Taking to the trails: Round Valley series offers beginners off-road options | ParkRecord.com

Taking to the trails: Round Valley series offers beginners off-road options

While working at a Salt Lake-area running store, Rhielle Widders was tired of being asked where to find easy organized trail runs when she didn’t have the answers for her customers.

The result of those fruitless queries is the Park City Mini Trail Series – three low-key summer races of 5K, 10K and 15K distances throughout Round Valley. Widders started the series this year as part of her senior internship project at the University of Utah, where she is a parks, recreation and tourism (PRT) major. She had noticed a dearth of knowledge about Utah trails in five years working for the Salt Lake Running Company (SLRC), and wanted to dispel the myth that trail running is only for serious, high-endurance athletes.

"The idea has been brewing for a couple of years," she said. "My degree gave me the chance to provide an opportunity that’s meaningful, and not just something (haphazard)."

First, Widders opened a race-directing business called R-U-N? Events, with the general goal of supporting health-conscious community members and their efforts to stay fit. Because there are more hurdles to setting up a race through the U.S. Forest Service, Widders targeted Summit County for her first event.

"I looked at the local race schedule for Park City and I didn’t see anything under a half marathon distance," she said. Widders knew running enthusiast Peter Wood from her time in the SLRC marketing department, when she would reach out to Wood as a contact for Park City events. He agreed that the local scene lacked structured options for beginning runners and suggested Round Valley for its abundance of less-demanding rolling foothills.

"I went and ran in Round Valley a few times, and the trails were just perfect," Widders said.

The next step was to meet with Mountain Trails Foundation (MTF) director Charlie Sturgis. He originally had reservations about the races but eventually threw his organization’s support behind the event through e-mail notifications to local residents. The exposure drew a fair crowd for the first event, a 5K on June 26, and Widders’ student project had given birth to a full-fledged race series.

"It’s really exciting to see it happen," said Widders, who has pledged either money or time to MTF in return for its assistance. "When I first started planning it, I had a little higher hopes, but I’ve been able to cover the cost of the race, and that’s all that really matters."

Although her original goal was to attract 200 runners for each race, the 10K on July 10 featured just fewer than 100 entrants. Still, the dramatic growth between the first two races is encouraging for Widders, who used her own money to advertise the series. Her hopes are high for the 15K, which takes place Aug. 14 at 8 a.m. (Cost is $25 for early bird registration or $35 thereafter. Visit r-u-nevents.com for more information or to register).

Widders conducts surveys as part of her senior internship project, and the results thus far have confirmed her initial hypothesis that local runners lack knowledge about the accessibility of trail running. "It’s been really cool to see how many people are out there for their first trail run," she said.

Running has long been a passion for Widders. She took up the pursuit in seventh grade and became more serious as a standout athlete at Orem High School. She won a scholarship to Utah Valley State College (before it became Utah Valley University) and spent two years finishing her general education credits before transferring to the U.

She now lives in Salt Lake City with her husband – an entrepreneur in his own right who started a transportation and property management business in Park City.

"He makes sure I can do what I want to do," Widders said. "I burn the candle at both ends and so does he."

Her aim isn’t to make money through the series, however. As long as the races are self sustaining – and she said they will be back in 2011 – her mission will be accomplished.

"I don’t necessarily know that it will ever provide a year’s worth of income," she said. "But that’s not really the goal of it. If we can just cover the cost of the race, I’ll be happy."

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