Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

You’ve put in tons of miles, had a few podium finishes and turned your toes into ebony goblins. Time to get sponsored, right?

The process can be daunting, out of reach, even. Fear not, Trail Runner talked with athletes and brands alike and came up with the following tips.

Be yourself

Of course, being a stalwart athlete is paramount, but these days, ambassadors offer more than just fast feet. “The bottom line,” says Sage Canaday, 30, of Boulder, Colorado, “is that you have to be authentic and stay true to your roots. Show positive attributes of your personality that differentiate you from other prospective athletes.” Canaday is sponsored by 12 brands, his primary sponsors being HOKA ONE ONE and Nathan.

getting sponsored as a trail runner
Sage Canaday at the Moab Trail Marathon (USATF National Trail Marathon Championships). Photo by Richard Bolt

Concerned about not standing out? Consider taking up some obscure hobbies: become a barefoot ultrarunner; stand-up comedian; start a recipe blog for après-run dog treats; or just move into a van, grow a mustache and quote as much philosophy as possible. Otherwise rely on being your truest self.

Mike McManus, Senior Sports Marketing Manager at HOKA ONE ONE, says that in addition to exceptional runners, “We’re also looking for someone with a genuine personality who is well grounded in the running community and has a desire to give back to other runners.”

Perhaps no one exemplifies this more than Joseph Chick, 40, of Ashland, Oregon. An ambassador for TOPO Athletic, Boco Headwear, FeedYourCrazy and Ninkasi Brewing, Chick has more body ink than a squid and zero podium finishes, but his giving personality and brand loyalty go a long way. Chick’s social feeds are full of choice products, photos of himself helping with local trail-building efforts, and words of encouragement for runners. He dedicates his former Pearl Izumi sponsorship to this fact. “I was floored to find out that [Pearl Izumi] had been following me and wanted me on the team. “Be yourself,” he urges. “Don’t try to be anything you think a brand wants you to be.”

Do Your Homework
Know the brand, how it fits into the running scene and what its goals are.

If only it was acceptable to be sponsored solely by breweries—most of us know way too much about the acceptable temperature for each beer and the name of our local brewer’s cat. Time to redirect those nerd powers.

McManus explains, “We take a step back when we look at our team. We ask, ‘Who has what strengths and where will they show up in a big way for HOKA?’”

Maria Dalzot, La Sportiva ambassador, North American Mountain Running Champion and winner of the USATF Trail Half Marathon and La Sportiva Mountain Cup, did her homework. The 28-year-old from Bellingham, Washington, got to know the brand and culture before taking the next step. “I participated in several La Sportiva-sponsored races and met the team and team managers. After getting to know them, I shared my resume.”

Likewise, when Pearl Izumi closed their running department, Chick “went out and got a few pair of [TOPO Athletic] shoes and logged a substantial number of miles in them. By the time I got around to applying for sponsorship, he says, “I could speak to why I wanted to be an ambassador for their shoes in particular. It was easy for me to explain what it would mean to me to help them promote their brand.”

So go ahead, buy that new hydration vest or those six new pairs of shoes you’ve been eyeing. It’s all in the name of research.


Maria Dalzot in Ogden Utah. Photo by Tad Davis

Date them

No, we don’t mean taking your favorite pair of trail shoes out to dinner, or sending flowers to the company top brass. We mean show up and engage with the brand.

Repeatedly, athletes informed us that entering into a sponsorship involves mutual respect, compromise and tons of communication.

Explains Canaday, in the early stages of a sponsorship, there is a trial period of “seeing if a brand is a ‘good fit. [You’ll want] a symbiotic relationship that doesn’t compromise values.”

Dalzot echoes the sentiment: “Make sure you understand that this is not an entitlement, but a partnership.”

Dakota Jones, Transvulcania Ultramarathon champion and two-time podium finisher at the Hardrock 100-miler, is ardently value driven, having accepted only two sponsors—Salomon and Clif Bar. “I have turned down sponsorships because I didn’t feel that they gave me the same sort of respect [as my current sponsors],” says the 26-year-old of Durango, Colorado. “If your sponsor respects you enough to sponsor you, they should also trust you to be good to them in return. Being sponsored is not a free ride; it is a mutually agreeable partnership for the benefit of both parties. From what I can tell, being sponsored is a lot like being married.”


If at first you don’t succeed …

… Up your Instagram game and post at least one trail-running picture a day—bonus points for summits, sunbursts and mid-air shots. Also, don’t give up.

When Jones first entered the game, Montrail was the only company to get back to him. “They gave me a free pair of shoes and told me to stay in touch. So I did. And by the end of 2009, I signed my first contract with them.”

Canaday remembers a similar experience at the beginning of his career. “I initiated contact with every single one [of my sponsors, aside from one]. I did a lot of cold-emailing, social media messages and phone calls. I got a lot of ‘no’s.’”

Stay local

Both Dalzot and Chick have had great success running for companies in their backyard.

Out of Bellingham, Washington, Dalzot runs for local businesses Terrain Gym, Prime Massage & Sports Medicine, Align Chiropractic and Rocket Pure. Says Chick of his early sponsors, “I think it helped that a few of them were smaller companies, looking for ways to break into the market of running, and also were relatively local to me in Oregon.”

Trending on Trail Runner Magazine

Want to Know What It Takes to Finish at Western States? Just Ask Hellah Sidibe.

Find out what happened when this six-year run streaker and HOKA Global Athlete Ambassador took on an iconic ultramarathon in California's Sierra Nevada