s the New Year, and with it comes a reignited motivation for training and racing. Unfortunately, January ushers in some of the coldest temperatures of the year, and whether you’re running thigh-high through snow or slogging through dark and dreary skies, having a destination race to look forward to can add extra incentive to long training cycles.

Destination trail races don’t have to take place in warm climates, but for the sake of this article and the winter weather around much of the nation, we’re going to focus on mild (and in some cases, even tropical) places in the US.

1. Elephant Mountain

Distance: 55K, 35K, 22K, 12K, 6K

Cave Creek, Arizona

Feb. 1, 2020

Just a short drive north of sun-laden Phoenix, Elephant Mountain trail races—held in Cave Creek—offer single track trails and a variety of distances, from the 55K ultra to the fast and furious 6K. Run past towering saguaros and fragrant mesquite during the race, then head to nearby Phoenix to check out the Desert Botanical Garden and enjoy Southwestern food from food trucks that travel the city. The following day, stroll through one of several farmer’s markets to soak up the sun and try bright red prickly pear—the fruit, not the cactus that skewered you during the race.

2. Moab Red Hot

Distance: 55K, 33K

Moab, Utah

Feb. 15, 2020

Nothing says heat like Moab Red Hot’s 55K and 33K races. Start your trail season early with this competitive race, but enjoy yourself while you’re at it because of the scenery: Run past the La Sal mountains as you traverse smooth red rock, then head to Arches or Canyons National Parks for a post-run hike. While the days here can still be cool in February (with nights still dipping below freezing), the sun is usually shining and the competition is always heated.

3. Sycamore Canyon

Distance: 100K, 50K, Half, Relay

San Diego, California

Feb. 29, 2020

San Diego is known for its sunny days and 70°F temperature averages, but it’s also home to numerous single track trails, rolling hills and technical terrain. The Sycamore Canyon 100K, 50K, Half or Relay offers a figure-eight loop course. More importantly, it’s close to beaches like La Jolla Cove or Sunset Cliffs. Enjoy tacos or fresh seafood at the beach, then head downtown to visit the San Diego Zoo or simply stroll around picturesque Balboa Park.

4. Run for the Natural Areas Trail Race

Distance: 10K, 5K

West Palm Beach, Florida

March 14, 2020

In 1991 and again in 1999, Palm Beach County voters approved a fund to purchase South Florida’s natural areas for conservation. The Run for the Natural Areas Trail Race, which aims to feature the lands that remain protected, follows a trail around restored wetlands and offers chances to glimpse herons or turtles. Nearby, enjoy similarly wildlife-themed attractions like McCarthy’s Wildlife Sanctuary and Manatee Lagoon.

5. Mauna Kea Challenge

Distance: 50K, 50-Mile

Hilo, Hawaii

March 21, 2020

For a Hawaii trip that’s different than the norm, tackle the Mauna Kea Challenge, a 50K or 50-Mile race that offers 5,000 and 7,500 feet of climbing, respectively. Runners will gradually climb the red dirt roads of a dormant volcano called Mauna Kea, which boasts the highest point in Hawaii. Post-race, hike throughVolcanoes National Park or spend your time snorkeling at Hilo where palm trees lap the shore.


By Jade de la Rosa. Jade is a freelance writer and ultra runner based in Bellingham, Washington. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing and is working on her first historical fiction novel.

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