Already in its seventh season, the XTERRA Arizona Trail Run Series is a perfect winter racing destination. Fall and winter are lovely in Arizona, with daytime temperatures generally below 80 with crisp mornings and evenings. If you start early enough, before the sun, you may even see some of the last desert stars.
XTERRA triathlete Shannon Lindner founded the XTERRA Arizona Trail Run Series out of a desire to share her favorite trails with others.
"I tried to hold the races in a variety of areas surrounding Phoenix so no one is traveling more than anyone else," said Lindner. "Four out of five of the races are in County Parks, and I love the community that we create out on single track."
This year, the season opened up with XTERRA Estrella Mountain on October 8th. This weekend, the XTERRA San Tan Trail Run will head through the challenging terrain of San Tan Regional Park, where runners can choose the 14-mile loop or the 8K loop.
"Athletes have a love hate relationship with this course," said Lindner. "There's a four-mile wash that runners cross, and this year, with all the storms we've had, it's pretty sandy. There's also a climb right at the end of the 14-mile course, so that's always fun."
Lindner admits that other races skip technical and difficult sections, like the wash, but she likes to keep athletes on their toes - sometimes literally.
On January 7th, the series will continue with XTERRA White Tanks, which includes 20K of grueling climbing with about 1500 feet of elevation gain.
"It's almost all single track and beautiful up in there," said Lindner. "Just be careful on the way down. We also have a big fire because it's finally winter and cold in the morning, so that's really cozy."
Lindner also puts on a non-XTERRA race - the Fat Turkey Trail Run on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
"I don't give out traditional awards there. Instead I dress a few people in turkey suits, and if you beat them, you get an award."
You can learn more, check out results and photos, and register for the XTERRA Arizona Series at www.aztrailrace.com.
Photo credit: Shannon Lindner