TRAILBLAZERS: 25 Trail Influencers You Should Be Following April 18 2020
MudGear has outfitted obstacle racers and specifically Spartans with the most comfortable, durable trail socks for years. So, when Spartan announced a trail running series, we looked forward to seeing two of our favorite communities intermingle. In case you're not familiar with who's who in trail running, we've assembled this list of athletes and influencers we recommend you follow.
Under each name, we've included links to the influencers' primary website or social platforms.
We love and hate putting these lists together because someone will undoubtedly disagree with the ranking or notice that we failed to include some worthy names.
In case you're wondering, the selection process was a careful consideration of a mixture of factors including athletic success, social media presence/frequency, preferred platforms, and more. We also left out a number of runners who are huge in street marathon but are just starting to lace up for trails. Finally, you'll notice the absence of major publications and sponsors as the goal was to highlight individuals and new media outlets.
Despite the above parameters, we probably broke some of our own rules. Our suggestion - go with it. The article concludes with additional explanation. For now, meet the Trailblazers: 25 Trail Running Influencers You Should Be Following!
25 | Billy Yang
Confession. We didn’t want to include Billy. We considered leaving him off the list as pure protest for not releasing his amazing content more often. However, at the end of the day, his gift is too spectacular to go unmentioned.
Billy Yang is an incredible filmmaker/storyteller. His hour-long “Life in a Day” feature on Western States and “The Why” are must-sees. And his “15 Hours with Amelia Boone” is special to us… as MudGear has followed Amelia for years in connection with obstacle course racing.
Along with great cinematic running videos, his YouTube channel hosts video interviews with one fascinating guest after another. However, again, our one complaint is frequency. The quality is way above par. So please, keep it coming!
24 | Ian Corless
There are a few dozen photographers worthy of this list. We chose one. When you stop your Instagram scroll to admire an elite runner portrayed in the perfect balance of light, color, muscle tone, and perspiration, there’s a good chance that snap was captured by Ian Corless.
He’s more than a photographer. He’s a runner, speaker, motivator, and writer. Plus, Ian’s Talk Ultra podcast has voiced what runners are thinking since early 2012. However, while podcasts may not be for everyone, most past, present, and future trail lovers will find Ian’s photography captivating.
Instagram / Gates
23 | Rickey Gates
He’s a runner. He’s a storyteller. Rickey Gates is a reminder of our everyday opportunity to lace up and cross paths with life’s best stories - in nature and humanity. His 2017 TransAmericana running expedition across the continental U.S. yielded incredible social media posts and a book with first-person essays, interviews, and over 200 photographs documenting the journey.
Refusing to rest on his laurels, Rickey filmed an urban adventure with Salomon TV entitled “Every Single Street” referring to a personal challenge to do just that - run every single street in his hometown, San Francisco.
Like most of his work, Rickey’s Twitter feed is dedicated to spotlighting the best in others. However, as a photographer, it is on Instagram where Rickey’s unique eye for both unique and mundane shines best. Whether it’s logging the countless mini-bar bottles and syringes spotted on his runs or introducing us to new and familiar athletes, Rickey Gates is a must-follow for runners of all ages and skill-level.
Instagram / Tollefson / Coury
22 | Tim Tollefson
If ego is earned, Tim Tollefson can walk with a strut. Even before 2020, Tim’s long list of running accomplishments included 2nd at the 101-kilometer CCC race in Europe (2015); 3rd at UTMB (2016 and 2017); and winner at La Sportiva Lavaredo Ultra Trail (2019). Add to that this year’s wins at his local FOURmidable 50K and the better known U.S. 50 Mile Trail Championship at Pioneer Spirit. However, despite all of Tim’s well-deserved accolades, the Mammoth Lakes runner’s social accounts show that he is as much of a fan as he is a champion.
Some of our favorite Tweets are when Tim cheers on Dylan Bowman, Kaytlyn Gerbin, and other vereran or soon-to-be greats. However, the most exciting news for Team Tollefson (yeah, that’s what we’re calling ourselves) was his January Instagram post that Tim would finally run Western States in 2020. Then, well, you know. Here's to 2021!
