From Road to Trail: The Perfect In-between Race at Priest Lake

Ken Eldore walks across the parking lot wearing shorts and a functional shirt that advertises a mountain bike race. If that doesn’t out an athlete, the shaved legs definitely do.

I have heard legend told of “The Priest Lake Race” organized by Ken and his wife – a trail run that winds through the foothills that surround Priest Lake and along its deep green shores. Across the lake is a backdrop of the snowy peaks of the Selkirk Mountain. All this awesome is right in our backyard.

“It’s one of the only events with a pre-race meeting that talks about the dangers of moose,” Eldore says as we run down a winding dirt road lined with cedars.

I’ve come out here to see the marathon course and get an idea of whether or not I’m naive enough to sign up for the 50k ultra Ken puts on a few weeks before the marathon. He points across the lake to what appears to be the highest peak in sight. “That’s where the Lookout Tower Trail Climb is.”

The Priest Lake Marathon, which takes place on September 27, offers a much more tempered version of running in the woods. In fact, of the many attractions of this event, its course profile as a mild trail-ish run might be one of the best.

Priest Lake Marathon, 50K, half marathon, 25K, 5K. Photo courtesy
Priest Lake Marathon, 50K, half marathon, 25K, 5K. Photo courtesy

For those of us intimidated by the prospect of a marathon in the forest, this event (which also has 50k, 25k, half-marathon, and 5k distances) is a perfect introduction to running on dirt.

The courses begin at Hills Resort and make their way into the diverse, forested lands around the lake on fire roads. Fire roads are optimal trail running 101 material: They are wider than trails, generally well-packed, and without the treacherous obstacles of large rocks and roots that trail runs can boast. The Priest Lake Marathon also has a mild elevation gain. You’d want to know what running a hill feels like, but you don’t need to do your training on Mount Spokane.

Every section of the course Ken takes me to is a different ecological spread of fauna and flora, not to mention views. If we aren’t looking across the lake, we’re distracted by pine-covered mountains and wildflowers. This is not like running through a city. It’s tranquil and wonderful and somehow reviving. It’s a reminder of why I love running in the first place.

Hearing Ken talk about the races he organizes (they are many), there’s a common thread in every single event: They are designed, manned, and celebrated by a team of people who love racing too. Not for the win, not for the bib, but for the love of shared community and new friends.

I am grateful that people put on races like this. They are not sponsored by large banks and high exposure, but by common interest and dedication to downright fun. They make a post-race party feel like a happy reunion, only with more sweat and bananas.

Ken waxes poetic about the people who come from around the country to run, the journeys that brought them here and the volunteers who make the event possible. He looks across the lake with a smile and a chuckle, telling the stories of runners as if they were family. In a way, I believe they are. //


Lookout Tower Trail Climb. Photo courtesy
Lookout Tower Trail Climb. Photo courtesy

Lookout Tower Trail Climb, 50k & 25k (Sept. 6)

This trail race at Priest Lake will challenge any intermediate or advanced runner. A mix of full-on rugged singletrack and doubletrack, this course offers the best high alpine technical running in the Inland Northwest.


Priest Lake Marathon, 50k, half marathon, 25k, 5k (Sept. 27)

Run along the lakeshore of pristine Priest Lake, through groves of lush forest, huge old-growth cedar trees, and big views of the rugged Selkirk Mountains. The scenery of a trail race, but on drivable dirt forest road with full course support like a road race.


More info on both races at:

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