Race director Megan DeHaan is progressing trail running inclusion and Indigenous rights at The Crazy Mountain 100, which will be held for the first time on July 29, 2022. The Crazy Mountain 100 will be the only 100-mile race in Montana this upcoming year. The point-to-point course takes runners through the remote Crazy Mountain Range on Indigenous lands of the Apsáalooke people, as well as private and US Forest Service lands.
DeHaan introduces her event, “We are an intentionally inclusive event that welcomes any and all people willing to take on the challenge. Our goal is to bring you to this wild, sacred, and unique place, and have you leave forever changed. You simply cannot experience the jagged cliffs, scree fields, and high alpine lakes, without experiencing something deep within your soul. This is sure to be the craziest race you have ever attempted.”
I spoke with DeHaan to learn how this event came to be, its race entry and coaching award systems for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People Of Color) athletes, and the conversation this race hopes to generate about how the trail running community can better support Indigenous rights. I also include a short conversation between DeHaan and Indigenous ultrarunner, Scott Flatlip, who discuss why trail races should be more aware of their land usage and respectful of the Indigenous peoples and traditions that lived in their areas well before Europeans settlers.
[TAYTE POLLMANN] Could you introduce The Crazy Mountain Ultra and how you came to be race director and founder for this event?
[MEGAN DEHAAN] The Crazy Mountain 100 navigates 100 miles of pristine and rugged single track, double-track, forest road, and even some indistinguishable trails. Reaching heights of 10,200 feet and covering 25,000 feet of vertical gain, this race is not for the faint of heart. It’s for the true rugged spirit. The more I researched and explored, the more I became drawn to these mountains, the importance of the range, and the beauty of the grasslands that surround it. The deep rooted history of the Crow nation as well as the farms and ranches that now call it home. All of it drew me in. There is so much history here, and so many good people in the area. The idea of being able to work together with everyone just naturally started to form and it took off from there.
[TAYTE] How is the Crazy Mountain 100 different from other ultramarathon trail races?
[MEGAN] This is the only 100 mile race in Montana. Everything I love about this place and lifestyle is all shown through small little details. From the companies that support and partner with us to the awards given out. You will truly feel like you are running through the wild west. As a cattle rancher and ultra runner myself, I’ve carefully and purposefully brought in brands that support my lifestyle, as well as support my vision. I don’t know of any other trail race where you get a real belt buckle and winners get custom made cowboy hats.
[TAYTE] What inspired you with the mission to diversify your start line at the Crazy Mountain 100? Why is it important to see more diversity in trail running?
[MEGAN] How do I summarize five to six years? It started that long ago really. It was actually my brother who got me thinking about these things. The more and more we talked, the more I pushed back to be honest. But after a while I realized that we all need to be a little more open to ideas and thoughts of other people with different experiences. If we want to be inclusive, truly inclusive, we need to be opening our minds to the possibility that we could just simply be wrong. Over time, listening and challenging my own thought processes, I started seeing things I had never noticed before. I could actually see first hand how small my world had really been. If he can open my eyes, then I knew it was possible to open others. I don’t have all the answers. But I do know that I have the ability to make small changes. I know firsthand that the people who make the biggest impact are those who are working behind the scenes that no one notices.
Our start line, so to speak, in ultrarunning is not very diverse. While we could all argue why that is, what actually matters at the end of the day is that people behind the scenes are doing something about it, instead of just screaming or talking about it. Cattle ranchers know what hard work is. We know no one cares how hard we work either. We just put our head down and get it done. That’s where I can come in, I already know how to do that. But I also have to be willing to let it cost me something too. Nothing worth doing is free.
[TAYTE] Let’s focus on your inclusion of BIPOC athletes. How should race directors go about creating more diverse starting lines?
[MEGAN] It’s a simple idea, but it can also often be done the wrong way, or for the wrong reasons. If race directors want true diversity, I think making sure they are not just using it as a tool to gain exposure and profit is a great place to start. I feel as though we need to be intentional about relationships with a diverse community of people in general. I truly feel that if you genuinely treat all people with respect and dignity, regardless of race, gender, religion, etc, then that will show over time, and people will notice. Apply these simple principles to your business model, the same will follow. Although, this is not enough. You can consult close friends who are diverse on what you can do better. You can make sure you surround yourself with people who you may not agree completely with, but they may have a different viewpoint or experience on something to help you make it work better, collectively. This is the type of work that takes time. You will get it wrong, and you will mess up. But it’s a constant process of never arriving, reevaluating, having hard conversations, and moving towards a more inclusive environment. Nothing feels better than knowing you are supported and wanted at an event. What we’re trying to do is develop an inclusive environment, which takes deep relationships over time.
[TAYTE] You also work with the Moun10 Ultra group to promote diversity at your event. For someone new to Moun10 Ultra, could you describe what it is and your involvement with this group?
[MEGAN] Moun10 Ultra was started with a vision to create an athlete team made up of a large group of diverse athletes. They work to connect runners with races; for any race where the entries are not donated, they pay for the entry fees. It’s extremely simple for a race to partner with them, and it provides so many opportunities to these athletes to be able to go to races. It’s a win-win for everyone involved. Their focus is to work behind the scenes to connect brands, race directors and donors to those runners who could benefit the most. Ensuring that races are not tokenizing a single runner with a free entry, but bringing many runners of color to the starting line – which creates a safer and more inclusive space. I’d encourage any RD to do this, as well as consider donating entries themselves, which could be used to send more of their athletes to your race. Our race also allows for people to donate to them at checkout.
