Annual FLATS Half MarathonLocated at Thousand Hills State Park in Kirksville, Mo., the annual FLATS Half Marathon isn’t as flat as the name might suggest. In fact, it’s a bumpy trail race through the woods to raise money for the Forest Lake Area Trail System. On Oct. 5, 2013, race director and owner Ivy Koger counted down the third annual race.

“They’re an underground movement,” Koger says of Midwest trail races. “They’re well attended and not well known.”

This race in particular drew in participants from states across America, including Colorado, Louisiana, Iowa and Missouri. Several racers have participated all three years, bringing friends along and spreading word of this Midwest opportunity.

The efforts of Koger and the FLATS half marathoners contributed $3,600 toward the trail systems this year, and Koger says he has seen a difference on the trails already. Not only are paths better kept, he says, but people seem to possess a heightened awareness of the trails’ availability. Koger explains he ran the 13.1-mile trail himself and saw mountain bikers, hikers and other runners while he was out.

In Colorado, Koger explains, there is a trail race every week, but in Missouri and surrounding states, they are few and far between, which makes FLATS special for participants such as fourth place winner, John Venner. Venner is a Truman State University 2011 graduate and professor, who has raced in all three FLATS halves.

“Each year I have gotten faster and placed worst,” Venner says. “It has gotten a lot more competitive.”

From its first year of 74 racers to this year’s 123, the involvement has grown quickly. FLATS Half Marathon brings guests to Kirksville, and so does its natural setting. A serene lake surrounded by the woods of a state park, Forest Lake is tranquil, its water reflecting the reds and oranges of the changing leaves.

“It was an incredible first half marathon experience,” Truman State University student Sierra Horton says. “Having it on a trail is so much more interesting. There is a lot of communication between you and the other runners.”

Crunchy autumn leaves, crisp air and the chance to raising thousands of dollars by competing are many of the reasons behind the race’s success.

“When I’m standing at the start line staring at all the people who came,” Koger says. “All the individual work they put in for this–I see it in everyone’s faces.”

During fall 2014, Koger predicts there will be a fourth annual FLATS Half Marathon to get the Forest Lake Area Trail System closer than ever to being easy to use and well appreciated by residents of Kirksville and Northeast Missouri.