What’s Driving The Growth?
The desire to try something new, runners seeking softer surfaces, and the fun factor of adventure are just some of the reasons many hit the trails. And adding creative races (mud and obstacle runs), powerful marketing (Lifetime Fitness promoting the Leadville 100 to its health club members), and local and national race series (XTERRA trail series, La Sportiva Cup, Montrail Ultra Cup) to the mix helps make trail racing accessible.
“This expansion seems to be driven by a desire by many, who may have done other types of running, to experience the sport in the some of the most beautiful places on the planet,” says James Russell Gill, III, co-owner of Virginia-based Bad to the Bone Endurance Sports, which puts on several trail running races. “With so many road marathons now available, trails and ultra marathons offer a new way for runners to challenge themselves.”
ATRA executive director Nancy Hobbs thinks much of the trail boom is driven by response from the outdoor industry (think more and better gear options) and positive results from U.S. athletes both at home and abroad, as well as effective marketing, “with imagery dedicated to trail and mountain running.”
As for the allure of prize money, Gina Lucrezi, a Team Salomon runner from Colorado, says, “It costs a lot of money to travel and compete, so when you have the chance to make some of that back at a race with a prize purse, it is a no-brainer.”
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Which is exactly why The North Face made cash payouts a distinguishing feature of the 50-mile championship at The North Face Endurance Challenge when it was launched in 2006.
“When the decision was made to enter the ultra trail racing space, we understood that mountain or trail running was a tough sport from which to make a living,” says Katie Ramage, director of sports marketing for The North Face. “Prize money that more fittingly awarded runners for such effort, not only on race day, but in preparation for racing 50 miles, was something we believed in.”
Lucrezi also stresses the importance of balance, saying enjoying the sport for the beauty of it and even winning quirky trophies are important aspects of the experience.
“Trail running provides a sense of freedom, a freedom that money cannot buy,” Lucrezi says. “More money would allow more runners to make a living doing what they love, but it could also take away from the purity of the sport.”