Road running and trail running are not created equal: for one, trail running requires you to think fast on your feet, thanks to rocks, boulders, tree roots, and mud. So, unlike road-running, there’s no zoning out to Beyoncé (or Linkin Park). You also need stamina of steel for steep inclines, consistently uneven terrain, and stairs if you’re heading to Lynn Canyon’s gruesome trails.
Two days ago, I learned these things the hard way. I ran my first Foretrails 10k Trail Race in Vancouver thinking, “10k?! No problem, I got this! I’ve done roughly 100 already.” It ended up taking me nearly 1.5 hours to complete—and that’s saying a lot, considering my average finish time for a 10k is just under an hour. I was doubly exhausted from the elevation gain, stairs, and narrow rocky paths, making this run much harder than even the half marathons I’d run.
I left that first race with my ego checked, but a lot of lessons learned. I’m taking these lessons and returning to the trails in a few weekends to meet the challenge head-on for a second time, ready for redemption.
Here are some things I learned during my first trail race:
- The scenery is more beautiful in a trail race compared to a road race. In the Hallows Eve Race, we were in the middle of Lynn Canyon running by the flowing water. Some sections of the trail were steep and narrow overlooking the canyon – and I felt like a little squirrel running through them. It was also mostly shady, which would have been a relief for a summer race. I’m used to running on the exposed Martin Goodman trail along the lakeshore in Toronto and it doesn’t come close to comparing to the Lynn Canyon trail.
- People are way more social during a trail race. It’s easier to chat with fellow runners during a slower-paced trail run when there’s only a few of you together in the woods compared to normal marathons teeming with focused runners. But also, it seems as though trail runners are a close community, eager to learn about each other’s’ backgrounds and thoughts on the trail. I am always surprised by the camaraderie between runners at all events – but this seems exceptionally true for trail runners. I certainly got a few “tell me about yourself” and “so where are you from” questions.
- The race tends to be broken up by the time on the clock as opposed to mileage/kilometres. During the race, I was more concerned by the elapsed time on the Garmin and didn’t pay as much attention to the kilometre marks (which are far and few between in a trail race!)
- Pace does not matter in a trail race but can be very important in a road race (if you are concerned with a goal time or PR). Given the grade variety on the trails, it’s difficult to maintain a consistent pace – and it’s difficult to compare paces and race outcomes on every race given the variety. I walked most of the uphills in last weekend’s race whereas I attempt to keep a consistent uphill pace during road races.
- Practice going downhill and downstairs just as much as you train for going uphill and upstairs. I think I was actually slower on my decline, and while I thought I’d prefer it because it didn’t leaving me huffing for air or crying from exhaustion, it required the most focus. Some things I noticed about the people flying by me twice as fast: quick foot and leg turnover, lean forward not back, look ahead not straight down, use the upper body for balance and descend with confidence.
- Last but not least, trail race aid stations are buffets with every kind of candy, salty snack, junk food, and drink. I witnessed someone take back an entire cup of coke, a feat I couldn’t do even if I were to be standing still for the next hour.
So what’s next
Heading out on a trail instead of pavement is appealing for so many reasons. Escaping into the woods just gives you a nature experience that a road run often cannot, aaaaand a trail’s softer surface gives your body a break too. As an added bonus, running in the forest means tree coverage, and now that rainy season is upon us I think I’ll resort to the trails.
Finally, after the race I met up with my coworker who ran the trail half marathon that same day and she mentioned training for an Ironman race. She somewhat inspired/persuaded/coaxed me into it and I think I may sign up for a half Ironman next spring! Training for this should be interesting…