Instagram / McRae
21 | Sally McRae
It’s been 10 years since Southern California’s Sally McRae ran her first 50 miler. Since then, she has racked up 3 trips to Western States and ended 2019 as 23rd female / 4th American at UTMB and 13th Overall at Javelina Jundred.
When it comes to her online presence, we appreciate Sally’s honesty. She is unapologetically competitive and calls-out her own pride when disappointed that races are cancelled for good cause (namely COVID-19). The end result is a dedicated runner, coach, and mother-of-two who always encourages her clients, social followers, kids and even opponents to keep going and push harder.
Check out poetry and posts on Sally's website, and be sure to keep things tight via Monday Moves w/ Sally on Instagram.
20 | The Run Experience
Technically, it’s not a trail site. It’s not a race site… technically. Technically, it is a site about being technical. The Run Experience offers a regular dose of technical training and gear review for you to run faster, longer, and better... including on trails.
TRE’s social platforms use snippets and links to help you navigate to their main site where you’ll find easy to follow training tips as well as long term fitness / nutrition plans. Ultimately, TRE’s free resources are a sneak peek of their larger, paid coaching program. Nevertheless, The Run Experience is worth following even for their regular supply of free content which is always top tier.
Instagram / Krar / Olson
19 | Rob Krar
We’ve heard about the mental toughness required to be a champion. Rob Krar is living proof that even champions struggle.
The 2013/ 2014 Ultra Runner of the Year solidified his legacy with back-to-back Western States 100 victories in 2014 and 2015 (2nd in 2013). He won Leadville in 2018 and the Leona Divide 50k in 2019.
Along with plenty more races and wins are a number of injuries and surgeries inner weaved throughout Rob’s story. However, life’s most crippling challenges don’t always show up on an X-Ray. Rob has spoken openly about his bouts with depression and wants to help remove the stigma that surrounds mental health issues. That’s why Rob Krar’s Trail and Ultra Running Camps (co-hosted with his wife, Christina) are a mixture of mental/physical training and spiritual connection that reminds us to enjoy running and life.
Billy Yang Films
18 | Zach Miller
Miles a many for ultrarunner Zach Miller. You’d think 50 was his sweet spot with wins at JFK 50 (2013), Lake Sonoma 50 (2014), and The North Face 50 (2015-2016); but Zach was also the first American male to win the 101-kilometer CCC race in Italy and France, and has pulled a top 10 finish at Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc 170K...twice. Zach has since been recovering from foot injury, but he’s now back to logging big miles and anticipating new adventures including leaving Barr Camp in Colorado where he’s served as caretaker since 2015.
Whether it’s addressing our environmental footprint or calling on friends to get out and vote, Zach is socially responsible in every sense of the term and uses his platforms to voice his calling to positively impact the world and, hopefully, inspire others to do the same. Of course there’s the occasional running tip, but the draw of Zach’s message is his willingness to reveal his own introspection and (at times) spirituality with his philosophy of “never too high / never too low” echoed through multiple posts.
Instagram / Valerio
17 | Mirna “The Mirnavator” Valerio
Some show up to compete; others are happy to complete. “The Mirnavator” has completed ten marathons and over a dozen ultramarathons while crushing stereotypes of what a plus-size athlete can do and what a runner “should” look like.
The success of her original blog, Fatgirlrunning, inspired runners of all skill and fitness levels to just get off the couch and go. She has since written a book, spoken at large events, hosted retreats, and appeared on The Kelly Clarkson Show. Her social accounts are full of inspiration and self-reflection, and themirnavator.com is now the hub for everything Mirna.
Though she has received her share of skepticism, criticism and outright hate, Mirna doesn’t encourage obesity. She does, however, believe in the power of confidence and positive body image. Even more, Mirna encourages others to stop making excuses and start enjoying life.
