Finding Paradise: Choosing the Trails of the 2023 XTERRA Trail Run Champs

A look at what to expect as the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship heads for a fresh set of trails on Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine, USA.

Written by
Sarah Canney
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The road hugs the river, winding up the Carrabassett Valley in Maine, USA until it reaches the entrance to Sugarloaf Mountain, Maine’s largest ski resort. Turn into the entrance, pass the large blue and white logo featuring the snow-capped mountain peak, and you’ll find signposts directing to various lifts and lodging. But we aren’t here to ski. We’re here to run. 

The XTERRA Trail Run World Championship has called Hawaii home since the race began in 2008. But in 2023, the race will leave the lush and humid landscape of the islands for the rugged terrain of Maine’s North Country.

Steve Andrus, XTERRA’s US Tour Manager scouted Maine as a potential location in 2022. Struck by the hospitable atmosphere, beautiful natural surroundings, and generous community, he pushed to bring the championship to Sugarloaf. “The valley, from the ridges to the peaks, dropping down into the village, crossing the river, all with the fall leaves changing; it’s a beautiful location that XTERRA is excited to feature as the ending to a historic year for the Trail Run World Series”

Set to the backdrop of fall’s brilliant colors, runners from all over the world will have the opportunity to participate in multiple race distances. The weekend will include the World Championship Trail Marathon and Trail Half Marathon, along with 10K and 5K distances to complete an inclusive festival of trail running. Qualified runners will compete in the marathon and half marathon championship races for a combined prize purse of $10K. But you don’t have to be qualified to take to the trails as the open category extends to all distances and gives trail runners a chance to experience the same world-class trails as those competing for World Championship crowns.

Instrumental in bringing the event to Maine, Brenna Herridge has been at Sugarloaf for over two decades. For a while, Herridge has had a vision to put Sugarloaf and the Carrabassett Valley’s extensive trail system at the center of a running event. “Sugarloaf is a racing community, not just skiing, but snowboarding, biking and now running. I’ve been trying for years to bring a race to the beautiful trails here.”

She speaks fondly of the area as someone who knows the trails well. “I’m not a runner, but I’m out there on my mountain bike and I’ve bumped into so many trail runners.” Clearly, Sugarloaf is a racer’s paradise.

East Coast trail running, sometimes called the “Beast Coast”, is synonymous with technicality. Granite boulders, roots, and streams overflowing with rainfall from a wet summer will make for rugged running. Herridge, who designed much of the course, says the rugged terrain will feature steep climbs and technical descents over jagged granite boulders. 

No buttery single track in sight, both the marathon and half marathon course will challenge runners as they race up ski slopes and access roads starting at grades of 13% up to 26% on their way to the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain, topping out at 4237 feet just above the treeline. 

A stunning vista of Maine’s highest peaks will greet the runners before they plunge back down the face of the mountain, at grades as steep as 33%, and into the woods, lacing through Sugarloaf’s Nordic and mountain bike trail network. Here runners will encounter rolling terrain punctuated by roots and rocks.

Half Marathoners will loop back to finish where they started in the Sugarloaf village. Marathoners head across the river to loop through the Narrow Guage Trails, part of the Carrabassett Valley Trail System, encountering bridges and winding trails, before heading back to the Sugarloaf village for their finish. 

Racers in the open category will have the opportunity to experience either the marathon, half marathon, or 10K and 5K courses. Local runners will recognize the 10K and 5K courses as those from Sugarloaf’s Flume Trail Race. Rounding out the festival is a welcome dinner on Friday night, live music throughout the weekend, and an awards festival to celebrate the racer’s accomplishments. 

But even after the last feet cross the finish line, runners might find it hard to leave the Carrabassett Valley. “It’s like magic,” Andrus says of Sugarloaf. Tucked in the village at the base of the mountain or looking out from the summit at the Valley below, it’s easy to see the magic Andrus talks about. The colorful ridgelines roll to the horizon, ablaze with changing leaves. “More than anything,” Herridge says. “ I’m excited for the runners to see the view from the summit. On a quintessential fall day, it will be stunning.”

To learn more about the event or to register for the open categories, visit the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship event page. You can also learn more about the XTERRA Trail Run World Series here
















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Author Bio

Sarah Canney

Sarah Canney is a mountain, trail and snowshoe runner who lives and trains in rural New Hampshire, USA. She is also a running coach and founder of the women’s running retreat, Rise Run Retreat. Find more from Sarah on her website or Instagram.

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