Trail running has not achieved the same status in collegiate sports compared to other disciplines of running such as track and field and cross country. This makes it more difficult to attract young and fast runners into trail running at the collegiate level. Currently, high school runners with aspirations to run in college seek out well-established cross country and track and field programs at their university of choice.
Many of these programs offer scholarships, have successful teams, and offer competitions through several different organizations including the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA), National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) and National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).
Most high school runners don’t realize that similar opportunities exist in collegiate trail running programs because they are relatively new, The oldest program is less than 10 years old, but collegiate opportunities are growing and as the sport becomes more popular among younger athletes, they will be looking for ways to compete in trail running while pursuing their baccalaureate studies.
This past summer the National High School Trail Championships (NHSTC) was held in Salida, Colorado. The 2020 NHSTC (pictured above) doubled its participation numbers, while even having to turn away teams because of the coronavirus pandemic. Additionally, the Collegiate Running Association (CRA) partnered with the Thunderbunny 12K Trail Race to host the 2020 and 2021 Collegiate Trail Running Championships, which offers prize money to athletes enrolled in college coursework.
Trail running is catching on with younger athletes and collegiate programs can help develop the connections and skills these runners need to further enjoy and excel on the trails, compete against athletes their age and support the future of trail running. In this article, I share six collegiate trail running programs I’ve discovered across the country and a short description about what makes them unique.
Sterling College Mountain and Trail Running Program
Where: Craftsbury Common, Vermont
Contact: Adrian Owens (Director of Athletics and Trail Mountain Ultra Running Team Coach)
About: Sterling is proud to host the first collegiate program in mountain and trail running in the United States, established in October 2013. Students compete locally and regionally in events throughout the Green Mountains, White Mountains, and around the Northeastern U.S. Sterling students, staff, and faculty train in a supportive community of runners to prepare for competitions from an annual 5k trail race series at the nearby internationally recognized Craftsbury Outdoor Center to 50-kilometer, 50-mile, and 100-mile ultramarathons in Vermont and around the world.
Southern Oregon University’s Trail Running Course
Where: Ashland, Oregon
Contact: Erik Sol (Senior Instructor)
About: An activity-based course that develops technical skills, fitness methodology and knowledge in mountain trail running, as well as environmental and social conduct in sharing space and developing community in mountain and other running settings.
Colorado Mountain College XC/ Trail Running Team
Where: Leadville, Colorado
Contact: Darren Brungardt (Head Coach)
About: Although officially a cross country team, athletes on this team train in the “ultra/trail running mecca” that is”Trail Town” Leadville, Colorado. The Colorado Mountain College is surrounded by extensive trail systems that the team uses for training. Athletes compete against schools of similar size in 8-kilometer races in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) as well as races organized on local trails and snowshoe events in the area.
Paul Smith’s College VIC Trail Running Series
Where: Paul Smith’s, New York
Contact: Tyler Dezago (Facilities and Trails Coordinator)
About: Paul Smith’s College owns and operates the VIC (Visitor Interpretive Center) trail system. Its athletic teams such as cross country, snowshoe, and nordic ski teams all take advantage of the trail system for a training ground as well as holding competitions. College students frequently use our property and trail system as a laboratory for courses in wildlife studies, forestry, environmental science, and natural resource management.
Western Colorado University Mountain Sports Trail Running Team
Where: Gunnison, Colorado
Contact: Josh Eberly (Head Coach)
About: Western is home to America’s most prolific collegiate trail running team. Members of the trail running team find organized training, coaching, travel, competition and unparalleled singletrack trails within the Mountain Sports program at Western Colorado University. The team trains year-round. Competitions range from Crested Butte’s Camp 4 Coffee Cart to Cart Trail Run Camp 4 Cart to Cart Trail Run — ATRA (trailrunner.com), to Flagstaff Sky Peaks Flagstaff Sky Peaks — ATRA (trailrunner.com) and Moab Trail Marathon Moab Trail Marathon, Half and Adventure 5k — ATRA (trailrunner.com).
Sierra Nevada University
Where: Incline Village, Nevada
Contact: John Patrick Donovan (Head Coach)
About: In the works for 2021, experienced trail runner and former US Mountain Running Team member Jonathan Patrick Donovan is currently building a trail running and mountain sports team at Sierra Nevada University. Athletes will compete in cross country races in the NAIA Cal Pack conference as well as popular trail races in the western United States.The team will train in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and be supported with coaching, travel to competitions and even scholarships for select athletes.