It's hardly a long haul to find a rewarding running experience 

Aces with laces

If you're a competitive runner, or even if you're not, Colorado Springs is a great place to live and train.

Not only are there nationally renowned racing events here and other places along the Front Range, such as the famous Bolder Boulder 10K, but those who don't want to huff and puff in the company of others can find glorious trails and parks where they can be alone in their agony.

Not to mention that training at altitude gives all runners, from competitors to joggers, an advantage when they travel to almost any other city in the country. Ah, the ease of a three- or four-mile trot in Washington, D.C., for example, which is barely above sea level.

Forget, for a moment, the chore of reacclimating to 6,000 feet upon your return.

The starting line

The club scene, so to speak, is huge here. And the best one to start with, for just about anyone, is Pikes Peak Road Runners (pprrun.org), which serves as an online clearinghouse for running-related information. From race results and schedules to ideas for trails to explore on your own, you'll find it on their site. Plus, a $15 annual membership fee gets you reduced entry fees at many area races, as well as discounts at various sporting-goods stores and a newsletter subscription.

At pprrun.org, you'll also find a good rundown of smaller clubs, or groups, that bring runners together weekly. For instance, Mondays are when the UVC Running Club holds its regular run/walk, starting at 6 p.m. at University Village Colorado shopping center (5230 N. Nevada Ave., uvcshopping.com). It's a low-key group with members ranging from those who bring their dogs or kids for a walk to more competitive types, says club member Jamie Kratt.

"People can get out and get in shape and stay in shape and not have the pressure of competition," Kratt says, who adds that the club disperses coupons for restaurants at the shopping center for a meal or cocktail afterward.

Discounts also abound in other area running clubs, many of which are actually organized by individual restaurants that funnel sweaty participants in after the outing. See: Jack Quinn's Running Club (21 S. Tejon St., jackquinnsrunners.ning.com) on Tuesdays; Nacho Ordinary Running Club at Salsa Brava Fresh Mexican Grill on Tuesdays (9420 Briar Village Point, salsabravacolorado.com) and Wednesdays (802 Village Center Drive); and Thunder & Buttons' Westside Running Club (2415 W. Colorado Ave., thunderandbuttons.com) on Thursdays.

As for races, they go year-round and range from the excruciatingly difficult Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon — which turns downtown Manitou Springs into a fitness-filled circus one weekend each August — to fun runs associated with causes. Outside the online realm, up-to-date info can be found at Colorado Running Company (833 N. Tejon St., corunco.com), which sponsors its own short social runs through the week.

On your side

The city keeps a decent list of trails and maps (tiny.cc/oxlqcx) that together outline an intricate web of potential running routes across the city. One thing it trumpets: that the New Santa Fe Regional Trail, Pikes Peak Greenway and Fountain Creek Regional Trail are linked, enabling not only runners, but hikers and cyclists, to travel 35 miles continuously from Palmer Lake to Fountain.

All that didn't happen by accident, says city parks director Karen Palus. "We have a master plan for our trail system," she says. "In fact, we're working on our bike-ped plan that will link our off-road and on-road facilities. Our goal is to have a well-connected city, and provide opportunities for transportation as well as leisure pursuits."

Jeff Webb, parks senior grants and design analyst, says the city has no shortage of trail users, according to data obtained from trail counters. For example, a counter on the Pikes Peak Greenway's east side next to the Colorado College soccer field counted 185,204 people going by — runners, walkers and cyclists, although Webb says the traffic is predominantly by foot — from July 17, 2013, through March 11, 2014.

"There's trail on both sides of the creek," he notes, "so this is by no means everyone." This spring, the city hopes to have 13 counters installed throughout the trail network, and will report the use numbers on the city's website.

The Manitou Incline (manitouincline.net) counter marked 146,750 users just from July 19, 2013, through March 11, Webb says.

"That makes it one of the most used trails in our city, and none is more difficult, so that speaks to the character of our folks here," he says. Indeed, the mile-long set of steps that was built as a road bed for a cable tram in 1907 is the ultimate kick-your-butt climb.

Consider this

Many organized runs are held on trails and blocked-off streets, but people run everywhere in Colorado Springs, including busy city streets. While motorists can be courteous, Pikes Peak Road Runners president Bethany Garner recommends that anyone who insists on using city streets choose some with wide shoulders.

And while there have been few documented attacks on runners locally, it's a good idea to carry pepper spray, whether in a neighborhood or out in a park — especially since this city is so canine-crazy.

"I've been bit by dogs on a trail," Garner says. "They're not as friendly as their owners think they are."

Another suggestion: If you wear ear buds, keep one ear open so you can be aware of your surroundings.

But whether you go it alone or run in a pack, you'll probably find Colorado Springs a more-than-hospitable place to run. Says Garner: "You can plug in fairly quickly to find out what the best places are, and to find a group of people you'll enjoy putting in some miles with."


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