A few years ago, someone asked me if there would be value in creating some kind of universal trail grading system for running trails in the same way rock climbing routes were rated.
Yes, for sure, I thought, but how could you ever organize that and pull it off?
Naturally, there’s an app for that now.
Enter Trail Run Project, a growing database of trails with specific user experience information about running—as opposed to hiking or mountain biking—that has been supplied by runners. Trail descriptions and ratings generated by users are a key part of the system.
Trail Run Project, which launched a few weeks ago, is the latest creation from a small Boulder, Colo., startup called Adventure Projects and it essentially puts interactive digital mapping and guide services at your fingertips via its website and mobile app. The company started the leading rock climbing digital route database, Mountain Project, and has also recently created similar services for mountain biking, backcountry skiing and hiking.
Although company co-founder Nick Wilder admits the surface has barely been scratched when it comes to what he thinks Trail Run Project will be when fully built out, the amount of detail for the trails already in the system is amazing and unparalleled in the trail running community.
Wilder, an avid trail runner, says he started the original climbing site as a hobby and because he felt there was a need for a modern digitally enhanced service. When it came to mountain biking and running, he knew the trail information would need to be specific to each sport.
“We really believe these sports deserve a dedicated site,” Wilder says. “The community gets built and the people think about these sports differently—hikers, runners, climbers, mountain bikers. A lot of people do a lot of those sports, but when they’re in that mode they want to get information and ratings from the community of those sports.”
The American Trail Running Association (ATRA) has formed a partnership with Trail Run Project to allow ATRA website users to search for trails in its new Find a Trail feature.
To date, TRP has about 3,500 U.S. trail descriptions (covering more than 15,000 miles of running trails) that have been seeded by users and vetted and edited by TRP staffers. (There is a growing number of international trails in the system too.) It offers guidebook-quality trail information with modern features like GPS route finding, offline mapping and the ability to take a virtual run.
Each trail description includes a brief overview, local-generated “need to know” information, an extensive trail description, trail maps and several user-uploaded photos. Also included for every trail are elevation metrics (starting point, high point, average grade, etc.), user comments, a link to Google Maps for trailhead directions and recommendations of other nearby trails.
“When you look at a description, you can tell it’s not generic. Somebody who really cares about this went out and ran that trail and then wrote about their experience,” says Wilder, a software engineer who is an avid trail runner, rock climber and mountain biker. “It means there is some variation from trail to trail, but we think that’s kind of cool, too.”
Like the Mountain Project (with more than 126,000 rock climbing routes) and the MTB Project (with more 11,500 trails covering 41,000 miles), Trail Run Project is a free service.
Although some of the software and mapping tools are similar to those used in MTB Project, the content inside Trail Run Project is entirely running-specific. For example, every trail is rated by a median score of runners and represented in the three-their system borrowed from skiing and mountain biking—green circles for easiest, blue squares for intermediate and black diamonds for advanced. There is also something called the “runability index” which breaks runs into numerous segments and calculates a score based on each segment’s length and steepness. Runners also get the chance to score each trail in the TRP’s five-star rating system, which helps offer strong suggestions of favorite local trails.
TRP also features a rapidly growing race directory, giving competitors the opportunity to take virtual runs of courses and plan their racing season.
“We’re essentially guide sites right now,” he says. “We help you find places you want to go run and when you’re out there, we keep you on track so you don’t get lost.”
Wilder says the company will spend the next six months filling in content with help from new users—so far Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Oregon, Washington and California have the most trail descriptions—but he’s interested in developing Trail Run Project into a third phase. While apps like Strava, FitBit and Run Tracker can track activity, he says he wants the Adventure Project sites to become a leader in “fun tracking.” Instead of just running pace and data, Wilder says he’d like his sites to become somewhat of a “fun hub.”
“It’s more about the community and social sharing aspects of these sports,” he says. “A little bit more Facebooky and a little less competitive. When you have good tools and get excited to get out there, you spend more time doing your sport. Motivation and inspiration are things we can really help with.”