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    Trail Blazer

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    DCIM101GOPRO

    Ray Zahab on his life off the streets

    DCIM101GOPRO

    A funny thing occurred to me the other day as I was doing my best to run one of the snow-covered trails by my place and stay upright. Here I am, struggling to run on what’s left of the packed ice as winter melts away to spring when I could be out on the road logging the training hours…but I’m not. It seems these past years I’m rarely on the road, even for my speed work I am on the trails.

    I really like trail running. Scratch that—I love trail running. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy road running. I like the races, the Ottawa Marathon, Calgary, Manitoba, they’re awesome—but there’s something about being in the woods, running trails in all seasons and all conditions that draws me in. Maybe its the fact that for me, the training is much more specific. It takes me at least a year to train for one of my running expeditions, and getting used to being on unstable terrain is critical. When I ran across the Gobi desert in 2013, half of it was completely cross-country on a gnarly mix of rocks and sand. Believe it or not, the trails in Gatineau Park where I live (and the training trips to the White Mountains) helped me negotiate that desert, and lots of others.

    It’s about more than race times or adventure. At the risk of sounding hokey, I just love the way you feel more connected to nature.

    I love the unpredictability of the woods! I’ve seen bears, deer, coyotes, snakes and all sorts amazing wildlife while running in Gatineau Park. I love the early morning runs, right after the kids are off to school, where the forest is extra quiet—almost meditative. The early morning runs when the air just feels so pure and oxygenated. I love the rare evening runs I still head out on late spring, when the sun is setting, and you come home purged of stress, and totally relaxed and renewed.

    Spring presents a whole new aspect to trail running. Once the trails are packed, they are like running on a low impact highway through the forest. The exact same trails I run in summer look and feel completely different in spring. It’s like being transported to a whole new world. And then there’s snowshoe running. Insanely difficult and challenging, but insanely fun, too! As a matter of fact I feel way stronger on my runs come spring after snowshoe workouts in the winter.

    My daughters, although still very young, have taken to trail running, too. My wife runs ultra marathons, so I guess you could say it’s a family affair. Weekends in the summer are the best for finding our own mini-adventures on the single track, with the kids leading the way, choosing their final destination (usually snack oriented).

    How do I get started trail running? That’s the question I get asked most by people who want to come up to Gatineau Park, or anywhere else where a network of trails exist. I get it. I remember my first trail run, being uncertain about what may lurk in the woods. My answer is always the same. Start out with trails that are the most travelled, graduate to more challenging trails over time, and before you know it, you’ll be running in places and terrain you never thought you would. And that’s when you’ll fall in love with trail running, too.