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by Don Norcross

By the very nature of what they do, runners go places. They move from Point A to Point B. They travel. And what better place to visit for a running vacation than breathtaking Colorado? It's all there, from Boulder to Breckenridge, from Alamosa to Aspen, from Castle Peak to Pikes Peak. Could there possibly BE a more tranquil setting to get away from cell phones, faxes, e-mails, deadlines, car pooling, bills and day-to-day hassles-and to lace up a pair of shoes and go for a run?

Arturo Barrios thinks not. "You have the mountains, you have trees, you have trails, you're at altitude. It is the ideal running environment," says Barrios, the former world-record holder at 10,000 meters who now coaches the U.S. Army's World Class Athlete Program in Boulder. Barrios was also inducted into the Road Runner Sports Run of Fame in 2001.

No state is home to or has served as the training ground for more talented runners than Colorado. Deena Drossin, America's best women's distance runner, jumpstarted her career when she left Arkansas and headed to Alamosa to be tutored by Joe Vigil. "That's where I laid my foundation for what I'm doing now," says Drossin, the world-record holder for 5,000 meters on the road.

Frank Shorter, another RRS Run of Fame inductee and the man who helped usher in the running boom by winning the marathon gold medal at the 1972 Olympics, lives in Boulder. And elite triathletes have long headed to the Colorado hills, like two-time defending Ironman Hawaii champion Tim DeBoom who lives in Lyons, at the foot of the Rocky Mountain National Park.

The state's running lures are many. There's the serenity, the natural beauty ranging from streams to dirt trails to mountaintop vistas sprinkled with scented aspen pines.

And there's the climate. Many people think of Colorado and envision winters blanketed by snow. But in truth, you can run year-round in most parts of the state. Denver and Boulder boast 300 days of sunshine a year. Best of all, Colorado allows you to soak up the seasons. Spring brings flowers blooming along open trails in Colorado Springs. Come summer, men toss their T-shirts aside when jogging along the Platte River in suburban Denver. In fall, Vail's aspen leaves turn from green to burnt orange and yellow. And in the winter, you can dress in layers and feel the crunch of snow beneath your feet.

Mike Ortiz has lived in Vail since 1977. He's the director of the seven-race Vail Mountain Trail Running Series. He knows why many tourists make annual summer pilgrimages to this resort most famous for skiing. "The scenery is so spectacular," he says. "But the solitude is the big thing. You can get in the middle of nowhere by yourself, just stop and listen to what's going on around you. It's fun to get caught out there in a rainstorm, sit it out and listen."

Colleen De Reuck, a three-time South African Olympian, has lived in Boulder for 10 years, and she savors the trails just minutes from her front door. "You're out in nature," she says. "You're looking at birds. You see coyotes or foxes and deer. It's just a nice, peaceful and tranquil place to be."

In south central Colorado, Alamosa may be hours from Boulder, but Drossin knows the seduction there is much the same. "There's a solitude where you can just focus on your goals," says Drossin. "It's just you, your thoughts and your mind. When I go to Colorado, that's all the inspiration I need."

If you're planning to head to Colorado for some long-needed time on the trails, check out these Top Five Favorites:

  1. The Mesa Trail (Boulder)
    This trail starts in the heart of the city, just half a mile from the University of Boulder. It's 14 miles roundtrip. There's a long climb at the beginning, then mostly rolling hills. The views are beautiful, but be cautious during bear and mountain lion season. Don't be overly alarmed. The trail gets lots of usage, so it's safe. Information: Total Boulder.

  2. Vail Mountain (Vail)
    Nestled at 8,150-feet elevation, Vail is for the serious runner or hiker. There are spectacular views amidst the aspens and evergreens. The wildlife population includes deer, bears, raccoons and foxes. The view from the top of the mountain is spectacular, stretching hundreds of miles. Information: Vail Recreation.

  3. Garden of the Gods (Colorado Springs)
    With red-rock formations jutting out from the base of the Rockies, the views are inspiring. Run here early in the morning or near sunset and be ready for a visual sensory overload. You can run from four to 20 miles-some of it technical, little of it flat. There are some difficult climbs. Information: Garden of the Gods.

  4. High Line Canal (Denver)
    The trail, which easily stretches 20 miles, hugs natural preserves along the southern part of the city and is predominantly flat. Sections of the trail pass the affluent Cherry Hills suburb and the Platte River. There are wide-open spaces and mountain range views. Information: Trail Runner (click on State Trails at the bottom of the page, then select Colorado).

  5. Boulder Reservoir (Boulder)
    The 5.5-mile loop around the reservoir is one of the city's most popular running sites. There are awesome views of the Flatirons, the mountain ranges at the base of the Rockies. The trail is open and relatively flat with no trees, meaning it can get windy. Information: Total Boulder

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