The Polish Economic Forum interviews Nancy Hobbs

In advance of this September’s World Mountain Running Championships in Poland, ATRA Executive Director Nancy Hobbs answered questions from the Polish Economic Forum.

Nancy Hobbs, Marco De Gasperi and Paul Kirsch

How many people run in the mountains In the USA? Is it a popular sport?

In the United States, mountain running and trail running are often used interchangeably and in most cases, refer to the same type of running in terms of terrain, elevation changes, and running surface. Since mountain runs are often contested on trails – either single track or double track – the trail running term fits quite well. Keep in mind that some mountain runs are staged on paved, or semi-paved surfaces, but must still have significant (uphill) elevation gains to be considered mountain runs – this is one element of mountain running that distinguishes the sport from trail running.

Mountain running has gained popularity and increased awareness in the U.S., especially during the past decade. And in 2003, the U.S. held its first USA Mountain Running Championships in Vail, CO. Since then, the event has been contested three times. In 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010 & 2012  Mount Washington hosted, and in 2007, 2009, 2011 & 2013 Mt. Cranmore served as the host. With new mountain and trail races organized every year, existing races offering shorter distance runs as part of their race repertoire, and parks and recreation departments expanding trail systems, there are more opportunities than ever for people who want to experience trail and mountain running. Add to the mix running groups – both informal and club-oriented – who schedule workouts to attract trail and mountain runners with daily or weekly runs off-road.

Individuals participate in trail running on a daily basis or as weekend warriors depending on lifestyle commitments and the proximity to a trailhead. The sport that primarily attracts people from athletic backgrounds who have a desire to get away from the hustle and bustle of daily routines to experience peacefulness and freedom afforded by the outdoors. Road runners opt for the trails when they seek softer, more forgiving surfaces in an effort to lessen the effects of impact, or overuse injuries. Hikers often switch to running on the trails because they want to go farther at a faster pace. Conversely, mountain bikers who want to go slower and enjoy the scenery, often give trail running a try. Winter cross country skiers and snowshoers often convert to trail and mountain running in their “off season.”

Where is the heart of mountain running in USA? (where are the best tracks?)

I think the “hot beds” are in California, Colorado, New England and also North Carolina. The terrain varies from the different areas of the country whereas in the east, there are roots, tree leaves on trails covering roots, single track, rocky sections. In Colorado some of the trails are smoother at lower elevations (than in the east), not to say they are “easier.” California trails can be a bit “drier” depending on the location.

What are the biggest mountain running events in USA? How Many people take part in the events? What are the prizes?

This is another very broad question. There are some races that have larger participation numbers, others have a greater allure or following based on the iconic nature of the event, or the time the race has been held — like Pikes Peak Ascent/Marathon and the Dipsea. Many of our trail and mountain races are limited in size based on permits required from various entities, or the limitation of the race course — narrow areas, etc. Some of the events have prize money, others have medals, trophies, something endemic to the area (pottery, crafted medals or awards, etc.).

How organized is mountain running in United States? Who / how many brands support mountain running in the US?

Well organized although there are many different groups, or sponsored events. There are series events from North Face, Montrail, LaSportiva, Salomon and more. USA Track & Field hosts championships at trail distances from 10k to 100 miles and also stages a USA Mountain Running Championships. There are great supporters in the industry from running footwear brands, apparel, etc.

What are the best American mountain runners? Are they coming to Krynica for the World Championships  I’m sure they already have competed with European runners – what are their advantages over Europeans? What are the biggest successes of american mountain runners? Are we going to have an American champion in Krynica?

We have very talented trail and mountain runners in the USA. Of course we have had USA champions at the World Level to include Max King and Kasie Enman in 2011 in Albania. Max is again on the team and of course is hungry for a win! We hope we have a U.S. Champion of course, but it depends of course on the day — who is competing, who has the best day, who favors the course and terrain in Krynica. Our athletes will be poised for their best effort and we hope that outcome results in medals for our individual and team athletes.

What are your expectations for the polish World Mountain Running Championships?

Challenging course, great competition, cultural immersion for the athletes and supporters of the U.S. team.

When are you coming to Poland? How long will be the trip and will it affect U.S runners performance in Krynica?

I will arrive August 27 to run in the World Masters Mountain Running Champs in the Czech Republic and then travel a bit before arriving in Krynica on Thursday, September 5. We are always at a disadvantage at the event based on long travel from USA. It takes up to 24 hours depending on the area of the country from which the athlete originates (those in California have the longest journey of course). Many of our athletes are seasoned with travel, however, some of the newcomers to the team (especially some of the juniors), are not as familiar with the impact of travel on performance. We provide some support for our athletes in terms of education about jet lag, travel, etc., and we are as ready as we can be for the competition.

What would you say to polish fans wishing to support US runners in Krynica?

Visit us at as we will be tweeting and doing live video chats in advance of the competition.  Learn about our team members and cheer us on!

 + + + + + + + + + + + + + + 

Nancy Hobbs has been running trails and directing running events since the mid-80s and her articles and photographs about the sport have been published in magazines including Runner’s World, Running Times, Trail Runner, and Ultrarunner.  She is the founder and executive director of the American Trail Running Association, a council member of the World Mountain Running Association, manager of the US Mountain Running Team (started the women’s team in 1995), and chairperson of the USATF Mountain Ultra Trail Council. Hobbs lives in Colorado Springs, CO, but travels extensively nationally and worldwide to support and promote trail and mountain running.