The Multidimensional Life of ‘Trail Runner Magazine’ Editor-in-Chief Zoë Rom

A profile of ultrarunner, podcast host, author, editor, comedian, and coach Zoë Rom.

By on September 12, 2023 | Comments

As a fan of trail running, you likely know of the work of “Trail Runner Magazine” Editor-in-Chief Zoë Rom and her capable team.

But you might not know the many other facets of Rom’s life as an ultrarunner, podcast host, author, editor, comedian, and coach.

Zoë Rom - stand-up comedy

Zoë Rom performing stand-up comedy in Colorado. All photos courtesy of Zoë Rom unless otherwise noted.

Based in Carbondale, Colorado, the 30-year-old grew up in Fayetteville, Arkansas, the track capital of the world — though she didn’t grow up running. She played outside with her sister, Clio, and helped out on the family apple orchard, climbing trees, picking, and selling. She’d go backpacking with her dad, check off national park trips, and camp.

“I wasn’t an athletic kid per se,” Rom says. “I tried out for my junior-high cross-country team and did not make the cut. I played volleyball and was a middle blocker and outside hitter.”

For two years, she went to high school in Venice and Milan, Italy, including one year of self-study, when her dad was a Fulbright Scholar researching how the Italian government supports small farmers in rural communities and organic berry growth. “I loved Italy and did not love traditional high school … Among Italians, I’m huge, so I was a standout middle blocker. When I came back to Arkansas, I was the ‘team spirit award’ kind of athlete,” she says.

During her junior year of high school, in Italy, the students attended six days a week with classes out at 1 p.m. daily. “I had a ton of unsupervised time in the afternoons, so I’d run around and look at castles or go to a forest park. I started exploring the Dolomites and their foothills. I didn’t know I was trail running — I thought I was running in the woods, which seemed less embarrassing than running on the streets of Milan. I had a lot of time to kill, so that’s how I started jogging in the woods,” says Rom, who felt like trail running was a graduation of the hiking she did as a kid, but “marginally more rapid.” With the language barrier, making friends was a slow process, so she’d typically go solo.

Zoë Rom in the Alps during high school

Zoë in the Alps during high school.

Back stateside, she started working as a backpacking guide in New Mexico during college, while attending the University of Arkansas from 2012 to 2016. That’s when she started running with a training motive. She also picked up a job at a local run store, giving her access to gear and race entries that she couldn’t otherwise afford. On Saturdays, employees were even allowed to arrive late, allowing them to race. After finishing a handful of 5-kilometer and 10k events, she snagged a complimentary pass into the 2014 War Eagle 50k.

“I thought if I’d done a 10k, I could do five of those. The longest I’d ever run was five miles. I ran a self-supported marathon eating at gas stations to train for the ultra. I ended up winning, and I thought, I might have some sort of potential or talent at something physical or athletic, because I had been a pretty bad volleyball player,” says Rom.

Zoë Rom - trail race - Kessler Mountain, Arkansas

Zoë competing in her second ever trail race, at Kessler Mountain, Arkansas.

At university, she studied English literature, French literature, Italian language, and film, specializing in eco-poetics. “I was interested in how writers use literature to build sympathy with landscapes. I loved studying it academically, but academia was not how I could become a writer: presenting a poster and talking to a room of eight people was not reaching the masses. Journalism seemed like a reasonable way to put work out in the world that reaches a wider audience,” says Rom, who moved to Boulder, Colorado, to earn a Master’s degree in journalism with a certificate in environmental journalism, from the University of Colorado, in 2016 to 2018.

“At the time, Donald Trump was running for President, and I was concerned about how the national conversation was drifting into uncomfortable territories and felt called to get involved in climate action and use my skills for a cause,” says Rom, who also took running up a notch after moving west.

“When I moved to Boulder I was like, Whoa, who are these people? I went to a Rocky Mountain Runners meetup run on Green Mountain and was blown away. In Arkansas, a group run would mean we’re running on a gravel towpath, an order of magnitude below what I experienced in Boulder. There were pro trail runners — I had no idea that was a thing people could do as a job. I loved that there were a ton of adults that would run mountains and share coffee in the parking lot after,” she says. Now with a foot firmly planted in the running camp over her backpacking passion, she signed up for a few more 50k and 50-mile races, including snagging an entry into the Leadville 100 Mile, where she DNFed at mile 80.

“I was hooked,” she says.

