Trail Runners, and all outdoor lovers, Unite!

This is in response to the recent scintillating Outside article: Trail Runners Are Lazy Parasites.

Dear Marc,

This is not hate mail. It’s a call to action. Your article riled up my community, and made many runners defensive. Rightfully so.

Instead of attacking you, I’ll stay positive and just get a few of the basics straight. Our world is on fire and the last thing we need, as trail users and lovers, is to work against each other. Trail runners, mountain bikers, skiers, snowboarders, hikers, hunters, anglers, all of us should be on the same page: we must do more to protect this planet we love. And we should egg each other on in a supportive and friendly way. Heck, there are so many bad guys out there -- namely the wildly corrupt people appointed by Trump heading our Dept of Interior, EPA, Dept of Ag -- we should use our energy productively so we can save this one precious planet before it’s too late.

Specific to trail running though, I would like to give you a brief recap of what you missed. You’re correct in that trail running does not have an exact IMBA equivalent. But, we do have environmental efforts. And I’d love your help, and all writers and media producers, in getting the word out.

Trail runners, do in fact, wield Pulaskis

Obviously, there are countless trail running individuals and groups working in trail stewardship. For most legit 100-mile races in the US, races require 8-hours of trail work volunteering. I use this as an opportunity to say that I think all ultra races should require trail work. We’re not perfect, but rest assured, there are plenty of trail runners who have thrown out their backs swinging a Pulaski.

Another thing to celebrate and make even better: trail races are noticeably less wasteful than road races. No responsible trail race these days uses cups at aid stations. Again, another call to action to trail races: we must avoid all waste possible. We carry what we need with hydration packs and reusable cups. The commitment to minimalism has grown out of a desire to tread lightly in our fragile mountain landscapes. I deeply hope and believe that road running will follow suit. But, I don’t condemn my running friends who run road marathons. Instead, I encourage them to contact race directors about their desire to see races go cupless. And I invite them to run on trails.

Yes, I’m a part of the growing trail running community. One of the 8 million people. And you know what? It’s exhilarating to be a part of! To experience trails, mountains and wild places through running is what I live for. I envision a future in which even more people are fortunate enough to trail run. I believe that we have to experience wild places in order to muster the energy to protect them. Trail running is beautiful because of the low barrier to entry. All the more reason to educate new trail runners. Since you’re a writer for Outside with a way larger reach than me, I encourage you to use your leverage and skills to educate us on these specifics of trail use. Please feel free to use this blog I recently wrote on sustainable trail habits.

Some other important environmental news in the trail running world you missed:

In 2017, Mike Foote published a widely shared, productive article in Trail Runner magazine, No Free Lunch. The same year, I published Time to Wake the F-orest Up on Trail Sisters. Many of us professional runners and recreational runners are aware of our need to do more. Heck, Dakota Jones road his bike to Pikes Peak last year from Durango, set the course record at the infamous Pikes Peak Marathon, and road back. All to raise over $10k for Protect Our Winters.

Last year, a group of professional trail runners including, Anton Krupika, Joe Grant, Luke Nelson, Stephanie Violett, Jones, Foote and a natural resource land management expert, Bob McCready, and I spent a weekend going over an environmental surveyt we sent to our community. Just through our social reach and with the help of IRunFar, 2,500 trail runners responded. The response? Runners are worried and care about climate change and protecting our public lands.

McCready had the 501(c)3 paperwork ready, but we realized that in lieu of creating more overhead and paperwork, we’d lend our skills and reach to the organization already working on climate change advocacy targeted at outdoor enthusiasts. That is how POW Trail started. I’m sure you’re aware of Protect Our Winters. Ultimately, climate change is the biggest threat our world is facing. But it is so big and nebulous, it needs faces and stories. That’s why I wholeheartedly believe in what POW is doing within our outdoor community: lobbying for climate chance policy. I invite you to use your skills and reach to help create POW MTB. So that the thousands of mountain biker kids in high school can see their own Jeremy Jones testifying in Congress, working to make our legislators to their jobs in getting our country to be carbon neutral before it’s too late. Let’s get our people fired up to save this planet!

To wrap up, I know my community is chipping away at climate advocacy and land stewardship. But, I do think it’s a worthwhile exercise for every trail runner and trail user in general to ask themselves:

When’s the last time I’ve done trail work?

When’s the last time I’ve donated to an environmental org?

Did I vote last election?

Did I vote for climate champions?

Am I acknowledging and learning from the traditional land stewards of my area?

Do I buy environmentally friendly gear?

Regarding Gear

No running short or bike bib should be made with virgin materials anymore. Patagonia has figured this out. It's not rocket science, but a genuine commitment to giving a shit about this planet.Other brands must follow suit and work to clean up supply chains. And as users of outdoor gear, we should only buy gear made by genuine companies. Enough is enough. Why isn’t every brand using organic cotton? I could go on. These are the things I wish journalists covered more.

Call to Action

My call to action: every outdoor trail user should join Protect Our Winters. Give them $20, read their newsletters, educate ourselves on the importance of climate policy, and get ready to wield figurative Pulaskis to save this planet come 2020 elections. We need climate champions running this country.

In the meantime, let’s do our trail work, be smarter customers of races and gear, and let’s be nice. We have so much to celebrate. I will be sure to continue to be extra friendly to mountain bikers. I love you guys. You do a ton of trail work. And I look forward to meeting more mountain bikers working in climate advocacy. We’re all in this together.

Go Earth,

Clare Gallagher