It’s an hour before sunrise on a Saturday morning in early September at the Bates Canyon trailhead in east Erda. Jimmy Thomas flips on his headlamp to light the path ahead before launching off on the south trail toward Tooele.
Sections of the ATV track are rocky in spots, but they’re no match for the 12-year Overlake resident who expertly maneuvers around even the most questionable sections where some runners might turn an ankle.
Thomas knows these trails well, it’s one of the areas where he first started trail running in 2015. Since then, he’s run on nearly every trail in the Tooele Valley and many others in the southern and western parts of the county.
“Trail running gets me out into nature and takes me to places most people wouldn’t normally see,” said Thomas, whose day job is as an operations supervisor with Deseret Industries in Tooele. “I love how quickly I can cover different areas of the county, plus there’s a challenge to it. Trail running is more engaging than road running.”
Just two years after picking up trail running, Thomas created the Oquirrh to Stansbury Trail Series—later renamed Tooele Trail Racing—in 2017 with his wife Kim.
They started with one race in the Serengeti, a trail system located south of Bates Canyon with a trailhead in Pine Canyon.
“I was running on these trails during the winter because they were easily accessible and thought it would be really cool to hold a race here,” Thomas said. “It’s part of the Tooele County trail system so working with the parks and recreation department was great.”
Since that first race, Thomas added several new events of varying lengths: the Connor’s Claims 50K and half marathon (held in May); the 55K and 8.5-mile White Pine Solstice Runs (in June); the 50K, 25K, and 10K Bear Trap Trail Races (coming up on Saturday, Oct. 8); and the Turkey Trail Trot ‘Til You Drop where participants complete a route multiple times until they can’t run anymore (held the Saturday after Thanksgiving).
Over the years, the number of participants continues to increase. For instance, the first Serengeti race had 41 runners and this past April there were 115 runners, including 35 who finished the full marathon course. And in 2020, Thomas was able to hold the White Pine Solstice (120 participants), Bear Trap Trail races (63 participants), and Turkey Trot (50 participants) which were highly attended since other running events had been canceled.
Since he started the series, Tooele County residents account for nearly 30% of the participants, with almost 60% coming from other areas in Utah, and 10% from outside the state. He’s also had a couple of runners from different countries.
The Tooele Trail Racing events have inspired some locals to get healthy—while running in their own backyard.
Marc Callister of Tooele, for instance, ran his first trail race in 2019—the Serengeti 5-miler. He was 65 pounds heavier then and what he lacked in fitness, he more than made up for in determination. And the race awakened a desire to run.
Since then, he’s participated in as many Tooele Trail Racing events as possible.
“During the pandemic, I took to the surrounding hills in Tooele, running trails four to five times per week,” Callister said. “Gradually the weight came off and the distances increased.”
Callister completed his first half-marathon distance in 2021 (for his 49th birthday) and celebrated the “Big 5-0” by completing the Ogden Marathon in May. He’s now gearing up for his longest race yet: The 50K at Bear Trap next month.
“If you have ever thought about taking up trail running, Tooele Trail Racing is a great place to start where you can experience your first ‘Jimmy Race,’” Callister said. “There’s lots of climbing, challenging courses, beautiful scenery, great aid station food and an amazing running community.”
Thomas prides his racing series on simplicity. There are no participation medals or T-shirts—although he did have shirts the first few years, but it became burdensome to plan for the quantity.
In 2020, Thomas decided a nominal race fee could cover the cost of putting the event on, a couple of aid stations and finish line food. He also awards the top three finishers for men and women with a painting of the trail system where the race is held.
“My races are more about the trail than the swag,” Thomas said.
The goal is for runners of all abilities to challenge themselves on the Oquirrh Mountain trails.
“I want to showcase the trails that we do have here,” Thomas said. “I’ve had a number of runners from other areas of the state, even people who frequent the Wasatch trails, who were surprised we have such cool trails here in the Oquirrhs.”
To add to the difficulty, and fun for Thomas, he changes up the courses for each race every year so returning runners have a fresh route they haven’t encountered before.
“These races are for any skill level—you could hike the course and still likely finish in time,” Thomas said. “I do like to have a cut-off time because it presents another racing element that pushes runners. I love it when people say, ‘That was so tough’ after a race is over.”
Thomas is no slouch of a runner, either. He glides over trails with ease, finding the best place to plant his foot on each stride.
On track to hit 2,000 running miles for the year and 430,000 vertical feet of elevation gain, Thomas has already summited 52 peaks, 42 of which are unique. In the Tooele Valley he’s already conquered Deseret, Lowe, Butterfield and Kelsey Peaks, along with Flat Top Mountain near Ophir.
Whether running with a group or solo, no matter the trail or weather conditions, it doesn’t matter to Thomas—unless it’s too hot.
“Running with a group is fun because we push and challenge each other and you get better when you run with fast people,” he said. “When I run solo, I can take it easier and that’s when I go exploring and peak bagging.”
Thomas has completed seven 100-mile races, the most recent of which was in August at the Wyoming Range 100-Mile Endurance Run where he finished in 41:44:24. Thomas also conquered the Bear 100 in 2017, Ute 100 in 2018, Zion 100 and Wasatch 100 in 2019, and the Buffalo 100 and Salt Flats 100 earlier this year.
“Running that distance is a big, long adventure,” Thomas said. “I’ve never run the same race twice because there are so many races offered in so many cool locations. The newness of racing somewhere I’ve never been before is so intriguing and helps motivate me to press on during these events.”
He runs these races to show his five kids that they too can accomplish big goals and tackle challenges.
“Hard is good,” he said. “So much of what is fulfilling in life comes through hard work and difficulty.”
Eventually, Thomas hopes to add a 100-mile endurance run to his series. He envisions the race starting in Lake Point, running south along the Oquirrh foothills, out of Tooele toward 5-Mile Pass, and then looping back along the Oquirrh crest—conquering several peaks along the way—and finishing in Middle Canyon.
It would require a lot of coordination and buy-in from the county, Tooele City, and private landowners. But, like everything else, Thomas is up for the challenge.
Information on upcoming races with Tooele Trail Racing can be found at tooeletrailracing.com.