Building Business and Community at The US Trail Running Conference

Friday October 29th marked the last of three days of race director content at the ninth annual US Trail Running Conference in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The day was focused on “Community and Business” and included engaging presentations, panel discussions, as well as outdoor activities such as the morning group run and electric scooter tour of downtown Fayetteville.

The Friday morning group run kicked off the day. The scheduled trail run was changed to a run around the streets of downtown Fayetteville due to rainy and muddy conditions on the trails.

The day’s opening presentation was “Understanding Technology—Podcast” given by ATRA advisory board member Luis Escobar, host of the popular Road Dog Podcast. The presentation focused on how race directors can use podcasts to share their message to a wider audience, grow their brand and create additional income.

Escobar provided excellent tips for creating a podcast and he shared his favorite recording devices and podcast technology, “When you start your own podcast, one of the best things you can do is to collaborate with other podcasts,” said Escobar, “I never say no to being featured on another podcast. We mention each other’s podcasts and it’s an easy way to share your message and build your brand while helping a partner.”

Escobar also shared tips for monetizing podcasts, “The initial intent was to stay connected with my running community and talk about my own races, but it’s true the podcast does need to make a little money to support itself. has allowed my listeners to make different levels of contributions to the podcast. We’re not making a lot of money but we are covering the costs.”

Trail Conference

Photo: Peter Maksimow.

Next up was the conference’s second set of exhibitor presentations, which highlighted Go Sleeves, Headstart, Blerter and Route Arrows.

The day’s first panel discussion was “Trail Love and Maintenance.” Speakers were Steve Schneider, Rogue Trails, Brannon Pack, Cycling Coordinator for Experience Fayetteville and David Wiens, head of the Mountain Sports program at Western State Colorado University and IMBA’s Executive Director.

Pack shared tips on how to attract more volunteers for trail building and caring for the trails during races, “All school age kids need volunteer hours and we’ve had success reaching out to our local university and high schools. Awarding prizes from sponsors to volunteers is another great way to attract more volunteers and give your partners recognition. Make volunteering feel like a special experience, as opposed to work, and they will want to come back.”

Schneider built on Pack’s respect for volunteers, “Praise your volunteers and make them feel entitled. Give them food, drinks and take care of them during the event. It’s a noble cause to volunteer. It rally’s your community and you can educate about stewardship and trail care. Make it fun!”

Wiens shifted the discussion to how to navigate the issue of trail use and the interaction amongst different trail users (trail runners, hikers, bikers, A.T.V.s, equestrians, etc.). “Start with kindness,” said Wiens, “be kind to one another. Trails should be welcome and safe for all people. Be aware of your surroundings and pay attention to trail signage and other trail users. Acquire specific knowledge you will need to be a good trail user. For example, a biker needs to know how to navigate the trail on a bike, just as trail runners will need different knowledge specific to their sport.”

The panelists also discussed the recent Trails Are Common Ground initiative, “a proactive, growing and inclusive national community of passionate trail users woven together by our love for trails and respect for one another.”

Trail Conference

Photo: Peter Maksimow.

Following the panel discussion was a “Marketing and Advertising” presentation given by Danielle Keller of Arli Media. Keller focused on how to build a broader audience for race directors, “There’s opportunities to reach further and wider than your own community,” said Keller. “Do you know who your audiences are? What stores do they shop at? What social media platforms do they use (Instagram, Facebook, Tik Tok, etc.? How are they engaging with you and the running community? There are many things in the digital space you want to use to connect with as many audiences as possible.”

One of Keller’s top tips for using social media platforms for race events was to “Be consistent.” Keller added, “Make a posting schedule and consider utilizing online tools to set up posting schedules. Don’t ever go dark on social media, not even during your off-seasons between races. Post at least once a week, even if it’s something small like reposting a funny meme.”

The next panel was “Creating Effective Sponsor Partnerships” with speakers Susan Kendrick, director of brand relationships with UltraSignup and Topher Gaylord, Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run board member. Gaylord shared how sponsors help can help meet race director goals when putting on the event, “I build two kinds of partnerships. Cash partnerships and Value-In-Kind (VIK) or product sponsorships. Cash partnerships are key, but the latter is often overlooked. Product sponsorships can be as simple as giving runners free swag, but can also lower operating costs such as when hydration or nutrition companies can stock aid stations for you.”

