Back in August, Suzanne sent me a notice of a new trail running group and suggested I check it out. I have gone to a few running groups over the last couple of years with varying success. A North Face sponsored group in Banff was very useful and fun but one I had tried in Canmore was more depressing than anything. The group was quite fast and after 15 minutes I was running by myself trying in vain to catch up.
The Canmore Trail Culture group, as it is called turned out to be quite different. My first time out, the run was on the “Loki” trail and was billed as an easy run on the trail for 45 minutes. While I did have to really push to keep up, Mike the organizer stopped the lead group at an intersection and organized a split of two different tempos. The two groups ended up going at their desired pace and everyone met back at the parking lot. I was struck with how hard he worked to make the different skill levels feel welcome.
Above: A typical evening run, this one up “G8” on the benchlands, involves plenty of ups and downs. Twice a week, Mike picks the trailhead and depending on who shows up, a plan is made on the spot to accommodate the skill level. Photo by Mike.
The rotating group of people range from a who’s who of Bow Valley athletes to recreationalists like me. I couldn’t help google a few names afterwards only to discover how many people were marathon winners, ultra marathoners, and enduro racers. Everyone chats while they run and the evening is a very social activity more than anything. I later learned that several people find running trails by themselves a bit scary which explained why these top flight runners would be out with novices like me. There is a difference between walking by myself, and running which I think can activate the chase reflex in cougars.
Above: This is my usual view as I am generally last in the line. On my own, I tend to not run very fast so I found this group just pushed my pace enough. As winter approached and the evenings grew darker and colder, the casual runners thinned out. Luckily, I had improved enough to be just able to keep up with those who remained.Above: Headlamps became the new normal as darkness slowly ate up our evenings. I really like trail running by headlamp. High-contrast tunnel vision makes for an exciting run over the mountains!
Above: A Saturday run in daylight. Usually Saturdays are adventure time with Suz, but in shoulder season, it isn’t decent weather for biking, skiing or hiking. Photo by Mike.
It has been an amazing experience having such high quality athletes to run with, but more than that, a very friendly and interesting group of people. Each week there’s a regular who has climbed something that week so we trade stories of where we went and what we saw. Someone is always at a race somewhere, or on a backpacking or bike trip, so there are never ending stories of the week’s adventures. The things people are working towards are pretty astounding. One regular has qualified for the Boston Marathon next year while another regular is training for the 5000km epic mountain bike race, the “Tour Divide” from Banff to Mexico! I can report that neither of them seem even remotely put upon by an hour and a half running up and down the mountains! Group leader Mike also seems indifferent to physical work which must have worked in his favour last summer at the Sinister 7 ultramarathon in the Cowsnest Pass. Sinister hardly describes this 161km race over the mountains! It’s so exciting to see what people are aspiring to.
It’s been really fantastic slowly extending how far I can run in the mountains. I was telling Suzanne the other day that it feels like I’m “cheating” somehow. Places that used to be far are now nearer. As if by magic. Thanks to this group, I managed a run up to Lake O’hara and back. And this week during the Banff Mountain Film Festival, I was inspired by climber Cedar Wright’s challenger to add some suffering to my week so I ran from Canmore to Banff via the Rundle Riverside trail. Total distance from here to the film festival location was 21kms. I had Suz stow some fresh clothes at the Banff Centre for me and after I changed clothes and walked in, I felt like I had stepped through a time portal and just appeared in Banff.
Next year my running goal is to do a circumnavigation of Mt Rundle which is slightly longer than a marathon. As well as a one day run to Mt Assiniboine and back which is a similar distance. Hopefully these goals will keep me training hard on the cold days when I’d rather be warm.
Great shot below capturing both Mike’s infectious spirit and a distant blurry me in red trying to keep up on this 1000m hill!