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So there I was standing at the starting line of my first U.S. Mountain Championship, except something was different from all other championships starting lines I had stood on before. Looking to my left and right, I must admit there was not one female I could pin as being the top contender. From women who looked old enough to be my mother to a 12-year-old getting a pep talk from her dad to women in elite racing kits, it honestly was one of the most confusing starting lines I had ever been on. Nevertheless, the gun went off and so did we, and let me say that what happened over the next hour is the precise reason why every woman should run at least run one trail race in their life. But first, let’s take a step back.
Coming from a Division 1 Track and Field background, I must admit I had a jaded perspective about the women I thought would be my toughest competition. And if we are all being honest, I am sure you know what I am talking about. This “slender” figure was often seen as one of the most important things you needed to have in order to succeed in collegiate running. While there was the understanding that you indeed need to be fit in order to run faster, achieving the ideal shape was often skewed and taken a step in the wrong direction by those who wanted to achieve their goals faster. More often than not, girls would become so consumed with wanting to be the best that shortcuts would be taken in order to achieve this “elite figure.”
Lucky for me I was surrounded by teammates who wanted me to be healthy and strong, and I was soon brought to my senses. However, not all girls realize that they are doing more harm than good, and in many cases the changes can be career ending or cause permanent damage. After rebounding, I began to love myself more and began to look at the sport differently. I often found it invigorating when girls who did not match the ideal body type took the reins of races, as I always loved fearless racers who ran more with their heart than their mind. However, I must admit it was seldom these girls succeeded in their effort. In the end, it was disheartening going through college thinking you had to look a certain way to make it to the top. I personally refused to believe that this was true, and when gaining a few pounds my senior year led to injuries, I felt like I was losing this never-ending battle that you had to be a certain weight to compete with the elite group (I now know this isn't true, but at the time that's what I thought). And so, after my last collegiate track season, I hung up my track shoes and stepped away from running. That was until the trails started calling my name.
So, flashing back to the starting line, there I am standing, trying to figure out who's who. I mean, I had read about former champions, track and road stars alike, and former U.S. team members who were all supposed to be in this race, but I literally could not figure it out. Before I knew it I was cresting the last hill, literally crawling on all fours, determined to break into the top 10. I got my butt kicked, to say the least, and honestly, it was the hardest and one of the best races that ever happened to me.
We had our awards ceremony after coming down the mountain, something I was excited for not only because I thought I had given it my all to earn my top 10 finish, but also so I could see all of the women who beat me considering I had only seen them for the first part of the race. It was in this moment that I realized how impactful running a trail race is for us as women. Each one who was called up looked completely different from her predecessor. The women were of all different shapes, sizes, and ages; It honestly was a life changing experience. But what's even cooler is that, over the course of my trail running career, every female podium I have witnessed has shared a similar diversity.
What I love about trail racing is that it nurtures an environment for women where it doesn't matter what body type you have, how old you are, how much running experience you have, or what your college personal records are. It is about who is the strongest, most fearless, and the most willing to push past their physical and mental limitations on that day. This is not to say you won’t find this in road races, because you definitely will. However, I do believe that trail races, especially those of ultra distances, carry with them a certain sort of awe that everyone can relate to, not just the professional and elite runners.
I mean, just look at the results from the Western States this year. Two women over the age of 50 were in the top 10. In what other sport does this happen in an elite competition? It's mind boggling and so inspiring!
Another huge plus you will notice at any trail race is that it is a sport where women are capable of competing head to head with our male counterparts. Being an elite trail runner myself, I can honestly say it is one of my most favorite features. I have kicked down men, and have been kicked down by them, I have placed in the top 10, and have even won a few races overall. It truly is one of the most even playing fields for all humans to participate in. And from a female perspective, an even playing field is appreciated.
The REAL reason why more women should try a trail race is because it is one of the most inspiring environments you will ever put yourself in. Trail running is not about how you look, it is about how strong you feel. Going into any trail race, you lose all those tendencies to look at yourself in the mirror and think, where can I lose weight to gain a few seconds? On the flip side you will find yourself getting stoked on filling your hydration pack, planning out mountain runs to do leading up to the race, and maybe even getting hyped up on getting friends and family together to crew for you. From moms with three kids to 12-year-olds to elite women winning entire races, you will seldom see so many acts of women’s strength in one arena, and I guarantee you will walk away feeling empowered and inspired to take on the world.
So get out there and sign yourself up for a trail race!
Dani Moreno is a professional trail runner sponsored by Hoka One One as well as a female run apparel brand named rabbit. She is a member of the USA Long Distance Trail team that will be competing in Italy this summer. You can follow her on Instagram at @dan_yell_a.