Forging Her Own Trail

Local runner Richelle Criswell started Trailhead Running to introduce women to trail running.



Photo by Brian Fitzsimmons

For some runners, trail running sounds like a huge pile of nope. On the trail, there’s the increased risk of an ankle twist (which could lead to an embarrassing fall), running low on hydration, or even seeing a snake or another menacing trail critter. On top of all that, runners move at a slower pace to navigate the rougher terrain.

But what Richelle Criswell, co-owner of Trailhead Running, wants newbies to know is that they will fall. They will see a snake. But that’s just what comes with trail running.

Criswell first started Trailhead Running in 2012 with her friend Susan Farago, but she began running well before that. Criswell grew up an active kid. She participated in cross-country and track, and although she didn’t compete in college, she ran throughout college and beyond.

“If it was an activity, I was gonna check it out,” Criswell said. “Running led to cycling, cycling led to triathlon, and when I moved to Austin, it’s hard not to get involved in any of it, so I’ve been running for quite a while.”

Criswell started trail running in 2005, and her first trail race was the Sunmart 50K in Huntsville. “Since I had done marathons, I thought, ‘It’s just six more miles,’” Criswell said. She took to trail running right away, finding it a great change of pace. “It’s a lot more laid back,” she said. “Trail runners are kind of quirky, but they’re nice, and the schedule wasn’t so rigid.”

After more years of races and training, Criswell decided it was time to start sharing what she had learned on the trails with other women.

“About three years ago, [Susan and I] had a lot of women come up to us and say, ‘Oh, you trail run; we would love to trail run, but we don’t know where to go, we don’t know where to start. We’re afraid to go by ourselves. We’re women; we don’t want to be by ourselves on the trail,’” Criswell said. “So since Susan and I got along together, and we were all over the trail by ourselves, we thought what better way to get women involved or active than by beginning a program? So we figured we’ve accomplished a lot of what we do, so now it’s our turn to share with other women and just get them out on the trail.”

Criswell said Trailhead Running opted for women-only programs over coed training groups because they didn’t want participants to feel pressure to keep up with men and experience fear over falling behind. Trailhead Running’s motto is “You’re not lost. You’re with us!” Their eight-week intro to trail running program (called Women on the Trails) covers the basics of trail running and tackles some local trails, all within a “female-friendly” setting.

In addition to her work at Trailhead Running, Criswell has two other jobs. She works for High Five Events, overseeing athlete services at the Rookie Tri in May. In October, she will be the race director for Ironman 70.3 Austin. She is also the operations coordinator for Mobile Loaves and Fishes out of Austin Ridge Bible Church, where she oversees more than 600 volunteers. The trail running group, however, is a true labor of love.

“My Trailhead Running thing, that’s my minimum wage job. I love to do it; Susan and I enjoy it. Our goal[s are] to just not lose any money and to encourage women to get out there and try stuff,” Criswell said.

For those new to trail running, Criswell offers a few words of advice.

“You will fall. It’s inevitable. But there’s things you can do to not fall as hard or not fall as often,” said Criswell. “You’re going to have to slow down. Know that it just takes practice. The more you trail run the faster you’ll get; you won’t be breaking any speed record, but at least you’ll be comfortable enough to run at almost close to your road pace.”

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