16 | Harry Jones (Harry Runs)
Since Harry Jones’s impressive resume doesn’t include the typical North American races, we’ll just list the wins: The 9 Dragons 50 Miler (Hong Kong), Cordillera Mountain Ultra (Philippines), Sungai Menyala Forest Trail (Malaysia), TNF 100 Thailand, TransLantau 100km (Hong Kong), Baiyoke International Run-Up (Thailand), XTERRA Phuket (Thailand). Yeah, yeah. That’s all well and good, but why is he on THIS list? This is where ranking gets a little hairy (homophonic pun intended).
Harry Jones is one of those elite Welsh runners whose international appeal greatly exceeds his influence in the US. So, some will naturally question why he would rank higher than Miller or Krar. At the same time, a huge portion of his +65k YouTube subscribers are Americans who watch his content more consistently than influencers who ranked even higher. Why? It’s that good!
Enjoy technical training tips, race recaps, gear reviews and increasingly polished videos. Long story short - if you’re not following "Harry Runs," you should be.
15 | Ultrarunner Podcast
It’s been on the scene since 2011, but longevity and consistency aren’t the only factors solidifying The UltraRunner Podcast’s (URP) loyal audience. Host, Eric Schranz and (former co-host) Sarah Lavender Smith have spoken with everyone we love to hear about in ultramarathon running. Though he’s now flying solo, Eric’s interviews are casual conversations in which he connects the way only a fellow runner can.
Along with the podcast, URM has a solid Twitter/Facebook presence and (almost) daily news at the hub where you’ll also find gear recommendations and the Black Toenails Hall of Fame. You may also stumble across Eric’s life-after-alcohol commentary. It’s one of our favorite non-running posts because of the honesty and sacrifice involved (especially, since brew has always been a celebrated aspect of the show).
14 | I Run 4 Ultra
Founded as an independent film production company in 2015 by race enthusiast Linda Sanders, I Run 4 Ultra has quickly become a leading multi-media hub for race coverage, articles, interviews, podcasts and social media.
A bit more covert than other race media groups, I Run 4 Ultra leaves us wondering who and how many members make up its team. All we know is… they’re everywhere. IR4U’s FB page stays current with the ultra community’s need-to-know. Still, their bread-and-butter is race film with a constant stream of well-produced content.
Instagram / Robbins
13 | Gary Robbins
“Sometimes I run over mountains & into sunrises. Once ran round Rainier in 18h51m. CR HURT Hawaii 100m 19h35.”
A reader could easily overlook the gravity of his accomplishments based on the “oh, by-the-way” tone of Gary Robbins’s social profiles. However, that CR (current record) at HURT has stood since 2013, when he beat the previous record set in 2010 (also Gary). He won one more time in 2014. Oh, and that Rainier run was the fastest known time (FKT) of The Wonderland Trail for three years until it got bumped to second in 2018.
Gary’s Rainier record was captured in Ethan Newberry’s 2015 mini-doc, “Wonderland.” However, Gary’s popularity and influence on the larger trail and ultra world was amplified in Newberry’s 2018 full-length documentary, “Where Dreams Go to Die,” which follows Gary’s attempts at winning the 2017 and 2018 Barkley (100+) Marathons.
12 | Jamil Coury
Many of us remember the first time we saw one of Jamil’s race recaps. Maybe it wasn’t as polished as the other guy, but it was authentic - clearly the work of a skilled enthusiast. Throw in the fact that the guy is fun and fast with an unmistakable look and, well, that equals staying power.
Did we mention he’s fast? And not just trail cameramen fast. Jamil has two top 20 finishes at Hardrock 100 (including 9th in 2017) and was preparing for his fifth Barkley Marathons before the 2020 event was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He’s also the owner and CEO of Aravaipa Running.
Today, Jamil’s Run Steep Get High brand offers a regular stream of race day video blogging that always either makes you feel like you’re there or wish that you were. The addition of his news-style Mountain Outpost updates offers a mixture of trending trail news and satire delivered with a more professional look… sorta (jacket, tie, cap and sunglasses). For a guy who seems to not take himself too seriously, Jamil has become a serious contributor to the trail and ultra-running community.
