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The Formation of The Trail Team

Andy Wacker saw a gap in professional development of trail runners and decided to quit waiting around for someone to fill it.

Andy Wacker

March 4th, 2024

4 min read


Professional Trail Running is Changing

In September 2019, at the US Mountain Running Championships in New Hampshire, I met Grayson Murphy as she was about to run her first trail race and leave Northern Arizona Elite. At the time, this was unheard of; leaving one of the best supported professional road running groups in the country to run on the trails. I mean, wasn’t trail running for barefoot, bearded men that look like Jesus in short shorts?!  

But, I wasn’t surprised, I was excited! Professional trail running was changing. As a member of the gold medal winning US Mountain Running Team with Hayden Hawks in 2016, I saw athletes could choose to run on the trails right after college. Runners like Grayson could succeed on the track, roads and trails. 

Grayson went on to win the World Mountain Running title in 2019 and US trail running has never been the same. 

Professional trail running is still changing. More pro runners are “crossover athletes” that compete at the highest level in nordic skiing, skimo, road running, or track at the same time as they pursue trail goals. They are young, diverse, fast, and detail oriented. They have coaches, strength programs, and nutrition plans. They run a variety of distances, many focusing on shorter, sub-ultra races. But, how do the next generation of runners find the trails?

The Trail Team runners at a training camp in Courmayeur, Italy, 2023. PC: Dylan Harris.

US Trail Running Needs a Boost

When watching Courtney Dauwalter and Jim Walsley, you might think that American professional trail running reigns supreme. But, it doesn’t. The US has a long way to catch up to other countries in encouraging the sport in young athletes.

This thought really resonated after I made my 5th US Mountain Running Team in a row. When was someone going to beat Joe Gray and me? Seriously, there are more young and talented runners in the country!

Specifically, the US’s problem lies in elite runners’ post-collegiate support. The US is the undisputed leader in developing fast, young runners on the track because of the NCAA. After college, elite runners are left without a team, guidance on race schedules, contracts, training and more. Beyond that, trail running adds an extra layer of challenge with convoluted race series, technical skills and potentially balancing seasons as a crossover athlete.

The US needs to tap into our young, talented runners and encourage them to run on trails. This will allow the next wave of “Courtneys and Jims” to succeed in the coming decades.

The Breakthrough

In late 2022, I had enough. I heard yet another rumor that [insert prestigious running shoe brand] was going to start a trail-specific training group. When this dried up, I realized no one else was going to do this. I have the experience and I want USA trail running to be the best in the world. It was time to create the NCAA to trail pipeline. 

That’s when The Trail Team (TTT) was born. An organization dedicated to supporting post-collegiate runners enter the world of pro trail running. TTT focuses on giving runners what they need to advance to the next level: mentorship, media and skill development. 

Mentorship meant matching inexperienced phenoms with established professionals like Adam Peterman, Grayson Murphy, Allie Mclaughlin and myself. 

Trail Team athlete Andie Cornish competing in Italy.

In 2023, The Trail Team supported six elite runners that went on to represent Team USA and inspire countless others that they too can compete on the trails. The US’s first trail development program had begun. 

This year, TTT is starting its second season recruiting, mentoring and inspiring the next generation of trail superstars. Learn more about our 2024 team and athletes here.  

Follow along on instagram @the_trail_team and on our website

If you would like to support our mission and the next generation of trail runners please consider making a tax deductible Donation.

Trail Team runners at Broken Arrow Skyrace, 2023. PC: Andy Wacker

Andy is a professional trail runner for Salomon and the founder of The Trail Team. He began trail running in 2013 after graduating from the University of Colorado, where he was a two-time All-American in Cross Country. He is a four-time trail national champion. He has represented Team USA 17 times, placing 2nd in 2015 and 3rd in 2014 in the Mountain Running Long Distance World Championships. 

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