The following interview was written by ATRA board member Kriste Peoples as part of our Trails Are For Every Body Instagram series.
Ask any of Ryan Montgomery’s competition, and they’ll tell you he’s hard to catch up with. ATRA’s guest interviewer, Kriste Peoples, recently made some time with the elite ultra runner and advocate to talk about one of his many recent accomplishments: creating Out Trails, a growing running community for queer athletes. Ryan shares about the personal journey that led to creating Out Trails, celebrating the successes of their first camp, and understanding precisely why it matters.
[KRISTE PEOPLES] How has trail running impacted your life?
[RYAN MONTGOMERY] Trail running has given me the medium and space to really embrace and process who I am as an individual. Realizing this in my early twenties, I wanted to give this gift to other people. I recognize that I have such a beautiful relationship to trail running and the outdoors, but I can guarantee you there’s tens of thousands of other people just like me who need this experience, too. Not only to learn more about themselves, but to understand that being in these environments can be safe and that you need a safe community to help facilitate that. Over the past couple of years, I’ve polled my social media following on Instagram and other places and just said, ‘Hey, how many of you want community? Respond to this poll,’ and the response was overwhelming. I never realized how much of a desire there was for this. And so fast forward to this last year, and I recognized that I needed to pull the trigger and organize something: Out Trails. And now, here we are.
[KRISTE PEOPLES] You’ve shared openly that you’re on a personal journey of self-discovery, while also being surrounded by so many people who are not like you on the trails. That can be a very complicated and isolating experience. What motivated you to create this community for runners who identify as queer?
[RYAN MONTGOMERY] Growing up as a closeted person, I never felt I could truly embody my whole self, my whole expression, or to share everything about myself with someone. And as I discovered trail running and found some friends in the sport, I also noticed as I ran more and experienced more of myself on trails for multiple hours – putting myself through difficult situations, as well as going out and having fun – I felt like that allowed me to express myself in a way that I never had before. Trail running was a medium that allowed me to share who I was and to find allyship with other people. It gave me this gift of embracing who I am and sharing that with other people. And running itself allowed me to be in the headspace of, ‘Wow, I really think this or that way,’ or ‘I’m gonna make this decision [to come out publicly].’
[KRISTE PEOPLES] What do you say to people who tell you you’re just creating more separation and that we should all be running together?
[RYAN MONTGOMERY] I hear that all the time, even today. I see it on partner posts where people respond by saying, “Why don’t you create something for all?” Or, “We need something for all people.” The thing is, for so many people who feel marginalized, there has never been a community for them, number one. Number two, there are so many barriers to feeling included in these spaces already. It’s important that we create affinity spaces that are unique to those specific communities. I think about the many trans runners I’m now friends with who are part of the Out Trails community, and I’m learning so much about how explicit spaces and the nuances of spaces are so important to make them feel included. Imagine you have just gone through top surgery or bottom surgery, and there isn’t a bathroom for you. That is, an all-gendered space. It’s such a scary thing to navigate. I’m learning that creating those spaces where you can see other people and come out of your shell makes you feel welcomed and important. So, when people ask why I don’t create something that’s for all, I remind them there’s already a space for the general public, which I would call the white, cisgender, heterosexual individual.
[KRISTE PEOPLES] Recently there has been this emergent conversation around race entries, gender options, and the need to include a nonbinary registration option. And even more recently, Riley Brady, a nonbinary trail runner wrote an open letter about inclusion and acceptance in the sport. Can you talk about how what you’ve learned from the Out Trails experience contains lessons for us all?
[RYAN MONTGOMERY] Something that this camp, as well as this community has shown me is how many systemic problems there are in the running world – all the way from registration pages to the way races are set up and marketed, as well as the ways brands partner and market themselves. I think it’s also made me realize that before anything ever happens, diversity in the spectrum of people and expression needs to be considered because if it’s not part of the fabric and core strategy, then it’s always gonna be something you slap on to the very end – and it’s gonna feel right. I’m recognizing how much work we need to do to help Western States and Hardrock 100 see that if you want people to show up to your race, your qualifying races themselves need to be inclusive, and if not, then no one’s gonna show up for your race because there’s so many barriers just to get to the registration page of a lottery. I think the biggest takeaway for us all is that diversity, equity and inclusion have to be part of any core strategy.
[KRISTE PEOPLES] What makes someone an athlete or a trail runner specifically?
[RYAN MONTGOMERY] I think it’s anybody who wants to move outside. And I think it’s anyone who appreciates the outdoors, respects it, and wants to recreate in nature.
[KRISTE PEOPLES] How can allies support Out Trails?
[RYAN MONTGOMERY] We’re always looking for people to raise their hands to be local organizers. So, if people want to get involved, they can reach out to me and we can make plans in your locale, or more widely if you want to be a part of the broader vision of what we’re doing. I just want people to know that we’re here for them. Even though we might not be near you, or there may be a lot of time between events that might happen, this is a community that can help facilitate some important conversations and connections. My goal, really, is to not only create events but to create a space where people can also develop friendships. We want to bring allies along for the ride, as well. So, if an ally happens to have a skill that can be used to help Out Trails, then we would love to celebrate and involve that.
[KRISTE PEOPLES] What else should we know about Out Trails?
[RYAN MONTGOMERY] Part of the reason why Out Trails exists is because of the toxic hostility towards queer people. I’ve got a much thicker skin now because I’ve been dealing with it my whole life, and I’m recognizing the need to use this as energy to continue the vision.
[KRISTE PEOPLES] Plus, it’s proof that you are absolutely reaching people and shifting mindsets – even if some are responding in a way that feels really harsh. You’re touching people, right?
[RYAN MONTGOMERY] Yeah. It’s working [laughs], it’s working.
Follow Ryan and Out Trails on Instagram! @ultra.ryan @out_trails