If you’re looking for a May race with a variety of trails and plenty of vert, the Quad Rock 25 miler (or 50 miler, if you dare) by Gnar Runners in Fort Collins just might be your race.

For the second time, I completed the Quad Rock 25 race and was more than happy to find a chair by the time I found the finish line. The trail race, which takes place above Horsetooth Reservoir just west of Fort Collins, Colorado, is a well-organized and challenging run near Mother’s Day weekend in May.

My first go at the race was in 2019 and I finished the race in 2021 – after deferring my 2020 entry due to COVID restrictions. This race has a 50-mile distance with 11,000 feet of vertical gain, but in both years, I’ve opted for the more manageable 25-mile route with only 5,500 feet of climbing.

Gnar Runners Race Experience

On both occasions, Gnar Runners has put on good races. While likely best known for Never Summer 100k, Gnar runners has done a great job with the Quad Rock.

Gnar Runners doesn’t necessarily over-communicate leading up to race day, but they are clear on expectations and logistics with the resources available on their website. It would be nice to have some earlier communication from race directors just to confirm my constant anxiety and worry of forgetting if I really am registered for the races, but they seem to hit a happy middle ground.

When you show up on race weekend, registration and check-in are available the evening prior and on race day morning. It’s quick and easy and I couldn’t ask for more. They give you a shirt and your bib. This year we received an Oral-B toothbrush and I’m still not sure what that’s about. Maybe I had too much coffee on race morning?!

The race director provides clear expectations for trail maps and the route is clearly marked with flags and ribbons leading up to and through every turn on the course.

The only complaint I have with the Quad Rock race set-up is that you can expect to walk upwards of a mile from and to your vehicle unless you’re a lucky early bird in the 50-mile race who gets a close parking spot. But that’s not the fault of the race director. It just happens to be the set up of the location.

Quad Rock 25 Trail Race

The Quad Rock 25 and 50-mile races take place at Lory State Park and Horsetooth Mountain Open Space. This location is a quick drive just west of Fort Collins, Colorado – home of Colorado State University – and above the popular Horsetooth Reservoir.

If you’re looking for a socially distanced experience in the age of COVID, you might want to look elsewhere. While the race announced COVID precautions in accordance with local restrictions, the start line was just as crowded as any pre-COVID race and only half the crowd were wearing masks. Being fully vaccinated, COVID transmission to/from me wasn’t a big concern. However, I still found myself with anxiety being in a large, tight crowd. This might be a residual after the past year of the pandemic.

Trails range from smooth flowing bike trails to technical, rocky climbs. Along the route, there are several fast descents, but of course, in classic trail running, what goes down, must go back up. Three long, steep climbs make up the memorable sections of the course and help the Quad Rock earn its name.

Most of the trail is single track, but there are several sections of old service roads and wider trail that keep the race from becoming congested. The first 1.3 miles are wide gravel, followed by another 2 miles of flowing bike trail, allowing runners to sort out their pace groups.

The climbs are steep, long and slow, so be prepared for uphill hiking for miles at a time. Get ready for your quads to be rocked.

Quad Rock 25 Aid and Support

Aid stations at the Quad Rock race have been well-stocked and -staffed. The volunteers are ready and able to help with any needs at the aid stations. Water is available in pitchers so there’s no waiting for slow spouts from a cooler. Due to COVID, food at aid stations is presented in individual serving dishes or handed out to participants individually. Almost all aid station staff and volunteers were wearing masks throughout the day.

The aid stations have the classics like PB&J, pretzels, candy, ginger ale and Coke. Halfway though the race, I was happy to find a frozen popsicle to cool off with. I’m still waiting for Oreos to become a staple at every race.

Virtual tracking is available on race day for family and friends watching your progress. The race uses OpenSplitTime, which has a site that is user friendly and easy to navigate. Like any trail race, the location has spotty cell service, so there may be periods where updates from aid stations and checkpoints are delayed.

At the end of the race, you can see and hear the finish line for a few miles, and it is such a welcomed relief to finally reach the pavilion at the bottom of a long, winding descent. The finish line comes with a beef burger meal and your choice of beer. There was plenty of seating and tables for everyone to gather and take a few minutes to relax.

Classic Trail Running

If you’re up for a PR, this isn’t your race. But if you’re looking for an early-season challenge to tune-up for longer distances and lots of vert, Quad Rock is a solid choice.

It’d be nice to have a race medal to show for the effort, but I’m happy to take a tall coffee mug that’ll remind me of the experiences as I sit down at the desk to do some writing each morning.

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