Her first break as a reporter was during graduate school. She was hired by a radio station in Alaska to cover sled dog racing, including the Yukon Quest and Iditarod. “Sled dog racing is very popular in Alaska and very niche and widely followed. It was my entry into niche sports and was a side door into covering stories about the climate, too. That year, there were issues with dogs and mushers falling through ice into rivers and ice melting out when it was historically cold. That planted the seed in to how sports and adventure could be an interesting way to tell stories about climate, without overtly leading about climate,” says Rom, who landed a few bylines with National Public Radio (NPR), which parlayed into a job at Aspen Public Radio, also in Colorado, covering government and local politics.

Zoë Rom reporting on sled dog racing

Zoë reporting on sled dog racing in Alaska.

While in graduate school, she also cut her teeth freelancing for Adventure Projects and “Backpacker” magazine, while deciding if she personally wanted to spend more time backpacking or running. She was also dabbling in biking and climbing.

“Sports can be a way to share all these human stories that feel grounded, relevant, and that we all care about. Even as a self-identifying non-athletic person or someone who doesn’t watch traditional sports, it’s a potent way to bring people into human and climate stories,” says Rom.

In 2018, she started working with David Roche as her trail running coach, to help her “run less haphazardly and more healthily.” She’s still committed to the coaching. Now five years later, “I’ve doubled my volume and am so much healthier and happier as a runner and human too,” she says.

But back in 2018, she was also struggling with the work-life balance of being a radio host at NPR. Up at 4 a.m. everyday to record for national radio while training for longer trail races was exhausting. Stress caused sleep troubles, too. She needed a more flexible job and saw that “Trail Runner Magazine” was hiring, so she moved from Aspen to Carbondale and stepped in as Associate Editor. “Aspen was too mountain town-y for me in terms of livability. I was loving Carbondale and meeting really cool women who were living really cool lives and kind people. I want to live in a community where people like that thrive. If I stayed in Aspen, I was concerned about the type of person I’d become if I surrounded myself with not the relationships I need,” says Rom.

Today, Rom continues to work as an editor in the digital landscape, evolving alongside the publication. “Trail Runner Magazine” is now owned by outdoor media giant Outside Inc. As part of that, Rom has moved into additional roles, as a contributing writer and editor at “Outside Run” and Managing Editor at ”Women’s Running,” two sister publications under the same umbrella organization. She continues her role as “Trail Runner Magazine’s” Editor-in-Chief.

She’s also the host of the “DNF Podcast,” which is currently being reworked.

Most recently, she launched her first book, “Becoming a Sustainable Runner,” co-written with Tina Muir, a process she describes as challenging but so rewarding.

“During the writing process, I Googled how to pay back a book advance. Writing a book is hard — but I like doing hard things, and I like doing long-term, process-oriented things. Like running a 100-mile race, you think, This is stupid and I need to do something else with my life, but grinding can also be a beautiful way to spend your time,” says Rom.

The book touches on sustainability from an environmental standpoint but also addresses how to sustain running in your daily life. Rom and Muir connected as podcast hosts, wanting to brainstorm how they could collaborate. “I was a fan of her environmental work, and as a journalist I was telling stories around the environment, but I wasn’t an activist yet,” says Rom. Muir is a dual citizen in the United Kingdom, which added a political lens that could help challenge Rom.

Zoë Rom and Tina Muir

Zoë Rom (left) and Tina Muir, co-authors of “Becoming a Sustainable Runner.” Photo: Tony Di Pasquale

The duo started working on the book in 2021, with one person writing a chapter then giving it to the other for a heavy edit, creating a reflection of both voices. “Trail running lets us talk to a more diverse group of people and connect with people who might not otherwise want to engage on the environment. In Boulder, I felt like I was in the echo chamber, but trail running isn’t an echo chamber — there are a lot of ideas and opinions and people push back, which means I’m reaching people who haven’t been reached before. There’s room for growth in trail running,” says Rom. “Having a traditional narrative de-centered scares people and leads some to react by asserting their dominance.”

Overall, the book-writing process was challenging on a personal level but as a team, seamless. “The process worked because we did an intensive retreat in Boulder beforehand, and said, here are our values, here is where we’re willing to compromise, and here are our goals for this book — and our goals were totally in alignment. I’ve been lucky, she’s one of my best friends now,” says Rom.

While authorship has caught her attention, and she’s already thinking of her next book, audio is her “first love. I love how intimate it is as a medium, because sound waves interact with the listeners’ ear drums. In a way, I think we can push people’s imaginations and people are more receptive to the things they hear rather than what they see. You get to share physical space with someone,” she says.

