From what I can tell, road running tends to attract those who are decidedly A-type. I know runners who won’t run if their Garmin isn’t charged up and on their wrist – because after all, if it doesn’t end up on Strava, it didn’t happen, right?
When trail running, pace is deceptive, and your watch is basically useless. Sure, you can extrapolate all sorts of fun data with an advanced gps watch, such as the devices we feature as ‘Gear Essentials’ on p.66, or by measuring your output as power with Stryd, which we rigorously tested in this issue (p.64). But I would argue that the trails are best experienced with nothing more than a decent pair of trail shoes (p.68) and a good sense of direction.
While many trail runners wear a watch on the singletrack, they’ve learned to let go of obsessing over nailing a certain pace or running until they see “.00” kilometres, even if it means running back and forth in front of their predefined finishing spot. Most trail runners, whether they’re rockin’ a Garmin Fenix or not, just run, following a route until its end, listening to their body as they make their way through nature. If training for a road race is a science, then learning to understand yourself while running on a trail is an art.
The two feature profiles in this special trail-themed issue are about runners who know how to push their bodies and minds past what should be possible. Neither rely on metrics to tell them where they’ve been, where they are going and how much farther they should continue to run.
Brad Firth, known as Caribou Legs, discovered running because he was lost and literally trying to escape – attempting to outrun the law, and in a greater sense, himself. He went from being a drug addict and petty criminal on the streets of Vancouver to an inspiring ultraunner, challenging himself to cover extraordinary distances in order to bring awareness to under-represented causes. Caribou Legs is candid about his experiences in his conversation with writer Rhiannon Russell (p.60), detailing his struggle and how running plays a significant role in how he’s redefined who he is.
For Gary Robbins, wearing a watch to help guide him through the Barkley Marathons won’t be an option. The Canadian elite ultrarunner (and this issue’s cover athlete) told writer Sharon Crowther that the Barkley has become his obsession since he failed to complete the gruelling 100-miler in the Tennessee mountains in 2016. He feels he must finish, even if it means that he returns to the race each year until he’s finally completed what many consider the hardest endurance challenge in the world. One of the many quirks of the event is that racers aren’t allowed to don a gps unit and must plot their path through the forest the old-fashioned way: with a compass, a map and a lot of patience.
I’m excited that I’ll be heading to Tennessee to watch Robbins and others attempt to finish the Barkley, which has only had 14 different runners ever complete race in the allotted 60 hours. I’ll be reporting live with updates, photos and video (cell reception permitting). There is perhaps no more humbling an event in all of running, and it will be extraordinary to see if Robbins can endure the five 20-mile laps lost in the forest, battling his failing body and mind to achieve something that’s become a life’s passion and immensely personal for him. Pace won’t matter, nor will the end distance he’s covered when Robbins finally conquers the Barkley. All that matters is finishing, and of course, the experience of being in nature, in that moment, and having that memory with him forever after he’s accomplished something great.