Yesterday the 8th annual US Trail Running Conference got underway in Fayetteville, Arkansas with a Climate Action and Sustainability keynote address to an in-person and virtual audience of trail running fans. Taking place at the Fayetteville Town Center, this year’s conference debuted live-streaming of sessions, panel discussions and presentations. Located on the beautiful Downtown Square, this “Trail Town” venue includes nearby trails, restaurants, and Fayetteville’s largest hotel all within walking distance.
Trail runners attending in-person followed customized COVID-19 protocol including temperature checks upon check in, social distancing, and masks required for all attendees and panelists.
Wednesday marked the first of three days of presentations and discussions for trail race directors. Conference director Terry Chiplin kicked off the days programming with an outdoor celebration circle and welcome for attendees. First up was the virtual keynote address presented by Vic Thasiah from Runners for Public Lands, followed by panel discussions and interactive presentations. Highlights from the day’s key topics and discussions included:
Thasiah’s keynote speech entitled, “Trail Running and Climate Action,” set the tone for this year’s conference whose theme of Climate Action and Sustainability was announced in January. Thasiah, speaking remotely via Zoom from his home in Ventura, California, began by introducing his two most important FKTs (fastest known times) for the trail running community: How fast the climate is changing and how fast we can change our response to it.
Thasiah explained, “The climate is changing about 10 times faster than any other time in history. This change and our response to it plays a key role in protecting the trails we love. No one can do everything, but everyone can do something,” continued Thasiah, who encouraged race directors to be proactive to protect trails where their events take place.
Thasiah’s presentation also covered the intersection of race and climate change. “Fossil fuel-related pollution disproportionately affects Black Americans,” said Thasiah, “This community will be hit first and worst. Socioeconomic impacts of climate change such as food shortages, displacement and homelessness are just some of the negative consequences that Black communities nationwide are currently facing due to climate change.”
In addition to Black Americans, Thasiah brought attention to the affect of climate change on indigenous populations. Through his research, he’d discovered several stories of how indigenous communities are taking a lead in tackling climate change. Thasiah shared the story of Lydia Jennings in an article published by Trail Runner Magazine, exemplifying the strong voice of the Native American population in climate advocacy affairs.
Next up was “Design Thinking and Futures Thinking” a presentation given by Paul Jurasin where he urged attendees to explore the “Art of Possible.” Jurasin, an educator and Director of New Programs for Information Technology Services at Cal Poly based in San Luis Obispo, California. Through his two and a half hour interactive presentation, Jurasin facilitated several exercises where individuals were asked to consider a working backwards approach focusing on core principles and future thinking. This “bottom up” scenario resulted in thought-provoking responses from attendees who worked individually, or in groups to consider trail running scenarios including stewardship, carbon offsets, and closed course racing. A key takeaway from the exercise was to think outside the box and that wild ideas should always be encouraged. “There are no bad ideas,” offered Jurasin. “Sometimes the crazy idea is the one that works the best.”
Attendees were then treated to a lunch break where Food Loops, a local Fayetteville company dedicated to reducing food waste, ensured that the meals were 95% waste free. Plates, silverware, cups and food waste were all separated into containers for reuse or recycling.
Following the lunch break, American Trail Running Association executive director, Nancy Hobbs, presented “ATRA Year in Review,” where she gave an overview of association happenings since last year’s Conference. Just a few of the many highlights included:
- ATRA’s presence at The Running Event (TRE)
- 2020 Climate Action theme announcement
- Results from the annual trail runner survey
- Creation of a canicross instructional video and “how to get started” article
- Launch of ATRA’s 25th Anniversary Challenge
Hobbs also explained several of the American Trail Running Association’s primary services to trail runners and race directors including the 9000 event online trail race calendar, Event Liability Insurance for race directors, Accident Insurance for trail runners, educational resources, Trail News articles and features such as Trail Towns, as well as monthly email newsletters. Hobbs finished by introducing the association’s upcoming rebrand to be launched to celebrate its 25th anniversary in early 2021.
The first group panel of the conference was titled Climate Action – What Can Trail Races Do to Help? Panelists included race consultant Steven Aderholt, founder of Ragnar Trail Relay Series, Zoë Rom, associate editor for Trail Runner Magazine, and Melissa McCarver, president of the Lake Fayetteville Watershed Partnership. The discussion touched several key topics, including how trail races and trail runners can get involved in sustainability and climate action initiatives.
“I participate in climate action because as a trail runner if I don’t get involved I lose my trails, air, and water,” stated Rom. She later went on to explain how we should, “mobilize the trail running community as a political force,” a goal organizations such as Protect Our Winters (POW) are actively pursuing.
McCarver provided an ecological perspective, offering advice to trail runners,“Get in contact with local nonprofits and understand your local trail issues, such as invasive species removals and other maintenance projects. Runners understanding the area in which they run is a great way for them to get involved.”
Adherholt had several suggestions, including his top two things trail runners can do to make a difference in combating climate change; not eating meat and changing to less carbon intensive methods of travel. “Changing our actions at races is one thing,” said Aderholt, “but making changes to our lifestyle is one way we can make even bigger changes.”
For race directors considering changes, Aderholt said to look at the event holistically. “Pick which items to focus on and don’t take your foot off the gas.”
The second and final panel of the day was titled “Growing Your Trail Running Community – Building New Trail Networks and Preserving Access.” Speakers included Steve Schneider, International Mountain Bicycling Association Regional Director 2012-2016 and currently working for Rogue Trails, and Brannon Pack, cycling coordinator for Experience Fayetteville. Both speakers had significant expertise in trail building and trail advocacy, much of which initially focused on mountain biking, but truly resonated with the audience of trail race directors:
“At the beginning of the sport, mountain bikers had difficulties with trail access. There were worries about bikers on trails,” said Schneider. “We had to go into city meetings and be civil about how to get our trail access. That’s why mountain bikers are so passionate about our trail maintenance. We had to learn how to build good trails to be allowed access to ride them. Now, the mountain biking community has some of the most developed and experienced trail building and maintenance groups in the country.”
Added Pack, “These organizations welcome all trail users who want to get involved. Mountain bikers want trail runners to show up and will be welcomed with open arms.”
The discussion shifted to how race directors specifically can make a difference in building and maintaining trails in their community,
“Race directors have a unique voice. They bring people to town, put heads in beds and that makes them valuable in community council discussions,” said Pack. “Race directors have a powerful voice that can be utilized to leverage land managers and get local representatives to invest in trail maintenance and building.”
Day one of the 2020 US Trail Running Conference concluded with a socially distanced networking session, including snacks and drinks from Fayetteville’s Fossil Cove Brewing Company.
Stay tuned for more highlights from day two of the conference, which will be published tomorrow.
See even more photos from the 2020 US Trail Running Conference by Peter Maksimow on Google Photos.