Thoughts About Run­ning

Why We Need to Stick to the Trails

Canadian Running - - DEPARTMENTS - By Madeleine Cum­mings

This win­ter I en­rolled in Moun­tains 101, an on­line course run by two pro­fes­sors at the Univer­sity of Al­berta. It taught me a lot about the ge­og­ra­phy and ecol­ogy of moun­tains around the world, but a lot of the ma­te­rial was filmed closer to home, in Canada’s Rocky Moun­tains.

Since mov­ing to Al­berta two years ago, I’ve sought out stun­ning run­ning trails in Jasper and Banff, but spent lit­tle time think­ing about the plants and an­i­mals liv­ing in the moun­tains where I ran.

Moun­tains are home to many hardy species ca­pa­ble of brav­ing the harsh­est of win­ter con­di­tions. But as I learned, hu­man ac­tiv­ity can threaten their ex­is­tence. We can dis­turb, pol­lute and de­stroy parts of their habi­tat just by go­ing for a run.

Cana­dian na­tional parks are sure to see a surge of vis­i­tors this sum­mer as peo­ple take ad­van­tage of free dis­cov­ery passes in hon­our of Canada’s 150th birth­day. The mile­stone of­fers a great op­por­tu­nity to dis­cover some of the most beau­ti­ful run­ning trails and trail races in Canada. But it should also en­cour­age us to think more crit­i­cally about pre­serv­ing these places for the next 150 years.

As trail run­ning’s pop­u­lar­ity in­creases, so too should our com­mit­ment to sus­tain­abil­ity. The re­spon­si­bil­ity shouldn’t be left ex­clu­sively to lo­cals and Parks Canada staff, but to all of us who take ad­van­tage of wilder­ness trails and care about con­serv­ing them.

Min­i­miz­ing our im­pact is easy in prin­ci­ple. It means not lit­ter­ing, giv­ing wildlife a wide berth and stick­ing to the trails in­stead of forg­ing our own and tram­pling ev­ery­thing in our path. These guide­lines are easy to fol­low in good con­di­tions, but once trails get muddy or snowy, it can be tempt­ing to dis­re­gard them. I’ve been guilty of run­ning around pud­dles in­stead of through them in or­der to avoid soak­ing my shoes dur­ing a trail run.

“One way that you can run in an en­vi­ron­men­tally-friendly way is to un­der­stand how trails work,” said Jean-Yves Doucet, a trail run­ner who lives in Jasper, Alta., and works for Parks Canada. He runs in the park year-round and of­ten sees peo­ple veer off the trail dur­ing spring hikes, likely be­cause they don’t want to trudge through snow at higher el­e­va­tions. “Some­times we don’t know why there’s a bend here or why trails go here and not there, but it all has to do with the earth, the rain, the snow and the way the wa­ter drains,” he said. Cre­at­ing “rogue” trails can be de­struc­tive to the plants be­neath our feet and the soil in which they grow. Run­ners and hik­ers who want to use moun­tain trails dur­ing shoul­der sea­sons should pre­pare to get their feet wet, Doucet said. If a trail is ex­ceed­ingly muddy, it’s ac­tu­ally best to just avoid it un­til con­di­tions im­prove.

One of the best ways to learn more about sus­tain­able trail us­age is to get in­volved in lo­cal clean-up or main­te­nance ef­forts. In Jasper, for ex­am­ple, the Jasper Trail Al­liance al­ways wel­comes new mem­bers. Spend­ing an hour or two with trail ex­perts is a good way to learn more about a trail route or race course. Some ul­tra­ma­rathons even have manda­tory vol­un­teer re­quire­ments for reg­is­tra­tion.

Many race di­rec­tors rec­og­nize that large trail races can be harm­ful to the en­vi­ron­ment if care isn’t taken to re­duce lit­ter and ed­u­cate run­ners. Jen Demille and Tzach El­nekave, who run the “Off-the-Grid” trail race near their eco-lodge in Mat­tawa, Ont., have found many in­no­va­tive ways over the years to re­duce their race’s im­pact on the en­vi­ron­ment.

They give run­ners biodegrad­able race bibs, heat wa­ter from their well for eco-show­ers, en­cour­age car-pool­ing and dis­trib­ute home­baked treats and fruit at aid sta­tions. Rac­ers also bring their own dishes for the post-race meal and wash them with biodegrad­able soap in basins on-site.

The pair wor­ried, at times, about how run­ners might re­act to some of these changes, such as the de­ci­sion to not pro­vide wa­ter in dis­pos­able cups at aid sta­tions. But ac­cord­ing to Demille, par­tic­i­pants took the mod­i­fi­ca­tions in stride. Some have even adopted com­post toi­lets and other en­ergy-sav­ing mea­sures in their own homes.

“You take the harsh stance and peo­ple ad­just,” Demille said. “And, they ap­pre­ci­ate it.”

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