Interview with Marcus Rentie, Founder of Trail Folx
By Eric Senseman
Marcus Rentie grew up in the San Fernando Valley and had the good fortune of recreating outdoors from an early age. He’s been a stunt rollerblader, a snowboarder, a rock climber, and a trail runner. And he’s learned from his experiences how impactful outdoor recreation can be. Yet in most of his outdoor pursuits, he realized that he was usually the only black person participating. He wanted to change that.
Marcus founded Trail Folx, a non-profit intended to create opportunities for Los Angeles’ underprivileged and underserved youth. The goal is to increase representation in outdoor sports, so that more and more kids can learn about, and participate in, outdoor activities. Through Trail Folx, Marcus hosts weekly runs and outdoors events, with the goal of expanding his outreach by partnering with schools and organizations in Los Angeles’ inner city.
Eric:Marcus, I understand that you’re not a lifelong runner. When did you get into the sport of running?
Marcus: Yeah, I’m relatively new to running, but I’m aging out of saying that now [laughs]. I ran my first race, a half marathon, in 2015. That was after an ankle injury and a health scare. The doctor told me I had high blood pressure, or higher for my age, so I decided I needed to do something.
Eric:What happened with the ankle injury?
Marcus: I got back into roller blading–I did stunt roller blading when I was younger. I broke my ankle doing that at age thirty-two. After it healed, the doctor told me: Yeah, you should get on the bike, I wouldn’t recommend long-distance running for that injury. I had two screws in my ankle at that point. Me being a stubborn person, the doctor told me I couldn’t do something, so, of course, I signed up for a half marathon. I ran the Yosemite Half Marathon. I did pretty well, I finished in [one hour and thirty-three minutes]. I figured out I kind of liked it, and I progressed pretty quick–from a half marathon to a 25k to a 50k. I went right past the marathon.
Eric: Did you find some running friends that kind of talked you into going longer?
Marcus: Yeah, I fell in with the local LA trail running community, meeting people and going to races. The local REI had a local run club and I met a bunch of people, they were training for 100 milers–the thought of it was so foreign to me. It wasn’t until I volunteered at Angeles Crest (AC) 100, it’s a pretty remote aid station, I was there all night–I saw the best and the worst of it. After that, my friends started asking me about a 100. I said: Oh, I’m thinking about it.I’m on the waiting list for the AC 100 right now.
Eric: Did you always have a love for the outdoors?
Marcus: Yeah, growing up, I was into rollerblading and rock climbing, snowboarding and mountain biking. I got kind of lucky. I lived in an area where I was going to a pretty good school, and my friends’ families were going on trips to Big Bear and places like that. I would tag along and was lucky to get exposed to outdoor activities early on.
Eric: You were lucky because not everyone you grew up with had those opportunities?
Marcus: Right. I mean, I was usually the only black kid on the mountain–especially back in the early 90s. I remember going up to Mammoth for the first time in ‘98 or ‘99 and walking into one of the restaurants with all my friends and it was kind of that record-scratch moment, where it got really quiet and everyone was looking at me. I was kind of like: Oh, I guess I’m the only black person in this town.
Eric: This seems like the right time to ask about Trail Folx. It’s an organization you founded. Talk about why you founded it.
Marcus: It’s a non-profit and, basically, my idea going into it was to create opportunities for LA’s underprivileged, underserved youth to participate in outdoor sports–trail running, rock climbing, mountain biking, snowboarding. All the things I grew up doing. I’ve had people ask me, at trail races: Why aren’t there more black people doing this?I had to do some introspection, to think about it, and in the inner city it’s a lack of knowledge–if no one you know does it, then getting out into the outdoors is this foregin thing. So, just kind of–why don’t you see more black people out there? Well, there needs to be more community to show people where to go, and what gear they need. We’re in a fundraising phase to get vans and gear to take people out for activity. At the moment, we’re doing small events, fundraising, grassroots type stuff.
Eric: When did Trail Folx get started?
Marcus: I’ve seen very similar things in other cities. I was actually inspired by, out of New York, BLC–Brothers of Climbing. It’s a black climbing crew, I want to say out of the Bronx. I thought I wanted to start a west coast chapter of that. I sat on it and thought about it for a while and thought I wanted to do my own thing. At the time, I was climbing a lot more. Since I started running more, I figured I should start something that incorporated running. And then I figured let’s make it about all outdoor activities. It’s evolved over time.
So, I mentioned it to my mom around my 40th birthday in 2020. She’s a paperwork wizard. She completed all the California state treasury paperwork. She’s an angel for doing it. I would have just talked about and talked about it but she gave me a kick in the pants to get started.
Eric: Moms are helpful in that way. Talk to me more about the vision for Trail Folx. What kind of opportunities do you think the outdoors can provide kids?
Marcus: It’s funny because when I was working in Chinatown in 2020, I would go by Dodgers Stadium. You can look up and see into the Angeles National Forest. It’s so close yet it’s so far away for people who don’t know it’s right there in their backyard.
So the goal is to build a community of eco-conscious stewards of the sport that we can sort of pass the torch to. I want to make it a kind of program where young people go through it in middle school and high school. Eventually they could work or become counselors themselves and kind of keep the cycle going. Representation means a lot, when you see people that look like you it makes it a little less daunting.
Eric: You know, I just watched King Richard for the first time, and that was definitely a theme in the movie. Venus and Serena Williams sort of made it possible for young black girls to even conceive of being professional tennis players.
Marcus: I’ve kind of grown up being used to being one of the only black kids. Once I started doing things like going on solo backpacking trips and rock climbing and posting pictures on the internet, I’d hear, even from my own family: Oh, you’re doing one of those white sports.
That was sort of upsetting. They might be white dominated, but…you know, my dad and his dad going out to the woods–they were always kind of told, bad things happen out there. It was a generational defense mechanism passed down: You don’t want to be out there, something bad may happen to you. Not just being fearful of hurting yourself in the sport but of someone doing something malicious. I had to take a step back and think about it from that perspective. Some of my older aunts and uncles, even for them in the late 60s and early 70s, going out to Big Bear to snowboard wasn’t really safe. I’m kind of a pioneer of sorts, I guess [laughs], going into the unknown.
Eric: That’s a really good point, and I hadn’t considered that historical perspective. So, in a way, you’re looking to break the mold a bit and change the culture?
Marcus: Right. Here in California, especially in southern California, I feel privileged. It feels safe. But there are rural parts, even of California, that are a little scary sometimes, especially with the political climate. You’ll see confederate flags and you’re like: Ok, I should get off this street [laughs]. It’s still a palpable kind of fear for people. That’s why I think it’s important to build these communities to feel more safe traveling in the outdoors with a group of people who are looking out for their safety and it’s an eclectic group with people that look like them too.
Eric: Absolutely. So I suppose you’d like to see more organizations like yours?
Marcus: Yeah, if people in other parts of the country like the way we’re doing it and want to partner with us, or even start their own similar thing in their city, I’m all about it. I would love it. Even worldwide, I follow a group from England called the Black Trail Runners. They’re doing events over in England. Seeing it grow worldwide is really cool.
Eric: And how can people get involved with Trail Folx?
Marcus: You can visit our website, trailfolx.org, to join our mailing list and stay up-to-date on future events, or to donate and help us with our fundraising.