fitness · running

Trying new things: Trail Running

With less travel these days, I decided to take a fresh look at what London, Ontario has to offer. I landed on a city-run trail running program and a basic skill Stand-up paddleboard (SUP) class, both of which I’m doing with Anita. Today I’ll take about the trail running.

The trail running program is a Learn to Run Trails (5K) every Wednesday for eight weeks. At $55 you can’t really go wrong even if you’re going to miss one or two of the outings. It’s listed as an outdoor/nature program, and part of the objective is not just to learn to run trails but also to discover and learn about our city’s trails, which are designated as Environmentally Significant Areas (ESAs). In the service of that, the city sends us an info sheet on each week’s trail. It’s a five-page PDF that describes it and talks about the ecosystem and wildlife in the area and what makes it environmentally significant. This week we ran in Kilally, and this is the first page of the info flyer.

Image description: info sheet on Kilally Meadows Environmentally Significant Area. includes a photo of the area and a description of its location and main features.

We had our first day out two Wednesdays ago on the literal hottest day so far this season, where it was in the high 30s C with a humidex of 43 degrees C. If it wasn’t the first night of a new program there is no way I’d have gone running at 6:30 pm that evening.

But at least 25 of us, mostly women, gathered at Westminster Ponds for a 4.5K in a shaded quite technical trail (I think that mostly means lots of roots, mud, winding parts, and ups and downs). Three of the four coaches were there, and they assured us that no one would be left behind or forced to push their pace. There was a coach up front, leading, one in the middle who sort of went back and forth keeping track of people, and one at the rear of the group making sure no one was falling behind.

We started off easy, with lots of pauses and walking (especially walking around the mud). The shade of the trees made it quite a bit cooler, but even so it was a tough running day and I immediately wished I’d brought two waters instead of one. The trail had quite a few muddy bits, and at the first one I realized I’d forgotten to wear my trail running shoes and instead wore my regular shoes for running on pavement. I will not be making that mistake again.

I mostly ran in the middle of the pack, sometimes falling back because I took more frequent walk breaks than some. It was uncomfortably hot and I was feeling it, and we hadn’t settled on any prescribed intervals (like this week’s 3-1s). We did a 2K loop and I was under the mistaken impression that because of the heat and it being day one, that’s all we were going to do. But when we stopped to regroup at the end of it, Terry suggested that we do it again in the other direction “if that was okay with everyone.” He explained how taking a trail in the other direction is almost like doing a new trail. Everyone was so darn agreeable about doing a second loop. Maybe no one wanted to be the naysayer. Granted, 2K is a pretty short run. But OMG.

Many walk breaks later, and quite a few short spurts of “I can make it to that tree” and “I can make it to that bend” and “I can make it up this hill,” and we made it. In all we were out there for just under an hour, which makes it the longest 4.5K I’ve ever done, but also the hottest. And on a trail.

We gathered in the parking area after and the coaches explained that every trail is different, and that in trail running you can’t really compare your times from one trail to another. They’re all different, and you’re bound to run a trail more slowly than the same distance on a paved pathway. Even the same trail can be quite different on a different day or in a different direction. They also challenge us in different ways, using more muscles because whereas in road running you are consistent in the way your foot hits the ground and your stride and so on, in trail running that’s not the case. You need to go over or avoid roots, adjust to different conditions under foot, watch out for tree branches in your face or on the ground, and go around (or through) mud.

This week we did a much easier, flatter trail in Kilally Meadows. It wasn’t quite as shaded but it also was considerably cooler (still about 30 degrees but less humid). We divided into two distinct groups this week — the fast and the slow. I chose the slow group, which the lead coach Joelle called “party pace,” and we did 3-1 intervals (3 minutes of running, 1 minute of walking), covering about 3.5K in half an hour or so. It didn’t feel nearly as brutal as the previous week, and I was able to keep up with the pace and the intervals without any trouble. I might try the other group some time but I liked being able to enjoy the whole experience rather than feeling like I was pushing the pace just to keep up.

I had some concerns about it being buggy, and especially about ticks, which lots of people are talking about this year. I bought a special “tick key” that removes them without breaking them off. Lyme disease is a risk when you pull out a tick wrong. They burrow and it is easy to break them, releasing the toxin that carries the disease (that’s my lay understanding of it anyway). But the coaches also assured us that if we shower when we get home, we’d probably be fine because they are slow to move and the burrowing takes about 24 hours. That was reassuring. But I did do a quick tick check anyway. And I sprayed myself down with deep woods insect repellent.

Anita and I are out of the habit of taking pictures every time we go out, so I have no photo of either night, so I can’t prove that we were smiling but we were. Trail running is a great way to get out for a run, learn about the city’s trails, and discover new places to run when it’s hot and shade is welcome, or when you just want a change of scenery. I’m excited to discover the other trails in the area, and definitely want to add trail running to my roster of activities.

Have you ever done trail running?

2 thoughts on “Trying new things: Trail Running

  1. I love trail running. Anytime I have the option, I will choose it over asphalt. I love the focus and engagement of the terrain. Trails feel freer to me than road running. I don’t worry about pace, just staying upright and enjoying nature. I’m thrilled to hear there are clinics to introduce trail running to more people the first time I ever did it—maybe 20 years ago—I just decided to run a hiking trail I liked and almost immediately fell truly, madly, deeply for the new (to me) sport.

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  2. So glad you’re trying this. I love London’s trail system. There are so many excellent trails. I’ve used them mainly for x country skiing, snow shoeing and dog walking. I’ve always been a believer in appreciating a place for the things it does well–so many paved country roads is part of my story of falling in love with longer distance cycling–and London does trails very well. Enjoy!

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