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Trail running will save the world: how Freetrail is expanding the community

"The community has become a force unto itself–it's a beautiful thing," says Freetrail co-founder Dylan Bowman

Dylan Bowman Trail Running Photo by: Dylan Bowman

“Freetrail exists to bring people together through the life-changing sport of trail running,”  pro ultrarunner and co-founder of Freetrail Dylan Bowman says. “At our core we are a community of passionate outdoor people who want to learn and take inspiration from one another.”

A few months ago I noticed all of my trail friends were flocking to sign up for Freetrail’s subscription service, Freetrail Pro. Curious (and since the first month was free), I jumped in, and the community I discovered far surpassed my expectations. I caught up to Portland, Ore.-based Bowman to learn more.

Dylan Bowman running
Photo: Ryan Thrower

CR: For our readers, can you explain what Freetrail and Freetrail Pro are?

Outside observers probably think of Freetrail as a media business, which is certainly part of our identity. We’ve created a membership group with lots of great perks to deliver value, including the Freetrail Slack community, access to a deep catalog of training plans and training material, early registration for events and more.

The Freetrail community is core to the viability of our business, but it’s much deeper than that. Many of our members have become dear friends, providing our team with immense joy and inspiration. It’s been really special to build.

Dylan Bowman trail running_1
Photo: Ryan Thrower

CR: What inspired you to create Freetrail?

I’ve always been an athlete and a very social person. The best thing about sports is the relationships cultivated along the journey–everybody knows that trail running has one of the kindest, most welcoming global communities of participants. We wanted to capture that positive energy and build it into Freetrail’s business as it has evolved.

Media companies have a hard time relying only on advertising revenue in this current environment, especially in niche markets. We knew we needed a subscription product in order to justify our existence as a company, so the question became how to make a product that’s worth paying for in a sea of free content. We think Freetrail Pro provides great value to our members and allows us to stay alive as a company.

Run Freetrail Homepage
Photo: Freetrail

CR: The Slack channel has some remarkable groups, like the one supporting/discussing mental health, and the runners seem to genuinely care for one another. Did you imagine it would take off as it has? 

The community has taken on a life of its own organically, something I’m immensely proud of and happy about. Many members have taken initiative on these important conversations. In doing so, they’ve had a positive impact on fellow community members and created a space where people feel at home. Your example of mental health is a good one.

One of our earliest members, Matthew Hoadley, started the mental health Slack channel and a regular Zoom call to discuss these topics and support one another. He has done the same for the sober runners in our community. We also have a women’s group, the Freetrail Femmes, as well as BIPOC and LGBTQ+ groups. All these came together without my encouragement–the community has become a force unto itself. It’s a beautiful thing.

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What are your hopes for the future of Freetrail? 

We have huge goals for Freetrail. Eventually, I’d like us to be synonymous with the sport–one of the first things that people associate with trail running. We plan to launch more events like races, retreats, live podcasts, and film festivals. The community will always be the focus and will remain the foundation upon which everything else is built.

You’ve done an amazing job creating a powerful community. Any tips for runners on how they can make their own trail community more inclusive, diverse and welcoming? 

It just takes a little initiative and a warm welcome. Humans crave connection. If you make the effort to reach out to people, get to know them, help them when they need it, and generally provide a welcoming environment, a community will form.

If the motivation is sincere, a special atmosphere is created where everyone feels safe, happy, and valued. It takes effort, but everybody benefits and the world gets a little bit better.

To check out the Freetrail community and learn more, head here.

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