Move over, Roy Rogers. Instead of singing about the trails, we Texans tend to use them. Whether it's the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo's annual trail rides, or the 129-mile Lone Star Hiking Trail through the Sam Houston National Forest, no path is safe from our stride.
Sometimes, when the mood strikes us, we run them.
Ragnar Relay out of Salt Lake City knows this all too well. Since 2003, the overnight team relay series has produced races in locations like Cape Cod, Chicago and Napa Valley. Each one is about 200 miles in length, and teams of 12 or six run through the night to finish in time for the after party.
Texas had been a glaring absence on Ragnar's roster. “We've been thinking about doing a road race in Texas for a long time,” says race director Pat Paterson. A few attempts were made to establish courses, but they had always “run into logical problems and haven't been able to pull it off.” With the new Ragnar Trail series, however, Paterson and the gang have finally found a way to include our fair state.
This Friday, runners will hit the trails for the first Ragnar Trail Hill Country event at the Flat Rock Ranch, located 45 miles northwest of San Antonio. Unlike its road counterparts, Ragnar Trail features a 120-mile course run by teams of eight or four. Runners jaunt through alternating loops on a number of trails that always circle back to base camp, where they're treated to a large community camp ground with food, live music and bonfires.
Paterson, who serves as Hill Country's race director, will be on hand to make sure everything runs according to plan. Jimmy Dreiss, owner and operator of Flat Rock Ranch, will be there right beside him. The private 1,300-acre ranch, which has been in Dreiss's family for over 100 years, is best known for 27 miles of single-track trails and annual mountain bike races. Hill Country will be the first running event Flat Rock has ever hosted.
It's also one of the first trail relay races ever held in the state, but Texas is by no means a stranger to trail running. During my days as a lowly graduate student in Huntsville, I caught the bug and ran regularly in the state park and national forest. Two years later, I found myself canvassing the nearby canyons of the Llano Estacado, or “Staked Plain,” for good trails.
Trail running is everywhere in Texas, but for something close by, check out these notable options.
Though you can't go too far off the beaten path, Houston's own Memorial Park offers several miles of trails with easy, moderate and high difficulty ratings. Most runners favor the loop trail that parallels Memorial Loop Drive, but there's always the smaller trails deep within the park. The easy Purple Trail will even get you within spitting distance of Buffalo Bayou.
Houston Running Festival
Aside from enduring your family, returning gifts, and growing fat, what are you doing after Christmas? Why not check out the annual Houston Running Festival in Bear Creek Park? It's not much for trails, but the event will definitely give you a taste for ultra marathons. (i.e., anything longer than a 26.2-mile marathon. Yes, those do exist.) It sports everything from a half marathon to a 100-mile race, and even includes 12-hour and 24-hour endurance races.
Huntsville State Park
It's by no means the closest state park to the city, but Huntsville State Park's trails are worth it. With a healthy mix of bike trails, running paths and dirt roads, there's always something for you to try. Plus, you might run into the 7 Hills Running Club, Huntsville's own wicked mix of ardent speedsters and relaxed trail runners. They're a fun bunch, and they might even talk you into running or volunteering for the Rocky Raccoon 100 and 50-mile races in late January and early February.
Sam Houston National Forest
Across I-45 North sits a large swath of national forest, which contains the 129-mile Lone Star Hiking Trail. A popular trail for hikers, horse riders, and outdoor enthusiasts, this long stretch of trail affords some of the area's most primitive and wild running grounds. There's not much in terms of paved roadways and running water, and that's just fine.