The Running Event 2021: In Person Once Again

Trail running shines at The Running Event with exciting new tech, discussion of emerging trends, light-hearted entertainment and an increasingly diverse community.

After a cancellation in 2020 due to the global pandemic, The Running Event (TRE) returned to Austin,Texas November 30 through December 2, to an enthusiastic group of attendees. Established in 2006, TRE is the largest running industry trade show in North America and where footwear, apparel, accessory, and service brands come to display their newest technologies, products, and gadgets. While the main consumers of the event are buyers for running specialty stores, who attended to procure their 2022 inventory, it is also a time for the newest innovations to be showcased, drooled over, and shared on social media.

The ATRA crew was in attendance, including President Adam Chase and Event Specialists Robert Sherburn and Peter Maksimow, to connect with our loyal ATRA members, discover new products and services, and to just enjoy being back together with the industry we all dearly miss.

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Robert Sherburn at the ATRA booth.

Although the event was lighter in numbers compared to pre-pandemic years, the energy level and excitement seemed to be higher than ever before. It was as if there was a collective sigh of relief that the running industry was finally back to in-person, face-to-face interaction after an almost two year hiatus. In that amount of time, advancements in materials, shoe technologies, analytics, and other areas appeared to be ahead of their times, as if Marty McFly had just arrived back from the future with the newest shoes, clothing, and technology that blew everyone’s mind.

The event program included educational sessions, product presentations, networking which is also known as “Happy Hour,” a Top-50 Best Running specialty store awards presentation, the Indie 5K, and an exhibit hall where vendors displayed their latest and greatest. Even Doug Mayer and Brian Metzler were in attendance to promote their new book, Trail Running Illustrated: The Art of Running Free, which is intelligently arranged, beautifully illustrated, and expertly delivered.

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Doug Mayer

Traditionally, a large percentage of TRE exhibiting attendees has been focused on road-specific running, however, with the current trend of participation and enthusiasm in trail running in recent years, there was an increased off-road running presence. This was evident with the high visibility of trail-specific products. It seems that trail runners are not the only group to embrace the trails, companies must follow the trends.

Carbon-plated shoes have become the most popular piece of equipment in road running in recent years, responsible for numerous record-breaking performances, including the historic sub-2 hour marathon by Eliud Kipchoge. However, this technology has not translated well from the road to the trail. The technical, unevenness of natural terrain does not bode well for a trail shoe with a carbon plate due to the rigidity of the plate itself. So rigid, in fact, that if a runner steps on a rock or a root in a shoe containing a carbon plate, the rest of the foot will follow, resulting in frustrating instability issues and a whole lot of twisted ankles and colorful words.

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Enter Carbitex. This innovative company has created a carbon plate, called AFX (Asymmetrical Flexibility), which offers stiffness in one direction–to protect the underfoot from rocks and sharp objects–and flexibility in the other direction–to work with the natural movements of your foot–to deliver a protective, stable, yet flexible and ergonomic feel all while maximizing the efficiency of your running economy. Keep an eye out for Carbitex carbon fiber plates in your favorite trail shoe brand, as they are working with various shoe manufacturers to incorporate this exciting and trail-functional new technology.

Another groundbreaking invention I was impressed with at TRE was one that involves wearable technology. I was walking around the expo hall when I spotted a good friend–and guy who is running every time I see him– the legend himself, Michael Wardian. In fact, he happened to be well into his second hour of running on a treadmill situated at a booth. He gave me the lowdown on this new company he had recently partnered with, Nix. Wardian educated me about the biosensor which attaches to the skin and monitors what we have undoubtedly all dealt with as runners: proper hydration.

Michael Wardian

By monitoring the sweat rate and biomarkers in sweat, the wearable tech can gather when, what, and how much a runner should drink in real-time during workouts and races for peak physical and cognitive performance. Once this tech is accessible and universally available, I am confident it will be used widely and dramatically improve runner’s performances.

In addition to products and services, a day at the Training Camp stage was dedicated to all things trail running and aptly named, “Trailhead Thursday.” Training Camp was a stage for expert panels, interviews, informational sessions, podcasts, and many more exchanges of information. During one such panel, ATRA president Adam Chase, David Callahan of ATRA Switchback member UltraSignup, and Jamil Coury of ATRA Single-track member Aravaipa Running, discussed the the mountain, ultra, trail running community as it relates to the recent large corporate acquisitions of MUT events and publications and whether these would help or hinder the industry.

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Jamil Coury, Adam Chase and David Callahan on the “Training Camp” stage.

One major discussion point touched on the mega-merger partnership between UTMB, the largest ultrarunning series in the world, and the goliath brand Ironman, known for their internationally-popular and heavily branded Ironman Triathlons. Would UTMB qualifying events become too exclusive and costly? Has MUT running finally become mainstream? How will that affect the small mom and pop trail events? These were the questions posed on where the MUT industry might head in the future. The panel agreed that only time will tell.

For the grand finale session, we had the masterminds from Mountain Outpost, Jam Jam (Jamil Coury) and Skizzle Fresh (Schuyler Hall), host a live podcast to discuss The Running Event, the current running landscape, and the most recent running news, in which there was everything from Kilian Jornet’s departure from Salomon to a Federal criminal investigation looking at the financial relationship between USA Track & Field and Nike. It was a loaded podcast, typically 90 minutes long but crammed into a 48-minute session.

That is another TRE in the books! While there were new products to drool over, innovative tech to give us metrics that we never thought possible, and services that significantly makes our lives easier, it is the running community being back together again to share these things that made for a successful show. As we have discovered over the past two years, even with all the tech, gadgets and help, we crave our community more than anything.

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Popular trail running shoe brand Altra hosts Alexi Pappas, Amanda Basham and Alysia Montaño.