Please welcome the sixth of our 2017 American Trail Running Association (ATRA) Trail Ambassadors presented by CamelBak. We’re proud to introduce you to Doug Mayer, a trail runner who builds community locally, nationally, and internationally.
Doug is from the small town of Randolph, New Hampshire – population 350 – located at the base of Mount Adams, a far cry from the neon lights and honking taxi cabs of his birthplace in New York City.
This 52-year-old is humble, thoughtful, and possesses an entrepreneurial spirit (or as he jokes with his colleagues at NPR’s Car Talk, “We make it a point to avoid getting real jobs.”), and spends much of the summer guiding trail running trips through a company he formed, Run the Alps. He’s also a prolific writer, and has authored or co-authored a number of outdoors and humor books. Many of his articles have been published in Trail Runner magazine where he is contributing editor and columnist, and Appalachia, the oldest mountaineering publication in the country.
Mayer is a trail steward, a race organizer, and co-owner of a cafe. For 25 years, he has been an associate producer for the spirited banter which is NPR’s Car Talk , and still works with the show as a consultant. He got the job after graduating from Brown University with a degree in Political Science and Environmental Studies. “I wanted to live in Boston so I applied to the two NPR stations there, WGBH and WBUR. WBUR said they had this show about cars and they were looking for someone to work on it. I thought, ‘Wow, that sounds really boring!’ But, I needed a job. Of course, anyone who has heard Car Talk knows that cars are just the excuse for the show.”
Mayer’s trajectory to trail running started with adventures in New England with his brothers. “As kids, we spent a lot of time exploring and hiking around the White Mountains,” said Mayer, who interned at the weather station atop Mt Washington while in high school. “I was never really a team sports person, or very competitive. So I was off doing my own thing…climbing and playing around in the mountains. We were trail running when there were just a few brands of trail running shoes available. We would do power hikes – like 40 mile days in the Whites. We did all the 4000-foot peaks in New Hampshire years ago, in eight days. We were out to have a fun adventure. We started out fast hiking, soon after we started trail running.”
Writes Mike Micucci, fellow trail runner and Mayer’s long-time friend of nearly 30 years, “As the sport has grown, it has attracted many different personalities. There are those who enjoy the solitude and beauty of their surroundings. Those who train to compete and those who like to wear the gear. There are those who trail run so they can talk about it later and those who talk about it because they love the sport.
“Of the many personality types, Doug displays the best of these qualities and has committed himself to the sport, the trails and the trail running community like no other person I know. He speaks and writes articulately, enthusiastically and eloquently of his trail running experiences and listens intently when you speak of yours,” continues Micucci.
“He has proved to be a dedicated steward of the mountains and the trails as a trails manager for the Randolph Mountain Club and one of the founding members of the Waterman Fund, which was created to preserve the Alpine Zone of the White Mountains of New Hampshire. He promotes the sport through his co-founding of the Randolph Ramble Trail Race and the Trails in Motion Film festival as well as through his own Run the Alps trail running business. Through each activity, he shares his passion for this wonderful sport, welcoming everyone and cheering the accomplishments of newbie and pro equally and has enthusiastically helped to grow the sport in a fun and respectful way.”
Mayer finds numerous rewards from trail running. “I think I got into it for the sense of adventure and moving quickly through the mountains, because it felt so good. It still does,” he says. “I ended up staying in it for the mental aspects – the challenge of long, hard workouts. It’s my version of meditation. Working for NPR has been a great experience, but when we were really busy it could be quite an intense grind. Being on the trails was my way of totally resetting myself. It’s been great for keeping mental health, when a job has one deadline after another.
“I find rewards all over the place. I’ve heard it called flow state…those moments you have when everything clicks, you’re in a good place, and you can zone out and run for hours and hours and hours,” relates Mayer. “For me, there’s nothing that beats that on all levels – mentally, physically and emotionally. My daily trail run often follows a pattern: The first 10 minutes I spend hating it. I’m shaking off the tension, getting in a groove. The next 20 minutes I’m zoning out and clearing my head. The next 20 minutes I’m solving all of my problems and the problems of the world. It’s cool to pull that off in less than 90 minutes.”
His advice for others looking to get into the sport is simple, “Make sure it stays fun. That’s what worked for me. I honestly never imagined doing these things – this year I’m running Ultra Trail Mont Blanc (UTMB). It was never on my radar as a possibility. It is one of those paradoxes. I didn’t have any of that as a goal, it was just fun. I just kept doing more and different things. Everything falls into place if you’re having a good time.”
The best advice he’s been given about trail running came through an inspired encounter with Rickey Gates. “I met Rickey a number of summers ago, after he’d been bicycling around the Alps doing trail races. I had just scratched the surface there. He talked about Siere Zinal, CCC, and local DIY trail races, like the Gemmipass at Leukerbad. It was a memorable conversation that inspired me to spend more time over in Europe and in some ways helped point the direction towards Run the Alps. The conversation caught me at the right time. That was in 2011.”
His chance meeting with Gates had another outcome: The Mt Adams Challenge, a friendly and informal event based on the 70-minute uphill challenge at Leukerbad, Switzerland. “That’s the kind of stuff I really like…an event created in fun, and super inclusive. The goal is to get a time under two hours 20 minutes which is within reach of a lot of people. If you get on a good pace, grind it out, you can get up there in 2:10.”
Mayer admits proudly that the tracking of participants is super low tech. “People email a photo of their watch showing their time next to the summit sign and we put their name on the list.” The reward is a free drink at the White Mountain Cafe and Bookstore, a beverage of choice at local SAalt Pub, and an informal certificate created by a local artist.
Along with fun events, competition, educational resources, and great gear, our sport needs the community to come together to protect the land. Mayer, an advocate for stewardship, trail maintenance, and fostering sustainability says, “We’re in a sport that requires a lot of open space, space that hasn’t been hammered. I’d like to see easy ways for trail runners to give back to the land and the sport. Some people new to the outdoors aren’t aware of the issues. It’s imperative for the future of our sport to get involved.”