By Ian Maddieson
The International Trail Running Association (ITRA) held its first-ever General Assembly on March 22 2015 in Paris. ITRA aims to be the international spokesperson for the sport of trail-running and expects to get the IAAF (international Association of Athletic Federations) to recognize trail running as a separate discipline at its next meeting in August 2015 in Beijing with ITRA as its recognized governing body. So this event could be of considerable importance to the ultrarunning community in North America. The assembly was announced with rather short notice and elections for national representatives were held on a hasty schedule in the few weeks before the meeting. I had joined ITRA as an athlete member in 2013 and happened to be working in France when the assembly was announced. I realized I could be present at the meeting, duly put myself forward as a candidate as national representative of runners in the US and was elected as such.
ITRA was formally founded in June 2013, bringing together leading race organizers and elite athletes primarily from Europe. Later expansion has brought in notable organizers from Asia and the Americas, as well as New Zealand and South Africa. ITRA is presided by Michel Poletti (center front row in the picture from the Assembly below), co-director of the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB). It is probably therefore not accidental that the values promoted by the UTMB are close to those promoted by ITRA. These include the idea that trail races should involve ‘semi-autonomy’ of the runners. European and American ideas of what this might mean differ substantially: in the US most longer trail races allow pacers (‘safety runners’ if you prefer) to accompany a runner for part of the distance and many races, such as Western States, disallow use of hiking poles and crampons. European races generally disallow any pacing, but allow hiking poles and crampons and may demand long lists of required equipment to be carried where US races would leave that up to the discretion of the runner. For example, the UTMB obliges runners to carry a cell phone; hardly a useful accessory in US wilderness areas such as those traversed by Western States, Hard Rock or many other of our races.
ITRA is also antagonistic to repeat loop races, like Umstead or Javelina Jundred. But traditions on access to private land are very different in most of Europe compared to the US. Loop courses allow a race to take place in a more confined area. Moreover, much of the public land in the US, such as our National Forests, imposes constraints on the numbers of participants in a permitted event, another reason why loops might be preferred. Differences of this kind can surely be worked out and a definition of what trail running means that satisfies different constituencies agreed on. However, if ITRA is to be the representative of the sport as a whole its directors need to be aware of national and regional differences.
There are so far few individual athlete members of ITRA, but the organization is working to provide some services that, in time, may be of interest to the non-elite runner. These include a performance index that is designed to take into account a vast number of races and runners to show comparative performance. This uses the results of individuals who have taken part in multiple races to establish both relative difficulty levels of the race and relative achievement levels of the participants. There is also a service designed to provide ground-data-corrected GPS altitude traces for race routes, and a space for runner-related medical data. Amusingly, this provides a place for uploading a ‘medical certificate’ signed by a doctor authorizing the runner to take part in running races. The only country I know of where this is required is France, where it is enshrined in national laws.