Story by LEIA LARSEN • Photos by BENJAMIN ZACK • Standard-Examiner Staff
With all of Ogden’s outdoor appeal, running is just one activity drawing locals and visitors to the trails. But Aric Manning and Joel Hatch have managed to find an extensive audience for their trail running podcast.
“TrailManners” features interviews with ultra-runners, race organizers and sponsored athletes from around the world, mostly broadcasting from Manning’s 1978 Volkswagen Bus — “Studio 78” — parked at Ogden trailheads. The show officially launched in November 2015, and their Podbean account alone shows nearly 66,000 downloads. Manning said listens across all platforms amount closer to 400,000 downloads from all 50 states and numerous countries.
Those statistics include downloads of their regular weekly podcast episodes, which mostly feature interviews with movers and shakers in the trail running world, and their shorter “Single Track Sessions” that include a mishmash of running-related news.
Even with all that international attention, Manning and Hatch remain mindful of their home base. They just wrapped up the first-annual Ogden Trail Running Festival, which included a revival of the Gib Wallace Memorial Trail Race. The festival saw around 100 local racers of all ages. Roosters Brewing Co. even created a special “Trail Fest” pale ale for the event.
The podcast hosts recently spoke with the Standard-Examiner to discuss the “local but global” impact of their show. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Standard-Examiner: Why did you guys decide to start doing a podcast together?
Aric Manning: We both listen to podcasts, mainly about trail running … but there weren’t any I could relate to or connected with. Joel and I thought, “Hey, we’ve been doing this a while. We know people in the trail running community, let’s give it a shot.”
Joel Hatch: I think it was June of 2015. I said, ‘listen, I have a good idea. What if we did the podcast from the bus, we drove around to different events, went to different trailheads and interviewed people?’ The genesis of the project came from that.
S-E: Why make Ogden your home base for this podcast, instead of Salt Lake City or some place bigger?
AM: Personally, I absolutely love Ogden, end of story. I grew up in Roy in the early ‘70s. If you get here, look around, if you love anything about the outdoors, you fall in love with it. You’ve got skiing, you’ve got hiking, you’ve got biking, paddleboarding, fishing, kayaking, canoeing — you’ve got everything here.
JH: The access is what I think sells it for a lot of people. Another thing is, it’s up-and-coming. The houses are not terribly expensive like they are in Salt Lake or Boulder, Colorado or Bend, Oregon, or any other mountain town. We love this area. We want to promote it as much as we can.
S-E: Where does Ogden rank in the trail running community? Is it well-known?
AM: I think it’s known, well-known by people here, but it’s almost a secret, too. People come here form out of state, maybe here on business, then through social media they’ll ask about places to run and they’re blown away. But I wouldn’t say it’s a trail running mecca, like Boulder, as far as people knowing about it and the iconic stature of it.
JH: But if you match up the quality and diversity of the trails, it’s on par with, say, Boulder.
S-E: Tell me about the trail running festival. Was it something you’ve always wanted to do?
AM: We’ve done trail races in the past. About eight years ago or so, we had a Northern Utah trail series and we did three or four trail races a year. It only lasted a couple of years because, one, it was hard to get permits and, two, everyone wanted trail races but no one would show up. It made it hard to sustain. The Gib Wallace Trail Race was probably our favorite, so we talked about bringing it back, maybe adding it to the TrailManners umbrella, then we just thought, “Let’s promote Ogden.” That’s where the festival came from.
S-E: Is the trail running community in Ogden growing or is it still a pretty niche sport?
JM: You could consider it a bit of both … we see new people all the time.
S-E: What makes a good running trail?
JM: I think everybody has their preference, whether it’s a rolling trail, whether it’s a wide trail, whether it’s single track, whether there’s a lot of vertical gain. That’s why I like Ogden, you have everything.
AH: I like Icebox Canyon Trail. If I could run miles and miles of a trail, that’s what it would be like. It’s mostly shaded and it’s right next to the creek. What more could you ask for?
S-E: The other nice thing about Ogden is there are so many outdoor activities to try. Why is trail running your sport?
JM: I think it chose me and I don’t mean that to be cliché. I hated running. But a friend of mine did a 100-mile trail race, asked me to come along, to check it out and the next year, to pace him. Once I got on the trail, it was my place. I was never fast, I never have been, but when I get out there, it’s just different. It’s one of the only places you can feel that sense of calm, even just for a minute. And it’s so simple. You don’t need all the fancy gear, just a pair of shoes and you’re good.
