Elevation: 4,820 feet | Population: 52,600
Situated between the Big Belt, Crazy and Beartooth mountains in southwest Montana, Bozeman is the state’s fourth-largest city but also one of the fastest growing since 2010. Despite the growth, it’s maintained its rugged mountain town vibe thanks in large part to the relatively easy access to trails and big mountains and a population that thrives on skiing, hiking, trail running mountaineering and mountain biking. The city is named after John M. Bozeman who established the Bozeman Trail pioneer route and was a founder of the town in August 1864, but the land was previously sacred land and common hunting ground of the native Crow, Pend d’Oreille/Kalispel, Salish and Blackfeet people.
Grayson Murphy admits there are some similarities to competing in both the 3,000-meter steeplechase on the track and grueling, short-distance trail races in the mountains. Both events spike your heart rate and force you to grind through the lung-burning anguish that ensues.
But it’s rare that a runner finds success in both the way the 26-year-old Murphy has, if only because track and trail disciplines are so different. Does that make her special or a little bananas?
“Maybe both?” she says . “The events are really not that different, but it kind of depends on what you like to do as a runner. Do you want to do gritty, hard training on the track or go grind in the mountains for four hours at a time? It turns out, I kind of like to do both.”
Two years ago, the former All-American runner at the University of Utah was feeling a bit burnt out from running on the track and the roads, so she started to dabble in trail running. She entered the Cirque Series trail in Brighton, Utah — a 6.7-mile race with 3,015-feet of vertical gain — and finished second to Morgan Arritola, a former Olympic cross country skier who placed third at the trail running world championships in 2012.
It was a great start for Murphy and it whets her appetite for more. To say she burst on the trail running scene after that is an all-time understatement. Over the next few months, Murphy won the U.S. Mountain Running Championships in Waterville Valley, New Hampshire, the World Mountain Running Championships in Argentina and Xterra Trail Run World Championships in Hawaii.
“It was a wild ride to be on the U.S. team heading to the World Championships and then to end up winning Worlds, it was very unexpected,” Murphy says. “It was really cool to see the international level of trail competition. I didn’t really know what to expect, but it made me want to keep racing on trails.”
Murphy has continued to excel on the track (6th in the steeplechase at the U.S. Olympic Trials in June) and roads (1st at the Desert News 10K, 31:13), but her biggest goal race this year is the 2021 World Mountain and Trail Running Championships on Nov. 11 in Thailand.
Murphy grew up in Salt Lake City, but has been living in Bozeman with her boyfriend, Logan Diekmann, a professional Nordic skier who she met in college. While she does most of her hard workouts on the Montana State University track, she often runs the meandering canyon trails adjacent to the city and occasionally heads to Yellowstone National Park. Sometimes she links up with Diekmann and his skier buddies during their summer training runs, but she prefers to run shorter and faster than some of their epic, long-haul jaunts.
“The biggest thing about running anywhere around Bozeman is that I have to carry bear spray every place I run,” she says. “I carry it on every run, no matter if I’m running the local canyons or high on the Bridger Ridge or if I’m doing a long run in Yellowstone. It’s just what you have to do here.”
Best Places to Run
In addition to rugged mountain trails to featured peaks and destinations like Baldy Mountain, Mt. Ellis and the Bridger Ridge Traverse, there are also numerous trail systems within the Gallatin Valley Land Trust (gvlt.org) that include a range of mellow to moderate trails. Murphy says, “ It’s a pretty popular route, but it’s not for the faint of heart.”
The 19.9-mile Bridger Ridge Run (mid-August; winddrinkers.org) is Bozeman’s classic trail race one of the toughest in the U.S., known for 6,800 feet of climbing and 9,500 feet of descending, above-treeline exposure and, often, no clearly defined trail. Organized by the Big Sky Wind Drinkers running club, it’s been held since local trail running legend Ed Anacker started it back in 1985. Other nearby races include The Rut Mountain Runs (50K, 28K, 11K and VK) at Big Sky Resort (early September; runtherut. com), the 9-mile Baldy Blitz (mid-May; wine drinkers. org) and the 7.5-mile John Colter Run at Missouri Headwaters State Park (mid-September; winddrinkers.org).
Food & Drink
Bozeman has an eclectic array of restaurants, pubs and microbreweries located in old the downtown area. Murphy recommends heading to Shine Beer Sanctuary for craft beer and tacos at its LaPa Grill or the Italian fare at the Blackbird Kitchen. Head to Revelry for homemade fried chicken, seared bison sausage or a poblano burger and visit Montana Ale Works and Bozeman Brewing Company for their locally brewed beers.
Elevation: 289 feet | Population: 4,081
Richmond is a classic 18th century New England town in the northwestern corner of Vermont. It has a quaint old downtown with local business, but it’s also in the heart of the Green Mountains with rolling farmland and great trails are only a stone’s throw away. The 273-mile Long Trail passes through Bolton, the next town over, about 10 minutes from the center of Richmond. Northern Vermont is the cherished homeland of the native Abénaki people.
