Focusing both on younger runners as well as the youthful nature of its sport, the American Trail Running Association’s (ATRA) 2023 theme is “Celebrate Youth on the Trails.” The association develops a different theme each year to help it generate and focus its programming and as an inspiration for its Trail News stories and social media content.

“We elevate our inner child when we run trails, at least for some of the run,” explains ATRA president Adam Chase. “It only makes sense to call attention to that as this year’s theme — both the spirit we embrace and introducing the activity to younger runners through ATRA campaigns.”

“The theme makes me think of all the little kids I see at the trailhead sprinting off or racing each other back,” adds ATRA board member Andy Ames. “The word youth makes me think of the wonder, awe and exuberance we all feel when we hit the trail.”

This thought is echoed by ATRA secretary Kriste Peoples: “I’m also appreciating the nod to joy, wonder and awe in the theme!”

With so many ways to interpret the theme, ATRA plans to have many stories and programs to share in the coming year and it recently introduced pages specific to youth thanks to a task force led by Max King through USATF Mountain Ultra Trail Council. As part of this project, trail races that are Youth-Friendly are featured. For details, click here.

Another project ATRA is supporting is The Trail Team, whose mission is to independently support and develop rising athletes into the best professional trail runners in the world through mentorship, skill development and media exposure. Spearheaded by Andy Wacker, part of the program will be to select six young elite athletes ages 20-30 from a pool of candidates and provide training camps to perfect skills.

Executive director Nancy Hobbs is a fan of the theme. “I was recently on a snowy, wintry run and heard some kids in the distance sledding…remember going sledding as a kid? I sure do and it was fun,” she says. “I get that same kind of happiness when I’m on the trails.”

“Celebrate Youth on the Trails” follows its recent annual themes including last year’s Trail Running is for Every Body, 2021’s Resilience, 2020’s Climate Action, 2019’s Trail Running Responsibly, 2018’s Trail Stewardship: Leaving a Lasting Legacy, and the 2017 theme, Community: Building Trail Running Connections.