Canadian Running - - DEPARTMENTS - Michael Doyle, Ed­i­tor-in-Chief @Cana­di­anRun­ning

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.

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