Trailblazing With Trail Sisters

Gina Lucrezi founded a growing movement to help women feel comfortable, confident, and excited about trail running and hiking.

To celebrate and honor Women’s History Month, Public Lands is showcasing women who are making history now. We spoke with Gina Lucrezi, a trail runner and ultrarunner, and founder of Trail Sisters. She launched Trail Sisters in 2016 as a modest blog and it has grown to a booming community of 150 regional chapters, a website that offers free resources like online education, a race (with a generous cutoff to minimize the intimidation factor of not finishing), and so much more. Since the launch of Trail Sisters, Lucrezi (she/her) has worked passionately, creatively, and tirelessly to empower thousands of women to get out on trails.

By Lisa Jhung

LISA JHUNG: Why did you start Trail Sisters? What was launching it like? 

GINA LUCREZI: I started Trail Sisters to grow more opportunity and participation for women in trail running and hiking by utilizing inspiration, education, and empowerment. The way I came to that mission statement was from spending time behind the scenes in the trail running industry, and from being a runner. I had the ability to work every little position in the marketing arena, and so the experiences I had [revealed] a lot of void in the space—a lack of voice for women in the sport, perspective, even product.

It was hard to see all that, because as a participant myself [she’s also a professional runner], I knew there were many women that loved it, and would love to have more product or would love to see more things written about women, and written by women.

[I thought] heck, I can complain about this, and be angry, but what will really make some version of a change is to put this into action and create an online journal. So that’s how it started in 2016. I invited seven other women to contribute an article—it could be about anything, really, as long as it was educational, inspirational, or empowering. We did one article per week for a few months. It gained traction, and people from the community asked if they could contribute, so it turned into a crowd-sourced platform for any and all voices of those who identified as a woman. It grew from there. We started doing retreats. We now have about 150 local groups. We have a race.

When I started it at my kitchen table in Boulder, Colorado, I didn’t have any idea it would be where it is today. It was just, ‘I need to do something!’

What do you think has contributed to the growth? What’s drawn so many women in?

You know, there are a few things. There’s the social aspect, but what’s really taken it to another level is the community itself. I think of myself as one cog on a giant wheel and everybody else who is a Trail Sister is also a cog and we’re just kind of making this thing go round and round. Nobody’s more important than the other. I couldn’t have gotten Trail Sisters here by myself. It takes a village, like our local group leaders, and the Trail Sisters team—all of those women have reach. They talk to their friends. They bring them in and share the message.

The whole thing about Trail Sisters is we don’t have any barriers to entry. If you want to be a Trail Sister, you’re a Trail Sister. There’s no membership fee.  

We’re really big on education, so if we can provide you what you need, that helps you to feel empowered. And when you’re empowered, you feel confident, and you can go out and do your thing. Hopefully, people are able to take something away and then go spread this message to somebody else. 

So, yes, I had an idea and got something started, but it’s really where it is today thanks to the entire community of Trail Sisters, and friends of Trail Sisters. There are also a ton of dudes out there who have been super supportive. It’s everybody.

You’ve based the Trail Sisters mission on three specific principles: education, inspiration, and empowerment. What do each of those words mean to you in the context of Trail Sisters?

My favorite one of those three is education, because that’s the core for anywhere you go in the world. The world is your oyster, but it really starts with having an understanding, a basic learning, of a certain thing. I feel there are a lot of women out there who don’t feel like they can do trail running because they don’t quite understand something.

If Trail Sisters can provide education in the space, whether it’s product information or wilderness, you name it, that will hopefully lead to the next step of empowering somebody to be out there feeling strong and confident in what they’re doing. I think when somebody’s empowered, they often have the ability to then help others.

And we do need to hear those stories of inspiration that hopefully trigger a person to think, ‘OK, I got this.’ Like, ‘Wow, she’s 62 and she’s starting trail running for the first time. I’m 45 and I didn’t think it was possible. Maybe I should give it a shot.’

Gina Lucrezi doing trail maintenance work

I saw on the Trail Sisters website a call to all womxn, spelled with an X. Can you talk about the choice to spell the word with an X?

I will say this as a disclaimer: I’m learning every day about all these things, so I always get a little nervous about screwing something up. I’m trying to do the best I can in understanding and learning. We use the X, but it’s interesting because I hear from some people that we’re not supposed to use it, that they don’t like it. I’m trying to do the right thing but what we’re trying to explain is that we’re here for anybody who identifies as a female, a woman, or you know, nonbinary. We welcome everybody.

We just wanna go run, we want to have a good time on trails. It doesn’t matter your pace, your religion, your sexual orientation. I want you to come out, enjoy some trails, some people, the outdoors. We’re trying to make sure everybody feels welcomed.

Trail running obviously takes place on public lands. Why do you think public lands are important?

I can’t imagine a world without public lands. If we don’t take care of them, then we don’t have them. It’s kind of weird to think about how can you not protect those areas, or work to keep them pristine.

What can we all do better to ensure generations to come have public lands to enjoy?

Educate yourself is the first thing. Find out the organizations in your area that already have things in place—action plans. With Trail Sisters, I try to make sure all the [regional] groups are doing some sort of trail work. Figure out what’s available in your area. Can you latch onto that? Can you help with trail cleanup?  

And there’s the education piece. Sometimes I feel like we talk a lot to the people who are already doing it. It probably makes more sense to put all that energy, time, and resources into [reaching] the people who actually don’t play out there often. If you’re not out there to see it, you probably don’t care what happens to it. 

Can you name a trailblazing woman you admire?

Two come to mind for different reasons. Arlene Pieper Stine was the first woman to complete a sanctioned marathon—the Pikes Peak Marathon, 1959. People know Katherine Switzer, because she was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon, but Arlene’s marathon was eight years earlier…up a trail, up a mountain in Colorado Springs. She went out there and was like, ‘Hey look, I can go up and down a 14er.’ And this is the 1950s when there’s all kinds of, ‘Hey, you should be at home knitting.’ She’s an unsung hero.

The other person, more modern-day, is Mirna Valerio [@themirnavator] for tons of different reasons—body, diversity. I’m sure it wasn’t easy getting out there. Just to be like, ‘Hey, I’m different in the trail and ultra world.’ And just breaking down the doors and being like, ‘I’m here.’ That’s so cool. I’m sure it was hard. What she’s done, and the inspiration she’s provided people…it’s so cool to see where she’s branched out to, the visibility and awareness for all different kinds of people, in all different ways. She’s knocked down all sorts of preconceived notions and barriers in one fell swoop.

You’ve run at an elite level for many years. Can you talk about that, and your relationship to running today?

Curiosity and Nancy Hobbs can be credited with my interest in trail running. I’d always loved playing outside as a kid, exploring the woods around where I grew up [in Pennsylvania]. The atmosphere was mysterious and exciting, and always changing with the seasons. I started running competitively and in college I earned 10 Division III NCAA All-American awards between cross-country and indoor and outdoor track. After college, when Nancy reached out about trail running and creating a USA Trail Team, she had my attention. Needless to say, my competitive drive was very much still alive, and I was intrigued by the challenge of competing on a new type of terrain. I was able to help Team USA win a gold medal at the 2012 World Mountain Running Association Long Distance Mountain Running Challenge in Switzerland. 

When it comes to my current running, I’m not going to lie, it's been tough to get out like I used to. Trail Sisters keeps me busy, but as a big-carrot motivator, I’m signed up for the Cascade Crest 100-mile this July. Send me some good luck vibes!

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