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Trail Runner Day Concludes the US Trail Running Conference

October 27, 2020

Successful hybrid format draws both in-person and virtual attendees

On Saturday, October 24, the 2020 US Trail Running Conference came to an end in Fayetteville, Arkansas. After three days of contact geared to event directors, the conferences annual “Trail Runner Day” included presentations and panel discussions to help trail runners learn more about the sport they love.

The Conference is organized by Active at Altitude in partnership with American Trail Running Association (ATRA). This year’s event pivoted to a hybrid format due to COVID-19, which allowed attendees to select either in-person, or virtual options to attend. Sessions were a mix of live panels, taped interviews and virtual presentations. On site attendees had daily temperature checks and masks were mandatory as was social distancing.

The programming on October 24 began with a fun run on the Centennial Park trails near conference venue Fayetteville Town Center. These trails offer urban opportunities for community members and visitors to enjoy forested trail running and off-road cycling.

The opening presentation came from internationally renowned trail runner, Kilian Jornet, who live streamed from his home in Norway to introduce the Outdoor Friendly Pledge. This presentation marked the official US launch of Jornet’s program created by The Kilian Jornet Foundation and includes a pledge of 10 commitments for events, athletes, brands and federations in trail running.

“Sometimes environmental thinking can be too philosophical,” said Jornet, “It’s nice to say you need to be carbon neutral or environmentally conscious, but actually taking concrete steps to make positive changes for the environment is really what we need. Taking action and providing concrete steps to solve environmental issues is what this pledge is all about.” Jornet urged trail runners to pursue actionable goals to solve climate change issues.

[PRO TIP: Are you ready to take the pledge? Read the commitments and take the pledge at outdoorfriendly.org]

The day’s first panel discussion was entitled, “How to Become a Climate Action Warrior.” Speakers included Zoë Rom (Trail Runner Magazine) and Fayetteville Natural Heritage Association Board Member Dot Neely. The discussion centered on how trail runners have a stake in solving the current climate crisis. “All of us have the choice to impact the environment in negative ways and less negative ways,” said Neely. “It’s difficult to have no impact as a trail runner or as anyone who recreates in natural areas. Know the area you’re going to be running in and think about how you can tread lightly there.”

Rom added, “Trail runners need to get involved because environmental issues can shut down trails, impact air quality and destroy our natural environments. Many days this summer, because of Colorado wildfires, I’ve had to check the air quality to see if I can go out for a run.”

The panelists also talked about attributes necessary to become climate action warriors. Rom said, “Basic human empathy is the only thing you need. Learn as much as you can and gain awareness about the major environmental issues in your area. We can all be climate action warriors.”

The next panel discussion was about diversity in trail running following the playing of pre-recorded interviews with professional trail runner Joseph Gray, Maria Solis (Latinos Run), and Kriste Peoples (Black Women’s Alliance). In response to a question about what is needed to get more Black athletes into trail running, Gray said: “The main issue is exposure. When you look at sports media in trail running, there isn’t much color. This makes it harder to inspire the next generation of Black trail runners to compete in the sport.”

Solis talked about her inspiration behind, and goals for Latinos Run. “I started Latinos Run in 2016,” said Solis. “My goal was to inspire Latino communities to get more fit and active. Statistics show our community has had many health problems and we are an underrepresented group in trail running.” Solis shared her suggestions for how to get more Latinos in trail running: “Sponsor trail races in Latino communities, provide race information in Spanish and showcase Latino runners in race media.”

Peoples talked about how to make the trail running community more inviting to Black women. “Trail Running is a niche activity and sometimes it can come across as something not everyone can be a part of. The feeling needs to be more welcoming.” Peoples continued, “As trail runners, we don’t need to solve racism, but we need to embrace each other as human beings and make connections with each other.”

Next up was a panel discussion titled: “Diversity in Trails – Pride and Adaptive athletes.” Speakers included Amy Rusiecki (Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run), Duc Pham and Mary Dean (Achilles International).

Rusiecki introduced things she’d done as a race director to make her event more inclusive of visually and mobility impaired athletes, “There have always been visually and mobility impaired athletes competing in ultras, but there are barriers. These athletes often have to ask permission to race, have sighted running guides, run with poles, etc. This is why I made specific race rules for these athletes. This eliminates barriers and makes it easier for these athletes to run our event.”

Rusiecki also shared how she’s made her race more inclusive of intersex and LGBTQ communities. “We’ve made a third category in our race registration that’s non-binary,”said Rusiecki. “Estrogen-based athletes compete against estrogen-based athletes and testosterone-based athletes compete against other testosterone-based athletes. This gives these athletes the opportunity to be competitive in a way that’s fair to all participants.”

Next up, Pham and Dean discussed their experience with Achilles International. “As a dwarf,”said Pham, who will graduate from high school in 2024, “it’s not always easy to be a runner. Achilles has helped me expand my love for running and run faster than I ever thought I could.”

