Storytelling school

This week’s Mammoth Trail Fest centers on community, stewardship and storytelling. (And donuts.)

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When he’s not training, racing or finishing on the podium in the world’s toughest ultrarunning races, 37-year-old HOKA athlete Tim Tollefson of Mammoth Lakes, Calif., reflects on ways to introduce more people to enjoy and protect amazing racing tracks.

That was the motivation behind the very first Mammoth Trail Festival. The festival begins this Thursday, September 22 and will run through Sunday, September 25, all based at The Village at Mammoth. The four-day festival features a variety of races, including a 50K, 26K, Hill Climb – with a $17,000 purse – as well as a fun race for the kids. Other activities include morning runs, local coffee breaks (with donuts!), afternoon panels, and film screenings.

“It surprised me that we didn’t have anything like that here,” Tollefson says, referring to his hometown of Mammoth Lakes, where he and his wife, Lindsey, have lived for 11 years.

In addition to competing at the highest levels of sport, Tollefson works as a physical therapist at the Mammoth SPORT Center and Performance Lab. After racing on collegiate track and cross country at Chico State, he found himself running longer distances, eventually taking him to the US Olympic Trials marathon. Tollefson would later engage in ultrarunning and become a three-time USATF 50K Trail National Champion and perform at some of the highest levels, of any American man, at the UTMB race series, and others.

RELATED: Tim Tollefson’s Perfectionism Pays Off in Western States 100 Mile Endurance Race

Community, preservation and storytelling

This week’s Mammoth Trail Fest is designed around three main pillars:

Community: “We want to increase access to all kinds of user groups…to include people who are intimidated by trail running or haven’t had the opportunity,” Tollefson said. The event founder shared that of the hundreds of people who entered the races, 42% are women. This year, the event sponsors students from the high school Nordic and cross-country ski teams. The goal, Tollefson says, is to start there and build on that momentum to increase future scholarships.

Preservation: “If we want to continue to enjoy these public lands that we recreate on, we need to be part of this conversation and stand up for these areas,” Tollefson says. Mammoth Trail Fest has partnered with select nonprofits — Runners for Public Lands, Footprints, and two local groups, Friends of the Inyo and Keep Long Valley Green Coalition — all of which are offering a Saturday night roundtable, centered on the Importance of Public Lands and Stewardship.

The festival will conclude with a special screening of “Without Water,” a film that addresses local water disputes between the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and various stakeholders in Long Valley, California, near Mammoth Lakes.

The hope of showing such films is that the runners come to enjoy the running, the mountain and the activities, and that they can then understand what is at stake with these films and these discussions: “We must be watch what’s going on,” says Tollefson. “We need to be part of the conversation.”

“If we want to continue enjoying these public lands that we recreate on, we need to be part of this conversation and stand up for these areas.”

Narration: Tollefson enlists podcasters and sports content creators to fully capture the event and share footage, to make this event an annual offering. He solicited films to be considered for the festival and curated a few special ones for the public, exceptional stories that he hopes will move people. After all, stories remind us of our shared experience, our challenges and our triumphs.

Photo by Peter Matin

“We are much more than runners,” Tollefson recalls. “There is so much commonality in our community that goes beyond just being runners. We want to de-stigmatize the tough, hyper-individual behavior of trail runners and recognize, Hey, it’s OK to not be OK.

Tollefson is new to event hosting, but it’s actually become the most effective way to build your personal community through the permissions process, sourcing food, and securing security. event space. Building a local event starts with building relationships and building trust with the locals. No part of these deals can succeed alone.

Of all the wonderful races and activities planned, for Tollefson, it is the evening lectures and movies that excite him the most. “We’ve definitely prioritized the races, to make sure people are safe and having a good time,” Tollefson says, “but it’s the stories and the conversations that really make this event meaningful.”

Event calendar

Thursday will feature a deconfinement run with coach and “The Morning Shakeout” podcast host Mario Fraioli, followed by a live podcast interview between Fraioli and Canadian mountain athlete Adam Campbell, and two short films.

Friday’s schedule features a Shock Race with filmmaker Billy Yang, Tollefson and Hilary Matheson, a Coffee Break hosted by local Black Velvet Cafe, the Fun Race for Kids and the 26K. Highlights of the afternoon program include Ballet Folklorico de Las Flores, a local dance troupe, performing to celebrate Hispanic/Latino Heritage Month, an evening panel on mental health and the power of storytelling healing, and a Billy Yang film, “The Why”, to end the evening.

RELATED: Laura Cortez is building community on and off the trails

Saturday’s program centers around the 50k run, with Tai Chi offerings, equipment demonstrations, panels and evening films celebrating National Public Lands Day.

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If you can’t attend, local Mammoth Lakes elite athlete Katie Asmuth will host regular interviews with athletes before the races, which will be posted on YouTube and shared on social media. There will also be reels posted daily on Instagram as the event unfolds.

“It’s important to me that we build something of the community for the community,” says Tollefson. The event will take place at the Village at Mammoth, and it’s their shoulder season, which for Tollefson is a wonderful opportunity to drive people to local restaurants and cafes to boost the local economy.

“We’re really trying to build something more than amazing races,” Tollefson says. “You can come, learn, connect, grow as a runner and as a person, and what better place than the beautiful Eastern Sierra.”