Utah Business

And challenged women to leave their comfort zone behind.

How Jodi Horton co-founded the Women’s Epic race

In this edition of the Founder Series, Jodi Horton shares how she has challenged women to leave their comfort zone behind.

The Founder Series is a column by and about Utah founders and how they got to where they are today. Click here to read past articles in the series.

My family moved from Arizona to Utah when I was seven years old. My parents assumed everybody in Utah knew how to ski, so they signed my little brothers, my sister, and me up for skiing lessons right away—the beginning of my love affair with Utah’s great outdoors. 

 Ashlee Hinds and I launched our first Women’s Epic race in 2021. We each bring different things to the table in a collaborative and creative way that has worked for us since day one. We have 10 years between us, and the age difference has worked out really well—I only notice it when building our playlist for the races. I’ll ask her, “Do you like this song by Fleetwood Mac or Nate Dogg?” and she’ll say, “I’ve never heard of them,” and then I remember we’re a decade apart!

Ashlee’s background is in fitness and marketing. I credit so much of our current path to Ashlee and her ability to think so far outside the box. Several years ago, Ashlee’s family owned Crazy Bob’s Bair Gutsman, one of the hardest races on the Wasatch Front. She wears many hats and also serves as the race director for Women’s Epic. 

On founding a wool blanket company

I stepped away from the workforce after welcoming my daughter and son to the world. I had always wanted to start my own business. Doing it from home, in between naps and feedings, seemed like the perfect time to do so. 

I began deep diving into the research of different trending markets, and thus, Lane & Mae, a luxury merino wool blanket brand, was born. I thrive on building a business—the creation of a new brand—and I love the early stages! My focus was on the quality of the merino wool while building a beautiful online and social presence. I was incredibly particular about the colors I carried, the dyeing process, and all the outsourcing details. 

I launched, and numbers grew quickly on Instagram. Within a year, I caught the attention of a major luxury brand retailer. They were interested in carrying the brand, but to do so, I would need to scale in a big way. At that time, I didn’t know how I was going to lead a team with two young babes at home, nor was I interested in doing so. However, I wanted to see it go to the next level. Offers started coming in, and I eventually sold my business within a year and a half of launching. Fast forward to 2019, I was busy consulting for small businesses to help ensure they had a social footprint, all the while continuing to research market trends hoping to find something new to spark my interest. 

The launch of Women’s Epic

In the spring of 2020, Ashlee and I were talking about our summer plans and the races we were hoping to participate in. That conversation was the “aha moment.” I had finally found another business opportunity that not only excited me, but I saw the long-term potential of it right away. Many brainstorming sessions followed. 

Ashlee and I feel very fortunate that with Women’s Epic, we have been able to create an environment where women can feel comfortable yet do something incredibly challenging together. I think we’ve really honed in on creating a memorable experience. 

We’ve often been asked why we launched during a pandemic, and I believe it comes down to knowing that humans, to their core, crave deep and meaningful connections—myself included. We believed sharing that connection on a mountain with so many incredible women was very much needed for so many that year. 

There were so many unknowns, but when you believe something will be successful, you pull from that excitement and find a way. We started Women’s Epic with the intention of getting more women in the mountains. It wasn’t until after our first race that we truly realized how many women living in Utah, with mountains in their own backyard, had never experienced hiking or the feeling that comes with summiting a mountain. 

Women’s Epic really began to evolve from there. We discovered a gap in the trail running world, and we have become very proactive to start filling that void by giving more women the opportunity to get out on the trails. 

Our first race was on July 31, 2021, at Brighton Resort up Big Cottonwood Canyon here in Utah. 

Women’s Epic sold out months in advance, unheard of for a first-year race. We also scored some big sponsors, including On Running and Pit Viper, from the get-go. I believe we were able to show them our vision in a way that resonated. Partnering with these major brands was a massive accomplishment that first year, and developing our relationship with them has been rewarding. 

