Every year the American Trail Running Association (ATRA), which was founded in 1996, introduces a theme, most often reflecting the culture of its sport or a timely topic. This year’s theme – Trail Running is for Every Body – brings the 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization, based in Colorado Springs, CO, closer to its mission to represent and promote trail running, mountain running and ultra trail running. This mission is realized through resources, education, partnerships, support and guidance on its website at www.trailrunner.com, through its social media channels  – @atratrailrunner – and from an ATRA team that includes board members and consultants. 

Running Insight caught up with Nancy Hobbs, ATRA founder and executive director, for a deeper dive into the association’s focus and its goals in 2022 and beyond.

Running Insight: So what is your definition of a “trail runner?”

Nancy Hobbs: I like to think of trail running in terms of playfulness, challenge, exploration and mindfulness, all of which are realized through participation in this welcoming and inviting activity. Trail runners are those who seek off-road adventure, away from pavement, incorporating single track, switchbacks, rocks, grass, roots and other natural obstacles as they recreate over a variety of terrain. Elevation changes are inherent in the sport, but not mandatory.

Has the association’s role changed much in the two-plus years of the pandemic?

Like many other organizations and companies, we did realize a bit of a pivot. We spent more time and resources on our website and educational materials, including articles and videos offering advice, tips and techniques. 

And has that evolved over the past few months?

Whereas the majority of traffic on our website was our calendar, now there was a shift to articles and resources. We featured a list of podcasts, coaches and camps, trail maintenance opportunities, sustainability suggestions to name a few. We also conducted our 25th anniversary virtual challenge providing community through weekly trail teasers – a total of 17 –  to keep our audience engaged during the pandemic. Hopefully some of these ways to engage community will continue well past the pandemic.

How have ultra and trail running evolved – and grown – in the past few years?

No question the sport has grown. There has been an increase in events – both in-person and virtual races, camps, and non-competitive group runs or get togethers – brand awareness and media coverage, all which fuel participation and interest. Livestreaming has increased the fan base and provided another entryway into the sport. 

How about as far as footwear, apparel and other gear?

There are now more gender-specific products in the marketplace, from hydration vests to apparel. The needs of the entire community are being addressed from trail running poles to nutrition for the long run and everything in between. 

Any other initiatives?

There has been a focus on DEI, land use and trail maintenance as well as a deeper dive into the ethos of the sport and multi-user interactions on the trail. Trails are Common Ground is a nationwide campaign that was launched under the leadership of David Wiens to bring various user groups together to create a safe, inclusive and respectful environment for anyone who steps, rides or rolls onto any trail, anywhere. 

What is ATRA’s focus these days?

Throughout ATRA’s tenure the focus has always remained true to its mission. Our community continues to be “trail curious” and is hungry for content, resources and advice. ATRA provides this through our quarterly newsletter, e-newsletters, social media, videos and more. ATRA welcomes article submissions and stories to share whether from races, individuals, organizations or brands.

Is there a highlight of the trail running season?

Highlights are typically realized in events and there are numerous events, from the historic – think Western States 100, Pikes Peak Marathon, and Dipsea – to the international stage like UTMB, and the Trail and Mountain Running World Championships. The US Trail Running Conference, which ATRA serves as a partner organization, will celebrate its 10th year in October. 

How about highlights for trail runners themselves?

Beyond events, highlights for individuals may include the first time they spot a particular wildflower on a trail, or notice a doe and her fawn grazing in the distance. I’d like to think that each time someone steps on a trail they find a special moment, or create a special memory.

Well put. So, who is your target member? 

Quite simply, anyone who resonates with our sport. Individuals, groups, brands, companies, race directors, run specialty stores and organizations.

What is the benefit for run specialty retailers and vendors to put more emphasis in both products and events for trail runners?

The first step is to create a welcoming environment to create and build community and trust — and community translates to traffic in the store and sales. It can be a weekly run featuring some aspect of trail running technique – uphill running, navigating gnarly terrain, downhill running – a monthly movie night introducing a cool outdoor video, or sharing new technology for the trails. 

Trail runners are open to these efforts?

Trail runners are like sponges, absorbing information constantly. How to run faster, smarter, with purpose. Where to find the hidden trail gems to explore. Meeting other like-minded friends to train with. The number one thing is to create a safe space to invite conversation and then welcome and embrace curiosity and provide tips, techniques and sage advice.

How – and why – should retailers get involved with ATRA?

ATRA can provide content and advice. We also conduct annual surveys to keep informed of trends and demographics in our sport. We have a website with a wealth of information that is easy to share. ATRA conducted a “Spotlight on Specialty” series of articles presented by our partner in Saucony (https://trailrunner.com/trail-news/category/spotlight-on-specialty/). This was one way to share stories of what run specialty were doing in the trail space to grow community. If a retailer is interested in being featured, contact ATRA to share your story.

Finally, what do you see as the near-term future of trail running and how can ATRA and run retailers make that happen?

Many of the areas we talked about already can add to the upward trajectory of our sport in terms of awareness and growth. With that growth comes challenges. Near term we should all make a commitment to respect, preserve and protect trails and share the ethos of trail running within and beyond our community. I hope that we can all encourage a continued dialogue on what we as trail runners and lovers of the trails can do to insure the continuation of responsible trail use for Every Body. 

For more on ATRA’s 2022 theme – Trail Running is for Every Body – check out https://trailrunner.com/trail-news/trail-running-is-for-every-body-our-theme-for-2022/