Which is why she loves comedy, too. Rom performs stand-up comedy around the Roaring Fork Valley of Colorado, mostly in Aspen and Snowmass. She’s also a member of the Consensual Improv group, the valley’s premier group that performs live, interactive, and hilarious shows. Rom first started improv in college and got back into the theatrics in February 2022, following an Achilles injury that took six weeks off running.

“As a journalist, you don’t always get direct feedback, it feels ephemeral, there’s data about page time or negative comments posted that are not healthy for any human brain, particularly not my sensitive writer human brain. I got dis-regulated with that relationship and feedback. I self-censored and over-edited myself, and I was having trouble writing things down,” says Rom.

She adds, “Comedy is all about paying attention to your attention and going with the first thought — which is the best thought. So don’t think, just act. It helped me get out of a creative and journalistic rut where I didn’t feel like what I put into the world was good enough. Comedy helped me create without judgement and connect with people in a way that the internet never did.”

Beyond comedy, the end of the workday is filled with time with her dog, Bowie, a three-year-old Australian Shepherd, a chill herding dog that likes to jog and play fetch or frisbee.

Zoë Rom and Bowie on Pearl Pass

Zoë Rom and her dog Bowie, on Pearl Pass, Colorado.

To keep the ball rolling, Rom has found a sustainable pace for her daily routine. First, she’s a huge proponent of sleep, getting shuteye early each night. Every Monday is a rest day off runs. She wakes up at 6 a.m., listens to a “New York Times” podcast, and drinks coffee while she coaches, followed by editing blocks. After a mid-morning run, she eats lunch and has focused writing and meetings in the afternoon. Post-work, she does 20 minutes of strength training or a short 30-minute run. With a tendency to overwork, her partner, TJ, reminds her to log off, as does Bowie.

Zoë Rom and TJ David

Zoë Rom and TJ David. Photo courtesy of Zoë Rom.

Among her favorite trail and ultra race experiences to date, Rom has a soft spot for Telluride Mountain Run, taking place in Colorado. “I love technical, exposed terrain. There are so many races in the U.S. that are much more about running a distance than having an aesthetic line. I think that run and the technical ridge traverse is one of the most aesthetic lines in the country,” says Rom.

Another race that’s high on her memory list is the Western States 100. “That course speaks to me and creates a distinct, compelling puzzle that I have not solved and I’m excited to hack away at over the course of my career as an athlete. Plus, the community and volunteers — the entire vibe feels like a celebration of the unapologetic excellence of trail running and the totally stoked trail running identity,” says Rom.

Up ahead, she’s training to run the 2023 Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile, this coming weekend. “I would not recommend releasing a book in a 100-mile build-up! Though, the women’s field is always so strong, and I’m excited to connect with the other ladies. I love the mountains in that area,” she says.

Zoë Rom and Leah Yingling - 2022 Western States 100

Zoë Rom (right) and Leah Yingling at the 2022 Western States 100. Photo: Tony DiPasquale

Her motivation remains high for running far for simple reasons: She thinks it’s really fun — and it’s healthy for her mind.

“I wish I had a smarter or more interesting answer. Even the days that aren’t fun, are fun. It’s a nice time to hang out with myself and take the pressure off. It feels like a break for my brain because I tend to throw myself into whatever job I have. Running is a way to be more embodied as a person and get away from pressure I tend to put on myself professionally,” says Rom, who’s also met some of her greatest friends through the sport.

She says, “Seeing people at their best and their lowest while problem-solving and working through challenges with others — that’s a special opportunity. I love the people trail running helps me connect with.”

Call for Comments

Share your Zoë Rom stories in the comments section! Share your thoughts about a particular piece of her published work you enjoyed or seeing her at a run or race.

Morgan Tilton

Morgan Tilton is the WeRunFar columnist of iRunFar and a Staff Writer for GearJunkie and AllGear Digital. Morgan has covered outdoor industry news, adventure travel, and human endurance for nearly a decade. Aside from iRunFar, Morgan has written for more than 70 publications, including recent contributions to Outside, Forbes, Trail Runner, Runner’s World, Bicycling, and NewsBreak. She’s a recipient of more than a dozen accolades for her travel writing from the North American Travel Journalists Association. Based in Crested Butte, Colorado, Morgan enjoys mountain running and exploring the high alpine in the summer when she’s not splitboarding or mountain biking.