"We have been able to create an environment where women can feel comfortable yet do something incredibly challenging together. I think we’ve really honed in on creating a memorable experience."

In year two, we retained many sponsors and picked up epic brands, including Kodiak Cakes, Clean Simple Eats, Kuhl, Gnarly Nutrition, Garmin, and GoPro. These were huge wins for us, but I think it’s because they saw our vision of creating events where women seeking adventure can feel empowered and challenged. 

Our races cater to women of all athletic levels, from professionals to those new to hiking. It’s competitive—women are racing yet cheering each other on, which is the beauty of it. You are kicking ass while cheering on your fellow rival as she’s climbing the steepest incline!

This past year, we added an additional race at Brian Head Resort in southern Utah to our summer lineup. We were looking to grow and expand and felt that an event in southern Utah would be a great market to work with. The Brian Head race took place on June 25, and our event at Brighton Ski Resort was on July 30. We also increased participation caps and numbers. Women’s Epic sold out in advance again, with hundreds of women on our waitlist.

Not just another race

Ensuring that Women’s Epic is unlike any other race has always been crucial, and is the reason why we’ve pivoted so many times. While I have always hiked for personal enjoyment, my background is not in the trail or running world. However, I believe that has been my strengthhaving a different perspective has helped me set Women’s Epic apart. 

From the start, we looked at things from a wider scope. Our thought was, “How can we make this a unique memory/race that’s going to appeal to all women, not just those in the trail running community?” To avoid making participants feel discouraged from the racing world, we constantly strive to remove intimidation from the race stigma.

When we were initially brainstorming, it was the little things—we don’t do metals at the finish line, for example. Instead, each finisher receives a necklace. This allows participants the ability to look at their necklace every day and remember what they accomplished. We’ve been very particular and intentional about the details, another thing that sets us apart. Women look forward to the pre-race dance parties and hair-braiding stations. We’ve become known for our swag bags, which are so much more than trail running products. We’ve included items like Babe Lash, fanny packs, Coconu, etc. Because we are all about women, we can focus on items that an avid trail runner wouldn’t necessarily reach for, but any woman could be excited about. 

Since the beginning stages and the initial concept, we have done loads of tweaking to get Women’s Epic right. I would say continuous pivoting has always been key and aids in the success of our events. We’ve put a lot of work into our relationships with sponsors like the Forest Service, venues, and especially the Women’s Epic community. 

The process

We explored half a dozen resorts in northern Utah. We knew we wanted a location that could showcase Utah’s mountains, and it doesn’t get much better than Brighton Resort. Once we had our location, we started reaching out to sponsors and finalizing the trail. 

We were knee-deep in testing out trails and potential courses when we were introduced to Julian Carr, the founder of the Cirque Series, who was kind enough to take a phone call with us. He suggested and gave insight on a particular trail that is what we use for the OG Women’s Epic race at Brighton. He was so generous and instrumental in sharing many things that, at the time, we had no idea about. Julian is a genius architect when it comes to the stunning trails he puts together for the Cirque Series. We are incredibly fortunate to have worked with him and have his support. I still think back to that phone call—Julian probably has no idea how monumental that chat was for Ashlee and me. 

We solidified the mountain and trail and began the process of partnering with sponsors. A significant amount of work goes into getting sponsors—it’s hundreds of emails and phone calls trying to find the right person to talk to. Initially, that was an eight-month ordeal. At that point, we had made contact and progress with several brands. We were lucky enough to get meetings and share the vision, and several jumped on board. Once we had a couple of sponsor logos on the website and launched ticket sales, we then began to utilize social media.

"Our continual growth in numbers gives us the confidence to continue to expand. Growth comes easy when you put people first; or in our case, when we put women first.”

How we funded Women’s Epic 

Our business strategy was, and continues to be, to produce without accruing massive amounts of debt. I’ve always been intrigued by and drawn to the lean startup methodology and have pulled from that in the building of both Women’s Epic and my last business. Our lean money mindset, combined with the utilization of social media as the main marketing avenue, enabled us to cut costs and successfully launch.

