As fascinating as I think I might be … Canmore Runner is not about me. It’s about trail running in Canmore and the Bow Valley.
But what I say about trail running in Canmore and the Bow Valley is influenced by my experience and perspective on running. So, if you’ll indulge me for this one post, allow me to give you a sense of where i’m coming from when I write about trail running. To encourage you to read on, let me share the second rule of Canmore Runner (the first being that it’s not about me): no post longer than 1,268 words! So, read on. It won’t take long and you may find it interesting.
Running was not my first sporting love. That was cycling. I’d always been into cycling as a kid and throughout university but it wasn’t until my 30s that I took it seriously, prompted by a renewed interest in the Tour de France, a desire to be fitter and the fact that I was living in Geneva, Switzerland. This is a great place to ride but I soon learned that I wasn’t one to ride for the sake of riding. I enjoyed the freedom of the open road and improving my fitness in the process. But I needed something more tangible to provide structure to my riding and get me out on those wet, windy, cold days and not just the dry, sunny, warm ones. Racing was the answer, though the goal was never to win; it was to train, compete, finish (ideally not come last) and, above all, enjoy the experience.
From 2004-2006, I competed in cyclosportive races like the Etape du Tour, the Time Megeve Mont Blanc, and the Grand Bornand. I loved almost every minute of those 100-200 plus kilometre rides in the Alps and Pyrennes, summiting the legendary climbs of the Tour de France. I enjoyed the training and being fitter than i’d ever been before. And the gear buying. I love buying gear. In 2007, my wife and I moved to New York and cycling took a back seat, primarily because I was about to become a father and didn’t want to spend my weekends riding up Manhattan’s West Side bike path and down the Route 9W in Jersey and away from my wife and son. But I did want to maintain this hard-earned fitness. My wife was, and remains, a keen runner, competing in most distances, including marathons, (and entered, by our children, for her first ultra later this year). With her encouragement, I decided to follow her lead and have been the grateful beneficiary of her insights and support ever since.
As with cycling, I wasn’t content or capable of running for the sake of running, or simply to enjoy the sense of freedom that came with it, or to keep fit. I needed to compete. I needed the motivation and structure provided by training for a race. In February 2009, I took part in my first race: the Al Gordon 4 mile road race in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, finishing in around 25 minutes. I enjoyed the experience and was pleased with the time (and not coming last). But rather than being a springboard to competitive running, the following months were plagued by injury that stifled my running ambitions.
In 2010 we moved back to Geneva where I began to run more consistently. My first race that year was a hilly 10k trail run in Chamonix. Chamonix is around one hour from Geneva and a truly wonderful place for running, hiking and skiing – not to mention being the start and finish of the legendary Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. It’s right up there with Canmore, well almost. The possibility of racing the trails, or at least 10km of them, was something I didn’t want to pass up. On the day, I suffered, I was slow, but I loved it. It was only 10k but the scenery, the challenging and varied terrain made for probably the most enjoyable running experience of my life at that time. This was my first foray into trail running and I loved it – so much so that I resolved, after some welcome prodding from my wife, to return in 2011 for the 23km Mont Blanc Cross (MBC) with its 1600m of ascent. Having just run a relatively flat 10k very slowly, I had no idea if I would be capable of this but that wasn’t going to stop me from trying.
In preparation, I entered the Lausanne Half Marathon in October 2010 to see if I could at least run beyond 10km. Training for that proved to be a revelation of sorts. After downloading the now discontinued Runner’s World training app, I discovered there’s more to training than just getting out and running. There’s intervals, hill repeats, tempo runs and long runs that help you run faster and longer. Although this all seems obvious now, at the time it revolutionized my running even if the race itself was total blow out. I went ridiculously fast over the first 5k, “hit the wall” and felt each and every metre of the next 16.1km, finishing in 2.08.11. But i’ve never made that mistake again, including in May the following year at the Geneva Half Marathon where a sound approach to my training and a more sensible approach to the race saw me improve upon my Lausanne debacle by three minutes.
The following month, I lined up for the MBC. I had an inkling that I was capable of finishing and my wife certainly thought so. I’d trained for 16 weeks, felt good, and the sun was shining. My concern was less about the distance and more about the 1600m of ascent over rock and root strewn hiking and ski trails. 3 hours 58 minutes later I found that I could go the distance, cope with the elevation, and enjoy the experience in a way that even surpassed my elation at completing the 10k the year before.
The MBC had a defining influence on my running. First, I proved to myself that with the right preparation and a high degree of determination, nothing was beyond me. I wouldn’t win but I would finish. Second, trail running was clearly the way forward for me as a runner.
And so it remains. On the trail, i’ve learned to love running for the sake of running. I’ve come to appreciate the sheer beauty and freedom of the trails, the scenery, the constant challenge posed by ever changing terrain, from technical single track to fire roads, the sometimes significant changes in elevation achieved through steep and long climbs, the rocks, roots, dirt, mud, snow and ice. My compulsion to race has given way to a desire to race and to really challenge myself in the process. In October 2014, I ran the 50k Grizzly Ultra Marathon in Canmore, finishing in 6.37.58.
I’ve never run a marathon (and have no interest in trying to, at least on the road) and when I signed up for the Grizzly, the furthest i’d ever run was 23km. It was beyond doubt the most incredible and enjoyable running, if not sporting, experience and achievement of my life. And one that I fully intend to repeat.
Running on trails allows me, forces me, to be in the moment in a way that I never experienced running – or indeed riding – on the road. With that comes a real sense of being alive. And none more so than on the trails of Canmore and the Bow Valley.