Pikes Peak country is big country. And when it comes to running and cycling, you can go big on beautiful mountain courses that make your heart thump with the joy of living while they also kick your butt. We’ve chosen some gutsy runs and rides for our bucket list, and tossed in a couple of 5Ks that are fun and fast. There’s never a better time to start planning and training than now. And keep an eye on those registration dates; some of these classics fill up fast.
5K on St. Patrick’s Day
When: March 17
Where: Downtown Colorado Springs
Tour of Colorado
When: May 12, June 9, July 14, Aug. 11
Where: Fountain, Palmer Lake, Leadville, Powder Horn Ski Resort
Here’s a chance to get in on an inaugural epic. This new series offers the best of Colorado cycling, back roads, plenty of support, a healthy serving of gravel, plus local food and beer. The series kicks off on May 12 with the “Fountain-Roubaix,” a 100-miler across the rolling plains southeast of Colorado Springs. And it gets better, with stages near Palmer Lake (101 miles,) Leadville (95.5 miles) and Powder Horn Ski Resort (63 miles.) All offer a taste of Colorado not available to auto passengers.
Elephant Rock Cycling Festival
When: June 3
Where: Castle Rock
After shivering through the winter and enduring Colorado’s fickle early spring weather, cyclists are ready to ride. And for more than three decades, the Elephant Rock Cycling Festival has been the go-to century to start a summer of pedaling. Ready for 100 miles on the road? Go for it. There are shorter distances as well, plus mountain bike rides for those loyal to their knobby tires. The courses cover beautiful open country between Palmer Lake and Castle Rock, with summer’s greens dominating the landscape. And the after-party is not to be missed.
Garden of the Gods 10 Mile Run & 10K
When: June 10
Where: Rock Ledge Ranch, Colorado Springs
Billed as the “Perfect 10,” it’s hard to argue. The Garden of the Gods was listed as the No. 1 park in the country in 2016 by the travel website TripAdvisor. And while most folks drive through the park, runners enjoy a more intimate experience as they gallop through a maze of sandstone towers. But don’t let the beautiful scenery fool you—the rolling hills of the Garden 10-miler and 10K are a challenge that will redline your heart rate. The finish is worth the effort, as runners fly onto the grounds of Rock Ledge Ranch, run past barns, horses and cows, and then relax with good food, beer and music at the Garden Run Fest.
The Pikes Peak Ultra 50 Mile, 50K and 30K
When: July 28
Where: Bear Creek Regional Park
If the peaceful pace of a 50-mile run appeals to you—meaning, you like to run all day—then the Pikes Peak Ultra is your event. The course was designed by ultrarunner and race director Justin Ricks, who wanted to “showcase some of the very best trails in Colorado Springs.”
The race will test the toughest runners. The 50-miler includes 11,000 feet of elevation gain on the high slopes above Cheyenne Cañon. The 50K has plenty of sting, with 9,000 feet of climbing. New to long-distance running on trails? The 30K is more gentle. There are plenty of aid stations with experienced ultrarunners there to keep you smiling and moving forward. But there’s no way around it: Prepare with lots of trail miles that go up.
The Broadmoor Pikes Peak Cycling Hill Climb
When: Aug. 11
Where: Pikes Peak Highway
Here are three words cyclists will understand when describing the Broadmoor Pikes Peak Cycling Hill Climb Competitive Race and Gran Fondo: “Shut up, legs!” There’s only one hill, and it’s a doozy. The distance of the ride is 12.42 miles, but be prepared because it finishes at the summit of Pikes Peak, 14,115 feet above sea level.
A popular ride, the Hill Climb is doable by reasonably fit cyclists willing to gear down and spin the pedals. Elite cyclists make it seem easy. It’s not. But once you pedal through quiet, ancient forests beneath the peak’s monolithic sun-splashed face, you’ll realize there is no rush. The course is the same used by the racecar drivers in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, with a flurry of switchbacks and famous landmarks such as Devil’s Playground and Bottomless Pit.
Ready to ride? Put in the climbing work this summer, and perhaps you won’t have to have that conversation with your legs—or at least not as often.
Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon
When: Aug. 18-19
Where: Manitou Springs
There are many ways to reach the summit of Pikes Peak. But if you’re up for a lung-busting challenge, nothing tops the Pikes Peak Marathon and Ascent. There are two races over one weekend. Some 1,600 runners tackle the 13.32-mile ascent on Saturday. The race begins in Manitou Springs and ends at the 14,115-foot summit of Pikes Peak. On Sunday, marathoners ascend the peak, then turn around and finish in downtown Manitou Springs.
Revered by the world’s top mountain runners, these races will break you down—then restore you with new confidence as you run above tree line and negotiate the final steep switchbacks. And when there is no more mountain to ascend, you can see for 100 miles or more in every direction on a clear day.
Registration opens on March 10. Oh, and forget about conquering the mountain. Run this one to shush those voices that say you can’t.
When: Aug. 25
Where: Rampart Range and Colorado Springs
With a classic course designed by local rider and racer Jayson Middlemiss, this race is pedal-smashing fun. Beginning at Criterium Bicycles, riders will cruise along city bike paths to the Garden of the Gods. And then the fun begins: miles of uphill gravel grinding on Rampart Range Road. Good news, the grades are fairly gentle, and the views are magnifique. You’re going to climb about 5,400 feet overall, but the descent into Monument, and the sprint down the New Santa Fe Regional Trail to the finish at Criterium is a blast.
American Discovery Trail Marathon, Half Marathon, 10K
When: Sept. 3, Labor Day
Where: Palmer Lake to America the Beautiful Park
OK, so you’re done with the uphill grind. We understand. It’s difficult to find level ground around these parts. But the American Discovery Trail Marathon is a different animal. The race starts in Palmer Lake, and the course—the New Santa Fe Regional Trail—runs slightly downhill for nearly all 26.2 miles. It’s a favorite of those who wish to secure a Boston Marathon qualifying time. A gravel surface for much of the way is easy on the body, and the finish line festivities are on point. A great choice for your first Colorado marathon. Half marathon and 10K options, too, and the event supports the Trails and Open Space Coalition.
Waldo Waldo 5K
When: TBA, usually October
Where: Downtown Colorado Springs
This one is all about having fun … for an excellent cause. The Waldo Canyon Fire began on June 23 and burned 18,247 acres and 346 homes near Colorado Springs. That’s when Colorado Springs resident Chelise Foster, who had hiked in the Waldo Canyon area two weeks before it burned, created the Waldo Waldo 5K, an event that benefits organizations that support “Waldo Canyon restoration, disaster relief and fire recovery, and trails and open space maintenance.” Thousands of participants turn out, all dressed as the Waldo or Wenda characters from the Where’s Waldo? children’s books. Costumes included with an affordable registration fee. The race is not timed, but go ahead and knock yourself out.
Cheyenne Mountain Run
When: TBA, usually late October
Where: Cheyenne Mountain State Park
Runners and riders in the Pikes Peak area must cringe when they read the words: The trails in Cheyenne Mountain State Park are the best on the Front Range. Some secrets are best kept secret, after all. Fact is, while there is plenty of great singletrack out there, Cheyenne Mountain State Park is a special location. And if you’re up for a good run, the Cheyenne Mountain Run in October is the ticket. Runners have the opportunity to ascend the new Dixon Trail, a sweet path—currently off limits and under construction—that will soon offer access to the summit of Cheyenne Mountain. Expect 9-plus miles with lots of climbing. The event is a fundraiser for trail-building costs. There is a 5K option, as well.