[TAYTE] The BIPOC runners who are awarded free entry at The Crazy Mountain 100 also receive free coaching. How does this work? How did you develop this idea of using sponsored coaching at your event?
[MEGAN] Who you surround yourself with and partner with is a big deal. You’d be surprised how many people want to help, but don’t know how, or just haven’t been simply asked yet! Luckily, I happen to know a lot of great people. This was another idea that somehow worked, because people want to help. The idea was that an entry is a great start, but what about offering support to make sure the people you invite have the means to be successful as well. Most people in general don’t have access or means to have a coach. It’s a privilege that most don’t have. So why not offer free coaching? Well, I can’t afford to do that, yet, but I did find four coaches that were more than thrilled to do just that. It blew my mind.
Race directors can start making phone calls and ask around. Make sure you find successful and reputable coaches of course. There is no reason you can’t offer some type of advertising as well in exchange. Or if your race can afford it, see if they’re willing to coach at a discount. The four coaches I used were all willing to coach for free, from registration, until race day. My goal is to grow this funding to where we can eventually provide donations to other events for athletes who need experience before they attempt the 100-mile distance. To fund shorter 50-mile races, provide coaching, and then provide free entry into The Crazy Mountain 100 is the goal.
[TAYTE] Language and race imagery are keys to promoting feelings of inclusion among a diverse audience of racers. How do you prioritize the roles of language and imagery in your race website/media/photography/etc.?
[MEGAN] In this particular race, the course goes through Native Lands of the Crow (Apsáalooke) people, as well as forest service and private ranch lands. I make sure I use correct language and spelling when speaking about it, as well as making sure to learn about the history of the area and its importance. If you show that you care enough to learn, then that will come across with your knowledge. Ignorance is not bliss!
[TAYTE] What advice do you have for race directors interested in diversifying their events? Do you have any additional advice for what trail runners can do to support diversity in our sport?
[MEGAN First, open your mind to the possibility that you might be wrong. Then listen. You might still be right, but if you don’t listen while trying to put aside your own bias, you will never be able to take that step. Second, know that you will make mistakes, it will be uncomfortable, and you will most likely make someone angry. But it’s okay, and it’s worth it. Find people you can trust to surround yourself with that have the same heart for what you’re trying to do. You do not have to partner with people who are screaming the loudest. Personally, I find that people who are doing the best work, are the ones who are behind the scenes. Make sure you’re consulting with people that are affected by your decisions. Or even better, bring them in to make those decisions. Establish relationships and then seek out people who are willing to help. Know that small things can make huge differences. Lastly, it will cost you something. If it’s not free, it’s not worth doing.
For trail runners, I would suggest supporting races who are doing great things beyond just putting on a race. The more support a race director has, the more they can offer and the greater impact they can have. Putting a race on like this is a huge effort. Volunteering goes a long way and is actually what makes these races happen to begin with.
Megan DeHaan and Scott Flatlip: What Can the Trail Running Community Do To Be a More Inclusive Space For Indigenous Peoples?
[SCOTT FLATLIP] Kaheé! Awé-Kootaá-iikuash Biik. Bii-Apsaalookak. Greetings! My name is Scott Flatlip. My Apsaalooké name is “Seen By the whole world.” I am an Apsaalooké (Crow). I am a husband and father to three wonderful children. As an ultra-trail runner, I spend my time running on the roads, hills, and in the mountains. This is a way for me to connect with the land the same way many of my ancestors once did. Ahó
[MEGAN] In your experience, what things have races done well, or not so well in trying to welcome diversity to their start line?
[SCOTT] Some races are very welcoming when it comes to all runners. But that’s about where it stops. There isn’t any acknowledgment of the stolen lands that we will run on or which tribe’s utilized it before it was up for grabs for settlers. Most times I feel at races, they don’t see the unique culture of indigenous people. There have only been a couple races where we were sent a personal invite because our ancestors once used that particular land. So when we got that invite we tried to get as many local indigenous runners to go. I feel if we as indigenous runners were invited like some of the elite runners are, that would help to diversify the start lines. Yes, some races make a lot of money and some don’t. But a few spots for the indigenous might help. Or invite indigenous communities to do an honoring like races do with the National anthem. But it starts with the race directors. If they don’t care about diversity then change won’t happen. Racism and discrimination at the start lines will continue to hurt any progress that happens between the BIPOC community and race directors. It is very difficult to diversify the start lines and maybe change will be slow moving. But change is possible.
[MEGAN] Could you share any advice for race directors who are interested in diversifying the trail running community?
[SCOTT] Give Indigenous people some spots into your big money-making races. Invite Indigenous people to be on your boards. Allow Indigenous people to speak for themselves and not all Indigenous people. If you build a relationship with Indigenous people in your community I guarantee change will begin to happen. Be open to hearing you are wrong about Indigenous culture. If you ignore discrimination or racism then that is also a form of oppression to us. Ask questions and seek guidance about the lands and their cultural usage.
Some people never go crazy, what truly horrible lives they must live.
– Charles Bukowski