Let me guess, you’re a,

  • Male,
  • From the United States,
  • In your 30s,
  • Who’s been running for the past 4-7 years,
  • Roughly 25% on trail, and
  • Are currently focusing on half or full marathon training.

Am I right? No?

Well, chances are you at least fall into a few of those categories.

Last week I sent out a survey to the the Rock Creek Runner Pack, and asked a few simple questions. The goal was to get to know you as a runner a little better, and to take a wide-angle look at the Pack’s fueling, training, and gear preferences.

With over 500 submissions, the results are in. And they’re are a few interesting takeaways. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Ed Note: Huge thanks to those Pack members who shared photos for this post. In order, Vince, Mallory, Ian, Laura, Jeff, Andrew, Gina, Bruno, Paul, Jeff, and Melissa. Thanks guys!

General Biographical Information

The vast majority of you are from the United States, but there were 28 countries represented, which is awesome. The trail and ultra-running community is vast, and people from around the globe are coming together for love of the challenge and adventure. Think about that.

Gender was pretty evenly split, with a few percentage points going towards the males. This actually came as a surprise to me, since I get the most responses to posts and questions from women.

About 35% of respondents were between the ages of 31 and 40, and I was excited to see that 41-50 was not far behind with 29%. Just over 20% of you are over the age of 50.

Alright, now that we know the type of people we’re looking at, let’s dive into your running.

Running History and Preferences

How long have you been running?

Of those surveyed, nearly 75% have been running for at least four years. Not bad, everyone — let’s keep that streak going!

What percentage of your mileage is run on trails?

This one took me by surprise, considering this is a trail running focused blog, but the more I thought about it the more it makes sense. The trail and ultra running communities are growing by the day, but that doesn’t mean that each new trail runner has access to or is interested in running all their miles on the dirt. Whether it’s 10% or 80%, I’m just glad you’re taking advantage of the trail.

On average, how many miles to you run per week?

This one is important to note because it influences many of the nutrition and hydration preferences below. Over 50% of runners surveyed run less than 25 miles each week, which means they have different fueling and gear needs than runners logging more then 25 miles per week.

What is your primary running focus?

The graph didn’t really work with this one, so let me paint a simple picture:

  • Roughly 50% of those polled are primarily focused on half or full marathon training.
  • Next came 50Ks with over 30%.
  • Followed by running just for fun with 27%.
  • Most everyone else focusing on 50 miles or more.

That seems about as I would have expected, and is probably a descent representation of people who are generally interested in trail running.

Shoes and Gear

Now for the good stuff. What are people actually using?

I wanted to ask these questions because I’m just one guy. I have my opinions and preferences and I’m happy to share them, but my views are mine alone.

Here we have over 500 runners chiming in with their own opinions, and collectively we can take that information and either apply it to what we’re doing now, or keep it in mind when trying on our next pair of shoes or loading up on fuel.

How many pairs of running shoes do you rotate through at any given time?

Good. Always rotate through at least two pairs of running shoes. I have four that I’m using at any given time.

What’s your go-to trail shoe company?

Altra is the big winner here, with Brooks in second and Salomon in third.

If you’re curious about all the other small answers, many of them came from the “other” option. You’ll see that throughout the graphs below.

What’s your go-to road shoe company?

Interestingly, Brooks and Altra swap here, with Hoka One One and Saucony still going strong. Other big winners are Asics, New Balance, and Nike.

Salomon drops off almost entirely, not a surprise considering they don’t offer much in the way of road specific shoes.


What type of GPS watch do you wear?

Whoa! People love their Garmins.

Nutrition and Hydration

Hydration: How do you carry your water? (Most often)

When I started training for my first marathon 8 years ago, hydration belts were the thing. Belt technology has improved a lot since then, but packs are clearly the preference. Just look around at a trail race these days and nearly everyone has something on their backs or in their hands, and not around their waist.

What’s your go-to brand for hydration needs?

Nathan takes the lead here, with Ultimate Direction, CamelBak, and Salomon coming up next. All of these companies are known more for their packs than handhelds or belts.

Nathan has a sweet new line of packs, which you can check out here.

What’s your energy drink of choice?

Out of those surveyed who do regularly drink energy drink, Tailwind dominated the space. Not surprising, considering Tailwind seems to be the only powder people are talking about in the trail and ultra community these days.

Side note: Tailwind has excellent customer service.

How do you like to fuel your runs?

I was caught off-guard with how many people responded they only fuel with real food. I know there are many people who take that approach during long runs and races, but I think this is more of a reflection of the weekly mileage and goals of those surveyed. My guess is that of those who run more than 25 miles per week, a larger chunk is moving into the energy gel camp.

What’s your favorite energy fuel company?

CLIF and Gu, two companies that have been in the energy fuel space the longest (PowerBar/Gel probably taking the win), still represent a massive portion of the market. Honey Stinger and Huma also have a good showing here.

Interestingly, Tailwind ties with Gu in second. I see more and more runners switch away from energy gels and towards high-calories sports drink like Tailwind for mid-run fuel. For some, the drink is easier to stomach and digest than an energy gel — something to test for yourself if you haven’t already.

Fast or Slow, Beginner or Expert — We Welcome All Runners

My main goal for Rock Creek Runner is to make it — and trail and ultra running — accessible to anyone, regardless of skill, running history, age, or location.

I love seeing both the variety and trends in these responses. It’s a good reminder that we’re all in this together, and that we can learn from the experience and preferences from those across the internet.

Keep running. Keep chasing those goals and embracing adventure. The rest of the Pack is here to cheer you along.

See you on the trails.


Author Doug Hay is the founder of Rock Creek Runner, host of the Trail Talk podcast, and fanatical about everything trail running -- beards, plaid shirts, bruised toenails, and all. He and his wife live and run in beautiful Black Mountain, NC.

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