4th annual US Trail Running Conference captivates attendees

Written by Nancy Hobbs, Executive Director, American Trail Running Association.

The 4th annual US Trail Running Conference wrapped up in Estes Park, Colorado, at the historic Stanley Hotel on October 1, after three and a half days dedicated to all things trail running. The program, hosted by Active at Altitude in partnership with the American Trail Running Association (ATRA), included sessions geared to race directors for the first two and a half days, with the final day focused on trail runners.

Chris Kostman, AdventureCORPS, Inc., a panelist for several sessions on race directing said, “Though I was there to share and teach, I can honestly say I learned plenty as well. The diversity of panelists and attendees was phenomenal and made for rich and compelling sessions.”

More than 50 race directors, representing 19 states and two foreign countries, along with more than a dozen vendors, attended the first two and a half days with haku as the presenting sponsor.

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The program got underway on Wednesday afternoon, September 28, with a session on trail race organization and logistics and covered topics such as staff and volunteers, registration, timing, and event atmosphere. Representing the panel were seasoned race directors of small and large events including Kostman, Jim Harman (EX2 Adventures), Aaron Saft (Foot RX Running), Paul Gigliotti (Pirate Perry Events), and Mike Bone (Spectrum Sports).

Prior to a networking evening sponsored by Leslie Jordan, Inc., a second session regarding safety, entry limits and insurance was held. Craig Thornley (Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run), Tia Bodington (Miwok 100K), Nathan D. Nicholas (Nicholas Hill Group, Inc.), and Dr. Frank Dumont (Estes Park Medical Center), joined the panel to provide details on weather conditions and their potential impact on events, details on cancellation insurance, runner identification on course, and more.

Thursday, September 29, was packed full, with four sessions, presentations by vendors, and an informative keynote by Keith Peters, Council for Responsible Sport. Peters provided a “cook book” of things, race directors could do to reduce event impact on the environment.

During the sessions, course marking was addressed, as was the use of drones, cutoff times, results, awards, sponsorship, financial viability, stocking aid stations, and delivery of goods and services. The day culminated with a networking hour sponsored by haku.

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Friday, September 30, began with a group run and trail shoe demo with Inov-8, at the Lumpy Ridge Trail. Participants were able to select footwear from Inov-8 and take the shoes for a spin on the trails which included climbing and descending and a variety of terrain both single track, and wider footpaths.

Sessions on Friday started with ATRA presenting their 2016 Year in Review, which highlighted accomplishments over the past 12 months. Sessions included kids on trails with Nick Clark (Gnar Runners), and Peter Maksimow (Kokopelli Kids Trail Running Series), joining as panelists sharing details on starting a kids’ race and the logistics and issues related to young runners on the trails.

Marketing and social media with additional panelists Richard Bolt (Director of Online Marketing, ATRA), Paul Cuno-Booth (Trail Runner magazine), and Salem Stanley (Vacation Races), provided an overview of social media management tools, strategies to better market events, and content for advertising and promotion.

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Joining a third panel on Friday was Ann Baker Easely, (Executive Director, Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado), who along with her colleagues Peters, Bodington, Kostman, and Matt Gunn (Vacation Races), discussed sustainability and greening events. From pre-cycling, to composting waste, tips to reduce carbon footprint and achieve a better environmental balance were provided by the experts.

A session on drug-free sport and clean race programs featured Maksimow (2016 US Long Distance Mountain Running Team member), Melody Fairchild (multi-time US Team member for road, cross country, and mountain), Cuno-Booth (associate editor Trail Runner magazine), and Kevin Burnette (founder Clean Sport Collective which debuts in November). Participation in anti-doping programs by athletes and events was discussed, along with the costs associated with testing.

Matt Tucker and Ben Pickel rounded out the presentations with SSI Data from Sports One Source featuring trends over the past year related to footwear, hydration product, and energy gels and bar sales.

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Later in the evening, the Colorado premier of FIFTY THE MOVIE, was held at the Reel Mountain Theater in downtown Estes Park. The film followed Mal Law’s bold attempt to run 50 mountain marathons over 50 peaks in just 50 days, all around New Zealand, in order to raise funds for the Mental Health Foundation. Law was at the screening to answer questions from the audience, and will be touring with his wife Sal at various venues around the US and Canada showing the film, before returning to their home in New Zealand.

Another morning on the trails at Lumpy Ridge was in store on Saturday for conference participants with demo shoes from Inov-8 and Altra. Unlike a cloudy day on Friday, Saturday was cool and crisp with sunshine illuminating the rocky outcroppings and a fresh blanket of snow dotting Long’s Peak.

Those attending Saturday sessions at the Stanley, which totaled about 120 individuals, learned about shoe and gear developments, healthy nutrition and hydration strategies, beginning tips for trail runners, healthy lifelong running, engaging trail communities, and women’s participation in trail running. Panelists had diverse backgrounds in the sport and included some of the former day’s presenters as well as Brian Beckstead (Altra), Jeff Browning (Altra), Dina Griffin (ENRG Performance), Kelly Bailey Newton (Real Athlete Diets), Alan Smith (VFuel), Jim Galanes (EPOC Performance Training), Adam St. Pierre (ASTP Coaching), Dr. Taylor (Estes park Medical Center), Verne Carlson (Trail Runner), Erin Fitzgerald (Small Change), Danny Basch (Rocky Mountain National Park), Reid Delman (Gemini Adventures), Susan Farago (Trailhead Running), Lauren Jones (Lifes2Short Fitness), Jordan Ciambrone (Mindset for Strength), Richelle Criswell (Trailhead Running), and Elinor Fish (Run Wild Retreats).

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Richard Bolt, ATRA’s director of online marketing, said, “The US Trail Running Conference keeps getting better and this year was no exception. With presentations and panels on topics like anti-doing, sponsorships, course marking, nutrition and technology in trail running, there was something for everyone – race directors and trail runners.”

To round out the program, on Sunday, the Estes Park Running Club hosted a 5.8-mile trail race, the Estes Trail Ascent, in which many of the conference attendees participated. The course included single track trail, groomed trail, dirt roads, ascending and descending.

Chiplin shared his positive message after Sunday’s race, “I am thrilled that the 2016 US Trail Running Conference exceeded expectations at every level. With increased attendance, additional expert panelists to offer a wider diversity for race directors, a focus on trail running as a healthy lifestyle option for runners of all abilities and ages, and enthusiastic and engaged vendors and sponsors, the Conference offered something for everyone participating. I am looking forward to building on the continued momentum and create an even fuller Conference for race directors, trail runners, as well as sponsors and supporters, for the fifth year of the Conference here in Estes Park in 2017.”

Added Nancy Hobbs, ATRA’s executive director, “Being involved since year one has provided me the opportunity to watch the Conference mature. Sessions will continue to reflect new technology and trends in the industry and keep the program relevant and fresh. This is a must-attend event for anyone involved in our sport from race directors to vendors, from elite athletes to recreational runners, from vendors to journalists.”

Dates for the 2017 US Trail Running Conference will be announced soon.

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