Running in Riding Mountain
With Prairie humility, a half-marathon is born in one of Canada’s finest national parks
Often described as one of Canada’s best-kept secrets, western Manitoba’s Riding Mountain National Park will soon play host to its first half-marathon, thanks to the vision of Ellis and Deb Crowston. This husband-and-wife duo has been organizing the 30-year-old Riding Mountain Triathlon for the past 10-plus years, and now will introduce the often-overlooked park to the running community. “Over the years Riding Mountain hasn’t developed into a really well-known national park,” says Ellis Crowston, who grew up 90 kilometres south of the park in Brandon, and lifeguarded there in the ’70s. The park tends to be overshadowed by the “almost-monolithic” nature of Banff and Jasper, says Crowston. “When people start thinking of travelling they almost automatically go that route.” While Crowston understands the lure of the Rockies, he wants runners to know there are natural wonders and geographic diversity to be discovered on the Prairies. “Riding Mountain over the years has never really been promoted and been put out there as this gorgeous spot,” he explains.
It’s a Prairie experience, but don’t make the mistake of pigeonholing it with a preconceived notion of f lat land and empty spaces, cautions Crowston. “There’s a combination between the terrain and the vista that you’ll encounter when you start running through the park,” says Crowston, that is second-to-none. “There’s a wide-open lakeshore run along the Clear Lake [the park ’s main body of water], that’s as beautiful as it gets; and trails cutting through the forest area that have been developed over the years that are hard packed and easy to run.”
Runners are also treated to a trek through the Boreal Forest,
where deer are often spotted and the distinct sound of elk calling out bounce off trees and into the wide-open spaces. “It’s built on the side of an escarpment,” says Crowston. “So there’s this sort of undulating topography that really opens up opportunities for all types of training for all kinds of events.”
Though surrounded by t he kind of natural scenery most often associated with trail racing, the Riding Mountain Half-Marathon is unique in that it is designed as a road race. Eighty per cent of the course is on a paved surface, and the other 20 per cent hard packed trail.
The race starts at the historical townsite of Wasagaming, and winds through the campgrounds before heading into the park and along the shores of Clear Lake, ending with a shot into the expansive cabin country.
The Crowstons see this race as being an ideal opportunity to explore Riding Mountain National Park at a prime time of year; as the lush trees are turning colour and a calm settles in after the summer rush. They have no desire to turn the race into a massive event with thousands of athletes, but rather Crowston says they see it as serving a simple purpose.
“What we really want is to have it where running groups and clubs can come up in the middle of September and spend that last weekend before settling into winter together, enjoying the park and experiencing a unique race.”
The city of Dauphin is 13 kilometres north of the park, and Brandon Airport is about 95 kilometres south of the park. If you’re driving from Winnipeg, it’s approximately three hours west via the Trans-Canada Highway/MB-1 W and Yellowhead Highway/MB-16 W.
Where to stay
From the Lake House Boutique Hotel to the Riding Mountain National Park–Wasagaming Campground, there are plenty of accommodation options at the park. The half-marathon is being held in the off-season, which means discounted rates.
ABOVE While the half-marathon is new, the organizers have put on a longrunning triathlon event in the park
OPPOSITE AND BELOW Clear Lake in Riding Mountain National Park