Industry experts come together for inaugural trail running conference

The panel discussions for the inaugural trail running conference, the Estes Trail Ascent, wrapped up Friday, June 21, in Estes Park, Colorado. The three-day conference, which started on Thursday, June 20, culminated in a 5.9-mile trail race on Saturday, June 22, featured speakers from footwear and hydration company manufacturers, as well as elite-level competitors, race directors, and physicians.

The nearly 100 participants in the conference included vendors, speakers, and attendees from as close as the Denver metro area to as far away as Tennessee, Texas, and California.

The first two days featured panel discussions and covered topics from shoe and gear developments to trail running advocacy and stewardship. Each of the ten sessions was moderated by a leader in the trail running industry who encouraged discourse among the panelists as well as a question and answer period which engaged the audience.

During the kick-off session on shoe and gear developments, a comment which was sure to please fellow panelists Scott Tucker, Pearl Izumi, Bryan Gothie, New Balance, and Henry Guzman, Boulder Running Company came from Adam Chase who said, “Everyone should have a lot of shoes.” For the trail runner, Chase suggested four different pairs of shoes for the different types of trail running one might do. “It’s like a tool box,” Chase explained, “You have to have the right tool for the right run.”

Over the past 15 years, Chase has seen an increase in the number and variety of shoes he receives from manufacturers for the trail shoe reviews he writes for Running Times magazine. New technology supports updated models, and new developments in footwear whether it results in shaving off ounces, or putting lugs with enhanced gripping power on soles. But, there always seems to be the shoe that is perfect just the way it is. For the fall review Chase says they are adding a new category of award which will be called the, “leave it (you fill in the blank) alone.”

During this first session, there was a question whether a shoe that works for an elite-level athlete ambassador would really be a shoe the average runner would be interested in purchasing. That question sparked a comment from Gothie who said, “Actually, people see the photo of Anton (Krupicka) careening down the hill bare-chested, with his hair flying freely, sporting a full beard and they say, ‘I want that shoe.’” So the answer seemed to be a resounding, “yes,” people are influenced by elite athletes in the sport when making their shoe choices and purchases.

Guzman talked about his clientele at the Boulder Running Company stating, “A lot of people come in just because they want to run. They don’t want to make it complicated. They just want to go and be in the outdoors.” He added that the footwear has to function correctly, and that through gait analysis and learning about what types of terrain and distance the person plans to be doing, his staff can suggest the best shoe.

The second panel was entitled, “Effective training and injury prevention.” Dr. Scott Taylor, a podiatrist with the Estes Park Medical Center, talked about the terrible ‘toos.’ Taylor said, “I see athletes that have been doing too much, too soon, too fast.”

New Balance brand ambassador Brandy Erholtz said that her only serious injury happened when she enlisted a coach and increased her mileage too quickly, “Even if you decide to get a coach, be sure to let them know what your training has been. (She hadn’t shared this information with her coach.) They need to know what your background is so they know what kind of training program to suggest so they don’t have you do more than your body can handle.”

The discussion led to cross training whereby exercise physiologist Adam St. Pierre proclaimed, “I think of all training as simply training. Whether you are cycling, running, skiing, lifting weights…it’s all part of training.” Having coached athletes in Boulder for the past 15 years, he suggests that athletes figure out how much time per week they have to train and then he helps them sort out what type of training is going to work best for them whether it is quantity, or quality. “If you have 10 hours per week, does that translate to five trips of two-hour runs in the mountains or something different,” said St. Pierre.

Erholtz talked about rest, diet, and the importance of each. She also suggested athletes chart their training and race efforts so they can look back to see what worked well on the good effort days, and what didn’t work well when there was a bad workout. “If you have a bad race effort and look back and see that you had four hours of sleep and a bad meal the night before your race, you might want to change your pre-race preparation,” said Erholtz.  Dr. Aaron Florence, an orthopedic surgeon at the Estes Park Medical Center, further discussed the importance of rest stating, “When you don’t rest you will eventually pay the piper. You need to figure out if you want to pay the piper with injury, illness, or rest. I would choose rest.”