One key takeaway from the panel was Kendrick’s discussion of connecting with organizations in your area to find sponsors, “Hosting races is an advantage for local organizations,” said Kendrick. “It’s one more reason to come to the area and will help improve tourism. Remember when talking with local organizations, you are a key asset and the regional media, websites and magazines will want to feature you. Don’t be afraid to be the one to reach out and communicate.”

Photo: Peter Maksimow.

Following a lunch break was the day’s final discussion panel “Making Your Race Stand Out From The Crowd.” Speakers were Katie Ho, co-founder of RaceRaves, Amy Ben-Horin, Executive Director for Wander Project, Paul Gigliotti, Pirate Perry Events, and Chris Zair, Director of Trees Not Tees.

Ho discussed how her company, RaceRaves, can be used by race directors to make their events stand out, “We want to be a resource for runners to find, discover, rate and review races, but it’s also a resource for race directors,” said Ho. “It’s a really easy way to gain post-race insights from your race constituents, volunteers and put on better events.”

Zair introduced how Trees Not Tees is creating more unique races, “A way to stand out is not just offering t-shirts at races to runners, but something that really has lasting value. That’s why we developed Trees Not Tees.” said Zair. Trees Not Tees allows race registrants to choose to donate to their organization to plant trees, instead of receiving a race T-shirt. Zair explained his initiative further, “It takes 2,700 liters of produce one T-shirt (enough water for one person to drink for two and a half years). Eleven million shirts end up in the landfill every year. Since starting Trees Not Tees, we have planted over 40,000 trees and partnered with over 120 races in the U.K. We plan to connect with more races in the United States in the coming year.”

Gigliotti also encouraged race directors to provide other race swag besides T-shirts, “Give your racers something useful, so it doesn’t end up in a landfill. Consider other giveaway items such as stainless steel cups, packet pickup tots, etc. Strive to be the best you can be in all that you do.”

Ben-Horin of Wander Project shared how their organization is engaging endurance events to support local communities through inspiring fundraisers and service. “We recently partnered with a race that provided 25 ‘charity bibs”’to raise money for Navajo Yes, an organization that seeks to empower Navajo youth with active lifestyles. At Wander Project, we want to do as much good as we can to inspire and engage running events.”

Trail Conference

Photo: Peter Maksimow.

Next up, trail conference director Terry Chiplin, shared his ideas for creating a “Race Director Mentorship Program” in an open discussion format. “I want to set up a forum on the US Trail Running Conference website where race directors can share their key values and best race practices, so others can access it. Connecting race directors with interns, new race directors, or those who want to put on events.”

Many great ideas came out of the discussion including thoughts from Miguel Moreno, founder of The Ultra House, who hopes to organize more races. “As someone who has only organized one race, I would like checklists from experienced race directors,” said Moreno, “I would like a list of actions that I need to do to make my races sustainable, diverse, and most effective.”

After several hours of indoor presentations and panel discussions, conference participants went outdoors on the urban trail to the base of Kessler Regional Park, Arkansas’ highest regional park at 1,850 feet, on VeoRide electric scooters. These scooters can be found throughout downtown Fayetteville and can be accessed through the companion VeoRide app.

The day was concluded with a wrap up and farewell for the race director portion of the conference. Chiplin also announced the location of the 2022 US Trail Running Conference venue — Snohomish, Washington. “We’re excited to take the conference to the Pacific Northwest,” said Chiplin, “I was impressed by the beauty of the environment and trails in Snohomish, stunning views from the community center, and I’m looking forward to putting on the conference again next year!”

With three days of race director activities concluded, stay tuned tomorrow (Sunday) for a recap of “Trail Runner Day” at the 2021 US Trail Running Conference. More photos from day three of the conference are available on Peter Maksimow’s Google Photos album. You can also follow our hour-by-hour coverage on the conference on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

In case you missed them, you can read recaps of day 1 and day 2 of the 2021 US Trail Running Conference in the Trail News section of this website.

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