Erik Stanley’s affinity for running first began in elementary school when he would visit his mother in Las Vegas and accompany her during her runs. The duo would play 90s country music and run near the mountainside.
“It was just kind of a fun thing that we did together,” Stanley recalls. This tradition sparked Stanley’s passion for running which would later guide his entire life.
“Running has just been a part of my life,” Stanley says. “I’ve run since I was a kid; I’ve run most days in my life, and it’s just like eating—I’m gonna wake up and go for a run.”
As Stanley’s love for the sport grew, so did his talent. In the seventh grade, Stanley broke a five minute mile, and later went on to become one of the fastest high schoolers in the country going into college at the University of Texas at Austin.
Stanley says he used the sport as an outlet and it ended up helping him gain confidence while navigating the stresses of becoming an adult.
“I think for me, I thought life was gonna be easy. I was kind of smooth sailing until I hit college,” Stanley says. “I started struggling when I started college, and after [is] when I started having panic attacks.”
Even after running at the collegiate level, Stanley continued to work in the fitness industry before wanting to split off and begin his own organization—dedicated to the trail and to helping people, just as running had helped him.
“I realized though that if I didn’t do this, I was doing it because I was afraid of something. And I needed to overcome that,” Stanley says.
Not long after, Trail Roots was born.
If someone is expecting to join Trail Roots, get their run in, and leave, they can—but that isn’t the goal of Trail Roots.
“There’s some people that are showing up to get their kind of community connection, while getting a workout. That’s probably like 20 percent, but the majority of the people are showing up because they have their friends that they want to run with and push themselves,” Stanley says.
The Trail Roots community may be brought together by running, but that doesn’t stop them from forming lasting friendships. Stanley says the group will get brunch after their Sunday runs, have occasional, themed happy hours (currently hosted virtually), and even have virtual group workouts led by Stanley a few times throughout the week.
Stanley recognizes everyone has a unique story, and after getting to know some of the people he was constantly running with, Stanley decided to start a podcast, speaking with some of the Trail Roots community and sharing their stories.
“I believe everyone can take control of their situation, no matter how hard or troubling it is. That’s when you share those things—you can get support. And I think that’s what we need,” Stanley says.
Stanley recalls one of his runners who described their time on a military base, as well as another runner who defeated breast cancer and ran her fastest marathon a few months into remission.
“I was just blown away by all these people’s stories,” Stanley says.
Also a coach, Stanley says he does his best to uplift others, and those ideals are shared throughout the Trail Roots running community.
“When you’re running I think you just, you kind of let your guard down a little bit and you’re kind of open up and when you’re with someone on the run like you can talk about anything. And you really get to know someone within an hour or two hours of running together,” Stanley says.
As Trail Roots grew, Stanley decided to split the community into (what currently are) seven groups of about ten to 15 members around the Austin area, each led with two leaders, named Kodas.
Josie Fox, a Trail Roots Koda, says she was apprehensive about initially joining a running group because she didn’t want to be around a competitive atmosphere, as many running groups are thought to have.
Finally, Fox decided to join Trail Roots with her husband after she got burnt out of running by herself and grew more worried about running alone in the dark.
“I just needed a crew,” Fox says.
And she loved it right away.
“It’s serious about running, but extremely low-key as well. I’ve never met a more open, welcoming group of people. I think everybody comes in with different goals and different levels, and different backgrounds, careers; walks of life. And you just run together,” Fox says. “No matter what, you have this immediate common ground. I think it’s really supportive.”
Fox says a unique aspect of Trail Roots is the balance Stanley brings to the group, focusing on improvement but not making things overly competitive or serious.
“Because of that, it attracts a really interesting group of people, and really good people. I mean I think that that’s been one of the things that I’ve liked the most is just the community,” Fox says.
Sally Ng, who has been running with Trail Roots since it’s early days, says the community has shown her that running is more than just personal records and racing.
“You never know how much you miss if you’re always going fast,” Ng says.
While running around Town Lake with a friend, Ng recalls seeing a little heart wall near the blue water fountains that she had never noticed before.
“I had ran that so many times, and I never saw that there are hearts there until you slow down,” Ng says. “And I feel like it’s just a good, a good analogy to life, you know, if you are always running fast, fast, fast and always going from one thing to another, sometimes you don’t enjoy what’s right there in front of you.”
Ng says the trail running mindset can be vastly different from the road running mindset.
“You don’t mind getting your feet wet or getting muddy and maybe stopping mid-run for a picture or stopping mid-run to do a rope swing into the greenbelt. It’s just a different kind of friendship,” Ng says. “It doesn’t matter what political affiliation, It doesn’t matter what your age or your occupation [is], it’s just having that love of nature and love of running.”
Matt Fletcher, another early-days Trail Roots runner, says the group even offered to pay extra on their dues to keep some members in during COVID-19 struggles.
“That was really heart warming,” Fletcher says. “I think it speaks volumes about how this group works.”
Stanley, who started Trail Roots 6 years ago, describes the community as supportive, loving and passionate.
“I don’t want to sit and dwell on like these negative things but everybody has a story and you have to be able to share that to kind of move on from those challenges, and if you have people around you that are gonna support you and hear your story and kind of know you, then I think you go through this world a little less lonely,” Stanley says. “To me, that’s what life is about.”