When he was a kid, Ben Feinson loved hiking sections of the Long Trail with his family.
When he graduated from Mt. Mansfield Union High School, he and his best friend, Owen Rachampbell, hiked the entire 273-mile route that bisects the state of Vermont in 20 days, just about the time the trail was celebrating its 100th anniversary.
“When I was in Boy Scouts working for the backpacking merit badge, we were told that ‘Cave Dog’ Teddy Keizer had run the entire trail in about four and a half days and none of us could even imagine it,” Feinson said. “It was really exciting back then to think about what it would be link to run the trail that fast.”
Feinson ran cross country in high school and started trail running on the trails around Mt. Mansfield and Camel’s Hump State Park. After studying environmental science at Cornell University, he returned to his hometown and started the Richmond Trail Runners with some of his friends.
“I have always really enjoyed hiking up and running down Camel’s Hump and Mt. Mansfield near Richmond,” Feinson says. “There is something really special learning how to move fast and efficiently over that super gnarly technical terrain, especially when you’re in such a beautiful place. It’s a whole mind and body experience. You have to be in total flow and focus if you want to move fast over the technical rocks and roots.”
All along, his fascination for the Long Trail never dwindled. Now a 29-year-old full-time carpenter in Richmond, Feinson revved up his running over the past year and decided to make his own attempt on the Long Trail’s Fastest Known Time. In February, he ran the Black Canyon Ultras 60K in Arizona and then completed his first 100-miler at the Infinitus Trail Races in under 24 hours in the nearby town of Brandon.
With the help of a good crew eight good friends, Feinson completed the trail north to south in 4 days, 11 hours, and 44 minutes, besting Johnathan Basham‘s 2009 record by about an hour. He originally thought about doing it unsupported, but he had so many friends that wanted to support him, it just made sense that do it supported style.
He says he couldn’t have done it without the commitment and efforts of Rachampbell, Prem Linskey, Maia Buckingham, Theresa Legan, Rob Rives, Lance Parker, Nik Ponzio, Jim Feinson, Jesse Vining and coach Joe “String Bean” McConaughy.
“My legs were stronger and held up well most of the way,” he said. “I was much better shape than I expected and tired less than I expected, but the sleep deprivation and nutrition were a big deal. I really had to learn to eat enough and eat healthy enough and eat consistently to keep my energy levels up because the risk of big bonks became greater and greater as the trip went on. But the best thing about it is that you realize you’re with a group of super kind, humble mountain athletes who will jump up and hike 12 miles through the middle of the night in the rain with you on a moment’s notice and that’s amazing.”
Best Places to Run
There are many twisting and turning singletrack trails in Camel’s Hump State Forest just down the road in Huntington, several of which are feeder trails for the Long Trail. Starting from Forest City Trail, you can run Dean Trail to Monroe Trail to the top of Camel’s Hump (4,083 feet), which is Vermont’s third-highest peak. Preston Loops is a mountain bike area with an amazing array of singletrack routes that was built by local mountain bikers. Duxbury’s Honey Hollow is a Nordic ski area in the winter, but in the spring, summer and fall you can run a compelling 7-mile loop on the Catamount Trail.
Stark Mountain Hill Climb Run (5K; starkmountain.org) and ShoeFly Trail Running Series (1 mile, 5K, 10K; unsignup.com/Race/ Events) are two summer stables near Richmond. Infinitus Races puts on a wide range of legendarily hard trail races of all distances in Brandon (100M, 88K, 26.2M, 8K trail run; endurancesociety.org/ infinitus.html). Central Vermont Runners (cvrunners.org), a running and social group that has organized races, group runs and encouraged a healthy lifestyle since 1980, organizes its All-Terrain Races Series every summer, a five-race circuit from 5K to 10 miles on trails and dirt roads around the region, including the Equinox Trail 10K in Charlotte (late June) and the Groton Forest Trail Run in Groton (mid-September).
Food & Drink
Stone Corral is a family-owned artisanal brewery that began on a nearby ranch in nearby Huntington and prides itself of serving hearty burgers and crafting local, seasonal flavors and borrowing from the German, Belgian and British brewing traditions. Hatchet has an eclectic array of Asian fare, burgers and wicked cocktails. Visit Sweet Simone’s bakery and café for a cupcake.
Elevation: 1,237 feet
Gilbert is a growing city on the southeastern section of the Phoenix metropolitan area that offers easy access to numerous regional mountain parks and the more expansive terrain of the Superstition Mountains and Tonto National Forest. Although it initially existed as an agricultural community, The area has been stewarded by numerous Indigenous people, including the Ak-Chin, Pima, Maricopa and Yavapai tribes.
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