Diversity Takes Center Stage on the Final Day of the US Trail Running Conference

In this article our founder and executive director Nancy Hobbs recaps the final day of the 7th annual US Trail Running Conference in Estes Park, Colorado.

The final day of the US Trail Running Conference began with an early morning run at the Lumpy Ridge Trailhead under sunny skies with temperatures hovering in the 30s. Even though some snow and ice lingered on the trails from the storm on Thursday, there were many runners eager to get out to test demo shoes provided by Altra and Scarpa.

Additionally, there was an instructional guide runner session to introduce sighted athletes to the joys and challenges inherent in leading runners who are blind or visually impaired. United in Stride’s Kyle Robidoux provided the instruction. Robidoux himself is a runner who is visually impaired and has an abundance of experience teaching sighted runners the intricacies of guiding.

Within an hour following the run, the program for the final day of the Conference was underway at the Stanley Hotel, located just a few miles from Lumpy Ridge Trailhead. The content for Saturday’s program was specifically designed for trail runners of all age and ability levels.

The first session of the day was focused on trail running shoes — the past, present and future. Three expert panelists with a wealth of knowledge in the shoe industry included Altra’s founder Golden Harper, FootRX Asheville owner Aaron Saft, and Peter Maksimow, who is our outreach and partnership specialist and an inov-8 sponsored athlete.

Panelists Aaron Saft, Peter Maksimow and Golden Harper talk about trail running shoes with conference director Terry Chiplin. Photo by Nancy Hobbs.

“Happy feet make for a happy trail runner,” remarked Saft who says most trail runners who come to his store tend to come in for a specific shoe. “They’ve done their research and they know what they’re looking for. Fortunately, we’re at a good point to offer a lot of options on the shoe wall. It has been interesting watching the evolution of trends from minimalism to maximalism. We’ve watched the pendulum swing and now see a wide range of offerings.”

Saft went on to discuss the finer points of shoe fit from mid-foot wrap, to insole wear providing the attendees some great takeaways when considering their next footwear purchase.

One crucial aspect of fit mentioned by Harper was that the majority of runners buy shoes that are one half size short. He also said that most footwear brands don’t create different shapes for men’s and women’s shoes in spite of the physical differences between genders. As far as he knows, Altra is the only company that creates different shapes, which he mentioned require quite a big financial investment. He further discussed future shoe development and that shoes could be constructed with highly developed foams and carbon, but at an added expense. “We have to consider, at what cost is the shoe going to make someone faster.”

Maksimow, a self-described environmentalist, felt that the sustainability aspect of shoes was of the utmost importance moving forward including the implementation of recyclable and biodegradable materials. Harper concurred. One program mentioned by conference attendee Jeff Jackson of Happy Planet Running was that of Clothes the Loop, an initiative from The North Face where individual can drop off unwanted and used clothing and footwear. Another footwear recycling program is sneakers4funds.org.

Maksimow was realistic with a summary statement, “At the end of the day, shoes are just shoes. Getting out there training is going to make you faster. You can’t take a Pinto and make it a Ferrari. If you put new tires on a Pinto, it’s not going to make you a Ferrari.”

Trail runners got to demo shoes at Lumpy Ridge Trailhead thanks to ATRA member Altra. Photo by Nancy Hobbs.

From what goes on your feet the discussion shifted to the stomach with an expert panel discussing nutrition and hydration for trail running. Nutrition coach Misty Krug, Fueling with Real Food, Kelly Newton, RAD Boulder, Four Points Bar developer Kevin Webber, and Dr. Frank Dumont, offered suggestions for eating and drinking pre, during, and post-race or post-training.

“Training the gut and finding out what works best for you on a daily basis will be of the utmost benefit for race day,” said Newton. “This includes what you’re eating and drinking. Having a few things in your arsenal is important. Following an effort, I always know that whatever I’m craving, I’m craving for a reason and my body is probably asking for this for recovery.”

Krug believed in fueling with real food. She had also experimented with short-term fasting to prepare herself to adapt to fewer calories.

Webber stated that, “If your digestive tract is working harder than your muscles, it is tough on your GI system. I focus more on hydration during a race than I do about putting in carbs, but everyone is different.” His go-to foods are, “Prunes baby! They are loaded with potassium and soluble fiber, and they’re great on your gut.”

It’s dates for Krug. “They have natural sugar, are high in potassium and they’re amazing and yummy.”

Cheese, nuts, nut butters and crackers were Dumont’s favorites although he noted nuts often require additional hydration. “Find what works for you; something in small volume.”

Newton is also a fan of complete food, or real foods and suggested prunes and dates, which add a lot of moisture and are gluten-free. “Baked goods like pierogies are packed full of carbs,” she said. “Consider instead of, or in addition to potato filling, adding beans.”

