1. Talk to your athletes about their needs
It might seem simple, but the best way to find out what people in your community need is to talk to them—and stay genuinely open for critique.
“I think we are by no means are experts, and we’re open to as much feedback as possible,” Borsellino said. She cited the example of learning from wheelchair athletes—Happy Trails Racing hosts the Foxtail Hundred, a rail trail race they are working on tailoring for accessibility in the future.
“We have them telling us that there’s a certain turning radius they need in their chair. It can’t be a hairpin turn. They need a certain amount to get around. We rely heavily heavily on the feedback of those athletes.” HTR also make accommodations for athletes with vision issues and hosts “Cool Beans” runs at many of their regular race events—1KM non-technical courses for people of all ages and abilities.
2. Keep runners of all abilities in mind
Some races are built with the fast and well-seasoned runner in mind. Many don’t cater to the back-of-the-pack runner or the nervous rookie who is looking to delve into trail running for the first time.
To address this, Happy Trails Racing tries to offer as many distances per race as they can, starting with a 5k and working up to as many as 100 miles. That way each event can accommodate people running their first trail race or their 10th ultramarathon.
They also try to be generous when it comes to cutoff times.
“The longest distance that we have has a fairly generous cut off, and all of the other distances have the same cutoff,” she said. “Really, I think it’s less daunting. The tightest cut offs will be with our longest races. But again there’s usually built-in options, so if people need accommodations for that extra time, we can make time for that.”
3. Use a more personal touch
Borsellino and the Happy Trails Team work hard to accommodate each athlete’s needs on a case-by-case basis. She detailed a time when they made arrangements for a walker to get an early start for a 50K event.
“We do have lots of opportunities for people with any mobility concerns, or anything that might make them a little slower, to start early. We do our best to support them along the way.”
Another time, the team mapped out a special detour for a participant who couldn’t tackle a particularly technical section of the trail due to a stroke.
“We do have an event in the fall that has a really technical part that’s rooted and heavily rocky. He had an alternative path that he was guided to, to avoid this one area so that he could still participate in the event and still do the distance.”
3. Take time to build your community
One of the unique features of HTR races is iron-on patches they award after each race—the wolf patch and the bear patch.
“We really try to celebrate anyone who’s on the trail,” Borsellino said. “The wolf patch celebrates somebody who has a pack mentality, who exhibits camaraderie, who’s kind to the volunteers and the people around them. The bear patch celebrates somebody who is just really gritty—who ran a really brave or courageous race.”
Creating a community in which people feel seen and recognized for their efforts can keep people coming back for more—and help them feel like they have a place. If someone nominates you, you’re getting the patch.
“We’ve had some great feedback—some of it’s been quite emotional. Someone overcame a huge amount of addiction and took to trail running as their way out … and they ended up receiving one of these bear patches. It meant so much more to them that we had ever anticipated. It was something that was quite moving. It makes it all worth it.”