Thursday, October 28 marked day two of the ninth annual US Trail Running Conference in Fayetteville, AR, with a series of exhibitor presentations and panel discussions for trail race directors. Day two’s focus was on diversity. Several well-known presenters made virtual appearances including legendary mountain runner Pablo Vigil, Coach Morgon Latimore, Jordan Marie Daniel and Ryan Montgomery. These highlights followed a successful Wednesday conference kick-off.
The scheduled morning group trail run was changed to a run around the streets of downtown Fayetteville due to rainy and muddy conditions on the trails.
Thursday’s first panel was “Empowering the Trail and Ultrarunning Communities to Combat Sexual Assault and Harassment.” The panel was moderated by Crista Scott Tappan, founding member of the Runners Equity Alliance, and speakers included Jordan Marie Daniel, nationally renowned advocate for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives (MMIR) and native youth initiatives, Jody Sanborn, Director of Prevention with the Wyoming Colatition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, and Dr. Christy Teranishi Martinez, Professor of Psychology and Director of the Center for Multicultural Engagement at CSU Channel Islands.
Dr. Martinez introduced the panel citing a research study that assessed the prevalence of assault and harassment in the trail running community. The study showed that women experience higher rates of sexual assault, impacting their feelings of safety and impacting the way women run. “The data doesn’t lie,” said Dr. Martinez, “We had over 1,500 people contribute to this study from across the world and sexual violence is happening in our sport.”
Sanborn added to this discussion, “We all have to work together to shift community norms and culture around sexual harassment to get change to happen. We need to come together as race directors to establish a code of conduct, a waiver, etc. to make a big stance to change the culture that exists. Sport can play a very positive role in society that has ripple effects far beyond the sport itself.”
Daniel followed this conversation by introducing her organization, Rising Hearts, an indigenous-led grassroots organization committed to the heart work in elevating indigenous voices, promoting, and supporting intersectional collaborative efforts across all movements in cultivating community with the goals of racial, social, climate and economic justice. “I saw a lack of visibility of indigenous race organizers. Inclusion of our voices and participation wasn’t there. When I saw this lack of participation and inclusion happening, I started introducing myself in these circles to make change for our community.” said Daniel.
The second panel, “Allyship for Women in Sport,” was moderated by ATRA founder and executive director Nancy Hobbs, and included Susan Kendrick, Director of Brand Relationships for UltraSignup, Zoë Rom, Editor in Chief at Trail Runner magazine, and Paulette Odenthal, race director, coach and Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) state representative for Minnesota.
Rom explored the barriers women face in participating in trail running, “It starts with understanding what specific barriers women face and providing them with specific solutions. Big issues we see are how to negotiate childcare, safety issues (navigations, wildlife, etc.) and I’d like to see more research projects surveying women across the US on what obstacles they are facing when getting into the sport.”
The discussion shifted to the importance of race imagery featuring women of all shapes, sizes, and ethnicity, and how photographic and video representation can be used to further increase diversity and offer a welcoming space. “I look for all kinds of diversity so that every runner is represented,” said Kendrick. “We made a concerted effort to feature a range of people in our race photography and make it clear that every runner is welcome at our events.”
Odenthal added to this discussion, “Many events only feature photos of top finishers, which only comprise maybe one perecent of a race field. The middle and back-of-the-packers make your race and that’s where the focus of the race images should be. These images should feature the majority of people that show up to your races and show that the average person can and does participate.”
The day’s third panel discussion was on “Diversity in Sport— Focus on BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color),” key factors to enable more runners of color to feel welcome and join trail races. The panel was moderated by Peter Maksimow of the American Trail Running Association. Speakers included Miguel Moreno, advocate for the Mexican trail running community and founder of The UltraHouse, Rob Palmore, Tampa Chapter Captain of Black Men Run and Morgon Latimore, internationally recognized public figure in the endurance community and coach.
The discussion began on the topic of nutrition. “The Black community leads the country in diabetes,” said Palmore, “We founded Black Men Run eight years ago to bring awareness to nutrition and food education and use running/walking to combat obesity in the Black community. We’re encouraging runners of all abilities to get more involved in their own health.”
Moreno followed on this point adding, “The nutrition that we have in the United States is processed, versus the natural foods found in Mexico that the Mexican community is used to. As a result, diabetes is a real problem for the Mexican and native communities in the United States right now.”
Latimore turned the conversation to the accessibility of trail running to BIPOC communities, “When you create real life experiences for kids in forests, on trails, etc., places that they may have only read about or seen in their imagination, that opens them up to a new life of adventures. You don’t need to pay to go outside and run and this sport can be accessible for anyone.”
Moreno introduced how his concept of The Ultrahouse is creating accessibility to our sport for all types of runners, “I made The UltraHouse accessible to people who don’t have much money. Everyone is welcome. I want my friends to experience the joy of trail running, free from any prejudices and financial burden.”
Latimore stressed how leading by example is the best way to make change for the BIPOC community, “There has to be a first if we want change to happen. When you become the first one to do something, then you open up the doors for others to do these things too. Rosa Parks had to be the first one on the bus, someone always has to be the first one. Lead by example! Educate the next generation through showing them what’s possible and take the first step.”
Following the lunch break, was the panel “Diversity— Focus On VI, Blind and Adaptive Athletes.” Paul Gigliotti, Pirate Perry Events, moderated the panel, and speakers included Amy Rusiecki, race director of the Vermont 100, Zachary Friedley, adaptive athlete (born missing his leg above the knee), and Chaz Davis, blind Paralympian and an advocate for inclusive sport.
