DIARY: Canadian trail running

I’m going to admit something – I think I only ever enjoy running on a road when I’m running fast. When I’m on a road, it can be perfectly relaxing but by and large, it’s a bit dull, so what got me hooked on road races and training on roads (I was introduced to mountains before road racing) was the feeling of speed. Going out every week and seeing the paces drop and getting the feeling of “this is going somewhere.”

Canadian trails

DSCF0192The Canadian trails on the other hand, are a different story (just as the wonderful trails around Glendalough where I live), on those trails I don’t care if I’m going slow. It’s still interesting. It’s most interesting if the trail is going somewhere and although we were wet and miserable I was glad to complete the long run from Lynn Valley to Deep Cover, the latter part of both the Baden-Powell trail that goes the entire length of North Vancouver as well as the “Knee Wrecker” Ultra run on almost the same course.

Lynn Valley to Deep Cove trail (1322m ascent, 21.3km)

The trail was not just wet and extremely undulating, it has an obscene disregard for evenness – everywhere branches, roots, rocks and other obstacles arranged in evermore chaotic patterns for our poor brains to compute. They just about managed at slow speed – they’d take some serious mind-power at high speeds. The first kilometre was essentially a walk and the next two not much better with 228m kilometres ascent crammed into the first kilometre alone. It should be noted this is not the worst ascent on the ultra (that is over the Cypress Hill massiff earlier).

Grouse Mountain power hike (741m ascent, 2.81km)

An even obscener 357m ascent in the first 1000m!

Infinite spaces

On the other, clearer, days the terrain and trails were just mind-boggling. The size of British Columbia and its wilderness blows the mind and then you realise that north of it lies the enormous Yukon Territory and beyond that lies Alaska and the Arctic Archipelago. Those vast forests and vast empty spaces has a magical pull, they’re the last reminder of the plane we used to inhabit. In last week’s Game of Thrones, “The Hound” tells Beric Dondarrian “you have seen better days,” and he answers “yes, and I shall not see them again.” Our planet could say the same so the temperate Rainforest of BC is an experience I really enjoyed. The tropics are not for me, I’m too Northern, it’s not in the blood, but the vast lush forests we ran through and the huge cold mountains. You cannot get enough of that.

Our one regret was that while the Whistler trip was enjoyable and the hotel superb, most higher trails were too covered in snow to contemplate getting to them. The altitude was simply too high to allow safe access. This barred our way to several of sapphire lakes and majestic mountain passes that it would have been a real treat to traverse – running or hiking or both. It’s unfinished business that I will return some day to complete. There are some superb trail runs where you can spend most of the run over a 1000m.


Our black bear (just at the rim of the trees!)

We did spot a black bear (from quite a safe distance) so that was mission accomplished on that front!

Forward thinking Canada

Another thing you notice is “how old” our world here in Europe really is. I’ve noticed this on my travels to Reno, Boulder and even Fargo. The super markets have caught on to the wider demand for organic produce and rich variety of fresh product to a much greater degree. Walking into the “Whole Foodstore” makes an Irish supermarket seem like a very poor cousin indeed in terms of choice and selection.DSCF0031

Similarly, the Canadians have opened their mind to natural running to a much greater degree and the average layman and expert seems to have a greater knowledge of the topic. While they are not there yet, the shops seem at least 5 years ahead of their European and Irish counter-parts. The Mountain Co-Op offers Natural Running classes to all it’s customers, for instance. There’s no conservatism there – every new thing is greeted with adventurism and openness. Natural values are respect and you can feel the love of the outdoors.

Hopefully we’ll be able to take a clinic there some day, Vancouver is a perfect location with all the natural facilities required. For now, I’ll just dream of those Canadian trails and count my lucky chickens that the Wicklow trails are “not too shabby”.