AH: For me, we had a little ski hill in where I grew up in northern Ohio … that’s one of the reasons I moved out here. Then I picked up climbing, then moved into mountaineering. We’d go climb big peaks in the summer and run down. You’d get down fast so you could have a beer fast. Then one of my climbing buddies got into trail running. He asked me to come along. I was sucking wind, I wasn’t in good shape, but I was like, “I kind of like this.”
Like Aric said, it’s simple and it’s easy. I have a pair of shoes, I can go out, I can decompress, I can solve all my problems, I’m more creative when I run.
S-E: Tell me about the VW bus. How did you find it?
JM: A friend of mine was driving up Ogden Canyon one day, saw it sitting near the road for sale, took a picture of it, sent it to me and I checked it out. Buying it is one of the better things I’ve done. My kids love it, my family loves it, you see people on the road and they just smile. It’s fun.
S-E: Why podcast from the van?
AH: You have this instant connection with somebody. It puts them at ease. At first they’re nervous.
JM: We’re two strange guys in a van.
AH: We thought nobody else is doing it, it’s a novel idea. But we thought it’s a viable idea, because in the trail running world, van life and going to a race or going on an adventure run, you’re most likely to camp. The VW bus is associated with that so strongly, we thought this will be a good way for us, one, to break the ice with someone we’re interviewing, and two, it’s going to be great for branding.
S-E: The Ogden Outdoor Adventure Show with the Banyan Collective also broadcast their show out of a van from trailheads. Do you guys have a good-natured rivalry?
AH: They’re good guys and we like them, but they got the idea from us. We asked them about podcasting the summer before we started and told them our idea about podcasting from the bus. Next thing you know, that idea became theirs. I don’t mind if somebody borrows a good idea, we do it all the time. But it’s important to say, ‘hey, this idea came from here and we’re going to try to work it into our own concept.’
JM: We get asked that quite a bit. We’re in the same community, we see the same people, we’ve known those guys a long time, I’ve been on their show two or three times. Before we launched our podcast, we went directly to them and said, “We want to do a podcast, it’s about trail running, it’s not necessarily about Ogden, we don’t want to step on your toes. You’ve been here a while.” We talked to them first to let them know … they were OK with it.
AH: I don’t see competition there. They’ve got a good thing going.
S-E: Aric, you’re a member on the Ogden Trails Network. If someone gave you a blank check to improve the trails, what would you do?
JM: I would buy the TR Guest Ranch — the piece of property on the side of the mountain that’s owned by Chris Peterson. And buy a new shovel.
S-E: I know that’s one of the biggest controversies with Ogden’s trails, the mix between public and private lands. What is it like working with Chris Peterson, and what solutions do you see there?
JM: We don’t work with him. It’s not because we don’t want to, it’s just something we don’t do. It’s a legal thing.
AH: I think his ultimate goal is to keep increasing the value of his land to sell it off. But he’s threatened to shut it down because of litter, because of vandalism.
S-E: Do you feel those are legitimate concerns?
AH: I do. To be honest, that waterfall drainage gets hammered every weekend by people who might not use the trails consistently. I see quite a bit of trash in the upper parts, above the Bonneville Shoreline Trail. When people stop to take a break, whether they mean to or not, they leave their trash there. Below that, it’s not so bad.
JM: I think more people pick trash up on the trails, but not as many people that go up high that want to carry stuff down.
AH: The vandalism is not as bad as it used to be. People used to go up and tag rocks quite a bit. That’s really slowed down.
S-E: What other solutions do you see with growing traffic on the trails?
JM: One of the things I’ve been tasked with on Ogden Trails Network is putting in trail counters. We recently installed them on a couple of trailheads to get an idea of the numbers on the trails. With that, we’re hoping in the future we’ll get grants or funds to build more trails.
S-E: If somebody wants to get into trail running or ultra running but they’re intimidated, what’s your advice?
JM: Ah man, we ask people that all the time. Just keep it simple, don’t overthink it. A lot of our guests have told us “do it for the right reason.” Do it because you want to do it and you enjoy it. Don’t do it because your friends or doing it. Don’t be too serious. We just had (Salomon athlete) Anna Frost on the show, and she said something that’s going to stick with me the rest of my life – “summit your own mountain.” Do it for you, it doesn’t matter how fast you are or how far you go.
AH: It should be fun. (Ogden ultra runner) Eric Johnson said, “If it’s not fun, don’t do it.” I thought that was a good mantra. And don’t be afraid to run with a group. You learn a lot that way, you get to meet new people and you get to see new trails.