Sustainability Front and Center at US Trail Running Conference Day Two

In this article our founder and executive director Nancy Hobbs recaps day two of the 7th annual US Trail Running Conference in Estes Park, Colorado. Photo Credits: James “Laboradore” Wolford/ and Peter Maksimow.

The second full day the US Trail Running Conference kicked off with another snowy early morning trail running from Lumpy Ridge Trailhead into Rocky Mountain National Park. Attendees got to “shake out” their legs before heading indoors for the day-long panel discussions and speaker presentations in the Stanley Hotel and Conference Center.

Max King hits the Lumpy Ridge trails at sunrise on Friday. Photo by Peter Maksimow.

Bruce Rayner, founder and CEO of Athletes for a Fit Planet, gave the lead presentation on Friday morning where he talked about implementing a sustainability plan. “One of the most important things about developing an effective sustainability plan for your trail race is the process,” said Rayner. “And it’s something that requires continuous fine-tuning and improvement.” Athletes for a Fit Planet is an American Trail Running Association (ATRA) member and partner in our Event Standards Program – a guide to all aspects of organizing a successful trail race.

Rayner went on to talk about the three footprints of sustainability; waste, water, and carbon. He offered simple tips race directors can use to make their trail running events greener. Eliminating disposable cups at aid stations is an easy first step. Buying local reduces the event’s carbon footprint by reducing the impact of transportation. Setting up a waste station at the event to sort recyclables and compostable items will reduce the amount of waste going to the landfill.

Presentations, panel discussions and exhibitors inside the Stanley Hotel. Photo by Peter Maksimow.

Bruce Rayner’s presentation transitioned into a panel discussion about out race directors can incorporate sustainability into their events. Joining Rayner on the panel were Pirate Perry Events race director Paul Gigliotti, Happy Planet Running’s Jeff Jackson, Ragnar Events operations director Steven Aderholt, and Luis Escobar, principle of All We Do Is Run.

“We’re in a throwaway society.” This comment by Jeff Jackson prompted an engaging discussion on compostables, warning that many products that advertise to be “eco-friendly,” and “compostable,” do not actually degrade as expected. He encouraged race directors to use only certified compostable products at their events. These are products that are tested and meet specific standards to ensure they are compostable.

Aderholt offered additional advice saying, “Get to know your composting facility, recycling company and/or waste hauler.” Knowing where to take waste for proper disposal is an important part of a good sustainability plan.

Panelists made other suggestions including the use of reusable course marking materials and the opportunity to partner with Sneakers4Funds to recycle used running shoes at events.

Tayte Pollmann, Ryan Montgomery and Addie Bracy; panelists for the diversity & inclusion session moderated by Craig Thornley. Photo by Peter Maksimow.

Friday afternoon kicked off with a panel discussion about creating great trail race courses with veteran event directors Megan Finnesy, Max King, Luis Escobar, and Peter Maksimow. “Creating a memorable course is one of the most important parts of organizing a trail race,” said King. “You want trail runners to have fun on the course. Factors like how a course flows, how it can be accessed for event logistics, and if you need to secure permits should all be considered when designing a course route.”

Escobar shared his top four suggestions to consider when designing a course:

  1. Respect for the venue.
  2. Ensuring the course is safe for runners, volunteers and event staff.
  3. Scenic beauty. Incorporate scenic views and highlight natural features in the surrounding environment.
  4. Be sure the race distance advertised is accurate.

Finnesy said what she looks for in a race course is a great location, mostly single track, a single-loop course, spectacular scenery, and, “It’s gotta be hard.” She followed up saying, “If it was easy, it wouldn’t be worth doing.”

Maksimow echoed many of the earlier sentiments saying, “Natural beauty and being out in nature are as important to me as having an enjoyable course that will be appreciated by your participants. I also try to consider the impact of my events on the environment. My rule of thumb is to leave a venue cleaner than I found it.”

The US Trail Running Conference also includes product give-aways. Photo by James “Laboradore” Wolford/

In addition to environmental impacts and course design, the discussion continued on to cover topics like how mark courses to ensure participants don’t get lost and comparing trail race course marking expectations by runners who may be more accustomed to road races. This can be particularly relevant to event directors hosting USATF mountain and trail running national championships where there are elite participants coming from other racing disciplines like road, track or cross country.

The next afternoon panel discussion was titled “Advocacy, Accessibility, Permits, and Community.” This session focused on how to become engaged in trail advocacy, and the connection between our public lands, government, policy and trail running. Vic Thasiah, founder and executive director of the recently formed grassroots environmental organization Runners for Public Lands, was joined by Greg Lanctot, and Paul Gigliotti who led an inspired discussion with Thasiah stating, “Runners are a sleeping giant. The power that we have politically is amazing.”

Luis Escobar and Paul Gigliotti. Photo by James “Laboradore” Wolford/

The panelists agreed that “power” comes from being educated about the issues that affect our sport. Engaging trail runners in discussions about the land they run on, and sharing information about wildlife on those lands, will help runners feel more connected to the trails and surrounding environment, leading to more involvement in trail advocacy. As important, panelists agreed, is having strong partnerships with land owners and other user groups like hikers, cyclists and equestrians.

The final discussion panel on Friday afternoon was about trail race “Rules and Regulations.” This included a discussion about athlete doping and drug testing as well as what race directors can do to deter cheaters. Panelists Peter Maksimow, Josue Stephens, Max King, and Aaron Saft talked about incidents that occurred at events they organized, as well as their personal experience as athletes with anti-doping testing regimens.

PRO TIP: Learn more about how trail running is affected by drug cheats and anti-doping tests in our five part clean sport article series.

After a full day of panel discussions and exhibitor presentations, many of the attendees headed out for a run where they could test out a pair of Altra’s latest models of trail shoes. The run was followed by movie night hosted by the Estes Park Mountain Shop, which included homemade smoked vegetable soup from RAD Boulder, product giveaways, and the showing of two inspirational movies.

The Source featured Courtney Dauwalter’s race at the Tahoe 200 miler, and Leadman: The Dave Mackey Story celebrated this heroic athlete and his achievement. A special appearance by Dave Mackey highlighted the evening. Proceeds from admission supported the American Trail Running Association and Girls on the Run of the Rockies.

With the trail race director sessions complete, content for Saturday’s programming now shifts to topics for trail runners including how to improve your running form, coaching, nutrition and more.

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