A ferryboat foghorn sounds its warning on the Puget Sound not once but three times. Each blast with timing more impeccable than the last. The first brings comic relief to myself and other attendees at the opening ceremony of the tenth annual US Trail Running Conference, a conference geared toward event directors and those dedicated to furthering our niche sport of trail running). Event director Terry Chiplin cracks a joke in his good natured British humor admitting that he has a reputation for flatulence. Although we laugh, there is something about the deep sound of this foghorn that captures my attention more than the joke. The ferry can’t be seen, hidden behind a thick morning fog and smokey skies from nearby wildfires, but its presence is heard.
Our opening ceremony pays respect to the Snoqualmie, Snohomish, and Skyqualmie people who were natives of this land. These are people I will not have the opportunity to know while I’m here. People our country has decided no longer belong here, yet it is their land, their trails that we will get to know over the duration of the conference this week. I find myself thinking about the land where I live, the trails I run on, who it belonged to and my duty to preserve it. Or lose it.
The shivers of humid coastal autumn air make me long for warmer clothes. My mind replays the tune “Harborcoat,” a classic example of R.E.M.’s iconic cryptic and enticing lyrics. Whatever this song means, all that matters to me at this moment is finding a bit of warmth from the idea of a Harborcoat in this quaint harbor town of Mukilteo, Washington. I don’t even know what this garment looks like, yet the idea of it warms me as I bob my head to the beat of the music. I squeeze tighter to the persons interlinked into both my left and right arms. Our group of race directors and trail running enthusiasts has created a circle with our arms intertwined – connecting us. We are a flock of penguins huddling for warmth. Yet we are close for more than just physical warmth. We are close because of our shared passions for learning more about how to better our sport, changing the lives of those who participate in it, or for those discovering it for the first time. I am here to light fires in my passion for our sport and community.
The second horn strikes as if to signify the end to Chiplin’s speech. His message is elevated like a drummer’s final cymbal crash completing a rock tune and silencing the rest of the band. We follow the discussion by taking a moment of silence, closing our eyes and paying our last respects to this land. I anticipate fleeing to the warmth inside the community center where the conference is about to be held. As the moment of silence reaches a natural conclusion, there is the third horn. We disband the circle, empowered by the perfect ending to a moment of respect and gathering. We have more power than we think we do. Or none at all. Either way, one thing is clear when we walk into the conference center to prepare for a motivational keynote speech. We are where we should be, lost perfectly in the sound of a horn emanating from a fog that is somehow in the right place at the right time.
“Forward Is a Pace”
“You were all meant to be here at this moment regardless of if you think it was on a whim or by luck. Your fate was already determined when you took the step on your first run. The rest is history. Continue to make history. Continue to be the history that changes the world.” –Morgon Latimore, Keynote speaker for the 2022 US Trail Running Conference.
In line with the tone set by the opening foghorns, keynote speaker for the 2022 US Trail Running Conference, Morgon Latimore, calls on us to make a change, for we are in the right time and place to do so. We are a room full of race directors and trail running enthusiasts from around the country. Some of us are new to trail running and here to learn how to organize trail running events, some of experienced race directors looking for new ideas or better race directing practices, and others to inspire reasons for why they are a part of this sport in the first place. Latimore, a motivational speaker, running and life-coach, and ex-Marine, had his life changed by running. He asks us how running has changed our lives,
“If running changed your life, raise your hand. If running changed or saved someone else’s life that you know of, raise your hand. Now I want you to visualize a life without running. Who would you be? Where would you be? With running, people have overcome suicide, ran from addiction, ran from abuse, and ran from mental illness. As a veteran. I’m not sure I would be here today without running. I’m not sure when I came home from Afghanistan that I couldn’t have cleared my head and grown as an individual without running.”
He calls on us at the conference to use our influence on this sport for more than just running. We have races and platforms to reach a wide audience of trail runners. Latimore asks us to use these platforms to change more than just the sport, but our world and the lives of those in our communities,
“There’s so many things we can affect as trail runners and race directors besides just the sport itself. You have the responsibility to give joy, happiness, and freedom to those you speak to everyday. You have the responsibility to speak with corporations and organizations that support sustainability practices in the sport and with the earth. We can use our platforms to promote the right kinds of education about diversity and inclusion and conservation. You can change a life, and the world, if you choose to do it.”
Latimore calls our sport out on its areas for improvement, “As I started to get into trail running, I realized there were a lot of things missing within the sport. The lack of black people is the easiest one. I had a joke in triathlons that there couldn’t be two black people at the same race, it was funny until it wasn’t.” I look around the room and see only one other black person. Latimore’s message sinks in. He continues,
“The resilience, grit, determination and resolve I have come from my running. Runners can do hard things. The reason I’m standing in front of you as the first black keynote speaker at this event (or most events I go to in the endurance realm) is because someone had to be the first. Everything you do in every moment you’re in will affect tomorrow. How you choose to live and express yourself is decided right now. This is more than a sport, this is a movement.”
Latimore also spoke on how our sport will also need to change if we want to preserve the land and share the sport with future generations, “We have a responsibility to the next generation as race directors and trail runners to take care of the land. We lose that and we lose trail running. Think of these negative things we’re doing to the places that let us be free. As we race and have fun, we must also preserve these places we recreate. If we don’t take care of the land and continue to produce more junk and crap, this experience won’t be the same for the next generation of runners.”
It’s no question that these topics of diversity and protecting the earth won’t be solved in a day. Even those of us most moved by Latimore’s powerful words know this. Yet, I find myself daring to ask “What can I do?” How can I use this moment to make a change, however small? Latimore reminds us of the essence of trail running, that applies more broadly to life, “Forward is a pace. It doesn’t matter how fast you’re going, it’s about going forward. That’s what trail running and life is all about.”
Stay tuned for more stories in TRAIL NEWS from the 2022 US Trail Running Conference this week October 19 to 22, 2022.