For my fellow beginner runners looking for a spring running goal, the NORAD four-mile trail race in Colorado Springs is a great one to aim for. I ran the four-mile race this past May to keep me motivated to stick with trail running after a lot of stops and starts.
I toe a very fine line between “having something exciting to motivate me” and “losing all joy in this activity because I put so much pressure on myself.” I teetered between those two emotions (and everywhere in between) dozens of time in the months leading up to the race, but having a goal ultimately got me running way more often than I had been.
The NORAD Trail Race is at Cheyenne Mountain State Park right across from Fort Carson in southern Colorado Springs. If you’re coming from Denver, that means a long drive on 25, which is obviously the worst. I generally try to avoid that highway like the plague, and we got stuck in a ton of traffic coming home after the race. It sucked, to be honest.
Registration + Perks
For $30-$35, this race is about the price of your average 5k or 10k. Picking up our race packets on the day of was thankfully easy. You also don’t have to pay extra for entry into the state park, so all in all the race seemed like a good deal to me.
Especially once I saw the insane snack spread.
There are half-marathon and marathon distances run with the four-mile race that I did, so the snacks are off the chain. Mad Moose supplied everything you could ever want – fresh fruit, sweet, salty, goo…they covered the entire spectrum of running snack preferences.
They also had coffee and plenty of water, which was especially helpful since my husband Billy ran the half marathon. I had a ton of time to hang out, so in addition to all the coffee and snacks I could ever want, I enjoyed a free massage and free recovery boot session (which was absolutely meant for more elite athletes, but whatever).
The finishers medal was really cool, and the shirts included in your entry were high quality. They were a softer, stretchier blend and the race logo is a good design. I also appreciated that they had women’s fitted shirts.
The course is super beginner-friendly, with enough hills to challenge you but nothing to beat you down. It was well-marked and even had an aid station halfway through with water.
The trails at Cheyenne Mountain are also super nice. They’re wide enough to easily pass, and things only felt congested at the very beginning of the race. The entire race is pretty exposed, but since you’re running in the early morning in May, it’s really nice to have the sun on your face.
I was comfortable in a thin long-sleeved shirt and shorts and could have easily worn a t-shirt and been fine. If you’re looking to invest in a lightweight long-sleeved shirt, I highly recommend this SmartWool one that I wear and love.
Really nice trails with a lot of sun also mean that even if it dumps snow the two days before the race, everything will be dry and beautiful come Sunday morning. Believe it or not, two days before all of these photos, the park was COVERED in snow.
My only complaint about the course is that the race distance was shorter than the actual distance. This wasn’t a huge deal for the four-mile course, but Billy ended up running more than 14 miles for his half marathon (it’s supposed to only be 13.1).
Other People’s Athletic Prowess
I was definitely the only person in the four-mile race wearing a hydration pack, but as I’ve mentioned before trail running is hard, I drink a lot of water, and it’s an easy way to carry my phone. I was a little self-conscious, but not because of other people making me feel uncomfortable.
I ran at a 10-minute mile pace and was solidly middle of the pack. For comparison, I ran a 10k slightly slower (12-minute mile) in Leadville and was one of the last people to finish. Suffice it to say NORAD and Mad Moose had a lot more beginners. There were people who walked at the first hill, people who walked the whole thing, and lots of people squarely in the middle like me.
The race was really well-run. Mad Moose was both professional and exceptionally welcoming, which I really appreciated as a beginner runner.
The bathroom at the starting line is SUPER nice – flushing toilets, electricity, the whole nine yards – but the women’s bathroom ran out of toilet paper really quickly. Being at a state park, that’s not really something Mad Moose had control over, but it certainly would have been nice to have fixed pre-race. By the time I finished running, the toilet paper had been refilled.
Photos + Timers
Also included in registration was a timing chip, which was easy to put on my shoe and impossible to accidentally take home thanks to the herd of volunteers at the finish line ready to remove it for you.
Mad Moose also posts all their photos for free on their Facebook page, which is where I got the gem that’s featured in this post. The quality is a little meh, but it’s free so I can’t complain.
Finding short-distance trail races is really difficult, making the NORAD Trail Race a beginner’s gem in a sea of marathons, ultras, and half marathons. While it’s not the most convenient race to get to from Denver, it’s beginner-friendly, a great value, and has super welcoming staff. I won’t make the trip to Colorado Springs again, but I absolutely recommend this race for any beginner runners looking for a spring training goal.
Let me know if you run NORAD this spring! I want to know what your first trail race is like, and what you thought of this race.