Friedley gave the audience of race directors a call-to-action for the adaptive running community, “Most races don’t have an adaptive athlete division.” said Friedley, “Most of these athletes don’t know they can run on the trails because they don’t see others like them doing it. If there are podium opportunities available for adaptive athletes, these athletes have a chance for visibility. I think the trail running community is very supportive and we have the potential to create a platform for all outdoor sports to create adaptive divisions.”
Davis discussed barriers for blind and adaptive athletes in trail races,“There is a lack of education when it comes to what athletes with disabilities are capable of doing. The more we are able to showcase what these athletes are able to do will encourage more adaptive athletes to race and be fit as well as show race directors what is possible.”
Rusiecki explained what she has done with her race, the Vermont 100, to be the first trail race with an adaptive athlete division. “On our race registration platform, we added a checkbox for mobility and visually impaired athletes to sign up for our race. I didn’t want there to be that barrier where the adaptive athlete has to reach out to me personally as a race director to ask if they can run my race. All of the participants and everyone at the event should know the rules about accomodations/guides/pacers for these athletes and respect these rules just as they respect any other race rules.”
“Diversity— Focus On Youth and Elders” was the next panel. I moderated this panel and speakers included Pablo Vigil, competitive masters’ runner and four-time winner of Switzerland’s Sierre Zinal mountain running race, Kenny Wilcox, race director of the National High School Trail Championships (NHSTC) and Sebastian Salsbury, 15-year old ultra-distance trail runner and youngest person in history to qualify for the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run.
The discussion began by exploring how trail races and the trail running community can attract more youth runners. Vigil shared his thoughts, “Races need to make sure to cater race distances to both younger and older athletes. There shouldn’t be only ultra options at trail races, but shorter distance races as well.” He also expressed his concerns about younger runners getting involved in ultra distance races too young, “Young runners need to avoid running longer races too frequently. This could damage the future of their careers.”
Wilcox introduced his race and how it has attracted more talented young athletes to trail running, “This race is not your average, flat cross country course. This is real trail running. This race has discovered many young runners on the trail who are as fast running on trails as professionally sponsored athletes.” Wilcox shared his thoughts for growing the event with a goal that one day regional championships could allow athletes from across the country a chance to qualify for the national championship.
Salisbury shared great perspectives on what could inspire more young runners to join trail running, including his enthusiasm for aid stations on course, “Snacks and candy were always a big draw for me!” Salisbury also suggested events offer separate divisions for younger athletes and that prizes specific to youth runners could attract more young people to the sport.
The day’s final panel was “Diversity— Focus On LGBTQ+” moderated by Peter Maksimow. Speakers included Patti Flynn, queer transwoman and advocate for the LGBTQ+ community, Ryan Montgomery, professional trail runner for Altra who identifies as a queer gay man, and Micah Daigeaun, advocate for transgender athletes.
Montgomery shared his barriers to entry, “When I feel like I’m not in a safe space, I feel inclined to crawl into a heterosexual bucket and not express who I really am. I don’t always feel safe on the trails. Sometimes the visual representation of my sexual expression can make others feel threatened and I don’t feel safe being myself.”
Flynn shared her thoughts on how to increase LGTBQ+ participation in trail running. “Self identification. There are rules out there to classify people as a man or a woman. It shouldn’t be incumbent on LGBTQ+ runners to prove themselves. You should be able to identify for yourself whether you are a man or woman. This allows runners to feel more comfortable at bib pickup and feel accepted at the race.”
Daigeaun expressed her opinions on the very heated topic of transgender men claiming awards in women’s categories, “As a recently transitioned transgender runner, I’m largely holding myself out from competing in races. This is because I have had success in trail races in the past (sub-six hour fifty mile personal record). I don’t want to fuel the fire in the argument that men are transitioning just to win races. I identify as a woman, but because I have these years of history racing well in the men’s division, I feel I have to navigate this issue more delicately. I do this to respect everyone going through this struggle.”
Next up was the Presenting Sponsor Presentation for Trail Race Directors delivered by David Callahan and Jay Kelley of Ultrasignup. The platform has become a popular “hub” for the trail running community that is used by race directors to display their events and register participants, as well as by athletes to research races and athletes, check their Ultrasignup “ranking” and find live race results. “Ultrasignup has become a part of trail and ultrarunning culture,” said Kelley, “One sign of the integration of Ultrasignup in the culture of ultrarunning is actually how it frequently appears as social media “memes” in the trail running world and is used by trail runners across the country.”
Kelley and Callahan recently acquired Ultrasignup and have made several changes over the past few months including: upgraded servers/database, how-to video library and quadrupled the staff. Kelley also addressed future changes that could increase LGBTQ+ participation in race, “We are creating a non-binary registration option, which will role out in 2022,” said Kelley. “We know there is still much to figure out, but we are ready to take the first step in increasing diversity in our sport. I think the trail running community has a really strong foundation to make this change happen.”
Ultrasignup also hopes to continue to grow the community-building aspects of the platform, “We wanted to create a place where that knowledge from experienced runners could be shared with the many new runners getting into this sport. We created a new forum where this knowledge sharing and community building could happen.”
Day two of the conference concluded with a networking session, which included light appetizers and drinks.
Stay tuned for highlights from day three of the conference, which will be published on Saturday. More photos from day two 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.