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Trail running’s urgent need to diversify

By Brian Metzler

The beautiful thing about track and field has always been its diversity. In both the U.S. and across the globe, it is truly a universal sport made up of a diverse group of competitors from differing racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. But while running is one of the world’s most universal sports, not all aspects of the sport are as diverse as track and field in the U.S. — especially trail running.

A lot has happened on the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) front since the massive social awakening that emerged in 2020. The Running Industry Diversity Coalition has been providing numerous resources for education and strategy. Running shoe brands have gone out of their way to portray multicultural imagery, videos and storytelling in trail running, and make sure their elite teams are diverse in their makeup.

While that messaging and exposure have led to steps in the right direction and more opportunities for runners from a wider range of racial and ethnic backgrounds, there’s still a lot of work to be done in trail running. Show up at any trail race or scan through the results of the country’s most popular ultra-distance events and you’ll find that there are more runners from overseas than there are non-white runners from the U.S.

“While you’re training for that race it’s all you, but as soon as I show up, I’ll realize I am the only brown person there,” says Angel Tadytin, a native Navajo who lives in the Phoenix area. When she runs, Tadytin says she feels the connection of her ancestors and the legacy of running as an act of gratitude. She trained and finished the Moab Red Hot Ultra 33k race in February, but not without moments of doubt when she arrived.

“I was the only brown girl with dark brown hair, and one of the only people who wasn’t skinny,” Tadytin says. “It’s uncomfortable. No one has to remind me.”

Mireya Vargas-Dorantes has a similar story about her experience running the Western States 100 in late June. She was proud to have pushed herself in training and persevered in the 101-degree weather to place 16th among the strongest women’s field ever and 34th overall. The Pasadena, California, resident was also proud to represent her Mexican-American heritage.

“It’s a popular and beautiful race, but even though it attracts so much attention the top 10 female finishers are for the most part have always been Caucasian,” Mireya says. “When we were looking through the results of the past 10 years or so, we were trying to see if there was anyone with a Latina name, but we couldn’t find any. Living in the Los Angeles area, the running community is very diverse, but every time we travel to a race we don’t see many runners with brown skin. That’s not meant to be divisive, it’s just that it would be great to see more people who look like me in the races I love so much.”

Fortunately, change is starting to happen, beginning with individuals like Tadytin, who is working to inspire more Native Americans to get involved in trail running. Much has been made about the great efforts of Trail Sisters and its founder Gina Lucrezi. She has pushed for the inclusion of more women in the country’s most popular trail running events (Hardrock 100 and the Leadville Race Series) and the sport in general. Trail Sisters has engaged with women of all racial backgrounds and is also hosting its first Trail Sisters women’s trail half marathon on Sept. 11 in Buena Vista, Colorado.

Meanwhile, Active at Altitude, creator of experiences that educate, inspire, and empower an active, healthy, mindful lifestyle, is hosting a Latinas Run Summit July 29-Aug. 1 in Estes Park, Colorado. Latinas Run is an international organization that promotes running as a way to improve the physical and mental health of the Latina community. The summit is planned to coincide with the Rocky Mountain 5k and Half Marathon that takes place in Estes Park July 30-31.

And then there’s a new organization aimed at helping diversify the sport called Moun10 Ultra, which is sponsoring 16 runners — eight ultra veterans and eight newbies — to train and race at the Nov. 20 Dead Horse Ultra trail races in Moab. Among the 16 runners are BIPOC runners.

“We wanted our team to be representative of the BIPOC community and also include age, experience, and body type diversity,” says Mount10 Ultra founder Bryce Denton. “Ultimately, we decided that having a mix of BIPOC and white runners, with a higher proportion of BIPOC runners, most effectively achieves our mission. In addition, we felt having a team of white and BIPOC runners provides an opportunity for everyone to deepen their own practice of DEI, and invites team members to form relationships with fellow runners.”

Maylon Hanold, a former Olympic paddler, is a long-time passionate trail runner from Seattle and has been immersed in the sociology and diversity of sport. She believes that small organizations pushing for diversity and inclusion at a grassroots level are the key to continued change in trail running. As the director of an MBA program focused on sport and entertainment management at the Seattle University’s Albers School of Business and Economics, she’s helped guide a new generation of young sports business leaders, developed partnerships with Seattle’s professional sports teams, and helped those organizations improve DEI practices and strategies.

Hanold has taught sport sociology, leadership development and management, with a primary focus on women in sport leadership. In 2008, she completed her dissertation on ultrarunning by looking at how women immerse in the sport differently than other running disciplines and endurance sports.

“The biggest thing everyone can do is get past the denying that inclusion is not an issue or thinking that it's already accessible to everybody and there’s nothing more that needs to be done. Instead of denying that there are barriers, it’s about recognizing that a lot of the barriers are social or physical and geographic and not financial,” Hanold says. “I think that there are a lot of us in positions that are able to raise visibility and provide support or bring attention to supporting groups that are already taking off and starting to form. That’s a piece of it.”

“It’s really moving away from this notion of colorblindness that says, ‘I don’t see you as a disabled person’ or ‘I don’t see you as a black person,’” she says. “That’s not helpful because what is more helpful is that ‘I do see your skin color and what I recognize is that you have been marginalized because of that and I understand what you’ve experienced and your path in life is really different than mine,’ and so then it’s, ‘How can I help? What can I do?’ That’s how we can continue to make change. Everybody needs to play their part.”


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