I was still rehabbing an injury and had just finished my personal worst 50K. Humbled by the mountains outside of Malibu and still nursing an injured hip, I was sharing beers with friends of a friend when a tanned, blonde Californian said this to me. It was one of the most offensive things anyone has ever said to me after a race:
“So this was your first trail race.”
“No,” I responded, “I’ve done a bunch, including two 100s.”
“Yeah, but you don’t have, like, real trails out East.”
Real trails? Really? I have about 125 miles of very real trails to run in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP), just a short drive from my front door. Cleveland also boasts an extensive MetroParks system consisting of more than 23,000 acres of parks and hundreds of running as well as newly added mountain bike trails.
As we’ve said before, Cleveland is a tough city with tough runners. We have a strong elite development group and hundreds of local races, amazing local running stores and a running group for every runner to find a home.
And the trail community surrounding Cleveland is no different.
About four years before that SoCal girl dissed the trails of the entire eastern half of North America, I ventured out on my first trail run with my best friend, Erin. We ran two five-mile loops of the Perkins Loop, also known as BBA, or Bills’ Bad Ass loop, which features one of the best sections of trail the CVNP has to offer. It was an absolutely gorgeous day; the fall colors had just peaked (take that, SoCal). I was impressed by how many runners showed up that morning, excited for a perfect day on the trails. After about two hours of mud, hills, water crossings, rocks, roots, more mud and more hills, I was hooked. . I realized just how lucky I was to have such an extensive park and trail system a short drive from home.
Now a seasoned trail runner and racer, I can tell you the many trail options around Cleveland are enough to challenge any level of ultra runner from newbie to veteran. The Cleveland MetroParks offer a wealth of horseback and hiking trails, so there’s the option of running well-groomed bridle paths or more technical hiking areas with plenty of hills, roots and rocks. The CVNP adds to the fun with much more variety than the smaller parks, but shares some trails with the MetroParks system, including the blue blazes of the Buckeye Trail, a 1,440 mile loop that circles the state of Ohio.
The CVNP itself is the real star of Cleveland’s trail scene though; there’s something for everyone! There are shorter easy runs, like the Lake, Oak Hill, or Pine Grove trails varying from one to two-mile distances with great views. If you want to go long but keep it easy, the Tow Path runs for nearly 20 miles, and even features its own marathon! On the more difficult end of the trail running spectrum are the Buckeye and Plateau trails. The Buckeye Trail stretches over 30 miles, while the Plateau Trail offers several bridges and plenty of hills on a 5.5 mile loop. And for daredevils, the Ledges Trail, while less than two miles long, provides plenty of potential face-plant opportunities on technical terrain.
Not only do Cleveland trails provide runners with an alternative to the competitive and crowded local road racing scene, it also provides us with a strong racing scene of its own. Western Reserve Racing and other area groups offer race distances from four to 100 miles and you can run at least one trail race any month of the year. My personal favorites are Fools 50K and 25K in April, the Burning River 100 in July-August (at which I’ve volunteered and paced several times, where Clove has placed several times and Cilantro ran in 2015), Run with Scissors half/full/double marathon and of course, my first 50K, the Bills Bad Ass 50K in November.
Ask any runner around Cleveland about his or her favorite part about trail running around Cleveland and almost every single person will say the community. We have a large, diverse trail community, where I have found some of my closest friends and been inspired by so many amazing runners. It’s always easy to find someone to share trails with on your long run day and groups like this one meet to explore the trails of the CVNP weekly. Pretty soon, we’ll even have Salty Camp there, and you can hit the trails with me!
Want to come and try out some trails near Cleveland soon? How about joining all of us at Salty Running Camp this July 29-31? We’ll be running, chatting, and having a blast exploring the trails of the CVNP and would love to meet YOU there!