The ultra-trail scene is easily the most exciting in Canadian running right now. Although the first wave of the running boom over the past 15 or so years was kickstarted by road 5ks and half-marathons, many people are now being drawn to the inescapable allure of the trails. In Jennifer Faraone’s fun and revealing ‘Crossing the Line’ essay (p.80), she perfectly illustrates how hitting the singletrack and forgetting about the pesky details of the roads, like pace and PBs, is liberating and reintroduces us to why we first fell in love with running.
One of the most exciting aspects of the ultra-trail scene is the emergence of women dominating races outright. Madeleine Cummings’ excellent feature on Ailsa MacDonald is framed around one of the defining races of the ultra star’s career thus far. MacDonald surprises the field, and herself, by enduring a brutally hot day in the mountains and winning the Sinister 7, one of Canada’s toughest ultras – and she won the race outright.
From a science perspective, there’s a series of physiological factors that provide men with about an eight to 10 per cent performance advantage over women in most endurance events. For example, the men’s marathon world record is 2:02:57, whereas the women’s is 2:15:25, which is a 9.21 per cent difference. But recent studies suggest that the longer a race goes, the less of a role physiology plays, which evens the playing field, and maks the event a battle of mind over matter. MacDonald, and other top Canadian runners like Alissa St. Laurent (whom we featured in the 2017 Trail Special) are now showing that, over the course of a long, gruelling day of running 100 miles through mountain ranges, the ultra is the most extreme, and perhaps purest test of mental strength. A 2017 study from ubc researchers suggests that women may in fact have a performance advantage over men in what they call “ultra ultra” distances. Our t wo ot her feat ures in t his Trail Special also highlight Canadians who exhibit shocking mental toughness. Nort h Vancouver’s Wing Taylor was one of the few true spectators at the now legendary 2017 Barkley Marathons, and he gives us an inside look of that experience. Gary Robbins’ character in the face of such adversity is both admirable and contagious, as is David Proctor’s in Rhiannon Russell ’s intriguing prof ile ( p.5 4) of the man who aims to run across Canada faster than anyone in history this coming summer. These three astounding Canadian athletes are breaking down barriers, challenging themselves to look beyond perceived limits and reshaping our idea of endurance sports, in every possible way. It’s an exciting time to be a trail runner in Canada.