Race Directors Wrap at US Trail Running Conference

Friday marked the last of three “race director days” at the 8th annual US Trail Running Conference in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The on stage and outdoor action continued with a group trail run, presentations, panel discussions, vendor fair and urban trail exploration on electric scooters. Once again, team members from the non-profit American Trail Running Association were on-hand to help organize the conference and provide media support.

The day’s first session was a panel discussion titled “Diversity and Inclusion – Women, Racial and Socio Economic Groups,” sponsored by Sufferfest Beer Company. Guest speakers included Zoë Rom (Trail Runner Magazine), Greg Lanctot (Pacific Coast Trail Runs), and 2018 USATF Mountain Running Champion Allie McLaughlin. The discussion opened with panelists making suggestions for how race directors can attract more women to trail running. Rom summed up her response by stating, “There’s not one easy thing to do, but there are probably 40 difficult things to do. For instance, providing childcare on race days is a big thing races can do.”

Panelists discussed how the use of diverse photos and video as well as thoughtful use of social media can be leveraged to reduce the gender gap. Rom said, “Female runners with large social media followings have a huge responsibility here. These athletes need to show they are serious about trail running by not posting things on social media that degrade women. Influencers should post content that empowers other women.” Rom added to this point, “As a woman who works in media, there are many male photographers. The most important things we can do is to lift up female creators, photographers, writers, and videographers.”

The conversation then shifted the broader question of how we can evolve trail running to be more inclusive of under-represented groups. “Develop an outreach program,” said Lanctot, “Reach out to youth groups, minority groups, walk around in neighborhoods you’ve never been to. This is not just about business and growing your trail race, but also about changing lives.”

Trail Running Conference

The second panel continued the diversity and inclusion theme with discussions about how trail running can attract youth, elderly, LGBTQ, intersex, visually impaired and adaptive athletes. Panelists included visually impaired athlete Kyle Robidoux (United in Stride), Amy Rusiecki (Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run) and Nike Trail Running athlete Tayte Pollmann.

Robidoux spoke on his insights as a visually-impaired athlete, “Access to sighted guides is the biggest thing to bring more visually-impaired athletes into trail running. That’s what I work to do with my website United in Stride.” Robidoux explained how his website, United in Stride, can be used as a tool to educate runners on how to become sighted guides and helps connect sighted guides to visually impaired runners across the country.

Rusiecki talked about what she’s done to make the Vermont 100 more inclusive of visually-impaired and adaptive athletes. “I put together a set of rules that everyone visually impaired can follow. This makes our event more inclusive and welcoming because the information is out there, instead of expecting these athletes to reach out to events with their specific questions.”

Trail Running Conference

Rusiecki then shared what she does for LGBTQ and intersex athletes at the Vermont 100. “I set up non-binary race registration, so these athletes don’t have to conform to societal binary constraints. We should allow athletes to register as they identify. Male, female and non-binary are the three categories I offer on my race registration platform.” Rusiecki addressed the tough question of how to ensure these LGBTQ and intersex athletes can still be competitive and run fairly. “We set it up so estrogen-based athletes can race against other estrogen-based athletes and testosterone-based athletes compete against other testosterone based athletes. This allows non-binary athletes the opportunity to be competitive.” She went on to explain that the issue is quite complex and many issues still exist, such as verifying estrogen/testosterone levels and following USA Track & Field policies while still being a USATF sanctioned race.

The discussion then turned to youth runners with Pollmann talking about his trail running experience and how he is working with the American Trail Running Association to bring more young athletes into the sport. “I was introduced to trail running in middle school. My Dad and I used to go out and run on trails, but I didn’t call it trail running…I just called it running. There was just cross country running in school, but I was fortunate to find out about the Junior US Mountain Running Team and I applied. I raced in 2015 World Mountain Running Championships in Wales and instantly met some of the top athletes in our sport that I kind of idolized like Joe Gray and Andy Wacker.”

