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Magazine features trail system, photo and interview with staff

September 6, 2013 : By Ted Allen/Liberty University News Service

Trail Runner magazine, which promotes off-road running as a way to experience the outdoors and achieve a healthier lifestyle, featured Liberty University staff members and Liberty’s expansive trail system in its September issue.

Liberty graduate Jamie Swyers (’11), associate director at the LaHaye Student Union, is shown on the cover with her husband, Brenton Swyers (’10), an academic advisor for Liberty University Online, running on the Appalachian Trail. A section inside features the Liberty Mountain Trail System, with more than 50 miles of trails for running, hiking, and biking. The magazine also rates Lynchburg second on a list of the top eight trail towns in America behind Bend, Ore.

Dr. David Horton, an exercise science professor and one of the nation’s pioneers in ultra-marathon running, is quoted in the article.

“Dr. Horton really did start the trail system here," said Josh Yeoman, associate director of Liberty’s Student Activities office. "He was running on those trails and building those trails back in the 1980s. I told him it (Liberty’s trail system) needed to be featured, for other people to know how great it is.”

Horton, who has been quoted in the magazine several times in the past, and featured in an in-depth article that refers to him as the “godfather of ultra-marathon running,” said the article should attract more runners to the area this fall and in the future.

“It’s just tremendous publicity, nationwide, not just locally,” he said. “There’s people all over the country and all over the world that read this magazine. As well as my running class and the races I direct, it all works together to promote people running.”

Coincidentally, Jamie and Brenton Swyers met in one of Horton’s running classes, where their passion for ultra-marathon running, and interest in one another, was sparked.

“Dr. Horton has produced a lot of ultra-runners in the area and got a lot of people addicted to it,” Jamie Swyers said. “That’s how we both got started in it.”

She was the women’s winner of Saturday’s Iron Mountain 50K Trail Run, which started in Damascus, located near the Appalachian Trail in Virginia’s Highlands. She placed seventh overall in 5 hours, 1 minute, 27 seconds, ahead of Brenton (20th in 5:56:49).

A series of trail races is held every year on Liberty's mountain property.

As a fitness director at Liberty, she encourages students to make the most of Liberty’s abundance of recreational activities to improve their overall health.

“Whatever gets you moving, whatever gets you active,” Jamie Swyers said. “If it’s Zumba, do Zumba; if it’s trail running, do that. We have a variety of fitness classes and personal training programs here. We try to get students involved in as many avenues as we can.”

One of the most popular off-road race series for area runners is the Liberty Mountain Trail Series, offered through Student Activities each year. The six-race series features three events in the fall — starting with the Deep Hollow Half Marathon and 5K on Oct. 19 — and three in the spring. The races are open to the public and begin at either Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre or Camp Hydaway.

Yeoman said the accessibility of Liberty Mountain makes the trail system an excellent recreational outlet for students as well as area residents of all running abilities.

Liberty offers more than 50 miles of trails for running, hiking and biking.

“The only other place that’s comparable is Seattle, where you can leave the city and you’re right there on the (Pacific Crest) Trail,” he said.

The degrees of difficulty and diversity of uses for the trails — enjoyed by runners, hikers, and mountain bikers alike — are distinguishing traits.

“The Liberty Mountain Trail System is unique for ultra-runners because of the distance you can put in there and the elevation change offered,” Yeoman said. “The variation of trails is pretty incredible.”