Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Midwest Trail Running Overlooked?

As trail and ultramarathon runners based in the Upper Midwest, it seems that our region is often overlooked. Both the right and left coasts and the Rocky Mountains seem to get most of the attention when it comes to trail running and ultrarunning. There are many big races on both coasts and in the mountain states and if you look at any of the major trail running or ultrarunning teams, they are almost exclusively runners from the left and right coast and mountain states.

Take a look at the relatively large La Sportiva Mountain Running team and you'll see that there isn't one runner from the Midwest (o.k. so we don't have "mountains" in the Midwest, but there are runners in the Midwest that could compete with many of the runners on the La Sportiva team in a mountain race and there are many great ambassadors of the sport of trail running here in the Midwest as well, and a few people might even wear La Sportivas around here). Montrail, another large team of trail and ultrarunners, also doesn't have a single Midwest runner on their list of sponsored athletes. It appears, that of the major trail running teams, that only Inov-8 (with 2 out of another relatively large team) and Patagonia with Mark Godale from Ohio have a runner from Midwest on their team. The new Vasque trail running team does include one member from the Midwest as well.

Why would the major players in trail and ultramarathon running ignore a large portion of the country by not including an ambassador or team member from the Midwest? Could it be that there aren't very many trail or ultramarathon races in the Midwest? Looking at what's out there, this wouldn't seem to be the case. The Midwest offers a large slate of very popular and longstanding trail and ultramarathon races. The Ice Age 50 miler in Southern Wisconsin is one of the largest and oldest trail ultramarathons in the nation. The 31 year old 7 mile Living History Farms Cross-Country Race in Iowa (essentially a trail running race) is the largest off-road trail race in North America with a race limit of 7,500 runners. Large metropolitan areas around Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and St. Louis have large and vibrant ultramarathon and trail running communities. While the Western region (essentially the Rocky Mountains west - a huge area) does boast the greatest number of trail runners according to the 2006 Outdoor Industry Foundation Outdoor Recreation Participation Study, the Upper Midwest has essentially the same number of trail running participants as other regions of the country.

While the Midwest may not have the number of trails that the Western region has, there are a number of great long-distance trails as well as regional trails. Among the long trails, the Midwest boasts the Superior Hiking Trail, the Ice Age Trail, the Ozark Highlands Trail, the Ozark Trail, the Buckeye Trail, the Centennial Trail, the Maah Daah Hey Trail, and the Michigan Shore-to-Shore Trail among others. There are also very good trail systems in and around many Midwestern communities. Duluth, MN was named one of the top trail towns the first year that TrailRunner magazine named their top trail towns and Marquette, MI was also named a top trail town last year. Both communities have an amazing amount of beautiful trails with splendid views and lots of hills right out their backdoor (literally).

The Midwest has also produced some very good runners that can compete in the larger trail races throughout the country. It seems that these teams would want to see their colors at races located in the Midwest. Having a runner wearing a team uniform at some Midwest races would seem to be a way for these companies that support trail running teams to reach out to an entire market segment or area that is relatively untapped. A company that recruits a couple of
Midwest runners that will run more races in the region and know the people in the area running communities would likely claim a foothold in the Midwest market that the other teams ignoring the region might not be able to make. From a business standpoint, including a couple of Midwest runners on the major trail running teams would seem to make sense.

There's absolutely nothing like running in the Western mountains, through the Sierra Nevada, along the Pacific Coast, among the Cascades or through the Rocky Mountains. The Appalachians and the mountains of the East are also unparalelled in their beauty and uniqueness. But, the
Midwest is also home to many trail and ultra runners and has it's own special beauty from the "Sawtooth Mountains" overlooking the largest freshwater lake in the world, to the many lakes and pine needle covered trails of the Boundary Waters country, to the bluffs and ridges overlooking the Mighty Mississippi River, and the prairies and badlands of the plains. The Midwest
has a lot to offer trail runners and those that support trail runners. There beautiful places to run trails everywhere you look on this continent and there are trail runners in every nook and cranny as well. Come on over and check it out. You might like what you see!

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