For this Organization Spotlight, we sit down with Running Rivers’ Executive Director, Andrew Todd, to learn more about this community-driven, Type-II fun seeking organization. Running Rivers works to conserve and restore native fish populations by leveraging conservation partners to community events for increasing awareness, education, and action. Flyathlon is one of their primary event models that involves trail running, fly fishing, and craft beer to benefit the habitats and native fisheries we all love. Follow along to hear more from Andrew about Running Rivers!

Flylords: Andrew, thanks for sitting down with us. Running Rivers is such a cool concept–tell us a little bit about how the organization started? 

Running Rivers: To be honest, Running Rivers really just evolved out of my own personal passion around the three “core disciplines” of the Flyathlon (trail running, fly fishing, and craft beer drinking) and my desire to make more of a personal impact for native trout in Colorado.  More than a decade ago, I worked for the Federal Government as a research biologist, and my work had me sleeping out of my truck in some pretty cool places in Colorado.  At the end of many days, I would look at a map to find a trail to a fishy looking stream or lake and would run back to it to fish.  And then would drink a beer or two back at the truck when I got back.  At some point, I had a light-bulb moment that maybe I could make a race out of it all and raise money for native fish!  Running Rivers was established in 2016 and has been growing ever since.  

Running Rivers’ own Andrew Todd.

Flylords: What is the primary mission of Running Rivers?

Running Rivers: At Running Rivers, our official mission is “to conserve and restore native fish ecosystems by educating and inspiring a diverse community of recreationists to engage in conservation through responsible and thoughtful recreation, informed advocacy and philanthropy, and impactful projects”.  In short, our goal is to use novel and fun programs like the Flyathlon to create a new breed of fisherman, one who is super knowledgeable about the conservation challenges facing the fisheries that they enjoy and is willing to invest their time and energy into creating a sustainable future for native fisheries.  Following COVID, there are a lot more people interested in being outside, and our mission is to harness and shape that interest to make these folks effective and passionate champions for these environments instead of solely users. 

Flylords: Run, fish, beer. Now that’s a trio. What is a Flyathlon? 

Running Rivers: The Flyathlon concept is pretty simple.  Essentially, Flyathlon courses are designed to run alongside of fishable water for most of their length.  During the race, you have to complete the course and break off somewhere along the course to catch a fish.  At the finish line, you are allowed to present a single fish picture to be awarded your fish bonus, which is essentially a deduction off of your time.  Bonus deductions are awarded for native fish (where applicable).  Lowest score wins, which means that a slower runner can beat out faster finishers with a bigger (and/or native) fish!  

Prizes are awarded to top finishers, but also for the biggest and smallest fish caught on course on race day.  Our Grand Champion is then awarded through what is called the “Leisure Sports Olympics” which pits the Top Male and Top Female finishers against the Biggest Fish and Smallest Fish in a game of cornhole, followed by a 5-can Daisy Red Ryder shootout for the championship.

As far as the beer part of the Flyathlon equation is concerned, many years ago, my lawyer (friend) advised me to not mandate the consumption of alcohol during an “athletic” “competition”.       

Oh yes, there will be beer!

Flylords: Where are some upcoming Flyathlons? 

Running Rivers: We currently have four established Flyathlon events spread out around the country.  The 2nd Annual Western North Carolina Flyathlon is our newest event and will take place at the end of April in the Green River Game Lands near Asheville, NC.  At the end of July, we are excited to hold the 10th Annual Middle Creek Flyathlon on a tiny but super fishy creek in south-central Colorado.  The 8th Annual Lake Fork Flyathlon is based out of a BLM field on the scenic Lake Fork of the Gunnison River near Lake City, CO in late September.  Finally, the 7th Annual Driftless Flyathlon will be held in early October at the Yellow River State Forest in northeastern Iowa.

In addition to these events, in early June, we plan to pilot a new relay version of the Flyathlon (called NASCARP) at the incredible Staunton State Park outside of Denver, CO. And we are hoping to launch a new Flyathlon race in northern New Mexico either in the late fall of 2024 or in 2025! 

Flylords: Community seems to be a major theme behind Running Rivers. How have you all developed and leverage that sense of community to further your mission? 

Running Rivers: The Flyathlon is specifically designed to be approachable for whomever might be interested, including newbies to fly fishing and trail running alike.  Our Flyathlon courses remain open for many hours to ensure that someone doesn’t even need to run to complete the race.  We have “Fish Whisperers” posted at strategic locations along each course as an emergency resource to Flyathletes who are new to fly fishing (or just sucking on that particular day).  We give awards for both the biggest AND smallest fish.

But the best part of every Flyathlon weekend for me is the after party, sitting quietly in my camp chair with a camp cup full of whiskey, listening to people talk about their race day strategy, the huge fish they almost caught, the first fish that they ever caught on the fly, drinking a mid-race shot with Bunny the Bourbon Burro, etc…. (Note: All of our races take place where cell signals are shitty to non-existent, which is a magical thing for community building.)

