The History of Modern Trail Running

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The origins of modern trail running are often an object of discussion among runners and sport historians, but there are many interesting stories concerning their origins. For instance, some people claim that trail running first became popular in San Francisco, California, when some American runners decided to make a bet in the year 1905.

They had heard that a new Inn had just opened down in Stinson Beach, and they challenged each other to see who could run there faster, by crossing over the nearby trails of Mount Tamalpais. As it turned out, they truly enjoyed their experience, and what started out as a friendly bet, eventually turned into an event. The next year, the runners got together to organized a proper cross country run modeled after the path they had adopted for their bet. 

The Dipsea Race

Some people claim that this exciting turn-of-the-century story was indeed the birth of trail running as an official sport. The race that the gentlemen in the story created, is still run to this day, and the race is now known as the Dipsea Race. Trail run aficionados and professionals from all over the world visit the area in order to attend this race and participate in a true piece of history of running as a sport.

Curiously, initially the race was labeled as a cross-country run, but the label was somewhat improper. Traditionally, cross country is seen as a winter farmland sport, while this particular race didn’t simply cross some farmland, but different terrains, such as mountains, making for a more demanding challenge. One of the most interesting things about the Dipsea race (which paved the way to the modern concept of trail running) is the amazing possibility for athletes to actually analyze the paths and choose their own route, based on their preference and on the type of terrain they are willing to face.

Among the athletes who made history, winning the trail several times, it is impossible to forget Shirley Matson and Sal Vasquez, two of the most famous multiple champions of the Dipsea Race throughout the years, with Matson scoring 4 wins, and Vasquez hitting with a whopping 7 wins.

Hundreds of Years of History?

The Dipsea race is most certainly an important milestone in the world of trail running, but some people suggest that the origins of this sport dates further back in time, even hundreds of years earlier, when mountain and fell running became very popular in the United Kingdom and in Ireland. Trail running can be considered an evolution of hiking and track running, with a particular focus on endurance and speed. The popularity of trail running is steadily increasing, with over 6 millions practitioners of the sport as of 2012 in the United States alone. One of the main appeals of trail running is definitely the idea of minor stress, associated with the beautiful natural settings of traditional trails, as well as the sense of adventure that many runners experience when involved in such competitions.

Even though this sport has origins that date back at least to the turn of the century, the very first American Trail Running association only appeared in 1996, with the International Trail Running Association following a few years later, in 2013.

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