Please welcome the 12th and final honoree in our 2017 American Trail Running Association (ATRA) Trail Ambassador program presented by CamelBak. We’re proud to introduce you to 45-year-old Chad Wikander, a community builder, accomplished athlete and trail devotee who has lived in Southern Oregon for the past 22 years.
Michael DiGiorgio wrote in his nomination letter, “Chad is a reluctant race and event hero here in Southern Oregon. He took on many races as race director and has turned them into annual events for the trail running community. Some of the more popular races his group, the Rogue Valley Race Group, puts on are the Granite Man 10 Mile Mountain Trail race/run and the 1/2 Marathon at Lake of the Woods. In addition, his group also does The Forest Park 5k and the famous and fun Mt A 5k.
“Chad also works with other race directors in the area, volunteering at their events and sometimes helping with timing,” continued DiGirorgio. “He wants Southern Oregon to become a destination for athletes from all over. He likes to share the special places we get to explore all the time as locals. He keeps the races alive and thriving to achieve this goal.”
Wikander’s background is in web development, and he has been in event management full time for the past two years. Living in Ashland, he and his wife Samantha have two teenagers, a son and daughter. His first foray into trail running was in 2008. “I started trail running when Jenn Shelton started working at Earthly Goods with me,” said Wikander. “I started doing it because Jenn convinced me it was fun.”
The fun training on the trails turned into his first trail race the following year in Ashland, the TNT, formally known as the Tar ‘n Trail 6 miler. “It was super hard with the climbing,” said Wikander. “It had some single track trail and some road. I think I finished around 10th overall.”
An accomplished athlete, Wikander is an Ironman finisher and when he races, it is primarily in a triathlon. However, his training always includes the trails. “I definitely do a lot of trail running when I’m training for triathlon,” he said, “I have to do some road, but the trails are more pleasant. It’s more fun to run trails, and since I live in Ashland, all the trails are practically out my back door.”
Wikander is planning his race schedule for the coming year, which may include the Pacific Crest Half Ironman as well as the Siskiyou Out Back Trail Run. “I volunteered at the race last year, but I think I will go for the 50K this year,” he said.
On the business side of trail, Wikander started the Rogue Valley Race Group in 2011. “At that time, we only had one race called Granite Man,” recalled Wikander. “We added more races about three years ago. I am the race director for each of the events, and the manager of RVRG. There are four main people in the group, but each event has key people. We do timing and help out with other local events and donate funds to different trail groups in our area.”
Giving back is important to Wikander, “The best part of volunteering for me is seeing the people and interacting with the participants. I can really pick up on the participants’ energy, and… it’s fun to cheer for them.”
On a recent trail work day, Wikander was volunteering to help Ashland Mountain Adventures, and the Rogue Valley Mountain Bike Association. “We worked on the trails to round some corners, and buff out the terrain”, he said. “I’m trying to get on the board so I can have some influence on what trails we work on. I want to be more involved, because we own races that use the trails, most of which are on Forest Service land.”
Wikander plans to increase his portfolio of events in the near term. “We plan to add some new races to include an event on the coast and a few marathons to our existing trail races,” said Wikander. “We’d also like to do more kids events.” His events range in size from 100-300. “We’re not in a big city like Portland (which is about 3 hours away), and we’re really happy when we get 300 registrations. We want to encourage people to come to Ashland, so we are hosting some multi-day events to give people a reason to travel and spend more time here.”
“The trails are super awesome, and there are a lot of them. With the Ashland Woodland Trails Association and the local mountain bike group, all the trails are really well maintained. Both groups work with the Forest Service and we’ve gotten a lot of new trails,” said Wikander.
The Ashland community is very welcoming to trail running. Hal Koerner owns the one and only specialty run store in the area, Rogue Valley Runners. “When Hal came here, the trail running really exploded and sort of made it a thing,” said Wikander. “He hosts a Wednesday run group from the store and he lets us put posters up and do some promotions for our runs.”
Wikander has some advice for people getting into trail race event planning. “It’s a little more difficult to put on trail races. For one thing, setting up aid stations can be challenging because you can’t always drive to them. Make sure you choose a distance people want to do and know that it takes about three years to build up a trail race.”
His advice for others getting into the sport is to, “Go with friends, or find groups to run with, and get on some good trails and…enjoy yourself.”