“A big goal of mine has been to write articles and bring media attention to youth in our sport,” said Pollmann. “I’ve had the opportunity to do interviews with younger runners, covered the National High School Trail Running Championships, and featured groups like Peak Performance Running who focus on programs for young runners.”

Trail Running Insurance Program

Next up was a Zoom presentation on event liability insurance led by Nathan Nicholas of the Nicholas Hill Group. After a brief introduction, Nicholas brought attention to the ATRA Event Standards that were developed in 2012 to help promote a safe race environment at trail races. “Even following these guidelines, accidents can happen and race directors are still prone to face lawsuits. That’s where event liability insurance can step in.”

Nicholas explained that Nicholas Hill Group now offers event liability insurance to both Traditional (in-person) and Virtual events. Prices range from 0.15 to 0.25 cents per participant for Traditional (in-person) events and 0.07 cents per participant for Virtual events. “There are many different options for coverage, but the least expensive coverage plan is $125, which is quite affordable.” Nicholas discussed their other services such as race cancellation policies and Directors and Officers (D & O) insurance which could be useful for large event management companies.

Prior to the lunch break Greg Lanctot and Rusty Wolfe (Activate Canopy) conducted a demo on how to set up a COVID safe aid station for trail races. Wolfe also introduced conference attendees to some of his company’s newest products including, The Sling Top, which is designed to increase brand exposure at events.

Activate Canopy

“This is an easy way to rebrand one side of a tent,” said Wolfe. “You can change the panels out instead of purchasing an entire tent making it much more affordable.” Priced at $125, the sling can be custom made to fit any size canopy. Wolfe also introduced The Safety Wall, specifically designed to help make events COVID-19 safe. He explained how this product can keep races more hygienic by creating a safety bubble for aid station volunteers that still allows them to interact with racers. Lanctot then gave a demonstration on hand washing and other safety practices for aid stations.

Following the lunch break, the final panel was “Making Your Race Stand Out from the Crowd,” sponsored by Visit Tallahassee. Guest panelists included Susan Kendrick (Birkie Trail Run), Paul Gigliotti (Pirate Perry Events) and Hayley Pollack (Aravaipa Running). Kendrick shared several ways she has made her Wisconsin race special for participants: “Adding things for women such as nursing stations, providing personal care products at aid stations, adding youth events and looking at your course to make sure it’s the best it can be.”

Gigliotti explained that he makes his events in Arkansas unique with special giveaway products, “Giveaways are big,” said Gigliotti. “Having awards as functional items, such as stainless steel cups and reusable products that won’t just get thrown away.”

Pollack mentioned the importance of making events unique through branding and identity. “Your race needs to have a personality,” said Pollack. “Understand how you want to brand your race. We have the Javelina 100, the second largest 100-mile race in North America, which has the tagline ‘100-mile costume party in the desert.’ This is unique to this specific event. Each event has to have its own personality and design to stand out.”

Trail Running Conference

After several hours of indoor presentations and panel discussion conference participants went outdoors to the urban trails of Gregory Park on VeoRide electric Scooters. These scooters can be found throughout downtown Fayetteville and can be accessed through the companion VeoRide app. The scooter ride was followed by a one-mile hike through the park.

The conference was then concluded with farewells and a quick farewell message from Molly Rawn of Experience Fayetteville, “I know this year has not gone as expected due to the COVID-19 pandemic and there are so many more things we’d like to do with the conference next year if we are again given the opportunity to host. Hopefully we’ll see you all next year in Fayetteville.”

With three days of race director activities concluded, stay tuned tomorrow for a recap of “Trail Runner Day,” at the 2020 US Trail Running Conference.

Trail Running Conference

See even more photos from the 2020 US Trail Running Conference by Peter Maksimow on Google Photos.

In case you missed them, you can read recaps of Day 1 and Day 2 of the US Trail Running Conference on this website.