On Sunday, we head to Canada – the Husband’s IronMan is next Sunday (the 27th). We’re having a few days in Vancouver before heading to Whistler for a full week. It all feels a little surreal but very exciting. So it felt only fitting that today’s Running The World should come from Canada.
We have two interviewees today. The first is Solana who I found via Instagram. Her pictures of trail running in the Vancouver area give me BAD trail envy! She agreed to be part of this and then suggested I also interview her friend Kent who lives on the other side of the country in Niagara Falls. So here you go..what’s like to run in Canada?
Tell us a little about yourselves, in a non-running capacity :)
Uhhhh me without running, is that possible? I kid, I kid. To be honest, running has become such a large part of my life that it’s hard to separate myself completely from it. I’m 29, live just outside of Vancouver, Canada with my husband and our 2 dogs, Nikita & Guinness. I work both as the office manager of my parent’s company, a small engineering firm, and as the Race Director for 5 Peaks Trail Races in the Vancouver Region. I love coffee, sushi, sunshine, the Canucks, and any sort of delicious baked treat (after a long run of course!) I blog at www.SolanaLeigh.com, mostly about trail running with a dabble of road running, paleo cooking, weight loss (I’ve lost ~50 lbs since my heaviest), and randomly stuff. I’m pretty boring to be honest!
My name is Kent Keeler. I live with my two kids ( aged 3 & 5) in Niagara Falls, Ontario. I work full time, run a website, and volunteer for an organization called impossible2Possible. When I’m not doing all of that stuff, I run.
How did you get into running?
I started running just over 9 years ago, when some friends of mine convinced me to sign up for our big local 10K, the Vancouver Sun Run. The Sun Run has about 50,000 runners and walkers in it annually and it’s quite the experience! I vividly remember how exhausted I was after that race, my first time running 10K, and I basically went straight home and straight to bed! I couldn’t imagine running farther than that, ever! But, as time went on, it was obvious that I should never say never. I ran a handful of half marathons before making the crazy decision to train for my first marathon in the months leading up to my wedding, summer 2011. Yep, I don’t ever do anything half assed, hah!
My first marathon was HARD, and again I said well that’s the farthest I’ll ever run. Wrong again! In 2012, I ran another full marathon, and my first ultra marathon! After I discovered ultra running and trail running in general, I was hooked. I barely spend any time on the roads anymore and the crazier the trail adventure we can go on, the better for me. I absolutely love the feeling of getting just a little bit lost, and knowing vaguely where we are, but not realllllllllly.
Since then, I’ve run another road marathon, so 3 of those, and 7 50K’s, and in December I ran my first (and probably only) 50Miler. 50 miles was a longggggg way, and I think I’m better built and more so enjoy the 50K distance, so that’s where I’ll stay for the time being. As for my usual running schedule, I run 4-6 days a week, usually minimum 200K/month, and I like to race as much as my body can handle. I probably race more than the average bear, but I love the drive and push of being in a race and competing, even if I’m just competing with myself, I love that race vibe.
Currently, I’m injured, and have been for the past few months, so my running is on hiatus, and it sucks, but I’ve still been very involved in the back side of running, supporting my friends as they chase goals and reach for their dreams. Volunteering and cheering at races brings such a pure happy feeling to me, and helps distract me from my own injuries.
I got into running after my daughter was born (nearly 5 years ago.) I had been a cyclist up until then but found I couldn’t get out for the hours I liked to get in a long ride. With running I could go out for a much shorter time and still get a good workout in. I started out running mainly road, with an initial goal of a half marathon. I have since “evolved” into a focus on trail running at ever increasing ultra distances. I have raced up to 100km, and have my sights set on a 100 Miler this September.
So how popular is running in Canada?
It’s hard to comment when you’re so involved in the running world, and feel like everyone around you is a runner. I know that’s not the case, but I do feel like Vancouver is a very active city, and that more often you find people who enjoy the outdoors, whether it’s running or hiking, or playing some other sort of sport. I think running has always been around in Canada, but it’s easier to connect with and be involved in the running scene with the way social media brings us all together and allows us to connect with runners all over the country and all over the world.
Running in Canada seems to be in growth mode. There are more and more races, and new running shops opening regularly. Canada has running history going way back, and seems to follow similar trends to the United States (given our proximity). As a recent adopter of the sport, I’m not super familiar with the history but have definitely seen growth in the 5 years I have been involved. I would say this is across the whole country – there are races all over the place. Obviously some areas take advantage of terrain and have challenging hilly or mountain races, while the larger urban centres all have well attended fast road races.
How do Canadians deal with the brutal winters?
I personally don’t find them brutal, but I live in Vancouver, probably the mildest part of Canada, so I don’t think I really count. I know a lot of runners train inside, and rely on great clothing and gear to get them through the winters. Some runners go snowshoe running in the winter (it’s way too tough in my opinion!), and other runners just stop running in the winter – it happens, and I think it varies on the personal runner. I don’t know if I’d ever be able to train for the longer distances on a treadmill, and it doesn’t surprise me that many parts of Canada are “fair weather runners”. Lucky for me, Vancouver’s climate is quite mild, and we don’t often have snow, or drop below freezing, so I don’t often have to hide indoors during my training.