Instagram / Capell
11 | Pau Capell
If there is value in momentum, no runner has been affected more by the 2020 race hiatus than two time Ultra-Trail® World Tour Champion (2018, 2019) Pau Capell.
Pau’s 2019 UTWT crown came after a grueling season stacked with 8 races (600+ miles) in 7 months. Highlights included winning UTMB® (forty-eight minutes ahead of second place) and his local Transgrancanaria HG (Spain). He won the event for the fourth time in March of 2020 (this time shared with co-winner Pablo Villa). That’s when his season and momentum was interrupted... along with the rest of the world. Considering the volume at which he races, the downtime with family in Barcelona may prove to be his saving grace.
Pau has already recognized and embraced his standing as a social influencer. Every interview is charming, and every Instagram post is visually stunning. More impressively, Pau Capell is using his influence as a champion and sponsored athlete to encourage social awareness and responsibility… as evident in "Run for the Arctic," an inspiring climate change project with The North Face.
Pau Capell’s star has grown bright rather quickly. It’s very likely his most impressive achievements still lie ahead.
Youtube / Demoor
10 | Seth James DeMoor
It’s hard to appreciate the challenge of producing a daily vlog if you’ve never dabbled in video production (shooting, editing, etc.), especially thanks to popular YouTubers like Casey Neistat who make it look so easy. IT’S NOT! Still, Seth James DeMoor has cranked out a high-energy, professional running vlog on YouTube since 2016. THAT’S INSANE!
Seth’s content isn’t as exclusively trail running as some on our list. Still, his “love each other” message along with the consistent quality of his race recaps, gear reviews, and training plans makes him a definite influencer and steady source for binge-worthy trail (and other) running infotainment.
9 | Courtney Dauwalter
It’s rare to find a person who can make you starstruck and perfectly at ease at the same time. Courtney Dauwalter is a “what you see is what you get” ultrarunning SUPERSTAR who can do just that.
Courtney’s first enormous claim to fame came in 2017 after winning the Moab 240 OUTRIGHT (beating all men and women) 10 hours ahead of second place. A year later, she was understandably named Ultrarunning Magazine’s Ultra Runner of the Year after being the first female across the finish line at 9 of 12 races including Ultra Trail Mt. Fugi, Western States 100, Sean O’Brien 100K and Squamish 50.
Her racing achievements alone should win her a huge fanbase. However, it’s Courtney’s super casual appearance (racing in long shirts and loose shorts) and down-to-earth persona that gives her social media followers permission to view her as a friend with whom they’d like to go on a fun run.
Here’s a sample of Courntey’s charm as she tells Joe Rogan about a freaky thing that happened during the 2017 Run Rabbit Run (which she won).
Instagram / Walmsley
8 | Jim Walmsley
Utilizing marathoner-like mechanics instead of a more common “ultra shuffle,” Jim Walmsley is on his way to becoming this generation’s greatest American ultrarunners. He was named the “UltraRunner of the Year” for four years in a row (2016-2019) after winning JFK 50 Mile in 2014, 2015 and 2016, The Lake Sonoma 50 in 2016 and 2018, Tarawera Ultramarathon in 2017, and Western States 100 in 2018 and 2019 with two record-setting performances. Walmsley also won the World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships in 2019.
Many of us fell in love with Jim’s vulnerability after a wrong turn during his first attempt to break the Western States record in 2016. A 2017 short documentary detailed the heartbreaking experience and paralleled it with other “wrong turns” in Walmsley’s personal life. Jim spoke transparently about his season of depression and eventual work with a therapist who helped him discover the only medication that was working…running.
YouTube/ The Ginger Runner
7 | Ethan Newberry
If we only had one day to recruit a stranger to trail running, we’d introduce him/her to “The Ginger Runner,” because filmmaker, composer, and creator Ethan Newberry is the most consistently entertaining voice in trail running - hands down.
First, we’d share some of Ethan’s most inspiring films starting with “Racing the Darkness” (Sage Cannaday and the 2016 Western States 100). We’d seal the deal with his “Where Dreams Go to Die” (Garry Robbins and The Barkley Marathons).
