To Trail or Not To Trail

Stephen Longhurst: I’m an over-forty student of running for the past 9 years. I’ve run everything from short runs to long runs on both road and trail. I got into running as a way to stay in shape, have fun and meet people. What started out as a desire for better physical fitness has turned into a passion of varying degrees. I started running at the Running Room in Port Credit in the learn to run clinic and everything just went from there. I made a decision to go as close to barefoot as possible about one year ago and that is currently a work in progress. I am hoping to get my distance back up barefoot or close to it as possible and continue to run longer distances like half marathons, marathons and any ultra events that I feel I’m capable of doing. My blogs are Barefoot in Port Dover and My Running Sole.

A few years ago I was a committed road runner. If I was going to run it had to be a nice, even, hard-packed or asphalt surface. The closest thing I wanted to do off-road were bike paths or walking paths in local parks. Then a friend told me that I should try doing a trail race. He told me that he had started doing a small series of trail races around southern Ontario called 5 Peaks. I was now curious. It sounded like fun. I checked out the Web site and promptly registered for the race at Rattlesnake Point. This, little did I know, was the start of my new addiction.

I showed up at Rattlesnake Point Conservation Area in Milton at 9:00 AM on race day and found my running buddy to help myself get oriented. The start time of the actual race was 10:00 AM, which was a kick-butt concept to me. For once I didn’t have to get up before the sun to go to a race. I picked up my bib and my swag and got ready to run.

They gave us our pre-race briefing, which included a course description, and the thing that stands out the most were the warnings about roots, rocks, the technical difficulty of the course and of course the cliff. The main warning was to follow the trail markers and to yield to other runners when necessary in narrow sections of the trail.

I now did not know what to expect from this course. This sure wasn’t going to be a bike path in Erindale Park and it didn’t sound like I was in Kansas anymore. The horn went off for my wave of runners and I was off. I soon discovered that any trepidation that I may have had was completely unnecessary. There were lots of rocks, roots, dirt paths, single track running and elevation change. Yes there was certainly a great deal of up and down hills of all description.

It was at this point that I realized that I had been missing out on some of the best running around. I had to be a little bit more careful about my footing, but it was the most fun that I had on a run in a long time. There seemed to be something so pure and natural about running along a rocky path with the sun occasionally peeking through the canopy of the trees.

I finished that first trail run and it was fantastic. I was hot, I was sweaty, I was out of breath and I was completely sold. I should mention that I did that first run in trail shoes. I have since switched to the Vibram Five Fingers KSO Trek and it is working out like absolute magic.

The simple fact that you are running practically barefoot makes you more careful with your footing. When I did a trail race last year in mine I actually felt a little more fleet of foot and able to deal with terrain change than my shoe-wearing comrades. This isn’t to say that stepping on a good size stone isn’t going to hurt a little, but the Treks definitely make a difference in the effect things like this have on your feet.

No matter how you do it, you should definitely get yourself out on the trails this year. There are plenty of trail events that go on all spring, summer and fall like 5 Peaks, the Ontario Ultra Series, and countless other independent events. They are all loads of fun, the people are friendly, and the courses always present new and interesting challenges.

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