The running industry is making strides to ensure all runners can show up as their authentic selves to races, events, group runs and retail stores. Nevertheless, there remains a notable disparity in achieving this goal. 

Now running brands like Ultimate Direction and dedicated organizations such as Out Trails are actively engaged in bridging these gaps through initiatives focused on education, collaboration and resource-sharing. Ultimate Direction is a Colorado-based brand that provides hydration solutions for self-propelled athletes of all levels and disciplines. Out Trails exists to provide support and camaraderie within the LGBTQ+ and ally community through online connections via Slack, as well as hosting an annual running retreat.

Ryan Montgomery, a professional runner on Ultimate Direction’s athlete team, founded Out Trails in 2022 to address a critical need. 

“For me, it was important to create Out Trails because many queer people do not run outdoors, let alone on trails because they don’t have access or don’t feel safe doing so. Thus, I think creating a safe and welcoming space like Out Trails is essential in our work to create inclusion in trail running and the outdoors,” he shares. 

In 2022, Montgomery approached  Ultimate Direction to form a partnership with Out Trails, seeking financial support for participant scholarships and hydration vests. This partnership has remained strong throughout 2023, reflecting Ultimate Direction’s commitment to its People Pillar.  

“Our people – our athletes, their friends and community, our customers and our staff – are a core component of our brand’s mission and we recognize how critical it is that Ultimate Direction listen, learn, evolve and encourage all members of our running community,” explains Brett Rindt, marketing manager for Ultimate Direction. “Part of the work includes stepping up to provide resources to ensure access by underrepresented members so that cost, safety and education are not barriers for their participation.”

In 2021, the Philadelphia Distance Run became the first road running race in the U.S. to offer a non-binary registration division. Since then, several other running races have followed suit, embracing this opportunity for inclusion. Montgomery has played a crucial advocacy role in encouraging trail races to expand their registration divisions. Their voice gained prominence after participating in the 2023 Tarawera 104K and Western States Endurance Run, where they faced the challenge of having to select either a male or female category as a non-binary individual.  

An article published in Trailrunner Magazine in November 2022 revealed a significant statistic: Approximately 12 percent of Gen Z are transgender or non-binary. This underscores the importance of race organizers to create welcoming spaces for queer runners at their events. While Ultimate Direction is not a race organizer, the brand is committed to being part of the solution for inclusion and encourages other running industry brands to join in any ways possible. 

Both Ultimate Direction and Out Trails are looking to the future, aiming to continue their collaborative work in promoting inclusivity within the industry. Out Trails is planning to expand by hosting multiple retreats in 2024 and extends an open invitation to the industry as a whole to contribute in any way possible to remove barriers and bridge existing gaps.