Next, we’d meet the man, his wife, and the community via GRL. Ethan and Kim (Mile Long Legs) host Ginger Runner Live almost every week, at times - every day, and usually with an incredibly insightful guest.
Finally, we’d drag that lucky prospect to a live Ginger Runner event. Whether it’s a premiere of his latest film or a fun run with the GR community, you will undoubtedly become addicted to these people and their shared love for outdoor running.
YouTube/ I Run Far
6 | I Run Far
If The Ginger Runner is the standard for entertainment, I Run Far is the infocenter. Founder Bryon Powell’s baby/legacy is the digital depot for everything that’s happening in the world of trail and ultrarunning.
Powell turned his passion into his profession in 2009 when he walked away from his career as a DC attorney and committed to life on the trails. Since then, I Run Far has established itself as one of the most respected media outlets in the sport. Bryan, Meghan Hicks, and a team of contributors have given I Run Far a presence at every major race and interviewed every champion and hopeful of the last decade.
IRF’s Twitter and Facebook accounts are the perfect blend of breaking news and lasting inspiration. Meanwhile, iRunFar.com is easy to navigate whether you’re looking for a specific topic/athlete or interested in some solid 101 learning.
I Run Far’s Operation Inspiration raised over $50,000 in support of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund.
Instagram / Wild Free Wanders
5 | Timothy Olson
Among the swarm of emotions that flood runners’ minds atop the final peak of a long mountain run, Timothy Olson says for him, "gratitude" is often the most prevalent.
The two-time Western States 100 winner (2013-2014) and former record holder has a lot to be grateful for considering how his story could have ended. Once addicted to hard drugs, Tim eventually found peace in running and meditation.
Timothy talks often about living mindfully, and his Adventure Mindful Retreats are wildly popular. He explains, “by being connected to our earth and living consciously and mindfully, we can create vibrations to inspire individual and collective steps to heal, care and nurture our environment and ourselves.”
You’ll recognize Timothy on social media by his trademark long hair and great family adventure pics. When you find yourself trapped at home or in the office, live vicariously through Timothy’s Instagram and Twitter feed as he demonstrates his connection to wild and free mountain life in Boulder, CO, with his wife, Krista and their two young boys, Tristan & Kai (both with equally amazing long hair).
Instagram / Forsberg
4 | Emelie Forsberg
She is one half of a long distance, high altitude power couple. Emelie Forsberg burst onto the scene in 2009 when she won Fjällmaraton (Sweden). She won it again in 2011 and 2014 setting a new course record. Emelie won all but one race in the Skyrunning World Series from 2013-2015.
Emelie’s huge fanbase doesn’t only include her trail followers. She is also a champion ski mountaineer. That means when she’s not running, she probably has some skis strapped to her feet.
Emelie has been a champion of women and healthy nonrestrictive eating for as long as she’s been in the public eye. She’s what we call a foodie and especial lover of pastries. In 2018, she and two athlete friends launched Moonvalley, an on-line shop dedicated to organic energy bars and sports drinks.
On the big three socials, she is fun and inspiring. However, Emelie is never sweeter than on her personal blog where she’s sharing recipes and enjoying life as a homemaker and new mom.
Lest you get the wrong idea about her sweet disposition, the girl is still tough as nails… as seen in this video from Salomon TV spotlighting Emelie’s FKT attempt in the Swedish Kungsleden Trail.
game changers movie / run free movie
3 | Scott Jurek
What do the Hardrock Hundred, Badwater Ultramarathon, and Western States 100 have in common? Scott Jurek. And we’re not just talking about winning. That would be too obvious. Scott won Badwater twice. He won Western States 7 consecutive times (1999-2005). Add to that a 3 x consecutive Spartathlon winner in Athens as well as a whole host of other honors including Runner’s World Top Ten Greatest Runners of All-Time and UltraRunning Magazine’s Ultrarunner of the Year (4 times).
