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Trail Running: Racing Towards the Top in Popularity

(This is a guest article by Richard Burgunder)

Over the past couple of years, competitive trail running in the USA has gone from an underground community of extreme athletes to an immensely popular extreme sports venue. Currently, trail running and off-road triathlon are considered the sixth most popular extreme sports in the USA, only behind skating, skateboarding, paintball, climbing, and snowboarding. As of 2006, there are over 6.7 million regular trail runners in the United States and this number is growing quickly. At the current pace, trail running will soon become the most popular extreme sport in the U.S. Moreover, there are a slew of new race series developing nationwide that will surely increase trail running’s popularity and participation. Trail and cross country running originated as a competitive sport in primary schools and private universities of early 19th-century England. Since then, the sport has taken off, especially through the Pacific Northwest and New England states.

While many endurance athletes participated in trail running in select regions of the USA throughout the last couple decades, the sport has only experienced sudden popularity over the past five years or so.  With road running becoming an incredibly popular venue for runners, many athletes have started to seek out new adventures due to the mundane nature of road racing. Thanks to event management and apparel companies that specialize in extreme sports, such as XTERRA, La Sportiva, The North Face, TCC Adventures, USA Track and Field (USATF) Mountain, Ultra, and Trail Council, and many more, athletes can now find themselves competing in an exhilarating, competitive trail race anywhere in the world.

One of the pioneers providing a wide variety of off-road adventure is XTERRA. The Hawaii based extreme sports marketing and event management company host wildly popular races around the globe, with events in over 10 countries and more than 50 races in the United States. XTERRA puts on races that pump adrenaline, are pure adventure, and take place in some of the most exotic locations on earth. Every region of the USA has a series that is followed by a championship level race. Athletes can win these series by earning points and then qualify for world championships. For off-road triathlon, there’s substantial prize money in all of the regional championships, as well as major races on the World Tour and World Championships. Both the XTERRA off-road triathlon and trail running series’ attract many of the world’s best endurance athletes – from Olympian cyclist, world-champion runners, and IRONMAN Champions.  Every year, XTERRA hosts World Championship events in Maui and Oahu, Hawaii.

If an Olympic distance off-road triathlon or 21k trail race isn’t enough for you, then athletes can look into the 2010 La Sportiva Mountain Cup. This is a European-style trail/mountain race series with 10 races throughout North America ranging from 3.6 miles to 30km in distance. Rated as one of the top 10 trail races in North America, the race series offers an attractive $25,000 in prize money. Runners can experience beautiful new terrain while climbing hills and looping through forest on single track trails in pristine locations such as Ashville, NC, State College, PA, Manitou Springs, CO, Park City, UT, Ashland, OR, and many more.

For those ultra endurance athletes that would like to take trail running one step further, then they should seek out the North Face® Endurance Challenge. With five impressive race venues, The North Face Endurance Challenge offers athletes a chance to race 50km and 50 Mile ultramarathons against some of the best endurance athletes in the USA. With the National Championship in San Francisco on December 4-5th, runners will have the opportunity to compete for a $10,000 prize purse and meet Ultramarathon Man, Dean Karnazes.

If adventure is your calling, then endurance athletes should look into TCC Adventures, an event management company specializing in inspiring authentic adventure and discovery at some of the most breathtaking, remote and challenging running routes in the world. Many of these events are stage races that can last up to seven days. TCC Adventure’s races are typically held in tropical paradises including Costa Rica and throughout South America. TCC’s upcoming epic races include the Inca Run in Bolivia in September 2010 and the Coastal Experiences 2010 (East) Jungle River Run, a series of races held in San Jose, Costa Rica, from October 10-17, 2010. In addition to daily racing, participants will have the opportunity to go hiking up volcanoes, snorkeling, kayaking, rafting, and on a canyon tour.

For athletes who’d love to have the opportunity to earn an Olympic like medal, or better yet, to represent Team USA at a World Championship, then they should check out USA Track and Field (USATF) Mountain/Ultra/Trail National Championships. USATF host a wide array of National Championships including the USA Mountain Running Championship at Mt. Washington, NH in June, the 50 Mile Trail Championship in Enumclaw, WA in July, the USA 10 km Trail Championships in Laurel Springs, NC in August, the Marathon Trail and 50km Trail Championships in Oregon, held in the fall, and many more. Athletes who place top 10 overall earn official USATF medals, which are very similar to the Olympic ones. In addition, all championships award prize money and select events also award spots onto USA National Teams.

With that explosive growth of trail running and new race series popping up all over the globe, many new business opportunities exist to profit off this popular sport. Many heavyweight companies and organizations have become sponsors of trail running events and/or its athletes. Some of the most notable ones include: The North Face, La Sportiva, Patagonia, Montrail, Nike, GU, PowerBar, Hammer Nutrition, Oakley, Moeben, Inov-8, XTERRA Footwear, Paul Mitchell, Degree Adventure, GORE-TEX, Fleet Feet, Outside Magazine, and many more.  XTERRA for instance, receives almost 400 million media impressions alone on a yearly basis. With this kind of international exposure, investing in trail running and the amazing athletes that make up this sport is a great marketing strategy for any business.


Richard Burgunder is a professional endurance athlete, sports marketing consultant, sports writer, USATF certified running coach, and owner of Burgunder Sports Management. Rich has over 15 years of experience competing on the national and international level as a consistent top finisher, age group winner, and featured athlete in world-class athletic events. Most notably, Rich is a proud member of PowerBar Team Elite™, XTERRA Ambassadors, Team MGD 64, Team Compex, and the nationally ranked Nike Central Park Track Club, a USATF Elite Development Team based in New York City. Rich a Penn State graduate hailing from Pittsburgh.

Photo credit: Kim Jennings/XTERRA

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