Dean, an occupational therapist, explained some of the ways Achilles helps disabled runners participate in outdoor recreational activities. “Achilles can provide resources, such as hand-cycles, push wheelchairs, running prosthetics, and sighted-guides for disabled runners. If you don’t already have a chapter of Achilles to join in your area, consider starting one.”

Asked for advice on how to recruit volunteers, Dean said, “We secure some volunteers through the University of Arkansas, but the vast majority have come through Give Pulse.”

After a one-hour lunch break, a panel on women and trail running featured: Zoë Rom, Allie McLaughlin (MUT Wild), and Megan Finnesy (Golden Gate Dirty 30).

McLaughlin talked about what she’s learned about elite women’s trail running as a three-time member of the US Mountain Running Team and USATF national champion. “The US Mountain Running Team has given women the chance to compete internationally. We should continue to support these teams to give women these opportunities to run on the world stage.”

The discussion also touched on barriers to entry for women interested in the sport. “My research shows lack of childcare is the biggest barrier to women participating in the sport,” said Rom. “On average, married women have four hours less per week for recreation because of childcare responsibilities. That makes trail running less accessible to women.”

Finnesy provided ways she tries to help women overcome barriers through her events. “Creating community is the most important thing I try to do at my races. This way, women and all minority groups can feel a sense of belonging at my events. Last year I also added a women’s trail running clinic and that was a huge success.”

The next guest panel discussion was about coaching for trail runners. Speakers included coach Cliff Pittman, and Derek Lee (Rise Physical Therapy). The conversation addressed the common question of how runners can train consistently without burning out. Pittman answered, “Be emotionally engaged, know why you’re running everyday, build a support network and have a plan for every run you do.”

Lee added, “Running consistently doesn’t mean you have to crush it or hit records every time you run. Healthy consistency is knowing that our development as runners, mentally and physically, comes from putting in time. Make deposits to your ‘training bank’, however small, on a consistent basis.”

The panelists also stressed the importance strength training for trail runners. “Strength training is beneficial for injury prevention and performance,” said Pittman. “One mistake I see is aimless strength training. Your strength training should be designed to make you a better runner. We should apply specific exercises that correlate to what we do as runners, as opposed to just doing what we see others doing in the gym.”

Lee added, “I think of strength training less as cross training for running and instead as an integral part of the training process. Runners tend to focus on aerobic development, but that’s limited to how strong our bodies are.”

Next up on the agenda was a discussion about how trail runners can work to preserve access to the trails. Panelists included Peter Maksimow (Barr Trail Mountain Race) and Brannon Pack (Experience Fayetteville). Maksimow offered suggestions for what race directors can do to help maintain trails, “Several larger prominent ultra trail marathons require trail work in order to register for the race, but the majority of trail races don’t. I’d like to see more races, specifically shorter distance, smaller events start to require trail work to help preserve the trails we run.”

Pack added, “Get involved with the grassroots environmental movements in your area,”said Pack. “Go to your local council members and lobby to make real political change.Here in Fayetteville, tens of thousands of acres of Ozark Mountain trails have been preserved by simply building trails.”

Maksimow also spoke about his love for “plogging” a Swedish term for the act of picking up trash while running. He offered one very simple tip to be more environmentally conscious while running trails, “Pick up a piece of trash every time you run on the trail. This is a very easy way to make a difference.”

The final panel discussion of the conference was about sustainable fueling and hydration for trail runners. Panelists included Tayte Pollmann (Nike Trail Running), nutrition coach and fitness instructor Misty Gigliotti, and registered dietician Tim Steen. The panelists shared some of their pre-race nutrition practices. Steen said, “I’d try not to eat anything within thirty minutes of your race start. The insulin response may trigger slight hypoglycemia that could affect your ability to start strongly. I advise eating a meal before a race 90 minutes before your race start.”

Steen also shared his post race nutrition strategies, “I’d look to get complex carbohydrates and 10 to 20 grams of protein within 30 minutes after your race to optimize recovery. Eat anti-inflammatory foods and foods high in antioxidants.”

Panelists also shared some of their favorite foods with the in-person and virtual audience members. “Goat cheese,” said Pollmann. “This is partly because I worked on a goat farm this past summer making goat cheese, but also because of its health benefits and incredible taste. Much goat cheese you’ll find in stores or markets, particularly the kind we made on our farm, comes from smaller production farms with little processing equipment. Real food and natural products are a staple of my diet.”

Gigliotti similarly expressed her appreciation of real foods, “I fuel all my races with real foods. If I do use gels, I use Spring Energy, a real food based gel that’s more natural than most on the market.”

With the setting sun nearing the horizon and outside temperatures dropping, the conference concluded with closing statements and farewells from event director Terry Chiplin. Chiplin said, “Thank you all for making the eight edition of the US Trail Running Conference a success in spite of the challenges. We’re grateful for the race directors, trail runners, sponsors and especially our hosts in Fayetteville without whom this event would not be possible. We especially look forward to next year and having even more of you attending in person while expanding our global virtual audience of trail runners.”

Stay tuned for information on the location and dates for next year’s US Trail Running Conference. If you missed them, you can read recaps of Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3 of the conference.