Cirque Series brings trail runners destination views and inclusive competition

Jul 17, 2023, 4:00 PM | Updated: Jul 19, 2023, 12:23 pm

BRIGHTON, Utah — A trail running competition makes three stops in Utah this year, bringing runners of all skill levels to some of the state’s most famous areas. Cirque Series dubs itself the “premiere mountain running series.”

It brought nearly 500 competitors to Snowbird in early July and it will bring even more during upcoming races at Brighton and Alta.

The competition was founded in 2015 by professional athlete Julian Carr.

Missed opportunities

Carr told KSL NewsRadio that he founded Cirque Series after finding other trail running competitions to be lacking.

“There was zero production value. I was like ‘man, missed opportunity.’ People would finish the race kind of look around, wait for their friends, and leave,” Carr said, as he recalled his experience at a race in Moab, Utah years prior. He said there was nothing to the competition other than a beautiful trail.

Then, at the GoPro Mountain Games in Vail, Colorado, Carr had another experience.

“It was the opposite. The production value was through the roof. But there was no sense of destination on the race course design.”

After running that race, Carr said he realized this was another missed opportunity.

Carr went on to try to find a race that had both high production value and purposeful, beautifully planned trails. He said he was surprised to find nothing.

Over the course of the next few years, Carr said he continued falling in love with trail running. Then, in March 2015, Carr made up his mind — he was going to start his own trail running series.

Cirque Series launched that same year, in 2015, hosting four races from August to October.

Cirque Series now

Now, almost eight years later, Carr said Cirque Series is exactly what he’d been looking for.

“The races are kind of where I always envisioned them. Selling out, having a lot of atmosphere. The production value is high, the sense of destination and accomplishment is there.”

Eight races a year bring runners to mountains in Utah, Colorado, Alaska, Wyoming and Switzerland. Each race is capped at 500 competitors — Carr said every race since 2018, other than the ones canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic, has been sold out consistently.

Each course is planned by Carr, who said he uses his years of experience on the mountains to create a course that is both challenging and approachable.

Cirque Series runners are broken out into three categories: pro, expert, and sport. Pros are professional athletes, experts have experience in mountain hiking and running, while those in the sports category are beginners.

Runners in each category all run the same trail and set off at the same time. Carr said he likes the competition to be inclusive, and mentioned that the race series had seen runners from 7 years old to 82 years old.

“It’s pretty magical to see a 7-year-old, you know, like a grandson, dad, and grandpa line up at a start gate right like an actual Olympian.”

The competition offers cash prizes to those in the pro division and gear prizes to those in the expert and sports divisions.

Apart from the courses, each race also features a Vendor Village where 30-40 brands set up booths to sell things like recreation products or food. 

The Vendor Village also serves as a hub where competitors’ families and friends can support the runners from afar, as a DJ gives commentary on the race throughout the day.

Brighton race

The most recent race in the Cirque Series took place in Brighton, located in Big Cottonwood Canyon, on Saturday. Carr said the Brighton race marked the 43rd race produced by Cirque Series.

Runners faced a 6.7-mile-long course that hit the summits of Mt. Millicent, Sunset Peak and Pioneer Peak. Competitors ranged in age from 7 years old to 65.

Hundreds of runners took off at 10 a.m. Saturday.

Just before 11:07 a.m., the first runner found his way to the finish line. Pro runner David Norris, 32, from Steamboat Springs, Colorado placed first with a time of 1 hour, 6 minutes, and 43.94 seconds.

Over the next few hours, 526 more runners crossed the finish line.

For one of those runners, Madeline Hopkins, 29, the race was a long time coming.

Hopkins said she’d been wanting to try trail running for a while, hoping to follow in the footsteps of her dad and brother who both run Ultra races.

Despite her ambition, she’d been put off from competing due to two hip surgeries over the last eight months.

But five months after her last surgery, Hopkins ran her first official trial race on Saturday, competing in the sports division.

“I just feel so happy to have completed it.”

She said once she realized she could complete the race in under two hours, “I wasn’t going to do anything other than that. So I really pushed to try to keep it under two [hours].”

Hopkins finished with a time of 1 hour, 54 minutes, and 55.52 seconds, placing 68th in her division and 148 overall.

What’s next for Cirque Series?

The next Cirque Series race will be in Alyeska, Alaska on July 29. Then, the competition returns to Utah on August 19 — this time taking place in Alta.

And big picture? Carr said that while he’s tempted sometimes to expand, he’s content with the series’ eight races right now. 

“I think we’re pretty good, where we’re at,” Carr said after noting that, as an event production company, Cirque Series gets more trail runners than any other race in the nation.

Beyond the numbers, Carr said he loves the community Cirque Series has helped build.

“I think everyone feels appreciated and recognized and seen.”

Cirque Series will make another stop in Utah on August 19 for a race in Alta.


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Cirque Series brings trail runners destination views and inclusive competition