Running Club Profile: G.O.A.T.z Are Protecting Trails and Building Community

The Greater Omaha Area Trail Runners (G.O.A.T.z) are leading the way for growing the Midwestern trail running community, and doing so with a focus on giving back to the community and protecting the trails. This 503(c) non-profit running club has over 3,600 Facebook group members, organizes group runs and trail work sessions, and hosts some of the largest trail races in the area including The GOATz Trail Runs, What the Hill?, and The Dizzy Goat 3, 6, and 12 Hour Runs.

In the following article, I interview Ron Ruhs, President of G.O.A.T.z, who shares more about how the group came to be, its mission, and future going forward out of the coronavirus pandemic year and into 2021.


[TAYTE POLLMANN] Let’s start with some basics. Could you introduce yourself and how you became involved in trail running?
[RON RUHS] I am the current President of the Greater Omaha Area Trail Runners (G.O.A.T.z) based in Blair, Nebraska, and race director for the Hitchcock Experience Endurance Runs in Iowa.

My trail running beginnings became solidified at the Post Oak trail race in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Up until that point my trail running experience was minimal, and I was “woefully unprepared” when the course took us through the rocks, mud and hills. The scenery and challenges of the race along with the atmosphere and people won me over. It didn’t take long for me to get converted to trail racing.

[TAYTE] How and when was G.O.A.T.z formed?
[RON] The G.O.A.T.z were formed in 2012 by Scott Giddings to bring together like-minded trail enthusiasts. What started as a small group of less than a dozen people getting together for group runs turned into a 501c non-profit group to support the trails/parks that we enjoy. Over the years the G.O.A.T.z have expanded further into our communities and now support various causes in five Nebraska counties and two in Iowa.


[TAYTE] Could you give us a quick overview of your group membership and leadership?
[RON] Beyond a board of directors, which is all volunteer, there isn’t an official membership. As we like to say, if you want to be a “Goat,” you are a “Goat.” The Facebook group has thousands of members from a number of states that come to our races, stay in touch and support our mission. The G.O.A.T.z can only accomplish what it does by the support and hard work put into it by the members. All aspects of the group from the race directing, design work, social media, trail maintenance and volunteering at races are handled by volunteers that love the group. This also includes group runs, race previews and people getting together at the trails to show new people the area.

[TAYTE] What do you see as the G.O.A.T.z main mission?
[RON] Our mission is to show as many people as possible what we love about trail running and teach them to respect and support/maintain the places that we enjoy running in. It’s equally important that we give back to the local community in any way we can. Our annual Feast and Feathers Thanksgiving Day half-marathon has donated around $164,000 and 14,450 pounds of food to the Omaha food bank. The group has given thousands of dollars to animal rescue, FFA programs, the MS society and other charities. After nearly ten years as an organization, we are close to $250,000 in donations.


[TAYTE] What is the current mix of runners in the group? Are they beginning or more experienced trail runners?
[RON Anyone can find a home in the G.O.A.T.z, regardless of their running level. Part of our purpose is introducing new people to the trails, whether that is hiking or running. Everyone is welcome and can find like minded people already in the group. Many in our group appreciate that there isn’t any requirement of speed and they can feel at home being themselves and running or walking at their pace.

We have many experienced trail runners as well. We have had G.O.A.T.z place well at the Tahoe 200 Mile Endurance Run, H.U.R.T. Trail 100, Cocodona 250 and even the highly competitive Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run.

[TAYTE] What kinds of things does G.O.A.T.z do for trail advocacy and upkeep?
[RON] Giving back to the parks and trails in time and money is one of the top goals of the group. During any year, we have a number of volunteer trail cleanups and new trail building opportunities.

Specific examples include buying a large mower and teaming up with a horse group to keep a trail system clear, volunteering to help cut new trails, donating tens of thousands of dollars to a county park for their land acquisition trust and manually spreading twenty-five tons of donated gravel on a three mile section of trail at a state park.

Although we can’t be the trail police, we encourage everyone in the group to be responsible in their trail use by posting notices from the parks and also individually posting requests to stay off trails when we know they are too muddy and could be damaged.


[TAYTE] You also support local Cross Country (XC) programs. Could you tell us more about the GOATZ XC Grantz Program?
[RON] This is one that I felt strongly about and was very happy that we could implement in 2019. If anyone has or knows a teen participating in high school cross country, you’re probably aware that the sport usually isn’t at the top when it comes to receiving a high percentage of a school’s athletic budget. It’s not uncommon to see teams that haven’t had new jerseys for several years or even have to rely on parents to transport kids to meets.There have also been times when a coach knows that a teen would really like to be on the team but their parents can’t afford the cost of shoes to even give them the opportunity to participate.

This is why we decided to offer $2,500 to one high school and one junior high in our area via an application process. We want to get kids into running for the joy of it, and if we can help coaches involve more kids, we are glad to do it.

[TAYTE] Tell us about the trails and trail running community in the Greater Omaha Area.
[RON] In sheer numbers, road runners would definitely be higher in the area, but we find once you can get a person out on the trails, they really enjoy it. We have great relationships with road running groups like the Omaha Running Club. We volunteer at their races and they volunteer at ours and many people run in both groups. The more we can team up the better it will be for all runners in the area.

As for the trail systems in the Omaha and surrounding areas, there is certainly no shortage. One could easily ten or more trails in a short drive with plenty of options for trail terrain and distances.


[TAYTE] What have been some of the highlights of your events in past years? Were there any particularly memorable races or events?
[RON] Highlights have included a twelve hour race on a 3.2-mile loop, switching directions every loop, a Thanksgiving day race for the food bank, a half marathon through a neighborhood to support HETRA, a forty-eight hour “Last Person Standing” competition, a 100-mile run in Iowa in December, and the WTH (What The Hill?) race inspired by a challenge to see how many consecutive loops we could make on a .55-mile asphalt loop that climbs over a 200-foot hill.

[TAYTE] How has G.O.A.T.z dealt with the pandemic? What adjustments have been made going forward into 2021?
[RON] Last year we had several cancellations, but were able to have an in-person G.O.A.T.z 50k/50M in October. Our race in December 2020 was also on track to happen until the state of Iowa put a new mandate in place three weeks before the race date. We watched closely what other races were able to do and then combined that with what precautions we needed/wanted to take for our races. Many of these were above any state mandate at the time. All in all, we can’t compare any of our issues and disappointments with the real issues of the world over that time, but moving forward to the remaining races this year we will always keep the well being of our volunteers and runners as a top priority.


[TAYTE] What’s next for G.O.A.T.z in 2021?
[RON] We look forward to more in-person races and trail running. We want to get back to enjoying the trails with friends and soon to be friends. We anticipate this year will feel like a reunion of sorts as we try to get the trail running community back on track.

For the G.O.A.T.z as a board, there will hopefully be several new pushes and initiatives that everyone will start hearing about moving forward from this year to next. Although technically 2021 would mark the ten year anniversary of G.O.A.T.z, with the last year putting a halt on things, we are going to make 2022 a blowout ten year anniversary celebration for the group with some new and exciting things. Stay tuned.

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