There are a couple of options. Many people choose to run indoors on treadmills, or switch to other sports like Nordic skiing. Many of us (me included) will tough it out and stay outdoors as much as possible. I find that as long as you have good gear and clothing, it is normally quite manageable. People will use spikes in the soles of their shoes to ensure better grip in the snow and ice.
What kind of people are running?
I would say (from what I see) that it is a balance of men and women participating in running. Depending on the race terrain and distance, there are often equal sized fields. I notice that in the longer trail ultras, there are typically larger men’s fields, but often see larger women’s fields in road and shorter trail races. There are also a number of “women’s only” races in Southern Ontario.
How popular is racing?
Racing is extremely popular in Canada, and expanding every year. In Southern Ontario where I live, you could likely find a race every weekend without travelling too far. Obviously, most are shorter races, but there are a number of half and full marathons, especially in the spring and fall. They are organized by different bodies, from retailers to race-organizing companies to running clubs. The shorter distances seem to be the most popular, and trail races are really gaining popularity. Of course there are also a rapidly expanding selection of what I would call theme and obstacle races – color runs, obstacle races, mud runs, etc.
The costs range widely from low cost options with little more than a number and water provided (in the $15-20 range for a 5 or 10km race) to high end races with lots of swag, and elaborate setups ($40 and up for a 5km as an example). Each of the major cities have at least one big marathon every year – Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa, Calgary, Montreal are the big ones. I am more of a trail runner, and prefer the ultra distances. There are more and more of these every year as well.
What’s your favourite race?
Which race would you recommend to a visitor coming to Canada?
There are a number of incredible races on the west coast that I would recommend, as well as a few in Quebec. One of the races in Canada that I might recommend based on its reputation is the Squamish 50 in BC.
What trends are taking off?
Marathon running seems to be constantly growing in popularity. People are no longer content to run 5 or 10km and want the challenge of the longer distance races. Trail running is also growing like crazy, even in the ultra distances.
Let’s talk a little about trail running. You say it’s growing…
I do know, for sure, that Trail Running is growing, and especially ultra marathons. It’s a bit like the “cool thing to do” right now, and everyone is training for and running ultras, but I think that’s a great thing! My personal belief is that trail running and ultra running in particular, make us into better people. The experiences really bring us back to our basics and remind us of the important things in life, while also pushing us to our limits, forcing us to dig down deep and find that inner strength. I think everyone should run an ultra, just to prove to themselves that they are so much stronger than they think.
Trail running is very popular, and growing quickly. There are race series across the country (5 Peaks has a number of series’ in different provinces) and there are new individual races popping up all the time. Ultra distance races (which is my main interest) are also growing. Canada now has races in the Skyrunning Race Series made popular in the mountains of Europe and the scene is only going to continue growing. With vast expanses of wilderness, trails, and mountains Canada is the perfect spot for trail running.
What about gear? What gear is popular in Canada at the moment?
Canada follows a lot of the same trends as the United States, and running is no different. We wear the traditional running brands that are well known, and have followed along in most of the major recent trends (ie: minimalist, barefoot, etc). One difference I see in Canada is less online shopping for running gear. The United States has a few huge, well established online running retailers but Canada does not. I would say this is starting to change, but most purchases are still from bricks and mortar running specialty retailers.
Who are Canada’s running stars?
On the road the big stars are the marathon runners – Lanni Marchant, Krista Duchene, Reid Coolsaet, Dylan Wykes, Eric Gillis, and Rob Watson (my favourite roadie). On the trails, we have amazing talent like Ellie Greenwood, Gary Robbins, Rob Krar, and Adam Campbell. Adam Campbell came third at Hardrock last weekend despite getting hit by lightning during the race!
(Cat’s note: Ellie Greenwood is British – and awesome – but we’ll happily share her!)
What do Canadian runners use to fuel and hydrate? Any local specialities?
We fuel solely on Tim Horton’s coffee and donuts. Kidding, but I can’t really think of anything unique for Canadians. We use a lot of the same hydration and race fuel as anywhere else in the world. Lots of gels, drink mixes, and all the crazy stuff you find at ultra race aid stations.
How important a role does both traditional media and social media play within the Canadian running community?
Twitter and blogging seems to be synonymous with running in Canada (which I am “guilty” of as well). There are a ton of runners on twitter, and many with their own blogs to share experiences. The big Canadian running magazines would be Canadian Running, iRun, Trail Running Canada (online only), and Get Out There Magazine.
If I landed in your city or country, where would you recommend I start if I wanted to find running groups, routes or races?
To find info about local running groups, routes, and races I would recommend the websites of all of these magazines listed above – they contain a ton of information about running across Canada.
What are the best and worst things about running in Canada?
For me, the best thing about running in Canada is the vast amount of land we have. It is very easy, even in huge cities like Toronto to find yourself in the woods, running on great trails. You can get out of the city and into some remote wilderness without too much trouble. Across this country you can find almost any type of terrain you might possibly want to run on. We are very lucky runners!
The biggest challenge would be climate. Winters can limit the areas and amount of running. Summers (in Southern Ontario) can be hot and humid which has its own challenges.
Kent, Solana – thank you so much for all your help. You can follow Solana’s blog HERE, she’s on Twitter HERE and on Instagram HERE. Kent can be found on his blog HERE, on Twitter HERE and Instagram HERE!
For more Running the World interviews, click HERE.
Running The World will be taking a break for a few weeks due to our trip to Canada and then my sloping off to Colorado to run a relay!