15 Fall Trail Races Under 15 Miles
Beautiful courses that won’t take you all day to run!
Runners at the Ft. Steilacoom Trail Run, by Evergreen Trail Runs. Photo by Steve Sanders.
Ultras, schmultras … let’s talk about some terrific shorter-distance races that we’d love to run this fall. Here are 15 favorites across the United States that spotlight this season’s brilliant, changing leaves and the equally colorful trail-running communities who put on these races. Quirky prizes, costume contests, seasonal brews and ciders at finish lines, moonlight runs and plenty of mud—come celebrate autumn on the trails!
Note: This article was originally published on trailrunnermag.com in September 2013. We've since a few small updates to the piece, including replacing canceled races and updating the dates for 2015. Some of these races may already be sold out - but hey, there's always next year!
1. Hungerford Games Half Marathon
Big Rapids, MI
Sept. 26, 2015
This race might win both the award for Punniest Event Name and Best Awards Ever. Focused on giving racers a “uniquely arboreal experience,” the Games take place in stunning Michigan woods peaking in fall colors. Finishers will receive beautiful medals crafted out of local wood and branded on-site. Top-three finishers will also receive chainsaw-carved wooden trophies. There are accompanying marathon- and 50-mile distance races, with ultra finishers earning a hand-crafted hiking stick.
Left: Chainsaw-carved trophies. Right: Hand-crafted, wooden finisher medals.
2. Paine to Pain Trail Half Marathon
New Rochelle, NY
Oct. 4, 2015
Just 40 minutes from New York City, this unique half marathon is almost entirely on dirt, beginning and finishing on Thomas Paine’s former farm. The large, single-loop format proffers gorgeous, new views at every bend in the trail. It has just enough hills, rocks and roots to add about one minute per mile to your road half-marathon, making it great for both long time trail runners and rookies alike. Keep an eye out for wildlife such as deer, fox, coyote, hawks, owls and wild turkey. Chip timing, age group awards, “the best medals I’ve seen” (in the words of a 2012 runner), an Olympic-style finish at the local high school track, bagels, smoothies and other goodies at the finish!
You know you want one.
3. Honey Badger Half Marathon 10K and 5K
San Rafael, CA
Oct. 11, 2015
Preview run on the course. Photo by Matt Forsman
Organized by the fine folks at Sasquatch Racing—whose stated mission is to “create fun, quirky, offbeat, and mysterious running events that attract an eclectic mix of runners, revelers, urban legends, and everyone/everything in between”—the Honey Badger Half, 10K and 5K is sure to be a romping good time. Runners can enjoy strategically positioned honey badgers—costumed ones, we assume, not actually the vicious creature of YouTube fame—along the course to cheer them on. Race director Matt Forsman says one of the goals of Sasquatch Racing is to “inject some ‘road race’ panache and flair” into the trail world, reducing the intimidation factor by keeping things goofy and fun. All half marathoners will receive special honey badger medals that double as bottle openers. Says Forsman, “This will come in handy [for the] Red Hook beer at the conclusion of the race.”
Those who came out for the preview run enjoy some post-run brewskis. Photo by Matt Forsman
Preview run: youtu.be/CgtR0uJWmBA
4. Ft. Steilacoom 5K, 10K, Half Marathon
Oct. 18, 2015
A Ft. Steilacoom runner celebrates the majesty of this park. Photo by Steve Sanders.
Put on by a beloved local racing company, Evergreen Trail Runs, the Ft. Steilacoom Trail Runs offer a little something for everyone. The race takes place on rolling terrain through fields, forests, grasslands and lakes, in an urban park with historical significance in the settling of the Washington Territory in the 1800s. In addition to the shorter distances, there is also a full marathon and 50K course. Race director Roger Michel says, “Last year we had a family that came to the race that had their youngest daughter do the 5K, the older one the half marathon, the mother the marathon and the dad the 50K, so it’s pretty ideal for families that don't necessarily run the same distances or speed but they can all have their fun!”
5. Tick or Treat Night Trail 5K
Kansas City, KS
Oct. 30, 2015
“Spooky surprises await!” promises the website for this Halloween-themed evening 5K, put on by the Kansas-City-area Trail Nerds running group. Expect plenty of Halloween decorations, ranging from skeletons to spiders to jack-o-lanterns, along the heavily-wooded course at Wyandotte Country Lake Park. With spooky glowstick trail marking and a costume contest, this family-friendly race (with low entry fees) promises all participants a commemorative winter hat, logo mug and candy at the finish line. Don’t forget your headlamp!
6. Terror in the Glen 5K, 10K and Half Marathon
Glenwood City, WI
Oct. 17, 2015
With Halloween around the corner, this festive, family-friendly run offers a variety of distances and challenges on grassy prairie trails and forested singletrack. Beautiful lake views and vistas abound. Costumes are welcome, the long-sleeve race shirts are stellar (in the words of race director Bob Heise, “I have competed in a lot of races and have an entire closet full of event shirts, but, in my opinion, this might be the coolest shirt I may ever own”) and winners receive homemade baked goods and jams. What’s not to love?
7. Happy Girls Trail Half Marathon
Oct. 24, 2015
This women’s trail half marathon in beautiful Sisters, Oregon course is mostly downhill, winding through singletrack dirt trails, rolling hills and forested parts of the Peterson Ridge trail system. Among the race weekend festivities are a women’s expo, party at the Three Creeks Brewery and Sisters Stoll through downtown Sisters. Winners receive a night’s stay at the Five Pine Lodge, a one-hour massage at Shibui Spa and dinner for two at Three Creeks Brewery. The race has sold out the last two years, so sign up early.
8. Western Reserve Racing Fall Running Series
Cuyahoga Valley National Park, OH
Oct. 6, 13, 20, 27 and 29, 2015
Need an excuse to get out during the week (every week!) throughout the month of October for a series of fun evening races? Look no further. These 3- to 6-mile events are runner- and walker-friendly, with surprise themes to each one announced just before the start (i.e. as the website states, "You don't have to be the fastest to win!") The Oct. 29 "Halloween Run" starts at 8 p.m., so bring a flashlight or headlamp. Age-group awards are offered in five-year increments, and the entire series supports the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park.