Nancy Hobbs may stand a compact 4-foot-11 and weigh a slight 100 pounds, but in the world of trail running, she is a giant.
Trail running, a sport or activity which, appropriately, consists of running or hiking over trails, is one of the fastest growing outdoor sports in the country, with roughly 1,900 races taking place annually in the United States.
That number is a considerable upswing from two decades ago, when there were only around 300 to 400 events taking place, and the public’s interest was minimal.
“There are several factors (as to the sport’s surging popularity),” said Hobbs. “There are lots of events to choose from in each state, the calendar is growing with events ranging from one mile to more than 100 miles. There is coverage from running publications, both print and online, as well as social media blogs and personal blogs from elite athletes to weekend warriors.
“There are also mentors and supporters to get people excited about trail running and encourage people in the sport,” Hobbs added.
Few have played a bigger role in promoting the sport than Hobbs, who not only founded the American Trail Running Association, but is also chairperson for the USA Track and Field’s Mountain, Ultra and Trail Running Council and treasurer of the World Mountain Running Association.
Her impressive life resume also features a wealth of running accolades, including: winning the Aspen Golden Leaf Half Marathon; finishing second at the Kendall Mountain Run in Silverton, Colorado; finishing third at the Barr Trail Mountain Race in Manitou Springs, Colorado; finishing third in the Summer Round Up Run 12K; and coauthoring the book The Ultimate Guide to Trail Running, a publication considered by many the bible of trail running.
“(Trail running) allows you to get to places on foot you may not be able to reach by car. There are so many experiences to savor,” Hobbs said. “The challenge of the terrain, the solitude of trail running offers a seeming escape from the day-to-day stresses. Just the sound of footfalls amid chirping birds, croaking frogs, babbling brooks … you can’t beat that.
“I’m a competitive person, not only in sport, but in work and life,” Hobbs added. “The challenge is the key. Pushing myself and seeing where my limits are, and maybe pushing a bit more, that is very attractive to me.”
In 1995, Hobbs took up the sizable challenge of forming the women’s U.S. Mountain Running Team from scratch. Prior to that year, the U.S. had only been represented by a men’s division, but Hobbs’ efforts to raise funds and create a team led to the inaugural women’s squad traveling to Edinburgh, Scotland for the World Mountain Running Championships. Hobbs has remained involved as team manager ever since and has helped the U.S. women grow into a powerhouse as they have captured gold medals in 2006, 07, 12 and 17, a silver medal in 2015 and bronze medals in 2004, 09, 14 and 16.
“Starting in 1995 at the bottom of the standings (18th place out of 18 teams) and gradually moving up from there was gratifying,” Hobbs said. “However, when the team got that first medal in 2004 I was beyond excited. And then, hearing the national anthem for the first time in 2006 when the women won gold … wow.
“Each time I have seen the women on the podium has been equally fulfilling and I’m just so proud of the commitment and dedication of each team member since year one for the team,” Hobbs added. “I have been at every single championship since 1995 and witnessed the ups and downs along the way. Our women are seen as a leader in the sport on the world stage. It’s very cool to have been on the journey.”
Hobbs continued her influential ways in 1996 when she founded the ATRA, a nonprofit group whose mission is to promote trail, mountain and ultrarunning, and to provide resources for race directors and participants.
“When we formed in 1996, there was no association or group-specific to trail running,” said Hobbs, who is the ATRA’s executive director. “We filled a void.”
The ATRA took a sport with limited direction and provided education and initiatives for trail runners across the country. It wasn’t an easy process, though as finances for such an undertaking were difficult to acquire.
“Funding, of course, is always an issue when starting out,” Hobbs said. “That was and has been our biggest challenge. So, growth was monitored and we didn’t take on more than we could handle. Me, being a fiscally conservative person, my focus was to grow slowly with an eye toward longevity in the industry.”
Hobbs’ diligence helped grow the ATRA into a major organization that offers individual, club, race and corporate memberships and also provides a quarterly newsletter to its members that contains a national events calendar, articles and timely information about the sport. According to the ATRA website, more than 180 organizations are supporters of the group, including adidas Outdoor and Under Armour.
“Over the past three years, specifically, we have experienced lots of positive momentum and with the addition of two consultants on our ATRA team, we are doing more and more each year,” Hobbs said.
While Hobbs is pleased with the progress the ATRA has made over the years, she wants to continue to grow the organization and further advance her sport.
“Developing partnerships with like-minded associations and organizations is a priority,” Hobbs said. “So is offering a wide range of educational products from rules on the run, event standards, sustainability for race directors and aid station standards. We plan to focus some of our attention on advocacy. Stewardship is important to all of our board members and is part of our vision for the present and the future.
“Seeing the ATRA grow from an idea to reality has been rewarding,” Hobbs added. “Being involved on the national and international level has also been very rewarding. I enjoy sharing my passion for the sport with others and encouraging people to achieve their dreams.”