USA Track & Field (USATF), the national federation for Athletics in the United States, plays an integral role in developing mountain, ultra trail (MUT) running on both the local and world levels. USATF governs all major competitive running disciplines in the country including indoor and outdoor track, road, cross country, race walking and MUT running. The USATF MUT Council organizes MUT championships for a variety of distances including the Half Marathon Trail, Marathon Trail, 100-Kilometer Road and the ever popular Mountain Running Championships, to name a few.
In 2022, this council will recruit and organize teams for upcoming international competitions including the U18 Mountain Running Cup, IAU 100 Kilometer (Road) World Championship, and the inaugural World Mountain and Trail Running Championship. For more information and news about USATF MUT running visit our dedicated ATRA webpage.
In addition to national championship races and international teams, USATF has also encouraged the growth of MUT running through partnerships with regional association race series. USATF Pacific, USATF New England and USATF Mid-Atlantic are three of USATF MUT running’s largest regional race series.
In the following article, I highlight the USATF Mid-Atlantic Off-Road Running Series, which is centered in Pennsylvania. I’ll share how this off-road series began, race demographics, course styles, and how the series has increased MUT running participation in the region. I interviewed Robert Stenzel (series coordinator) and Robin Jefferis (series metric and data analyst and tracker).
History of USATF Mid-Atlantic Off-Road Running Series
Since the 1980s, USATF Mid-Atlantic has been actively hosting events such as a road running “grand prix” race series. As trail and cross country running steadily gained popularity in the area, local runners saw a need for a similar off-road running series. Jefferis speaks on this development, “In the early 2000s, we had several runners on our committee who suggested we host an off-road running series. At the time, many people in the region were inspired by race director Ron Horn’s off-road races in Pennsylvania. We started to work with Ron to develop a series, and as his races became more popular we had other race directors ask if they too could be included. In 2002, it became official and we developed our first off-road running series that was inspired by the format of the original road running grand prix.”
Over the years, the USATF Mid-Atlantic Off-Road Running Series has evolved from scoring only individuals in the series, then adding a club-team component. In 2021, ten running clubs in the region (including clubs such as the Greater Philadelphia Track Club and the Trail Dawgs Running Club) competed in the series. The team aspect has helped the series grow in terms of numbers and made it easier for participants to travel by carpooling or be inspired to compete with their fellow teammates at more events to score better in the series. Jefferis speaks on the impact of the club component on the series, “Adding clubs created a completely different and fun dynamic. The format of the team scoring is also interesting and we require five athletes to score, and at least one woman per team. It’s been a great way to build community in the series.”
A Series For Trail Running Newbies and Professionals
The USATF Mid-Atlantic Series offers many events that are great for entry-level or first-time off-road runners, as well as the most experienced trail runners competing on the world stage. The majority of runners in the series are masters’ runners with a high portion in their 60s and 70s. Roughly 40% of all participants at each race are USATF members. Stenzel describes the style of events in the series, “There are a couple of events that are not highly technical and great for first-time trail runners, as well as more technical routes. Beginner courses are usually around 10-kilometers in distance with only a few hills and shallow creek crossings. Most of our events are actually shorter trail races. Until this past year, there were no half marathon races (which is our longest distance). Almost all of our events are 10 miles, 10-kilometers, or 15-kilometers.”
Stenzel describes the misconception that trail running races always have to be long and difficult, “When people talk about trail running, many times it seems they are talking only about 50 or 100-kilometer races, multi day stage races, etc., but the races we host are quick, exciting events. They are a better starting point for those looking to get into trail running, but can still provide a challenge for the experts.”
The USATF Mid-Atlantic Series helped discover and develop some of the country’s top trail runners. Two athletes who have participated in the series, Zach Miller and Matt Byrne, have represented the United States at international mountain and trail running competitions, and made names for themselves in elite trail running ranks. Jefferis says about the strength of the Mid-Atlantic trail running community, “It’s often discounted how active our off-road running community is in the region. We have great participation in the series and many dedicated runners showing up to every event.” In 2019, one of the races in the region, Montage Mountain, was given the honor to host the USATF Half Marathon Trail Championships in Scranton, PA.
For the past twenty years, the USATF Mid-Atlantic Off-Road running series has developed a strong trail running community in the region through organizing shorter events and engaging local running clubs. The series is essential to increasing MUT participation in the region and providing more people with access to not only trail races, but also community. Curious to learn more about the series? Read their informational brochure and 2022 race schedule [PDF].