No matter where you go in Austin, if you’re talking about trail running, people know and respect Erik Stanley. And when you learn more about him, see him run, or meet him you quickly realize why. He’s been a pack leader for many years, starting when he was ranked #1 in the nation for the mile (4:04) in high school. Then he was an NCAA All-American at The University of Texas (UT). Now he’s a leading pro trail runner; and he’s founder of the Trail Roots trail running training program. All winning qualities.
But you also soon grasp that it’s not just about winning the gold with Erik. “He also has a heart of gold,” says longtime running buddy from UT and MapMyFitness brand ambassador, Jake Morse. “Erik’s not just a great runner, he’s an incredible person. He’s committed to the sport, but he will go out of his way to help complete strangers, things people just don’t normally do. He’s compassionate and connected.”
Erik’s running and approach to life blend into each other. In addition to his running focus, so much about him seems unforced, grounded, and sincere. “His training program, Trail Roots, is a perfect expression of who he is,” adds Jake. “He’s doing great things for people’s lives, beyond running. He has created a special community for people to come together and interact with each other around trail running specifically, but it’s really just to come together in general. Community is an incredibly valuable thing. And this organic approach is how Erik sees the world. It’s not about making money. He’s not in it for himself. He believes in the core of what he’s doing – getting people together and getting them out on the trail, in nature, together.”
And that focus on an organic, natural approach to life seems to fit well, and works successfully for him. “Erik is one of the select few leading the way for trail racing,” says David Fuentes , Olympic-trials qualifying professional runner, and another longtime running buddy of Erik’s. “I like seeing what he does on the trails, plus he’s bringing in this new style of coaching, and it’s successful. There aren’t a lot of trail-specific group training outfits, and Erik has been able to create that very successfully. Trail Roots sustains a solid group setting, and he’s bringing up a big, impressive crop of runners. He has a lot to give the sport.”
And perhaps Erik explains his focus best in his own words: “People are trying to get back to a more natural, organic way of living,” he says. “People have their own urban gardens. Like for me, I have my garden and I have chickens, things like that. I like ways of trying to live more sustainably, and doing things on my own. We increasingly want to know how to be comfortable and connected with nature and survive more naturally. People are just trying to get back to their roots. And trail running fits in line with that. Because you get away from cities, roads, pollution, noise. It’s just you on your own with nature. I think there’s a big connection there.”
His success in the racing circuit and in coaching also goes hand-in-hand with his being firmly planted in, and respected by, the Austin running community at large. He knows what retailers to visit (and has worked for a couple of them), which events to do, which trails to run, and any other related activity you might want advice on.
If you’re new to running Austin trails, just know that this is a great place for it. “Compared to other cities, we have a lot of great trails within our city limits,” says Erik. “In fact, we have some 30 miles of them. There are tons of people moving to Austin every day, and you would think with the resources we have, everyone would know about all the trails, like the Greenbelt, Walnut Creek, and all the others. But some people live here their whole lives and have never seen some of the trails.”
As for some of Austin’s best trail running outfitters, Erik knows the best. He works with and recommends Jack and Adams tri- and multisport shop, and their High Five triathlon event production company. He’s also worked at Rogue Running and likes the experts there. The Austin Trail Running Company, a new establishment and “first trail-running specific store in the country,” is another of his recommended connections. Additionally, for events, he’s got big respect for Tejas Trails, which is the host organization for the USA 100km Trail Championships in Bandera, and is headed up by running legend Joe Prusaitis.
All these are in addition to his own, Trail Roots, where he recently started offering trail running expedition trips for groups. “I’ll take groups to different places throughout the country, and run new trails for a weekend or a week. We include all the food and travel from the airport; everything’s set up, and it’s just a fun time of trail running. It gives people a fun vacation doing something they like, in beautiful places.”
At his core, he wants to offer help for any runner who wants to improve, or supplement his or her training with trail running.
“I want to get people to incorporate trail into their regular monthly training,” says Erik of his Trail Roots program. “It helps balance your body. It helps strengthen a lot of ancillary muscles and stabilizer muscles. You slow down on the trail, but you’re moving more dynamically than you would on the road. Because on the road, you’re just running in a straight line. You’re not climbing over anything. You’re not jumping over roots. Trail running helps in a lot of ways.”
And even more than its technical benefits, trail running also offers something deeper for Erik. “There’s a mystery behind trail running,” he comments. “And in the end, it’s just refreshing. It’s a new perspective on running. It’s also good for people who don’t like the claustrophobic feel of road races, where you’re sitting in a corral waiting for an hour before your race, and then you’re just running with thousands and thousands of other people. More and more people are running in general too. And road races are getting more crowded and more expensive, and as that happens, people are looking to get out to something different.”
And with that refreshing perspective about what trail running brings to the running world, it also helps give energy to Erik’s life in general. When asked how he balances his running career with the rest of his life, Erik concludes that, for him, they are not mutually exclusive:
“I’ve tried to think what it would be like to just be 'Erik' as 'Erik', not 'Erik the Runner.' But it’s something I completely identify with, the runner. It’s part of my routine, part of my sanity. When I have a hard workout and I’m dead tired, that feels good. That post-workout feeling is good for me as a person. I’m on that runner’s high. I just kicked ass. I just pushed myself to my limit, and I feel proud of myself. But then I like to come home and just make breakfast – I’ll gather some eggs from my chicken coop, pull some veggies out of my garden, and make a scramble. It’s a great life to be able to get my run in on beautiful natural trails, then make breakfast from my own chickens and my own garden, and then just sit on the porch with my dog, and strum the guitar, and keep life simple and natural.”