When the session turned to nutrition and hydration, there were many stories of trial and error shared amongst the panelists and audience.

Bryce Thatcher, know for his FKTs (Fastest Known Times) and founding several hydration companies, including Ultraspire where he presently works, often gets a ‘sweet stomach,’ from too much acid after taking in gel after gel on long efforts. He’s found that he needs to keep calories in on his longer efforts (upwards of seven hours) so he uses Tums to lower the acid levels in his stomach. Thatcher said, “I take one Tums tablet every two hours and uses a combination of fat and salt to help settle my stomach. My favorite is salty cashews. I don’t start the cashews until about four hours into the effort.”  Thatcher likes to be on a schedule with his caloric intake, conversely, ultra runner and Patagonia athlete Krissy Moehl doesn’t like to be on an eating schedule at all, but both agreed that athletes have to find out what works for them.

Chase spoke about aid stations at ultra-distance events and the variety of sweet and salty offerings, “Sometimes it takes looking at the smorgasbord for your body to speak to you. Usually that is your answer as to what your body needs.”Moehl added, “Be aware of your body. Spend time on the trail and be flexible.”

On day two, one of the most compelling discussions centered on trail advocacy. Adam Feerst, race director, and founder of a Denver-based trail running club said, “We take it for granted if there is a trail, we should have access to it. We can’t take for granted that access is always going to be there.”

Katie Blackett, CEO of the Colorado Mountain Club, said there are three to four times more trail users than in the past decade and, “We are loving our land to death. Therefore, we need to create really smart trail systems that could handle 50% more users. We need to build, or improve our current trail systems.”

With this increased usage, trail race directors and runners face a myriad of issues. There are permits to be secured, rising cost of insurance, and more. And, with an increased number of users, there are concerns about the impact on the trails and sometimes this concern leads to trail closure.
Blackett shared several reasons trails might be closed to user groups, “Lack of funds for repair and maintenance, erosion, and protection of wildlife corridors.”

She suggested trail runners learn the facts surrounding trail corridors and land usage and work to gain much-needed clout. “Trail runners should go to local non-profits and community groups. They need to learn about the issues facing their trails and get involved. Figure out what all user groups agree on and focus on that. We (various user groups) may not get all we want, but we can focus together on the big prize.”

Buzz Burrell, founder of the Boulder Outdoor Coalition and long-time trail runner said, “The world is run by those who show up at the meetings. They are the ones that make things happen.”Feerst agreed and said, “We (as trail runners) need to be visible. We need to go out there as good stewards.”

The final session brought the conference full circle discussing not only the future of trail running, but also what was attractive about trail running in the first place.

Melody Fairchild, arguably the best female high school female distance runner in the history of the United States, now nearing age 40, transitioned to trail and mountain running over the past few years. She was on back-to-back gold medal winning teams for the U.S. in 2012, first at the World Mountain Running Championships, then at the World Long Distance Challenge. “I’m a mountain girl. I grew up in the mountains west of Boulder. Trail running stimulates the senses, creates community, and is also easier on the joints. The great thing about trail running is that people can have whatever they want out of the experience. What made me so happy was adding trail running to my career as a runner. It just completes my career.”

Erholtz offered, “With trail running you aren’t worried about PRs. When you race, you are racing the people, the environment, the weather.”  Chase said, “It’s fun for me to see people coming from so many sports to trail running. When people find trail running, it really opens their eyes. It’s a very simple, accepting sport.”

In wrapping up the conference, director Terry Chiplin said, “We have a job as trail runners to educate the general public to who trail runners are and what trail running is and this has been one of the goals of the conference…to start this process. We need to consider how we as trail runners become more organized with existing groups, partnering so that we have a voice and maintain access to the trails we love to run on.”

Looking toward 2014, Chiplin said, “The feedback we’ve had already, plus what has come out of the panel discussions, gives us a lot of valuable information to take away and then come back with an even better program next year.”

For more on this year’s conference, visit this link.

Story and photos by ATRA Executive Director +Nano Hobbs.