2nd annual Trail Running Conference a success

Joy, solitude, inspiration, peace, liberation, and fun were all descriptive emotions attendees at the 2nd annual Estes Trail Ascent & Trail Running Conference said trail running brings to them.

The conference was held in Estes Park, Colorado, at the Stanley Hotel and welcomed more than 140 trail runners and race directors over three days (October 9-11, 2014), of seminars, trail runs complete with demo shoes, panel discussions, vendor exhibits, and a movie night.

Broken into two sections with day one geared to trail race directors and days two and three for trail runners, fans, and enthusiasts of the sport, attendees interacted with panelists and enjoyed a fantastic networking opportunity packed full of ideas. Those attendees came to Estes Park from as far away as Alaska and as close as Boulder, Colorado, with the Midwest, Pacific Northwest, north, south and east represented. For the race director section, ten states were represented in the attendees. Organizer Terry Chiplin, Director of Estes Park-based Active at Altitude said, “The conference exceeded my expectations. Last year was good, but this year was fantastic.

“We took attendee comments to heart last year and, based on the feedback we received, created a more comprehensive program which included all facets of the sport from trail running technique to trail race directing,” said Chiplin. “We plan to harness all of the excitement and enthusiasm from this year’s conference and work toward year three when we’ll host the event again in October.”

Ragnar Trail Relay, Endurance Race Series/Race Director Supplies, the American Trail Running Association (ATRA), the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA), Vail Recreation District, and Miwok 100K, were all represented among the panel members to cover the various facets of race directing on day one which was presented by Leslie Jordan, Inc.

Sponsorship discussion featured comments from Tia Boddington, Miwok 100K race director who said, “In order to attract sponsors, you need to show how you differentiate your event from the others and if you can show a company how their product is relevant to runners, they may be more inclined to support your event.”

Boddington went on to share an example with race sponsor Tecnu, a company whose product is used to remove poison oak and ivy oils which are ever-present on the trails in the San Francisco Bay area where her event is staged. “We set up Tecnu washing stations at our event and established a great relationship which was good for our sponsor and good for our runners.”

Craig Mintzlaff, Endurance Race Series, spoke about long-term relationships and fulfilling their demographic needs. “We check in with our sponsors over the eight months our series runs,” said Mintzlaff. “We ask the sponsors if we are doing what you want and ask how we can create a better relationship.”

Tanner Bell, Ragnar Relays (the trail version started about 18 months ago), shifted gears and talked about the promotion and marketing of his events. “We had a similar challenge with trail that we had with road. Our road relay participants would say, ‘I’m not a runner.’ In our trail events, people were reticient to say, ‘I’m a trail runner.’ To grow the sport, we had to have more people at the base entry point and so we focused on making it an accessible sport. We found that road runners were somewhat reticent to run on rocks and dirt so we didn’t make our courses too technical.”

To get the word out about their events, Ragnar Relays relies on Facebook advertising, and other online marketing and digital tools, as well as ambassadors, grass roots and targeted marketing.

Boddington added, “It’s also important to figure out how many runners your course can handle, and if you have a limit, decide whether you want to target advertisting to the local, regional, or national market.”

Jean Knaack, Road Runners Club of America Executive Director, suggested that event directors, “Stay on top of the trends,” when it comes to outreach, but added, “We still print and mail items to our membership (some 100,000 households) on a quarterly basis.”

Regarding advertising and promotion, Vail Recreation District’s Steve Croucher was thoughtful about the current market and simply said, “I have heard the term ‘show-me generation,’ but I contend we’re in the show-off generation.”

When the discussion switched to the environment and sustainability, Boddington said, “Think ‘pre-cycling,’ and reduce the was that is going to the event before you even get to the event. Remove all the excess packaging and recycle before you take your bottles, or food products to the event. Use food composters. Plan ahead.”