And while each race has developed its own unique community of people who come back to attend that same race every year, we see the return on our investments year-round via social media when Flyathletes get together to go for impromptu runs, fishing days, or happy hours.                 

Flylords: You mentioned some of Running Rivers’ conservation initiatives. Care to expand on any specific projects?

Running Rivers: Sure. First off, we’ve developed a unique “Crowdfunding for Conservation” model wherein we incentivize our Flyathletes to crowdfund leading up to their specific event with awesome prizes donated from our conservation-minded network of sponsors.  This model is not only highly effective at raising money (we’ve raised more than $650K with the Flyathlon program over the years) for native fish projects, but it also functions to educate a broad spectrum of the public about the importance of native fish and the diverse challenges facing them.

We then work with a government agency (e.g. Colorado Parks and Wildlife, National Park Service, Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management) and other non-profit (e.g. Trout Unlimited, Western Native Trout Initiative) partners to leverage the money that our Flyathletes have raised to get on-the-ground native fish conservation work done.  Our crowdfunded dollars are particularly valuable to our partners because they can often be used to meet the cash match requirement common in grant applications.  Additionally, our funds are super nimble and can be spent on key project elements that otherwise might require a lot of agency contracting red tape.  

As far as specific projects go, in 2024, we will continue to be involved with Phase II of the reclamation of the Sand Creek watershed in Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. The goal of this project is to remove all non-native fish from the drainage to create a safe haven for the reintroduced native Rio Grande cutthroat trout.  Phase I of this project was completed in 2020, and when completed, the Sand Creek Rio Grande cutthroat trout population will be one of the largest with the Colorado portion of the species’ native range.  

For the benefit of the Colorado River cutthroat trout, in 2023, Running Rivers partnered with a bunch of collaborators (herded by Colorado Trout Unlimited) to establish a downstream barrier to isolate the upper reaches of the Clear Fork of East Muddy Creek in central Colorado.  This project will prevent re-invasion by non-native trout species (e.g. brook trout) following a future reclamation project re-establishing Colorado River cutthroat in these important and high quality Clear Fork headwaters.

Finally, Running Rivers and Trout Unlimited have partnered over the last 5 years for the benefit of Rio Grande cutthroat in the La Jara Reservoir drainage near Alamosa, CO.  Through hands-on habitat work and the sustained removal of non-native brook trout, much of which is completed by Flyathletes-turned-volunteers, our ultimate long-term goal is to completely reclaim this incredible watershed for the native Rio Grande cutthroat.

Flylords: What else is in store for 2024?

Running Rivers: As the part-time Executive Director (and only employee) of Running Rivers, I don’t typically get to participate in official Flyathlon events.  So, I have created a number of extra-curricular, non-event Flyathlon engagement vehicles to get my personal “run. fish. beer.” on.

The first of these is something we call “fish slapping”, where a Flyathlete signs up for a non-Flyathlon event containing fishy water somewhere along the course, stops and catches a fish during the race, and takes a picture of the fish near the race’s official race bib.  So many people are confused when they see a fellow runner break off mid-race to go fishing…. I’ve got a number of other-people’s races that I hope to fish slap in 2024!

In 2024, we will also be rolling out a new website called Fastest Known Fish, which is our version of the popular trail running website Fastest Known Time.  To establish an FKF course, you just need to pick a course (e.g. from this trailhead to that lake and back), catch a fish on that course, adequately document the attempt, and submit.  We screen all submissions for authenticity and sensitivity of the resource and post those that pass the screen for anyone who wishes to attempt to best your effort!

Finally, we have created a progressive series of long-distance Flyathlon challenges to test the best of our Flyathletes.  To become a “Troutman” (or “Troutwoman”), you must run/hike a marathon gaining over 3000 vertical feet, catch four different trout species, and drink a 12%+ ABV beer in under 12 hours to earn a coveted TM belt buckle.  Note: Non-alcohol substitutes (e.g. Carolina Reaper peppers plus a quart of buttermilk) are acceptable with prior approval from the Troutman committee.   

All TM finishers are then eligible to progressively attempt:

  • Ültroüt (50 miles gaining over 5,000 feet, 5 different fish species, and a 15%+ beer in under 18 hours), then; 

  • Lucifish (66.6 miles gaining over 6,666 feet, 6 different fish species, and a 16.66%+ beer in under 24 hours), then;

  • FINSANITY! (100 miles gaining over 10,000 feet, 10 different fish species, and a 20%+ beer in under 48 hours)

I somehow completed Ültroüt in 2023 and am gunning for Lucifish in July and FINSANITY! in September.  God help me.   

Flylords: God help you is right! How can our readers get involved with Running Rivers and contribute to y’all’s progress? 

Running Rivers: More details about all of the things that we’ve talked about today are up on our website at We are also active on Instagram (@flyathlon) and Facebook (@flyathlon).  

For the extra-enthusiastic reader who is thinking, “I would love to help organize a Flyathlon in my part of the country / world for the benefit of our local native species”, please feel free to reach out to us at  

Thanks for chatting with us, Andrew!

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