Pic: UK events such as the Race to the King have helped increase the popularity of trail running in recent years (credit: organisers)
Trail running is entering a new phase globally as the rapidly growing sport faces decisions on its future direction, the president of the International Trail Running Association has said.
Bob Crowley's extensive "Trail Running Report" notes an annual 12% growth in the number of participants over the last 15 years, currently 20 million worldwide.
“I believe the future of trail running is bright,” he writes. “But we must be diligent in preserving our community and the values upon which it is built. We are at a crossroads in trail running."
Crowley believes trail running is a critical juncture, labelling 2020 the start of "trail running 2.0".
He says the sport is on the brink of further mass expansion with more interest from commercial brand and race organisers. However, the evolution of the trail running could lead to a diversion from its initial values.
He continues: "What will become of our hard earned and beloved community? Will the foundational values upon which we were raised and our community rests prevail, or will they be diluted or worst, disappear?"
ITRA says 77% of its participants are male but notes that it has seen increase in female runners in the last five years, predicting a further narrowing of the gender gap in the near future.
The report states: "Women love trail running and their innate determination, pain tolerance and embracing community provide a promising foundation for the future. It’s about time."
The average age of runners is dropping, currently at 40. The ITRA's performance database ranks 1.8 million runners, who have competed in some of the 10,000 races around the world.
Crowley says more can be done to make trail running more diverse and environmentally friendly and to make the trails safer.
In addition, the report raises the idea of trail running becoming an Olympic sport one day as "possible", though admitting the journey to that status would be long. "As the participation in and popularity of trail running continues to grow, the quality and quantity of elite competitors improves and the World Champions increase country participation, the odds improve."