To begin our new trail running column, firefighter Devin Featherstone, winner of Alberta’s Lost Soul 100K, tells us about the appeal of his sport.
In North America, our world is focused on convenience. Roads, pathways, escalators, elevators – they’re all at our finger tips. We click a button and food arrives at our door. Convenience: it’s defined as the quality of being suitable to one’s comfort, purposes or needs.
Perhaps the need to escape the norm, step away from the paths and into the quiet of the wilderness is what draws people to trail running. Convenience is not an option when you escape into the wild. Imagine running through the forest, the sunlight streams through the leaves of the trees. Its reflection bounces off the morning dew that’s settled into the rocks.
Your feet aren’t touching pavement, instead they are stepping over rocks, branches, puddles and fallen flora. Your mind is tranquil – you can’t focus on your job, your kids, your finances. All you are focusing on is your next step. Knowing that if for one second, your thoughts wander away from the path you’ll fall.
This is meditation, this is an escape from reality. This is the place where you focus on no one except yourself. You run, and as you do so, your breath tries to keep up. When you exhale, clouds of steam escape in front of you. The morning is cool, but you welcome the chill. Every step you take burns, the terrain isn’t flat. You wind up and down hills that most people only dream of hiking. There’s no judgment on the trails. This is a sport that welcomes everyone. There’s no scoreboard, and little reflection to your overall time or pace. This is a journey that has a start and finish that you decide.
My personal journey with trail running started simply. When I transitioned back to Calgary, I decided that I was going to start running some of the more simple single track options that were available. Over the course of time, I began to challenge myself and tackle terrain that people struggled to hike. I was moving past them, conquering the distance in minimal times.
Trail running never gets boring. The scenery changes daily. I can run the same track 100 times and still see something that I hadn’t noticed before, be it an animal or a view. My home, and backyard have some of the most inspiring, picturesque views that a person could ask to see. People travel thousands of miles, and spend hundreds of dollars to visit what so many of us who reside here forget to see.
I find the people who trail run to be different. The person you’re competing against will stop to help you if you fall. Because of this sport, and passion of mine I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many amazing runners. All of them bringing a unique story to the table: captivated by what’s around me, and content with conversation. I couldn’t ask for more. My best company would have to be my dog Stevie, who never turns down an opportunity to run.
Two of the most amazing trails I’ve conquered would be the North Over Ridge and the Rockwall Trail. The North Over Ridge is an intense and very extreme mountain run. You climb up some gnarly scree sections that you top off by walking along a tiny ridge that has no room for error. Although challenging, the rewards are priceless. This trail offers some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.
Generally, the Rockwall Trail is done as a three-day hike. The best time of year to do it is in the later month of September when the larch trees turn into a beautiful yellow shade. Combined with lakes and massive mountain walls that you can run along, you’ve got yourself a trail run that shouldn’t be missed. I still drop my jaw every time I get to see this area and can’t wait to visit it again.