US Trail Running Conference inspires, engages and entertains – Highlights from the 2017 event

The 5th annual US Trail Running Conference was held October 11-14, in Estes Park, Colorado, and provided three and a half days of presentations, networking, vendor displays, morning trail runs, and panel discussions. Content was geared to trail race directors for the first two and a half days with a presenting sponsor in Race Roster. Trail runner-specific content was the focus for the final day.

On Wednesday afternoon, October 11, conference director Terry Chiplin welcomed the attendees and outlined the days’ schedule. The three sessions on Wednesday covered course design, course markings, volunteers, safety, insurance, and building the event personality. Panelists and presenters included Craig Thornley (Western States 100), Aaron Saft (Foot RX Running & MR Runningpains Events), Paul Gigliotti (Pirate Perry Events), Pete Stevenson (Gnar Runners), Nathan Nicholas (Nicholas Hill Group), Dale Garland (Hardrock 100), Samantha Pruitt (Race SLO), and Megan Finnesy (Dirty 30).

Trail Conference in the ballroom at the historic Stanley Hotel.

Takeaways from the day included ways to build relationships and create well-organized, safe, and memorable events. To that end, Pruitt discussed her leadership strategy, “I build my team around my strengths and weaknesses. I bring authenticity to the SLO brand and value and create a high quality athlete experience.”

Finnesy said energy, consistency and loyalty were keys to her success as well as positive mentorship from others in the industry. One of those mentors included Garland who said, “I’m vested in what the event is and developed something that has meaning for the runners and the staff.”

Thursday’s sessions included more panel sessions geared to event logistics, and presentations from Keith Peters (Council for Responsible Sport), Kevin Goldberg and Josh Sprague (Orange Mud), and Mike Hogan, (Ragnar Trail Relays).

Peters suggested having a written plan with goals and objectives to stage a more environmental and socially responsible event. “It’s about getting people to change their mindset,” offered Peters. “Simple things like going cup free and shopping locally for items. Make conscious decisions about what you are buying and what people are providing to the event. Think about basic items and have a plan.”

The Ragnar Trail Relay Series model was built around three pillars to the runner experience – long distance, overnight, and team work. Hogan discussed these pillars as well as the marketing strategy to engage with runners, of whom fifty percent (of the entrants in Ragnar Trail) have never run on the trails before. “We have grass roots team generation through a group of 90 Trail Warriors. Every year we have an ambassador summit in Salt Lake City where we preach the Ragnar credo.”

Custom “medals” from ATRA corporate member Ashworth Awards.

The final day geared to trail race directors included results and awards, budgets, aid station standards, and trail running communities. Presenters included Jim Harman, (EX2 Adventures), Salem Stanley (Vacation Races), Dr. Frank Dumont (Estes Park Medical Center), Reid Delman (Gemini Adventures), Ariella Gintzler and Kristin Andersen (Trail Runner magazine), and Kevin Burnette (Clean Sport Collective), Peter Maksimow (ATRA, inov-8, and Kokopelli Kids), and Nick Clark (Gnar Runners).

“Runners are gutsy, but they do push limits,” said Dr. Dumont, himself a trail runner and recent finisher of the Estes Epic 50 Mile Trail Race. Dumont is creating a document that the American Trail Running Association (ATRA) will publish in the coming year regarding aid stations standards. “The need for standardization is to simply logistics and reassure race directors,” said Dumont who welcomed input from the attendees. ATRA will also be creating a survey to gather additional feedback to help support the standards.

ATRA member Aaron Saft scored some swag at the prize draw.

Discussing communities ran the gamut from kids to coaching, clean sport and more. Kids on the trails are our future and many events add a kids running component. “It brings a cool family vibe to the event,” said Clark who puts on kids’ events and even has a black squirrel costume worn by a volunteer to energize the kids and create a fun atmosphere. Like Clark, Delman holds an Easter egg hunt for kids if his event falls on the holiday.

“Kids say the darndest things,” said Gintzler. “They look at the sport in the most honest way.”

Friday night it was a chance for attendees to enjoy Ledlenser Trails in Motion Film Festival and also view a trailer for a new independent film, Endure. On Saturday, it was all about trail runners with many of the race directors staying on for the full conference experience.

Starting with a third day of trail runs on the nearby Lumpy Ridge Trail with shoe demos from Altra and inov-8, panel discussions and presentations for the day included injury prevention, trail shoe development, nutrition, women’s issues, Pikes Peak Trekker Expedition, technology, and community. There was even a planking competition led by ATRA’s Peter Maksimow, who has a record plank time of over two hours and twenty minutes.

Joining the panel discussions and presentations were Richard Bolt (ATRA), Scott Gilpatrick (CeraSport), Evan Wert (Icebug), Jason Schlarb (Altra), Susan Farago (Trailhead Running), Elinor Fish (Run Wild Retreats), Jennifer Vierling (Tailwind Nutrition), Sage Canaday (HOKA One One), Kelly Bailey Newlon (Real Athlete Diets), and Diana Griffin, eNRG Performance).

As a partner of the Conference, ATRA was also the benefactor from the annual prize draw which raised nearly $1000 for the organization.

Planking with Peter Maksimow

To learn more about the conference visit the US Trail Running Conference website.  A full list of Conference vendors and sponsors are also listed on the US Trail Running Conference website.

Planning is underway for the 2018 US Trail Running Conference, which will be held in San Luis Obispo, CA, August 28-31, in partnership with Races SLO. This will be the first time in the five-year history that the event will be staged outside Estes Park, CO.

“Having partnered with Active at Altitude’s Terry Chiplin since the inception of the conference, this new model to move the event to different areas of the country is a fantastic and positive change. In looking at new venues, San Luis Obispo is an ideal choice and all of us at ATRA are excited to experience SLO,” says Nancy Hobbs, executive director ATRA.

Check out more pictures from the US Trail Running Conference on Google Photos.