Summerlong Summit Trail Running Series debuts June 10 with French Gulch 4K and 6K | SummitDaily.com

Summerlong Summit Trail Running Series debuts June 10 with French Gulch 4K and 6K

It was a warm Tuesday afternoon in June, and Brian Schaefer had just wrapped up with his annual, early-summer ritual.

The longtime events coordinator for the town of Breckenridge's recreation department spent the first chunk of his afternoon in French Gulch, marking trails and routes for the first event in the Summit Trail Running Series.

While the trail is hardly a pushover, series regulars know it's a mellow — and much-needed — welcome back to trail running. It's one of the easiest in the six-race series, so, of course, it has also become a beloved staple, summer after summer.

And besides, the 4K and 6K routes through French Gulch boasts the best views this side of a beach running series.

"This race just has a great, great view of the ski resort and the Tenmile Range," Schaefer said shortly after returning from the trail, where cell service is spotty at best. "You'll see exactly how much snow is still out there, along with how much has melted over the last week. And the weather is just unbelievable today. It's nice to pre-test everything, give your runners an idea of what they're up against if they don't know the trail."

Sure, Schaefer doesn't have the chance to compete in any of the series races — there's way too much going on behind the scenes for that — but at least he gets an hour or two on the trail the day before, and it's all on the clock.

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Like the Summit Mountain Challenge, another midweek summer series, the Summit Trail Running Series is built for folks who live, work and play in Summit. There's the occasional Front Range or Western Slope runner, but, more often than not, the folks who swear by the series come straight from work, lace up at the trailhead and head home after a beer at the finish line. Then, they wait another two weeks and do it all over again.

"Everybody calls it hump day, but this is a nice way to enjoy the middle of the week," Schaefer said. "This really gives people a chance to get out, meet new friends, do the sort of thing they wouldn't do during an ordinary work week."

Not an easy 4K

The entire running series shares much with the French Gulch opener. For starters, both are local favorites — again, it's a break from the midweek grind. The series also gets nastier as the summer wears on, ending with the one-two punch of a 14K at Carter Park and 11K on the Flumes trails. Each race includes two distances, Schaefer explains, to give both veterans and first-timers a benchmark.

"People like to progress through the summer," he said. "As we move on, every race gets a little bit longer and a little bit longer. It's fun to see people improving on their times, so, by the end of the series, you have a lot of folks who are surprised by how well they do."

Beyond the basics, the series and French Gulch are more intimidating than they appear on paper. Take the 4K course: At less than 3 miles, even runners who barely lifted a toe this winter might think it's a bit too easy — except that the route is wildly different than the 6K.

No, Schaefer purposely takes 4K runners over X10U8, a trail well known (and feared) for a steep uphill push over large rocks and boulders. From start to finish, the route covers nearly 400 vertical feet, with a maximum elevation of 10,300 feet. Par for the course in Breckenridge, but the combination of sustained altitude and that one tricky section might surprise runners who expected a leisurely walk in the park.

"I think that short course might be a little more challenging," said Schaefer, who expects a total of 115 to 130 runners. "Even though it's shorter, it will be more difficult because of those rocky, technical uphill sections. You'll probably get a little tired in that stretch."

The 6K skips X10U8 completely, instead sticking to Minnie Mine Trail, Sidedoor Trail and Prospect trail. The route covers slightly more altitude than the 4K with 505 vertical feet, but the uphills are more gradual and forgiving, Schaefer says.

While the series as a whole is more or less familiar to longtime runners, he says the town and county are digging into a slew of trail projects this summer to prep for next year. The 2016 series will feature a few new routes to showcase the newest branches on the Breck trail system.

"We're looking to tie some new systems together that can really expand the series. and everyone is stoked about that," he said. "Even if you've never been part of the series before, it's a great intro to the trails we have in Breck, just a chance to learn the local trail system, meet some local runners and really progress."

Summit Trail Running Series

June 10: French Gulch (4K, 6K)

June 24: Morning Thunder/BOEC (4K, 7K)

July 8: Baker’s Tank (4K, 9K)

July 22: Horseshoe Gulch (6K, 14K)

Aug. 12: Carter Park (6K, 14K)

Aug. 26: Flumes/Tom’s Baby (7K, 11K)

All races are held Wednesday at 6 p.m. on trails in the Breckenridge area. For more information on the entire series, including trail maps and descriptions, see the recreation page at http://www.townofbreckenridge.com.