Trail Amputation

When training for a long race/run, one winds up quickly running through the standard trail options of an area. Victoria is rich with trails which explains why there are such fast trail runners here. For a trail example, where I work, there is a beautiful stretch of trail called Mystic Vale that runs though a deep, cool, maple lined gulley from the ocean up to the summit of Mt. Tolmie (roughly). This is 4 kms of running and 350 feet of climbing each way and can be stretched into an hour long run. Further afield are Mt. Doug, Thetis Lake, the Lochside Trail, Elk/Beaver Lakes and then Gowland Tod, Goldstream and eventually the Sooke Hills, East Sooke, then the coastal trails. It sounds like a lot, but in a typical week now I’m running for around 7 hours. If you add up the weeks and the time, you pretty quickly run out of new trail and understand how precious this resource is. In a land of very ugly tract housing and giant malls, finding new trails in hills can be like stumbling onto a hunk of gold.

One of the motivating factors for all kinds of running for me is exploration. In my earliest running days almost 8 years ago, I used running as a way to explore my area and challenge my sense of distance. I carried my old yellow Garmin etrex GPS in hand and would track my runs and then marvel a them on the tiny little screen when i got home. Each track was a treasure permanently locked away on the little microchips in that device (I didn’t have a way to download that unit). Of course now there are wrist-top GPS units slightly larger than a typical watch; cell phones and their apps allow GPS tracking and instant uploading, so these tracks are now instantly available in the cloud. A side-benefit of this is that open source mapping web sites like Openstreetmap (similar to Google Maps, but without the big brother data mining) can be updated to show all the trails in an area if someone goes out and covers the ground.

This past weekend my training schedule called for something like two 3 1/2 hour runs. These are the back-to-back runs that are a staple of building endurance for very long runs. My peak training week will have me running a 4 hour run one day and a 6 hour run the following day. Ouch. But that’s still a month out so I can pretend it’s not in my future. I covered Saturday’s run by running 3 repeats of a local 1300′ mountain with some friends. Sunday was a house-moving day, so I schlepped boxes for an hour or so and put off the run to the end of the day and was tired at the outset. I promised myself to be happy with any length run but was hoping to get at least two hours. To cap it all off, I’m trying to run on less sugar. A vague idea about this was recently reinforced by a friend who is a professional kinesiologist. She suggested that training on low to no sugar or any food intake leads to more efficient fat burning. But, to do this, you have to bring yourself close to bonkland and work through it sending a strong signal to your body that secondary fuel resources would be handy. So I set off yesterday with two bottles of water and one gel (equates to 100 calories) and maybe 2000 calories of work ahead.

Prior to my run, I looked at maps and saw that there was a spur off of one of my standard climbs called Prospector’s trail. Prospector’s is a beautiful track up a slope of douglas fir and madrona with rocky outcrops and lush undergrowth. This past spring, the slopes were covered with lillies and then camas. I set out with the intention of exploring this spur and seeing where it took me. After a few failed attempts running through the group camp site where one of the trails was meant to be, I got back on the known trail kind of giving up on exploration. I was feeling really tired from the previous day’s run and all the moving so latching into a known route was comforting.

Further along, at the top of the first climb there is a spur I knew about, but had thought just petered out. I decided to pursue it with a little more perseverance than before since the maps showed something out there. There was a steep step that looked like a deer trail but I climbed it to find a pretty little single track path snaking through some grass and madrona. What followed was some of the prettiest trail running I’ve done in a while. Partly because it was new and partly because it’s simply gorgeous in there. The path climbed steeply up and northward past another trail fork into a deep vale filled with fir and fern and a little creek. This area was lush with birds and growth and silent in that old forest way that always brings joy and peace into my brain. The tiredness in my legs dissolved and I whispered exclamations of wonder to myself as I ran.

Of course, I knew that this little sanctuary was pinched in between the area I knew, Prospector’s trail, and something called Bear Mountain. Bear Mountain sounds like a nice place in name. There are black bears on the island, so it’s not out of the question for that name to crop up. However, in this case the Bear refers to a golfer named Jack Nicklaus and the name is that of a massive condo, resort, golf complex sprawled up against Saanich Inlet, pristine salmon spawning streams, and the beautiful hills of fir and madrona. Bear Mountain was hotly contested when it was proposed and through its development during the real estate derivatives bubble of the mid-2000s. The “Mountain” is actually on Mount Skirt and Mount Miniskirt an area that was a mecca of trails. As I explored on my run I realized that I had connected into the old trail system. The feeling was like opening a hidden door into the servants passageway on an old mansion — this entirely other world that I hadn’t guessed existed that I hadn’t known the extent of, and that was rarely used.

My trail wound up the lush little cove and along the streambed to a fork in the trail that goes steeply uphill to the right and another toward daylight to the left. Noting the right-hand trail, I went left and soon broke out of the forest, through a thin barrier of scotch broom and into a sand trap. I was looking up the fairway of the 5th hole of the Bear Mountain “Mountain” golf course and the trail just ended. Cold. The landscape had been remolded to that expected by a golfer and which is completely foreign to the region — smooth and rolling with neatly trimmed grass and gentle slopes. These are characteristics that embody nothing of the local landscape. Jack Nicklaus, the course’s designer, was born in Ohio and spent his life on golf courses, not in nature. The contrast between the forest behind me and the smooth greenness in front was shocking and sad. I couldn’t help but imagine where this trail used to go and through what little natural wonders, but it was all paved-under by trucked in soil and fake-emerald turf. I ducked back into the forest to explore the other trail and to try to reconnect with that cool little valley.

It’s not that I dislike golf; I actually have a certain love for the game having played in High School and to this day on occasion. But the development of this area; the lack of need for it (many of the condos remain unsold almost a decade after completion and the golf market has softened considerably worldwide) is hard to be okay with.

The rest of the run went well. I explored the rest of the remaining network (the right-hand trail hit one of the development’s rock quarries). I hit bonk-city and grovelled in it for a good 30 minutes in hopes that my metabolic systems got the message that bonk-city demands scraping from and getting by with already available resources. My more-ample-than-average-runner amount of adipose tissue has literally hundreds of thousands of calories free for the taking. Why go scouring elsewhere for something artificial to fuel something so irrational? Maybe land-developers can learn something from that message?