Nancy is still active in the trail running scene, and was kind enough to share her thoughts on trail running and help me sort through the acronym soup of organizations.
1) USATF, AATRA, RRCA, AARC, AUA, MUT - it seems like trail running has more acronyms than the Dept of Defense. Could you give me a brief description of what these organizations do and how they are linked, if at all?
NH: USATF is our national governing body for track and field, racewalking, running and a member of the USOC and IAAF (two more acronyms for you). Within USATF there is a long distance running division chaired by Fred Finke and three disciplines under LDR - women's (chaired by Elizabeth Phillips), men's (chaired by Jim Estes) and masters (chaired by Norm Green). The MUT (mountain ultra trail) council falls under the purview of LDR (as does cross country council). USATF stages championships at association and national level which includes trail and mountain as well as ultra distance events (on trail, track, and road). AATRA is the All American Trail Running Association whose mission is to represent and promote trail and mountain running. AATRA is a member of USATF and also of the RRCA (and of Running USA - RUSA). The RRCA experienced some growing pains over the past few years and the AARC (Association of American Running Clubs) was formed. The two groups merged this past January. Member clubs of the RRCA enjoy insurance benefits and a 501 (c) 3 group exemption (provided they are not-for-profit groups). The AUA is the American Ultrarunning Association and also a member of USATF (and also RUSA). The AUA is represented as a voice for ultrarunning in the US. The AUA is also a member of the IAU (International Association of Ultrarunning). USATF has a delegate to the IAU. USATF also has a delegate to the WMRA (World Mountain Running Association). Another group that represents "Skyrunning" is the FSA (Federation of Sport at Altitude) based in Italy with affiliates in the US, Mexico, Spain, France to name a few. Now there's a mouthful!
2) Why are these organizations important to a trail racing individual?
NH: Events have insurance that are sanctioned by USATF or RRCA. The event director must pay for the insurance as well as medical, safety measures, etc. When an individual participates in races, part of the fee will cover some of these amenities (in addition to T-shirts, etc.) Events not insured through USATF or the RRCA probably insure through a third party carrier - often very costly. I guess the bottom line is that athletes should support organizations that support them. All of the above support the sport and the athletes they represent.
3) Trail running has a kicked-back culture to it - do you think too much organization could dilute this?
NH: These organizations have been around for ages (some longer than others). It is up to an individual to join, or support an organization. A majority of trail and mountain runners as you know do the sport for the personal benefit. They are not joiners. They like the solitude and lack of politics or rules on their trail runs! It's more about the challenge and adventure and someone doesn't need to race to experience these things.
4) You’ve seen a lot of growth in trail running over the years. What has surprised you the most?
NH: The fact that some people are surprised that trail and mountain running events have gotten so popular. I think lots of folks are still stuck in the mindset "I'll get hurt if I run on a trail." Or "I'll get hurt if I run fast downhill." That is probably one thing. The other is probably the increased participation by women (actually not that surprising to me being a female). The industry (retailers, shoe companies, magazines) has responded to the growth -- a surprise? No. There is another group to market to.
5) What have been the most crucial developments in the growth of the sport?
NH: The response of the industry leaders (footwear, apparel, energy products, magazines, advertising). Race directors promoting their events. Race directors adding events and starting new events. More opportunities to participate in races.
6) Do you think trail running will ever be as popular as say, Ironman Triathlon? What would need to happen for it to get there?
NH: I think if there was ONE event that stood out, the popularity would follow. An event like Pikes Peak was headed in that direction and still might get there. An event like Dipsea has a great allure. I think you need a few things - TV, TV, TV! Lots of PR, a good participant field, drama...
7) Is there enough prize money in the sport to sustain a pool of professionals today? Do you think it will happen?
NH: No. I wish more event offered prize money. This would also help create "heroes" in our sport and encourage athletes from cross country backgrounds and track and road running to cross over. We're getting these folks little by little.
8) According to the kids in my neighborhood, cross country running is “cool” again and there are huge numbers of kids signing up. Perhaps this is part of a bigger trend?
NH: I hope so! We have a junior mountain running team that is slow to get off the ground, but the kids that have participated love it.
9) As a former Race Director, what advice would you give to somebody organizing their first race?
NH: Wow. Read my book! Go to races, ask questions. Don't think you know everything even if you've directed a road race.
10) Are you planning any racing for yourself this year?
NH: Not sure. I'm fairly entrenched in administration. I had some great races last year, but it's hard to stay at a high level of fitness when other life pursuits are ever-present. I'm pretty competitive --- not only with others, but with myself. I do enjoy hopping in a race to pace someone who wants to set a PR (I did this in a road 5K in November). I like setting goals in my running, and last year I had a goal to finish the Pikes Peak Marathon (after an 11 year hiatus). My training was going in a great direction for a top five finish and then I got really sick with a virus. That knocked me out for 3 weeks before the race. I was still congested the week of the race and just gutted it out because I had set a goal to run and finish (I still ran about the same time as I had 11 years prior). It was unsettling in some ways because I was really fit before I got sick. At least I ran injury free last year and this year is starting out the same.
11) Your book, The Ultimate Guide To Trail Running, is still very popular. Is there a sequel/update?
NH: Perhaps. Adam and I have talked about writing a trail running book for women. We may do an updated version in the future.