Ashlee and I were working with influencers, getting their audience interested and excited. I believe if you can share your vision in a way that resonates with people (we’ve been able to do that through social media), it tends to work in your favor. We approached influencers noting, “We have this common goal. Let’s work toward it together, then meet on the mountain to celebrate.” 

We marketed the race entirely through Instagram in our first year. However, we no longer have all our eggs in one basketwe now utilize our email list and other avenues, including SMS, as we scale. Initially, our marketing focus began by posting beautiful mountain content to Instagram and then working with a very select group of influencers in Utah. We’ve worked with Jess Toolson, founder and CEO of Mixhers, who’s been super supportive, as well as Emily Nelson, co-founder of High Fitness. These women of influence are supporting us and bringing their communities together to achieve a common goal.

The future

Our continual growth in numbers gives us the confidence to continue to expand. Growth comes easy when you put people first; or in our case, when we put women first. Ashlee and I have plans to give more women the opportunity to climb a mountain with an empowering community. 

As we’re growing, we’ll continue to work with the Utah market. A big-picture goal for us is to potentially expand into other western states. We are also excited to reach a nationwide audience by launching Women’s Epic virtual challenges in 2023, with the goal of taking factors out like time and location restraints. Ultimately, our goal is to make it possible for more women to get outside their comfort zone and enjoy the benefits of the outdoors.

We are currently fine-tuning details while getting several other events ready to roll. We’ll be holding races at Brighton Resort and Brian Head Resort again this coming summer. Women’s Epic will also be introducing a half marathon, which Ashlee and I are super stoked about!

The half marathon will be a USATF-sanctioned 13.1-mile course with more than 4,000 feet of vertical gain at Brighton Resort. The stunning course weaves uphill through a variety of landscapes, including pines, quakies, and native Utah wildflowers. It’s sprinkled with flatter sections where participants will be able to pick up the pace and enjoy the views. Participants begin their ascent while passing mountain lakes and finally descending from Clayton’s Peak.

There is something about the mountains that is very therapeutic and insightful, and I was lucky to realize that at a young age. I remember while skiing down the mountain, I’d have this big grin on my face—I still do to this day! I’m always smiling on the hill, and I love seeing other women smile on the mountain now, too. Ashlee and I were hiking our half-marathon trail the other day, and I thought, “How many people can say they hike for a living?” I get to explore stunning landscapes while appreciating the feeling of freedom and the deep sense of joy that the mountains allow. To bring those experiences to women through the Women’s Epic races—I am incredibly grateful.

And challenged women to leave their comfort zone behind.

With a background in marketing and brand growth, Jodi first started her entrepreneurial career when she launched a braided merino wool blanket brand that grew quickly and was picked up by a luxury department store within the first year. She eventually sold the company and spent some time advising and consulting companies in developing and growing their brand by creating a social footprint. Jodi realized at a young age that the outdoors provide an almost therapeutic-like experience. From skiing in the winter to hiking and mountain biking in the summer with her husband, Mike, and their two children, she was aware of the constant smile on her face while being in the mountains. And when Jodi and Women's Epic co-founder, Ashlee Hinds, began conversations about creating a trail race—it felt like a natural transition. When Jodi and Ashlee realized how many women in Utah have never had the opportunity to summit a mountain or experience what the trails have to offer, they not only saw a business opportunity but have since dedicated their time to providing an environment where women can climb a mountain together at the numerous Women’s Epic trail race events held each summer in Utah. Jodi believes that as we get older, there are fewer and fewer opportunities to step outside of your comfort zone and unlock your potential. Women’s Epic is one of those rare opportunities that give you a chance to discover it. She is most proud that through Women’s Epic, she has been able to create an environment where women can summit a mountain while challenging their inner badass.