As a triathlon coach, Rodger Wilkins knows all about competition. Checking your fitness tracker, striving for a new personal best, collecting medals – it’s easy to get swept up in these things. But what about running for fun?
Instead of sprinting to the finish line, the Love Trail Running (LTR) team place an emphasis on socialising. On marvelling at your surroundings rather than monitoring your heart rate. The Lancashire-based collective’s mantra sums it up perfectly: It’s less about beating people and more about meeting people.
Inspired by the London Olympics, founder and lead guide Rodger started the group in 2012. “There was a lot of talk about the legacy of the games, specifically around making sport sociable and enjoyable. So I organised a guided trail run for some of the athletes I worked with. They were gobsmacked at how much they enjoyed it!”
Swapping pavements for country paths
Since 2016, when LTR started selling tickets through the Eventbrite platform, the team have hosted more than 200 events. And while the events definitely revolve around running, they also provide an opportunity to embrace the outdoors and make new friends.
“Instead of focusing on performance we want people to enjoy themselves while keeping fit and not worry about training. It’s still a work in progress and we’re constantly trying to reach out to more people and offer an alternative to racing.”
He’s certainly building a loyal following – two trail runners have joined the LTR team as volunteers and participants often comment on how the events have built their confidence. “We had one woman who signed up to a 10km taster last year thinking she couldn’t run off-road. She’s now done the Lakeland 50, that’s an 80km run.”
Rodger believes the wellness movement has played an important part in motivating people to sign up. “It’s about mental health as much as it is physical health. Runners meet people with common interests and at the end of the event they are swapping numbers and following each other on social media.”
How do you plan a running event?
“We need a car park, a place to eat and WC facilities – that’s really the basis of building an event. From that we decide on an appropriate trail based on people’s ability,” says Rodger.
The team comprises three guides and a support car that’s staged at two spots along the route to ensure everything goes smoothly. “We bring drinks but we will also come off the trail to eat something at a café. A marathon can take 6.5 to 7 hours so we usually include a couple of stops. It’s sounds like a bit of a paradox, but that’s the social part of it.”
Numbers are capped at 20 people per run and Rodger says he and the other guides pride themselves on knowing everyone’s name before setting off. The idea is to engage with runners during the event and this is also something LTR do before and after each event via social media.
“We are always thinking, are we getting our message across? Sincerity is really important; I want people to really feel like a post is coming from us. Instead of finding an image via a Google search we have a database of 20,000 photos from previous events and we upload them to Instagram as themed galleries.” Whether that’s shots of runners crossing streams and climbing hills or simply some #mondaymotivation to inspire would-be participants, the LTR team aims to connect with people and build a community.
“I’m competitive – as an event organiser too,” says Rodger. “I want people to be impressed. The first point of call is our event page. If it looks good, that’s the first hurdle done. We’ve made people feel excited about what they were going to experience. Getting them to read the information is the next hurdle.”
They do this by writing about each event in detail – clearly outlining what participants can expect and what they need to do to prepare. Often, however, it’s the promise of simply turning up and running that’s most appealing. “On a LTR run you know you are on a tried-and-tested route with an experienced guide. There’s no need to carry a map or to stop at the end of a path and wonder which way to head. We want runners to trust us and know that we are there for them.”
Ticket to run
Rodger says LTR’s presence on Eventbrite underlines their professionalism. “We’ve integrated the ticketing platform so people can book through our website and through Facebook. That’s where the majority of bookings come from.”
“Before we joined Eventbrite, we posted events on Facebook but wouldn’t get an accurate picture of who was actually coming. Now it makes us really proud when we share our Eventbrite page on Twitter and people can see everything we’ve done.”
Rodger believes people recognise Eventbrite as a trusted event platform and that gives them confidence when booking their tickets, while those with a user account can fill in forms quickly and automatically. And, from an event organiser’s perspective, he is effusive in his praise of Eventbrite’s support team, who he says are always quick to respond to any issues.
In caring for his own customers, he’s been careful to ensure tickets to LTR events are affordable. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to pricing an event, but Rodger’s method is to work out how long an event will last and then charge the minimum wage per hour. “We have to charge because it’s a lot of time and effort, and we have numerous expenses. Say an event lasts between 1.5 and 2 hours, we charge between £12.50 and £15 for a ticket.
“We also release early-bird tickets. It’s great that we have complete freedom and control of when the tickets are for sale and when they shift to a different price.” For the LTR team, it isn’t about making money so much as being rewarded for their service and having people value the work they do.
Reconnecting with nature
With the Lake District and the Forest of Bowland on their doorstep, LTR runners have a great opportunity to immerse themselves in nature.
“People are usually looking at the scenery, not worrying about their time. Sometimes, when we are finished, they can’t believe they were running for 4 hours!”
People have commented that the runs have made them feel differently about where they live, and the team plan to continue looking beyond North West England when it comes to organising future events. “We’ve been to Scotland and Wales before, and because trail running is quite niche,we have a social media following in other countries.” This is something Rodger has tapped into via another huge platform – Airbnb – as a host and someone who leads ‘Experiences’ for guests to sign up to.
The care and attention the team put into planning each route is evident. Take the Panopticon Nightrunner Series that involved four trails of around 12-15km with each leading to one of the Pennine Lancashire’s Panopticons. These space-age structures make for a breathtaking backdrop to a night run, but when Rodger was checking out the ascent to the Halo – an 18-metre steel lattice that seems to hover above the ground – he felt a few changes were in order.
“I wasn’t happy with how we were going to arrive. The sculpture is lit by low-energy LED lights that are powered by a nearby wind turbine. I didn’t think our approach was dramatic enough and so we found a better way.” The decision added an extra mile to the route, but it highlights the extra mile Rodger is willing to go to give his attendees the best experience possible.
Love Trail Running is a great example of how one person’s passion and enthusiasm can develop into a project that is truly valued by so many.
If you’d like to get involved, a new event series will be released soon and, in the meantime, there are plenty of opportunities to grab your trainers and get involved – from a 10km taster run at Broughton Hall on Monday 23 September to a seasonal half marathon on Saturday 12 October for more experienced runners.
And if you’ve been inspired to get started with a project of your own, take the leap and start organising your first event with the Eventbrite Organiser App.