Our positive running story this time is on our great friend and colleague Nancy Hobbs, a long time trail runner from Colorado Springs. We have been working with Nancy for many years now on various projects, including the US Trail Running Conference and our trail running camps. Nancy founded the American Trail Running Association (ATRA) and is now the Executive Director for the only non-profit in the US that promotes and supports trail running. Nancy is a dynamic person who is bursting with positive, enthusiastic energy, both on and off the trails. We recently asked if we could interview Nancy for our positive running story series, and here is the result of our interview:
Can you share your brief running history to date?
My first running race was in 1980 and I’ve been racing on the trails and roads ever since. According to my Mom, I started walking at nine months old…and never really crawled too much. I was always part of team sports in elementary school, junior high and high school. I got recruited in college as a coxswain (at a Frat party no less), and did workouts (land training) with the team. I was always athletic and loved sports and being outdoors. I was always full of goals. First race…I said I’d do it if I could run 8 minute pace. It was a 10K…and I achieved the goal. Then, I decided to do a marathon 8 months later and said I’d do it if I could run under 4 hours. I did. I have set goals in running and in life and work really hard to accomplish them.
What are the top three things you enjoy most about running, and why?
Challenge. Change. Growth. The challenge is inherent in terrain and competition. Trails are different in the four seasons, they are different depending on where one runs from east to west, north to south, and everywhere in between. I’ve grown as a person becoming more empowered from the experiences I have had on the trails and roads. Sharing what I have learned and experienced with others is worth more than any material thing in the world.
You started the American Trail Running Association in 1996. What was it that sparked that first step, and what is your ultimate vision for the future of the association?
There was no association, or group responding to the needs of our “niche” community. It was timely and necessary. And…a challenge. We grew organically and slowly as I’m a conservative person fiscally and didn’t want to try to do more than was prudent…especially in the early years. My vision is to have a succession plan in order to have ATRA continue well into the future and to be prosperous and instrumental in providing resources and education for trail runners, race directors, and fans of our sport.
Trail running has seen huge growth over in recent years, with trail running participants more than doubling in the last 10 years. What do you think has been the major factors in this growth, and do you expect growth to continue?
First, yes, growth will continue. The industry in terms of media, brands, competitors (at all levels) and race directors are all working to increase the breadth, awareness and scope of trail running domestically and worldwide. There are more opportunities to experience trail running from local trails to regional, national and international venues. At the same time it is integral for us to preserve, protect, and manage our resources so that our trails don’t get “loved to death.” Providing tools and resources for people to be good stewards is really important for the future or our sport.
You have been on the podium in the World Mountain Running Championships for your age group. What is it you like best about competing at this level?
Only twice…so far. I am a very competitive person and love lining up against top talent and see how I fare. Probably some of the key reasons I like competing internationally at the masters level is the cultures…so many different countries on the start line. Also, the event moves around Europe and experiencing different venues is fantastic. A mountain trail in Slovenia is so different to that in Austria, or Czech Republic, or Wales. The courses all have an inherent challenge — beyond the challenge of competing against other top women. That challenge is in the terrain, the weather, the travel.
You also compete at many local community races at home in Colorado Springs, and in other places that you are visiting. How many races have you run this year, and will it be a record for you?
This year I finished 36 races. Won my age group in every one and outright won the women’s division in 12. Granted, not huge races, but as I always say…a win is a win. I do think 36 is the most I’ve ever raced in a year. Might consider eclipsing that number in 2020!
You and the ATRA team have been a key part of the US Trail Running Conference now it’s in eighth year in 2020. What is it you enjoy most about the Conference, and how do you see that it helps the sport of trail running?
Every aspect of the USTRC appeals to me from the content presented, to the networking opportunities afforded by the schedule. Attendees always leave the conference with a number of takeaways and action items. Providing a forum for race directors and runners to gain insight into trends in the sport and learn from one another makes the USTRC so very relevant and a must-attend event.
You show no signs of slowing down any! What strategies have you found to be effective to maintain your speed and strength as a woman runner that is slowly aging?
Massage on a regular basis. Paying attention to niggling, nagging muscle issues. Stretching. Rolling. Traveling with a lacrosse ball and a softball to work on various muscle groups. Pool running. Rotating shoes (never wear the same shoe two days in a row). Focus. All of the aforementioned are super important. And the most important…SLEEP! Rest and recovery are so key to maintaining. Fortunately I have an abundance of energy, but at the same time…I know now when I need a break.
You have an unusual way of displaying your medals at home. Can you share what you do, and how and when this started?
So, I put all my medals on tree branches in my front yard. What I did this year, and plan to continue, is to pick a branch for the year and place all the medals from the current year on that branch. They make excellent wind chimes. For trophies, I put most in my garden and also hang some trophy elements on tree trunks. I have a few favorites and I put those on my mantle in my office. I really like medals and awards that one can use. I have a cool pottery piece that I have used as a receptacle for all of my spatulas, I have a cookie jar, I have a lot of “functional” items. A friend did a “Recycled” race some time ago and I donated a bunch of awards to re-purpose at his event. I think the medals started after I had a bunch sitting in a box and doing NOTHING but taking up space.
What wisdoms would you share with a younger version of yourself about being a woman runner?
I’ve learned so much over the years about running. Find someone who shares your passion and travel with them to explore new places on and off the trails. Knowing that I always feel better after I do a race, especially one that is challenging in terms of a course, terrain, location, travel, competition. I never have felt stymied, or burdened as a woman on the trails in terms of safety, or inability to accomplish a goal. Being aware is crucial on the trails. Now that we have cell phones, I so often carry mine with me mostly for taking photos, but also in case of getting lost. Taking a photo of a trail map is a super smart thing to do in an unfamiliar spot, as well as those that are familiar.
Can you share one thing that is unique about Nancy that no-one would know by looking at you?
I have never really thought of myself as tiny, or small. Often people ask me, “How tall are you.” Does it really make a difference? It’s no real surprise to me that I’m not the tallest person in a crowd, but does size really matter except reaching for things off a top shelf at the grocery store, or in a cabinet? I decided to embrace the “Nano-sizing,” and made my Twitter and Instagram NanoOnTrails. My car is the NanoCar. I have had the nickname since I was a toddler so why not celebrate being pint-sized? It doesn’t mean I have little ambitions, or goals. That’s for sure.
What are your goals for 2020, both in running, and in life?
I’d like to be injury-free all year, and wind up on the podium at World Masters Mountain Running Championships in September. Running between 30-40 races would be fun. Maybe doing at least one half marathon on the trails. In life…traveling, exploring, experiencing, growing, and learning. Whether this is through reading, putting together a tough puzzle, or sharing my love of running with others.
Nancy, thank you so much for taking the time to share your story with us, and we look forward to many more years of running with you! We wish you success with all your efforts to grow trail running in the US!
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