COURSE REVEAL: Tradition Reigns. The Grand Staircase Awaits!

ST. LOUIS – The final race of the 2017 FITS Sock Co. Trail Run Series will start this Thursday evening at 6:15 pm in Castlewood State Park three months after it was scheduled to and four weeks after we began. As tradition demands then, the final race of each year’s Trail Run Series will ascend the park’s Grand Staircase. Are you ready to climb?

We start at our usual race headquarters just past the Kiefer Creek Road bridge, wrap around the parking lot, and head southeast towards the train tunnel for our first and only trip to the southern section of the park this year. Once we’re past the train tunnel, we’ll continue on the road for about a tenth of a mile, before making a right turn through one of the small parking lots and continue straight onto the wide open meadow in front of you. Faster runners take note, this is your best chance to make your move ahead of racers you want to pass before we take to the tighter spaces of the River Scene Trail.

Once we’ve made it about halfway across the meadow, conveniently demarcated by a dirt trail dividing the area roughly in half, we make a right turn and then a quick left to match up with the River Scene Trail for roughly the next mile. Alternating between wide-open spaces and tighter single-track, please note that due to park restrictions, this area of trail can not be closed for private events like our race. You may encounter other people on the trails including bikers and horse back riders.

Just when you start to think you the trail can’t possibly go any further away from race HQ, “the tunnel” comes into view.

For those of you new to this series, the tunnel is a pedestrian only tunnel under the still-active railway that bisects Castlewood State park. Back in the early twentieth century, people from St. Louis city would take the train from downtown to Castlewood for relaxation and entertainment. Canoes spanned the Meramec River from literal river bank to river bank with revelers. And when evening came, they headed up the stairs to the “Castles” for which Castlewood is so named. Hotels, bars and restaurants lined the top of the bluffs. Some of the foundations can still be seen today during your run. While there may not be beer waiting for you at the top of the stairs, we promise there will be some at the race finish.

Once you’ve passed under the tunnel, Castlewood’s Grand Staircase is all that’s between you and the bluffs. While not the “original” Grand Staircase that our ancestors used to scale the climb, you can see remnants of it during your “dash” to the top. 200 stairs later, you’ll be near the crest of your climb, with only a couple more steep sections of trail to deal with for the remainder of the run.

However, as difficult as the stairs may be, the hardest part of this course is coming down. We cannot stress enough the importance of taking it easy coming down the River Scene Trail back down to the valley at around the 2.25 mile mark. This is the most difficult descent of the entire series – and one of the most difficult stretches of trail – period- in the park. It can leave you seriously injured if you are not careful. Please take your time.

Once you’ve reached the valley, you’re back onto familiar territory and have reached the site of our GU Energy aid station at about the 2.5 mile mark. The finish line may be in sight, but it may as well be a mirage at this point.

We’re headed back onto the trail, specifically the creekside section of the Lone Wolf Trail in a reverse replay of the way you finished last week. You’ll cross the creek and meet up with Grotpeter Trail with a right turn and make your way back on Grotpeter all the way back to your final creek crossing and to the finish line. The course is approximately 3.75 miles.

Course 4 announced for the 2017 FITS Sock Co. Trail Run Series. it is an approximately 3.75 mile course. (Map courtesy of Gateway Off-Road Cyclists ©2017)

 

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