7th Annual US Trail Running Conference Kicks Off in Estes Park

Estes Park based Active at Altitude has partnered with the American Trail Running Association (ATRA) to stage the US Trail Running Conference.

An inspirational keynote from Olympian Billy Mills kicked off the stage for the 7th annual US Trail Running Conference on Wednesday, October 9. Mills’ message, “Unity through Diversity,” resonated with the trail race directors and exhibitors who gathered in Estes Park, Colorado to share ideas, innovation, and technology related to this year’s conference theme: Diversity and Inclusion: Trail Running for Everyone.

Race director Aaron Saft with Billy Mills.

The conference kicked off with panel discussion focused on barriers women and other underrepresented groups face getting into trail running. Race directors Megan Finnesy, Paulette Odenthal, and Kelsey Banasynski offered suggestions for creating a welcoming environment for women and helping to break down perceived obstacles to participation. One example included separate start times or starting areas for men and women.

Another engaging conversation featured Maria Solis of Latinos Run, diversity advocate, Kriste Peoples, race director, Greg Lanctot, and Native American Chanmila Win. Greg Lanctot said, “People want to be included, they want to be invited, but you must have an outreach plan.”

ATRA executive director Nancy Hobbs.

Providing opportunities, creating awareness, making the language of the trails accessible to all, was mentioned by Kriste Peoples from the Black Women’s Alliance, “These are groups of people who didn’t necessarily grow up on, or near the trails. Providing access to, and exposure to trails is important as is meeting people where they are with an open invitation.”

Capturing the spirit of trail running in photos & video was the first topic on Thursday’s program, a day which brought frosty temperatures and snow to this high elevation Rocky Mountain region. Attendees’ spirits were high in spite of the mercury falling some 50 degrees from the previous afternoon. A three-pronged approach to photographing trail running was provided by Glen Delman who said, “Get great scenery, find the most wonderful, dynamic views, and show emotion.” Furthering the idea of emotion was to focus on stories that unfold during a race. Zoe Rom, associate editor at Trail Runner magazine stated the importance of showing diverse body types in photos and sharing the energy of the mid-to-back of the pack runners as well as that of the top finishers. Peter Maksimow, race director, coach, and ATRA team member spoke about being deliberate in the inclusion of people of color, women, and other underrepresented groups in photos and social media posts.

Race directors Kelsey Banaszynski, Megan Finnesey and Paulette Odenthal.

Craig Thornley, Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run race director, moderated a panel on getting younger runners into trail running and being inclusive of LGBTQ and intersex athletes. A thoughtful discussion about, “How young is too young to run ultras,” engaged attendees and offered a debate about whether race directors should include set a minimum age policy. In recent years some ultrarunning events have had runners as young as 12 finishing 100 kilometer or even 100 mile races, while others set an age limit of 18. This led to the question of whether parents pushed their children to compete, and it was mentioned that many young finishers were very self motivated.

On the topic of how children get introduced to trail running, Tayte Pollmann talked about starting to run trails with his Dad between his freshman and sophomore years in high school. Ryan Montgomery said he carved his own path as a young trail runner, but acknowledged that he would have been thrilled to have his parents show him the opportunities available through trail running. Getting young people to help out at races and having them see the emotion of runners first hand was suggested as a great way to introduce youth to trail running.

Kriste Peoples from the Black Women’s Alliance.

On the topic of LGBTQ runners, both Addie Bracy, co-founder of OUTrun, and Ryan Montgomery said that while trail running is inclusive, it’s openness to LGBTQ runners is not very visible. Montgomery said, “We need to be more deliberate about how we’re including under-represented groups. Some people set goals, but they don’t take action.”

Bracy said that through OUTrun she wanted to leave the trail running community better than she found it. “I wanted to use my platform to be more open. I feel like trail running is a safe space. We’ve realized the LBGTQ community is pretty big.”

Next up was a panel discussion about blind and disabled athletes and how race directors can provide more opportunities, be more accessible and take the time to create an outreach plan to blind and disabled trail runners. Kyle Robidoux, a runner who is visually impaired, Greg Lanctot, and race director Aaron Saft were on the panel moderated by Craig Thornley who that morning, had his first experience guiding a blind runner. Robidoux offered advice to those considering being a guide, “You need to be able to talk while you are running, be fit enough to keep up with the athlete you are guiding, and be able to take constructive criticism.” He further mentioned that the language used to describe the trail, roots, and rocks can vary from guide to guide.

Aaron Saft, Kyle Robidoux and panel moderator Craig Thornley.

For the second consecutive year, a session on Digital Transformation was led by Cal Poly’s Paul Jurasin. This interactive session featured a working backwards approach from identifying a problem, to identifying the customer, and creating solutions by thinking differently and exploring, “The Art of Possible.”

With an emphasis on social media in today’s twitchy influencer culture, Jayme Mechure of Junction Marketing, was invited to offer simple ways for race directors to create a plan to engage and speak to their target audience. Mechure said, “You don’t have to be everywhere all the time. Find out what (platforms) your customers are using and target that.” She further stated that the goal for any social media plan is to entertain, inspire, convince, and educate and that one single piece of content could be shared on multiple platforms.

Conference director Terry Chiplin.

The importance of sponsorship was the final panel discussion on Thursday. Seasoned race directors Josue Stephens, Paulette Odenthal, 2011 World Mountain Running Champion Max King, and Reid Delman, provided real-life experiences that resulted in the creation of successful partnerships. A win-win model for brands and events was at the forefront of the conversation. Passion and impact were two words offered by Odenthal in any successful sponsorship approach. Further, getting to the decision maker and establishing a positive relationship early on and being authentic and true to your brand.

Presenting sponsor of the 7th Annual US Trail Running Conference is ATRA member and Event Standards Program partner Race Roster. Race Roster rounded out the day’s conference activities with an overview of their registration platform. Founded in 2012, Race Roster has partnered with over 4,000 organizers to grow, manage and execute on race day.

Kyle Robidoux and Craig Thornley blaze a trail through fresh fallen snow in Estes Park.

Keep up with live action from the Trail Conference by following us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Also follow the US Trail Running Conference on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook or search the hashtags #TrailConference #trailrunning #estespark #colorado #activeataltitude #atra.