The discussion moved to chronic and ongoing inflammation inherent in runners. “Low carb and high fat diets reduce inflammation and develop ketones,” said Dumont.

Added Krug, “Inflammation is where heart problems come from. Include walnuts, or tumeric in your daily diet and eat real food and stay away from processed foods.”

Equally important is hydration. Newton suggested that runners get a seat test to know where they are starting from. “Staying hydrated throughout the day is important. Drink lots of water, or quench your thirst with something that doesn’t have a ton of sugar. Don’t wait until you are thirsty.”

Final tips from Krug included the importance of reading labels to know what is going into your body and to not jump on any diet band wagon without doing a lot of research. Webber suggested that you race how you train and that you not change it up on race day. Dumont said, “Eat intentionally. Spend at least as much time thinking about what goes into your body as you do on choosing shoes, apparel, and other gear.”

Every day of the conference started with a trail run from Lumpy Ridge Trailhead. Photo by Peter Maksimow.

The next session covered diversity on the trails with a focus on racial and socioeconomic groups and youth. Panelists included HOKA ONE ONE professional runner Joseph Gray, Kriste Peoples, founder Black Women’s Alliance, Maria Solis, Latinos Run, our own Tayte Pollmann, NIKE Trail athlete, and Billy Mills, Olympian and national spokesperson for Running Strong for American Indian Youth.

Access was one of the key factors mentioned by all of the panelists that leads to the lack of diversity in our sport. “With many of our population living in urban areas, there is no access to trails,” said Solis.

Mills went so far as to say, “We’re taking on a topic that America doesn’t know how to answer. We need to collectively choreography the horizon of our future. Running can play a more powerful role in bringing people together.”

Beyond access and opportunities, Gray noted that, “It’s difficult jumping into a sport where people don’t look like you.”

Hoping to provide and open door and an opportunity for women of color, Peoples said that Black Girls RUN! was created to counteract the negative statistics that have dogged black women. With the couch to 5K program, a sense of support, accountability, and visibility has been instilled. “There is a sense of friendship as well and a bit of respite is offered from the ‘I don’t do these things.”

In just three years Solis said that Latinos Run has over 25,000 participating in the program. “What you water…it grows,” she said. “That first time being out on a run is life changing.”

Through Pollman’s articles on trailrunner.com, he is eager to respond and engage with youth getting into the sport and share opportunities in trail and mountain running. After all, youth are the future of our sport.

Many comments revolved around community. “It’s a big piece of the puzzle,” said Gray. “People are very encouraging (in trail running). What fits with trail running is historic. When humans began on earth they were trail running. It’s a very natural transition.”

Peoples reflected, “As a youth, who doesn’t remember yelling and screaming and running through the woods and being wild. That was my jam when I was that age. It is important to go through that get-wild experience and reconnect with that unspoiled heart. Trail running is a very natural extension of who we are.”

“Trail running for me is adventure,” said Pollmann. “It’s a way to be outside and explore and be curious.”

OUTrun founders Corey Conner and Addie Bracy with United in Stride’s Kyle Robidoux. Photo by Peter Maksimow.

The next session covered diversity on the trails with a focus on pride and disabilities. Panelists were United in Stride’s Kyle Robidoux, a runner who is visually impaired, blind runner Luanne Burke, OUTrun co-founders and partners Corey Conner and Addie Bracy, and gay trail runner Ryan Montgomery.

“Price and access and inclusion is important,” said Conner to open the conversation. “When I was running on the roads you had to rely on your public persona and I felt like I couldn’t be a gay runner. But I didn’t want to be thought of as ‘the gay runner.’ It wasn’t until I met the trail running community that I could be both things – a trail runner and gay. I’m hopeful that this discussion will continue. Visibility is so important and I’m trying to do my part.”

Added Bracy, “Our passion is trail running and it’s a welcoming community. The biggest thing is just visibility and connecting the gap.”

Asked what race directors could do to make their races attractive to under-represent groups, Montgomery said, “Even the smallest pieces of content can make a huge impact.” He cited a trail race in the Bay Area where event director Greg Lanctot, featured a rainbow on the race bibs. “I wore a shirt with rainbow coloring along with the bib,” said Montgomery.

Robidoux continued on the same path that inclusion means awareness. Ways to include the blind and visually imparied community can focus on something as simple as outreach. “One great action step is to have a conversation with your local running club or running store and host and Achilles Chapter, or an RWB group. When you are guiding, you are in a ‘team sport.’ Celebrate that.”

Sage Running coaches Ray and Sandi Nypaver. Photo by Peter Maksimow.

