athletic entrepreneurs shape the next generation of trail running
Words by Claire Holley & Photos by Will Saunders
David Laney slows his run to a jog and stops to re-tie his Nikes. “There are hundreds of miles of beautiful trails in Ashland and throughout Southern Oregon,” he says, looking around. Vivid evergreens of all shades are juxtaposed against the cool blue-greens of rolling hills in the distance. In the midst of this colorful trail, aptly named Alice in Wonderland, it is easy to visualize a vast network of scenic paths. It is, perhaps, the perfect environment for Laney and his training partner Ryan Ghelfi. They run about 16 miles a day.
Ghelfi and Laney have had a busy year. Laney was named the 2015 Ultrarunner of the year by Ultrarunning Magazine and also won the USA Track and Field 100k trail championship. In early February, he competed in the Marathon Olympic Trials. Ghelfi has spent most of his career chasing those elusive Fastest Known Times (FTKs) in 50 and 100 kilometer trail races, and will compete in the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc, a 103-mile race in Chamonix, France, later this year. When preparing for races, they push themselves to run 18 miles a day and their focus narrows to a single goal—be the fastest ever. Despite this all-consuming lifestyle, the two have other ventures in motion, including a brand new business.
In 2015, the duo launched Trails and Tarmac, a web-based coaching service born out of a mutual passion for the sport and a desire to share their expertise with others. The company offers personalized training and 24/7 phone and email access to the two coaches. Laney and Ghelfi monitor the distances and progress of their trainees while also getting to know them on a personal level. In terms of their coaching style, Laney says, “We approach trail running differently than a lot of people.”
Ghelfi and Laney are currently training 20 runners, all of whom have been with them since the start, and they agree that they will soon need to hire a third coach. Laney estimates that within a few years they will have six coaches and 50-100 runners. “Trail running is really growing,” he explains, “and a lot of people want coaching.”
The two men run Trails and Tarmac from their laptops in the basement of a coffee shop in downtown Ashland, Oregon, where running culture fuels daily life. “Ashland has had a huge influence on us,” says Ghelfi. “It’s a really great running community and a pretty inspiring place.” Ashland is also home to Hal Koerner, one of the world’s best distance runners and owner of Rogue Valley Runners, a retail store where Ghelfi works. They hope to share this unique spirit and tradition of the region with their runners, who live all around the world, including Australia, Canada, England, and across the United States.
Both men have long aspired to be coaches, and had previously been coaching runners independently. But Ghelfi wasn’t content. “I never wanted ‘Ryan Ghelfi coaching.’ It was more about an idea, and less about us,” Ghelfi explains. Laney began running long distance at age seven, and after 20 years felt that his interest had begun to wane. Working with new runners allowed him to experience their excitement and the effect was contagious. “I realized coaching was something I really liked doing,” he says.
The two men are inspired by the connections they have formed with their runners. “When you coach runners you learn a lot about all of them,” Ghelfi explains. “Not just about running, but about their lives. Getting to know them on a personal level, seeing them get better, and seeing them get excited about it is really fun. I’ve had just as much fun having my athletes succeed as I do when I win a race.”
Ghelfi and Laney say their proudest achievement has been watching the progress of a runner named Cole, who graduated from the University of Oregon. “He was pretty good, but not at the professional level,” says Laney. Since they started coaching him, Laney says, “he’s so much better in both his fitness and mindset.” Cole recently ran a half marathon in Phoenix, which qualified him for the Olympic Trials—and inspired even bigger dreams.
On top of managing a thriving business, Ghelfi is expecting his first child in September. “Life is getting really busy,” he admits. Nevertheless, he is very optimistic about his future, and remains focused on running. “I definitely want to continue to improve,” he says. “I’m 27 right now, so I figure I still have a lot of years that I can get better.”
At the core of this chaotic lifestyle is a deep love for the sport and the strong bond of friendship. Ghelfi is confident that they can succeed in the business world in the same way they have excelled at their sport. “David is a really smart guy,” Ghelfi says. “When he puts his mind to something, he’s going to succeed at it. That’s something that I’ve known about him since day one.”