As if his resume isn’t already folklorian enough, Christopher McDougall’s 2011 international bestseller, Born to Run only makes it more difficult to distinguish man from myth. In all reality, Scott’s candidness about his diet and training leaves little mystery about his success… only admiration.
While pictures of his long hair days looks a lot like Jim Walmsley, Scott is one of the most recognizable ambassadors of his sport. He has also become a convincing voice in support of veganism. His appearance in the 2018 documentary “The Game Changers” lends strong support to the idea that a plant-based diet can provide an elite athlete the strength and energy (s)he needs to perform at the highest level.
Pickup Scott's new book, North.
Instagram / Canaday
2 | Sage Canaday
He is a runner’s runner… and coach. Sage Canaday’s “any distance / any surface” mantra is supported by over 12 years of expert level instruction primarily through his Vo2MaxProductions and Sage Running YouTube and social media platforms.
Sage’s career highlights include being the youngest competitor at the 2008 US Olympic Trials Marathon (age 21) and qualifying again in 2012. He’s been a USATF National Champion in Mountain, Trail, and Trail Marathon. Sage is 2-time Tarawera 100km Champion in New Zealand (2013 and 2014), 3-time Speedgoat 50km Champion, and 2-time Lake Sonoma 50-mile Champion (2013 and 2017). Other wins include the 2014 Pikes Peak Ascent World Long Distance Mountain Challenge and The North Face 50-mile Championships in 2014.
Sage has a huge following because he delivers exactly what he promises: sage advice. Every video provides proven, technical advice that will help viewers run better and enjoy themselves while they do. At the end of the day, that’s all we really want.
I RUN FAR
1 | Kilian Jornet
Unless we disregard all races with more than 100 ft. climb, it may come as little surprise whose name is at the top of this list. Kilian Jornet has been the most dominating high trails (mountain) runner for some time and is being hashtagged as the #GOAT more and more every day. However, Kilian is not only dominating the trails. His branding and social game is second to none, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
Kilian is a 4 time winner and repeat record holder at Hardrock 100. As if that’s not impressive enough, he’s won Zegama Aizkorri (Spain) 9 times, Sierre Zinal (Switzerland) 6 times, Trofeo Kima (Italy) 4 times, and UTMB 3 times. He was the 2014 Skyrunning and Vertical KM World Champion and has been named Skyrunning, Ultra and Vertical Kilometer European Champion 3 times (2008, 2011, 2013). Most recently, Kilian was the 2019 Golden Trail Series Champion. He has also recorded a dozen FKTs… most of which still stand, and these are just his trail and mountain running accomplishments. Like his love and parenting partner Emelie Forsberg, Kilian is also a champion ski mountaineer.
These milestones alone would usually foster tens of thousands of followers on social media. However, Kilian clearly has someone (maybe a team) to help engage and cultivate his following, because his Twitter and YouTube followers/subscribers equals many times the nearest competition. His content is consistently professional in a way that seems unlikely he’s handling it himself (he can’t possibly have the time).
Like many influencers on this list, Kilian has a personal website that consolidates all messages and branding. The responsive site is available in multiple languages as are the professional videos it hosts.
One of the best productions is Kilian’s “Summits of My Life” video project in which he documented five years of travel while attempting and often establishing FKTs of ascent and descent of some of the most iconic mountains in the world.
While many of the influencers on this list make us wonder whether we could some day/some way do what they do, with Kilian, we’re content just watching this superheroesque phenomenon and thinking...WOW!
There you have it - the 25 Trail Running Influencers You Should Be Following! There are countless other amazing athletes, media outlets, and personalities with whom you'll love getting to know.
Don't let the actual ranking drive you mad. We adjusted the order a thousand times for a thousand reasons up until the minute we clicked publish. Also, you're probably wondering about everyone (especially women) who are missing. "Where are Dylan Bowman, Kaci Lickteig, Ellie Greenwood, Lucy Bartholomew, and dozens more?" Yep. Good question. We love them all, and we're trying to remember why they dropped under our baseline. All we can say is wait for our Top 100 list.
THANKS for reading!