A branch whips my face, then I hop a railroad tie. Ahead, beyond the line of runners, I can see a side trail that leads to a hobo camp.
It’s a weekend morning in Minneapolis. I am one of hundreds running an urban race, the CityTrail Loppet, sponsored by the outdoor goods and footwear brand Salomon.
The trajectory of organized recreational running events follows a funny arc. I’ve paid over the years to participate in venues as diverse as pro sports stadiums and muddy farm fields.
Big city marathons have throngs of fans and aid stations almost every mile. On the flip side, in wilderness ultras and adventure races, you wear a pack, haul your water, and see hardly a soul.
The CityTrail concept bridges those extremes, and I think it’s representative of a bigger trend. The campaign — which includes a race series, grass-roots run events, branded Salomon products, and a fitness app — posits that you can find adventure anywhere.
No need to drive to a wilderness trailhead. In Minneapolis, the CityTrail Loppet included a 10-mile and a 10K course, and runners began in a first-ring suburb before dropping into a wooded railroad corridor.
The race route crossed the Minneapolis border, then it headed south through parks, down rough trails, along train tracks, through woods, and over a creek.
We went around lakes, down a bike path, and, finally, the course finished at a sculpture garden beneath the glass towers of downtown.
Graffiti and at least one abandoned car were encountered. But we crossed almost no roads on the circuitous route and nature, of a sort, was the prevailing vibe.
For years, as a resident of the city, I have milked these edge zones, including “pirate” trails and wooded wastelands where my dog could run free.
I train in the urban wilds, including along a gorge near my house, running, mountain biking, and skiing on a frozen creek, all within earshot of a freeway and meandering through a dense urban core.
I am hardly alone in my search for some outdoor adventure among the city streets; certainly individuals and groups bike, run, and recreate in these fringes, which often blend into city parks or abandoned industrial areas.
Salomon and its CityTrail concept bring this to a new and highly promoted level. The company has gone as far as mapping routes in cities around America and the world, all available on the namesake CityTrail app.
The race last weekend followed flagging tape on its twisting course, and big white arrows of flour dribbled on dirt revealed the way. I tripped once and tumbled on a root, and I took at least one wrong turn.
Then I emerged from the woods and saw the city ahead. It was a thrill to be dirty and exhausted, dead leaves stuck in my arm hairs, then cross a finish line back in civilization at a manicured park.
The Loppet race was regulated and approved. No one is condoning trespass or anything beyond the law.
But when you can, no matter where you are, I do encourage getting off the beaten (and often very paved) path.
–Info on the CityTrail race series, grass-roots running events, and a free navigation/fitness app available via Salomon CityTrail site.