Montana’s iconic trail race, The Rut Mountain Runs, is taking action to make its events more inclusive in 2022. Race director and ultrarunning legend, Mike Foote, has partnered with Inclusive Outdoors Project, an organization that aims to provide equal access to the outdoors for everyone. The organization states its mission: “At Inclusive Outdoors we know that one of the major barriers to the outdoors is access. Access for people with disabilities; access for BIPOC and Queer communities; access to finances; access to outdoor gear; the list goes on. With that, we are making sure every event we do is centered on accessibility to uplift all communities!”
History of The Rut
The Rut is one of the largest running events in Montana and attracts thousands of trail runners to participate in its notoriously difficult courses and fun race atmosphere. Races include a Vertical Kilometer, 11-kilometer, 28-kilometer, 50-kilometer and a 1-kilometer “Runt Run” for children. The 50-kilometer race has earned a reputation as one of the most difficult 50-kilometer races in the country and includes over 10,500 feet of elevation gain on highly technical terrain. The 2022 event already has over 3,300 registrants, making it not only one of the largest trail races in the state this year, but also the country.
Foote explains the inspiration behind creating The Rut, “In the mid 2000s, I had been racing in Europe at larger competitions such as UTMB and Lavaredo Ultra Trail and loved the race environment and “big” event feel. I wanted to create a grassroots race but also for it to be something that felt like a large experience that would get people excited. We scouted out courses in Montana and Big Sky Resort made sense because of its steep terrain and infrastructure of the resort. The idea was to have a European-style race with a bit of Montana flare.”
The “Runt Race” is another unique aspect of The Rut that has exposed many young runners to the sport of trail running. Foote describes the event in detail, “For young kids, usually about 10 years old, the “Runt Run” attracts hundreds of kids to run on a mix of double and singletrack. We had 400 kids register in 2020. There’s hundreds of parents and spectators and it’s the feel good hour of the whole weekend. We promote and celebrate that event because out of everything, it’s the most fun.”
The Rut Promotes “Trail Running For Every Body”
In addition to encouraging more youth into the sport of trail running, race director Mike Foote aims to make The Rut feel like a welcoming event for all ages and types of people. Partnering with The Inclusive Outdoors Project is helping The Rut achieve this goal. Foote describes how this partnership evolved, “Vasu Sojitra of the Inclusive Outdoor project reached out to me and discussed ways The Rut could become more inclusive,” Sojitra, the first adaptive athlete for The North Face and pioneer of the movement technique “#ninjasticking,” has inspired the adaptive athlete community to pursue outdoor adventure challenges.
Foote says about Sojitra’s expertise in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) consulting, “Sojitra has already created space for a more diverse group of athletes to show up at ice climbing clinics and other sports, which gave him the road map and structure to be able to apply these concepts to trail running. For us at The Rut, partnering with Sojitra and the Inclusive Outdoors Project is a step in the right direction. We hope it’s an invitation to make everyone feel welcome at our event.”
Although we are making progress towards diversifying trail running, there is still much to be done. Foote says about the current state of diversity in our sport, “In general, the trail running community is wonderful and I love the sport because of its camaraderie. Yet, at a national level there is still much conversation about barriers to inclusivity. I look at our sport and I know we can do better. For me, it’s about taking some sort of action and not just hoping things will change. I don’t see trail running as a deeply flawed sport, but I want to celebrate more diversity in it. This is good for both the event and sport as a whole.”
In the past year alone, the trail running community has taken great strides to become more inclusive. The 2021 US Trail Running Conference dedicated its second day of discussion panels and presentations to diversity, trail runner Nicholas Turco founded The Colorado Athletics Visibility Award for NCAA athletes and allies, and fellow Montana-based event, The Crazy Mountain 100 made a mission to promote Indiginous rights and BIPOC inclusion.
Foote hopes The Rut will join in this positive momentum and encourage other events to do the same, “Because The Rut has become such a large event, it is one of the most impactful ways I can make a difference. It’s the best tool I have to move the needle towards creating a more inclusive sport. This is a topic I’ve thought about for many years, but haven’t taken much action on. It’s time to take the first step.”