And, on the sensitive subject of human waste, Boddington said, “Let people know on your website where the ‘places to go’ are located. I know it’s something we hesistate to talk about, but it’s really important to address this issue.”

Bell said of their approach to greening their event, “Do what you can do when you can do it. We tackle a chunk at a time. You may not be able to flick the switch today, so take it one step at a time.”

Regarding the need for runners to give back to the trails, Croucher suggested getting the right message to trail runners and providing education and outreach, “There are not trail fairies out there. Someone has to build and maintain the trails.” Croucher further talked about trail building days and opportunities for trail runners to get involved in their local areas to give back to the trails they so often use.

Additional discussion centered on land use, permits, and municipal requirements as well as volunteer recruitment and retention. Safety, race amenities, and race logistics were also addressed.

Among the many takeaways from the day were ways to bridge the perception in the trail community that all trail running is ultra-distance, getting more youth into the sport, and the simple fact that trail runners don’t need to “run” every step of a race or workout to consider themselves “trail runners.”

Both Friday and Saturday started out with fun runs on the Black Canyon Trail at Lumpy Ridge with New Balance, and Hoka One One each taking a day to provide demo shoes to runners. Nearly 45 attendees took advantage of the opportunity to try out new shoes on the trails which were laden with freshly fallen Aspen leaves and featured vistas of the Rocky Mountains.

Speaker panels and interactive workshops over the two days were crafted to bring together the best knowledge base in this field to demonstrate and talk about the subjects that matter most to trail runners.

Building trail communities was the lead-off session followed by trail shoe development, and like event marketing and promotion from day one, was the featured presentation of the day and was broadcase live on You Tube through a Google Hangout. The panelists for trail shoe development included New Balance’s Greg Tyndall, Competitor magazine’s Brian Metzler, Hoka One One athlete Sage Canaday, Joseph Gray who runs for Scott USA, and specialty retailer Henry Guzman who recently opened Flatirons Running in Boulder. The entire session can be viewed at this link.

Playing off a popular theme from race director day, trail maintenance, advocay and sustainability was covered with panel members including Rodd Judd representing the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA), Ellen Miller representing ATRA, and Kurt Achtenhagen representing Leave No Trace.

In other sessions, ATRA’s Online Marketing Director, Richard Bolt presented the soon-to-lauch trailrunner.com website and discussed social media. Trail running and spirituality was a well-received topic led by Chiplin and included Nike team athlete Zach Miller, Darcy Piceu representing Hoka One One, and Metzler. Stretching, flexibilty and running form were address in two interactive workshops. The day culminated with the debut showing of Sage Canaday’s film, MUT Runner, and Trail Climbs Sharply, a film by Ian MacLellan.

On the final day of the conference discussions centered on effective training and remaining injury free and featured among others, Shannon Payne, who runs for Boulder Running Company/Adidas and was sporting a therapeautic boot from a recent injury. The live Google Hangout of the day was the session on trail racing and FKTs (Fastest Known Times) with Ultraspire/Patagonia athlete ambassador Krissy Moehl, Canaday, Payne, and Dr. Frank Dumont from the Estes Park Medical Center. Watch the session in full at this link.

Nutrition and hydration strategies, lifelong running, and the “way ahead for trail running” were also featured along with interactive workshops on uphill and downhill technique. There was also an Altra-shoe sponsored fun run and a chance to demo Spenco insoles.

Prior to the conference, a contest presented by Leslie Jordan, Inc., for the best trail running race shirt was held. Cayuga Trails 50 Miler won this year’s contest and Krissy Moehl, second finisher in this year’s race, accepted the award on behalf of the event. A prize draw was held throughout the conference featuring more than 70 items and netted close to $1000 for ATRA.

A message from the conference was that trail running represented and could be equated with “lifestyle.” This lifestyle starts with our youth, continues to the master-level athlete and covers every age group in between.

Photos of the conference can be found here.

Story by Nancy Hobbs, Executive Director, American Trail Running Association