Next up was the coach’s corner panel. Jason Fitzgerald from Strength Running, Sandi Nypaver from Sage Running, Caolan McMahon from The Long Run Coaching discussed how trail runners can train smarter and stay healthy. The conversation included the importance of strength training for trail runners of any age, experience level and racing distance.

“I get my runners to buy into the runner’s lifestyle,” said Fitzerald. “Consistency is important, and having injury prevention as a goal.”

McMahon concurred and said, “If you are consistent, you will get stronger. It’s the basis for improving and staying injury free.”

“There are no weak fast runners,” continued Fitzgerald, who encourages runners to practice running specific strength training to prevent injuries and maximize performance.

Similarly, Nypaver advised runners to include hill repeats in their training, which also builds strength. Of equal importance, according to Nypaver, “Knowing your body and how far you can push yourself while keeping the joy in training. You need to develop a mindset in and out of running. Ask, ‘what does my best self look like in these circumstances.’”

It was noted that most runners typically need to do a little bit less and that bouncing training off someone (ie: a coach), is really helpful.

Common mistakes athletes make were listed by McMahon as racing workouts, peaking too early, not respecting what an easy pace is, and not valuing recovery. For Nypaver, it’s not realizing that stresses outside of running can affect your training and that the greater the training you do, the more recovery you need.

Finally Fitzgerald stated that treating a plan like it is etched in stone can be problematic. “It’s a road map to a final destination, but you can take a detour. Be flexible as life can get in the way.”

Trail runners inside the Stanley Hotel conference facility. Photo by Peter Maksimow.

Saturday’s mid-afternoon panelists talked about what their organizations are doing to protect trails, encourage trail stewardship and advocate for trail access. This discussion focused on how trail runners can become more active and preserve trail access. Vic Thasiah, Runners for Public Lands, began a conversation on how trail runners can do their part to make positive impacts on environmental issues, such as clean air, water and energy. Peter Vrolijk, Friends of Mount Evans and Lost Creek Wilderness added that trail runners can engage in data collection for local forest services to preserve trails.

Bob McCreedy, National Wildlife Federation, said he was encouraged to see so many races requiring people to get engaged with sweat equity. “I think we get fixated on our goals to race and forget about the wilderness. Doing trail work reinforces the reasons most of us run on trails.”

Professional athlete, camp director and race organizer Max King said, “We need to communicate with other trail users which will help us maintain access to the trails we love.”

At the same time, the “love it to death” mantra is real. “As trails get more popular and busier, we may see a saturation,” said King. “How we can work on that is to be advocates, doing work ourselves then we have a claim to the trails.”

Thasiah is a proponent of citizen science and community science, which includes data collection on the trails that can then be shared with agencies that help repair and maintain trails. He also suggests promoting environmental literacy. “Hold events that are deeply immersive. Interact about habitat restoration and rebuilding ecosystems. Get involved,” he says.

“We need to organize our community, apply muscle, and sweat equity,” summed up McCreedy.

PRO TIP: Are you ready to get outside and work on trails? Check out our national directory of over 120 trail work groups.

2012 USATF Mountain Running Champion Sage Canaday conducted outdoor running technique sessions. Photo by Peter Maksimow.

The final panel discussion of the conference focused on women and whether this group is poised to be the next boom in trail running. On the panel were Ray Nypaver, coach for Sage Running, race director Paulette Odenthal, Kriste Peoples, Black Women’s Alliance, and Silke Koester from Rocky Mountain Road Runners.

On the topic of increasing women’s participation in trail running, “Visibility is the big factor,” said Peoples, who encouraged women to share more images and stories of themselves on trails.

Koester added, “Share your experiences to empower other women.” She emphasized the importance of building strong and accessible trail communities women can join.

Nypaver stressed the importance of “educating other women about trail running.” She said, “I’ve had more women than men tell me to be careful on trails.” This encouraged her to discuss the need for women trail runners to actively educate their peers about women trail running communities.

The discussion shifted to the topic of how men can support women who want to run trails. “Give women the space to be heard,” responded Koester.

Peoples shared a personal story from one of her runs in which a man asked her, “What are you running from?” Peoples advised men to do a better job listening to women, concluding, “Men can stand to check their ideas about women.”

Kriste Peoples and Billy Mills. Photo by Peter Maksimow.

On hand to give thanks to the attendees, panelists, and vendors for being part of an informative, thoughtful, and engaging three and a half days was event director Terry Chiplin. He provided a farewell message reporting that the conference team is eager to build on this year’s theme and successful program as planning gets underway for the 8th annual US Trail Running Conference. The dates and venue will be announced in mid-November with registration soon to follow.

Did you miss our earlier coverage of the 7th annual US Trail Running Conference? Get caught up and read our kickoff report from day one. An article about the second day of the conference can be found here.

A short video recap of the conference from our YouTube channel: