Last week the North Shore Outlook published an article on trail running and on its surge in popularity over the past five years. You can read it below.
Ditch the road
By ALYSSA NOEL Staff Reporter, Jul 26 2007
You can’t fall off a mountain.
That is the conclusion Jack Kerouac’s protagonist Ray Smith arrives at in the book The Dharma Bums. After traversing the steep ledge of a California mountain and being frightened to the brink of tears, Smith begins his descent and discovers he shouldn’t have been afraid.
“Now when I went around that ledge that had scared me it was just fun and a lark, I just skipped and jumped and danced along and I had really learned that you can’t fall off a mountain,” he said. “Whether you can fall off a mountain or not I don’t know, but I had learned that you can’t. That was the way it struck me.”
That is also the way it strikes Mark Warsaba, co-owner of 5 Peaks Trail Running Series. Along with his wife Kathryn Stanton, Warsaba has been leading runners through the trails of North Shore mountains for the past four years.
“When you’re running on the trail you’re focused (on what’s in front of you),” he explains, walking through the rain-drenched trail at the Lynn Valley loop.
It’s that added concentration that keeps you upright, he said.
Warsaba is about to run over slick patches of rocks, across slimy wood pathways and up muddy hills, but, he insists, echoing Smith’s revelation, he will not fall.
And, apparently, neither will the 600-odd runners who use the North Shore’s trails to trade in pavement for path.
Trail running has experienced a surge in popularity here over the past five years, thanks, in part, to 5 Peaks’ re-branding of the sport. Originally, it was considered adventure racing for elite athletes who revelled in the challenge of running 15 km straight up a mountain then barrelling down again.
But Warsaba and Stanton, who met at a 5 Peaks race, felt recreational runners would also enjoy leaving behind the polluted city streets and stop-start pace set by traffic lights for the serene setting of the forest.
So, they bought the company and implemented a few changes.
First, they added a sport course, reducing the 10-15-km trail to 5-6 kilometres. And rather than shooting up the mountain, the new course wound in a side-to-side pattern, making it much less strenuous. At the same time, they kept the 21-km half-marathon course to cater to competitive runners.
The result was a formula that appealed to “everybody from those elite athletes to the entry level get-off-the-couch type of people who are looking for the motivation to get back into shape or get into shape,” explains Warsaba. “If you can run five kilometres, you can do a trail run.”
Stanton was one of those couch potatoes when she moved from Ontario to B.C. Inspired by the natural beauty of the area, she decided to start running.
She entered the Sun Run, then progressed to half- and full-marathons. In 2002, she entered her first 5 Peaks trail race.
“I signed up to do a race having just finished a road marathon, thinking, ‘Well this is easy. I just ran 42 kilometres, I can run a 10-km race. How hard can it be?’ And I was shocked and humbled by just how difficult I found it because it is more than one foot in front of the other,” she says. “And I loved that.”
The sport not only requires runners to focus on the terrain so they don’t trip over obstacles, but it also provides a full-body workout, as well as a cushioned landing, unlike the road, Warsaba explains.
But, arguably, the biggest attraction is the scenery.
“If you can listen to what you’re in right now, you have that bird chirping over there, you have the river over there, you have the rain falling, who cares? You can’t hear the traffic, you have the fresh air,” he says, from under the shelter of the raised back door of his SUV.
Stanton agrees. Road running is boring in comparison, she says. “It was, ‘What’s my pace? How much faster can I get?’”
Brian Barber, one of their clients, agrees. He’s been trail running for two years. “You get to feel the energy of the mountain,” he says. “Running the seawall now feels repetitive.”
Lance Phillips is a newly converted trail runner. He had been pounding pavement and running marathons for six years when Barber introduced him to 5 Peaks. He started out taking part in the group’s training clinics.
“Next thing I know I’m signing up for races,” he says.
As a busy real estate agent, he says he never would’ve had time to train for the trail running of yesteryear, but 5 Peaks’ races provide a good balance.
“If someone had thrown down the gauntlet and challenged me to it I would’ve, but this is definitely more user-friendly. They’ve made it a lot more accessible, a lot easier. I probably wouldn’t do an adventure race because of the time commitment,” he says.
According to the Outdoor Industry Foundation, a non-profit group based in the U.S. that encourages outdoor activity, in 2006 there were 6.7 million regular trail runners in the States and more than 40 million worldwide.
In the same way marathon training programs have transformed the 42-km race into an attainable goal for any regular runner, trail running groups seem to have taken the exclusivity out of running around mountainsides.
Each year, 5 Peaks hosts five races on five different mountains in B.C. (hence the name) and 22 across Canada. Race options include the sport course, the enduro course (10-15 km) and the half-marathon course at select races. Since implementing the new courses, the number of participants has jumped from about 200 to over 500 per race.
“It’s different from the Vancouver Marathon because there you’re shoulder-to-shoulder,” Phillips says. “With the 5 Peaks races, you can run solitary for almost the whole time.”
Alone, but with the knowledge that a community of runners are a few kilometres ahead of and behind you. That’s the reason Stanton thinks so many runners prefer running with 5 Peaks rather than just hitting the trails alone.
“You have to think why is it that they (enter races) because (the mountain) is there all the time. It’s got to be that social network of people,” she says.
And maybe it’s also the comfort of knowing that, in case Ray Smith turns out to be wrong and you can fall off a mountain, there will be hundreds of other runners to help you back up.
5 Peaks is holding a race on Mount Seymour July 28. You can register online at www.5peaks.com. First-time participants are welcome.