Freetrail Femmes: A Trail Running Community

Trail runner Cathy Beaudoin, pictured in cover photo, wrote the following article about the Freetrail Femmes. Beaudoin lives in Bend, Oregon, and is a member of the Freetrail community and a visually impaired runner who enjoys time on the trails with a guide by her side.

Freetrail Femmes

Freetrail is a community dedicated to the sport of trail running. Through its media and virtual community platform, Freetrail touches the full range of runners, from the elites at races like Western States Endurance Run to the last finisher at one of the many small, local trail races held in communities around the world. One of the many subgroups within Freetrail is Freetrail Femmes, which is open to all Femme identifying individuals and any person with an interest in femme related topics. The idea is to provide a space that fosters community amongst the femmes in Freetrail.

Making Connections

The Freetrail Femmes group meets virtually via Zoom, every other Friday at Noon Mountain Time. The meetings are facilitated by Corinne Shalvoy, a Freetrail member and ATRA Board member who graciously volunteers her time. Depending on work obligations, family commitments, and race schedules, attendance ranges from fifteen to twenty femmes per session, with some attending most sessions and others attending once a month or every other month.

Corinne Shalvoy on the trails.

The geographic range is broad, reaching across to countries like England, Norway, France, Austria, Australia, and the United States. Within the US, the majority of femmes live in the western states such as Colorado, California, Arizona, and Washington. Other femmes call in from Texas, Virginia, Massachusetts, and Washington, DC. Some of the geographic clustering is likely due to the time of the call. However, each call is recorded and made available to all Freetrail Femmes who want to listen afterwards.

Sharing Stories

The structure of the calls is varied. Sometimes Shalvoy will post a question of the week and each person on the call will take a few minutes to offer their perspective on the topic of the day. Often, the questions come from the group members and a sample set of questions include:
1. What is your WHY for running?
2. What goals do you have for yourself, both in and out of the running space?
3. What is something you want in your running life?

One of the Freetrail Femmes is well-versed in the Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim Trek, often offering advice to
those planning their first run into the Grand Canyon.

At other times, the calls are structured as a general discussion around topics such as the pelvic floor, menstruation, pregnancy, injuries, self-doubt, tips on how to run in the Grand Canyon, and member race recaps and training updates. Often, these discussions allow Femmes to expose their vulnerability in a supportive environment and, for many, these intimate moments help create a real sense of community.

As one Femmes member articulated on a group call where she shared an unexpected injury diagnosis, “Just wanted to say thank you to this group for being a place to share and be vulnerable with the highs and lows [in ultra running].”

Guest Speakers and Slack Channel

In addition to the discussion formats, the group will sometimes have a guest speaker join the call. Such guests have included Sophie Powers from SheRaces, Shannon O’Grady from Gnarly Nutrition, Sally McCrae, who attended after her race at the Cocodona 250, Jennifer Russo, who attended after she set a new distance record in the backyard ultra events space, and Megan Roche, runner, coach and researcher on the variables that impact endurance-related performance.

In addition to the Femmes call, the group has its own dedicated slack channel within the Freetrail slack platform. Femmes who may not attend the bi-weekly calls utilize Slack to report race results, propose meetups, and ask random questions. The slack channel is active throughout the year.

In-Person Connections

As a result of the virtual relationships built within the Freetrail Femmes community, when runners go to some of the more popular races, they meet up in person, hanging out, having coffee, crewing, and even pacing for each other. Earlier this summer, several Freetrail Femmes met up in Olympic Village during the Broken Arrow Skyrace and the Western States Endurance Run. This fall, several Freetrail Femmes plan to travel to southeastern Massachusetts for the Womp Romp 50-kilometer and 10-mile races.

Freetrail Femmes meet up at the Forest Hill Aid Station at the 2023 Western States
Endurance Run.

Be Inspired

All these interactions make Freetrail Femmes a way to connect on and off the trail. For those who participate, the experience is often a deeply emotional one, as some of the Femmes have articulated.

“I’m constantly inspired by everyone’s goals and the strength (mental, physical, emotional) that the Femmes exhibit. I love sharing the running journey, the highs, lows, wins, losses with everyone in the group…”

“Some of my women friends outside of this group don’t understand [my passion for trail running.] Here, I connect with women that I don’t have to explain myself to. The type of women who are drawn to this sport are naturally tough and inspiring people. So it gives me a group of friends who inspire and light up this core part of me, and who I know I can turn to at any point in this journey to share the highs and the lows.”

“I’ve never had the opportunity to connect with a wider network of female trail runners outside my local running clubs. I like being part of larger conversations about our experiences with trail running and gaining a broader perspective of all the ways we engage with this sport we love. I also appreciate having a space that is framed by a shared interest… and I feel like I can always trust the conversations here will leave me energized, inspired, and challenged in constructive ways.”

A Microcosm

Ultimately, Freetrail Femmes is a microcosm of the larger trail running community. It’s a place where runners of all abilities come together, meet others who like to push themselves mentally and physically, share their successes and failures, and potentially make new friends in the process. If you are interested in joining the Freetrail community, you can register for a free trial here.