I’m really quite lucky to live where I live. My house sits right on the edge of a forest that runs through the heart of the city, and I can sneak out the back at any time – unseen by human eyes – and make it almost anywhere through the spiderweb of trails that cross it.
No roads, no buildings, no cars – just the ancient peace of the forest all the way from my door to wherever I need to go.
Over the years that I’ve lived here, I’ve made regular use of these trails to go shopping, to deliver art, to visit restaurants, or to get to an event. Why? Well, not only are the trails often the fastest footpath from A to B, but they’re fantastically, wildly, gorgeously scenic. I mean, who’d seriously want to walk around on boring old sidewalks near cars full of people when you could slip into the cool, dark forest, have an adventure, and pop up somewhere else in town like a woodland ninja?
If your answer is “I prefer sidewalks”, then you’re doing something disastrously incorrect with your life.
So, all that said, in the never-ending quest for health and longevity, I’ve decided once again to run these trails every day. I’ve got the requisite forest, trails, and appendages for the job, so I’d be a fool not to take advantage of it.
Though I’ve started in January, it’s not really a new years resolution or anything of that nature. It’s just that we’ve got an unseasonably warm and dry winter happening here in British Columbia, and I like doing my working out during the winter months while everyone else is getting drunk and fat. Plus it’s cold out, and I love working out in the cold.
My story as a trail runner begins (as all stories about trail runners do) with living in reasonable proximity to a forest. I started trail running a couple of years ago in the Summer on a whim while making my way to the beach for a hotdog. Much of the trail to the beach is downhill, and at some points sharply downhill, so I’d usually run through these stretches and walk along the flat stuff. I guess on this particular day I had a bit of extra energy to burn, so I kept running along the flat stretches and found myself having a blast navigating the twists and turns at high speed. From that day forward for the duration of the Summer, I ran the trails daily.
More recently (perhaps a year and a half ago?), I started trail running that took me on more of a circuit around the forest so that I didn’t spend so much time away from the house. This let me get a quick run in before or during work hours, and was a huge boost to my stamina and sense of well being.
Why did I ever quit? Well, I think a particularly stormy, wet month or two got the better of me. It’s not the rain that bothered me at all. I’m fine with rain, and once you’re actually in the forest, the trees do a good job of keeping the wet off of your head. No. The real trouble is how it turned some of the trails into a sort of dirty slip-and-slide – unsafe for navigation at anything above a cautious tiptoe.
But hey, why let that put me off trail running ever after? The trails are fantastic right now, and I’m seizing the opportunity to build up the routine again. I’m even blogging about it, which adds a level of commitment to the whole venture and also makes me feel a bit like a soccer mom on a diet.
“So Brad” you might say “This trail running sounds acceptable, and compatible with my interests as a person. Do you have a convenient bullet-point list of pros and cons about trail running that I can use to make a balanced decision about whether I take up the practice for myself?”
And I’d say “No.”
And I’d be lying.
- Variable terrain to keep you engaged, interested, and challenged. Sometimes it’s like a kind of forest parkour.
- Good clean fun, ladies and gentlemen. You may have a filthy, filthy soul and habits that would make a satyr blush, but you can get this one thing in your life right and discover what it’s like to be proud of yourself for once. You animal.
- Ridiculously amazing scenery.
- Lots of interconnected routes you can choose your own adventure with.
- It’s head-clearing, grounding, and great for your mood.
- It’s great exercise, and 100% cheaper than a gym.
- A track is a boring oval thing with numbers and stripes on it surrounded by a cage, and that’s just not an acceptable environment for anybody but a prisoner.
- If it’s fall, and you know what you’re looking for, you can stop from time to time and pick some mushrooms to go with dinner. Chanterelles are abundant where I live, and I’ve been known to come back with a few bags full. Double pro – mushrooms are good for you. Triple pro – free food.
- If it’s Summer, grab some berries and make some pies – or just stuff your face with them right on the spot.
- You’ll see birds, deer, squirrels, and other living beings. One time I even saw a Llama.
- You might run straight into a bear. Or a cougar. Or another trail-enthusiast with a dog big enough to scare off a bear or a cougar.
- The fun parts of trail running are also the dangerous parts. Jumping over logs, running through tight turns, and sliding down hills are risky – particularly if the trail puts you dangerously close to the edge of a deep ravine (as several of my favourites do).
- Exposed roots will at best stub your toes, and at worst swiftly introduce your face to the dirt -and then you’ll be a dirt face, which is basically the forest equivalent of a garbage person.
- Some of those muddy stretches become icy stretches when the temperature falls below zero.
- After a storm, there’s no guarantee that your running path isn’t going to be littered with debris and fallen trees. I turn that particular problem into a pro by gathering up some of the wood on the way back and having myself a nice bonfire, and then turn it back into a con by eating a bag of marshmallows next to that bonfire.
- If it rains big stretches of trail become slick, muddy, and completely unsafe to run on. In fact, on some of my routes, small ponds begin to form – ponds that look like they’re full of coffee (but aren’t. Trust me).
- ATVs and Dirtbikes are often found barrelling along certain corridors of trail at daredevil speeds and are driven by irresponsible human children. Meeting one (say, directly in the face) would introduce a number of setbacks to your health goals. Furthermore, these vehicles carve ruts into the trail which make the trails more treacherous. On the plus side, these things are so loud you’ll hear them coming a mile away. On the negative side, these things are so loud you’ll hear them coming a mile away.
- If you’re not familiar with the forest you’re running around in, you could get lost. If you happen to be running on the same trails I run on, this con is compounded by the shame of being lost in the middle of town, mere minutes from civilization.
Dangerous or not, I’ve taken up the practice of trail running again and I’m finding it a tremendous mood-booster and an anchor point to my daily fitness routine. Once I’ve run a trail, I find it easier to commit to the rest of the day’s fitness demands because, hey, I’ve done this much, why slack off on the rest?
“But Brad” a hypothetical person might say “isn’t it too dangerous? I mean, I just read your pros and cons and now I’m afraid I’ll break my arm and fall down a cliff onto a bear riding an ATV.”
Y’know what? Sure, it can be dangerous, but so is going down a staircase or using a pool noodle as a vaulting pole. I’ve never hurt myself doing it, and if you’re a reasonably judicious and well-coordinated human being, you won’t either. Just don’t be dumb about it. Be safe. Don’t run trails you’re not familiar with, keep your ears and eyes open for possible threats, and above all – and I can’t stress this enough – please, please, please don’t carry a pound of raw bacon in your pocket.
I know it’s your favourite treat while exercising, but hey, wise up.
Save it for the pool.
Furthermore, I can only speak about my experiences as a trail runner on the trails that I’m familiar with. Where you live there may be no dangerous animals or ATVs or cliffs or rain or trails at all. Just find a nice trail that’s frequently used by human people, don’t be an idiot, go during the day, and have lots of fun exercise on it. It’s all sorts of win.
Stay tuned for more trail adventures soon.