The Fit Life: What to Do when Life throws you a Curve Ball

When I was young, music was everything to me. I played piano at church from the time that I was 9 years old. I sang – poorly – at age 6, and better by the time I was 16, performing before audiences of up to 4,000 by the time I was 18. I was in a national hand bell choir and played grand piano for an opera society. Music was my heart and soul: it got me through puberty and my first heartbreak and tough moves to new places; it gave me my first job and extra income at weekend gigs well into my 30s.

Then I entered law school and every spare minute was wrapped up in studying when I wasn’t spending time with my husband and three toddlers. It became more difficult to find time to enjoy music without waking up a little one from a nap or when I wasn’t trying to catch a quick nap myself! Those were exhausting years. I gave up weekend performances. I also started running, mostly for a little “me” time and some stress release.

Running is a sport of addiction, and it dug its greedy talons into me, eventually filling up every spare moment. I bought a jogging stroller and crammed the girls into it. I signed up for short races, bringing home a participation medal for me and a shirt for Todd. By the time I started Edmonton Trail Runners, I was well into ultra addiction. My music passion faded into the background.

For my 40th birthday, Todd bought me a bicycle and I began bike commuting, loving it almost as much as running! Then, I looked for cross-training activities and discovered other things I liked: lifting weights, nordic skiing, yoga…

Five years later, I was run-injured and trying to figure out what to do now. I started hiking the trails I used to run, usually with my daughters along for company. Soon, I reconnected with my passion for backpacking, something my parents had done with me since I was barely able to walk. I returned to my childhood days of canoe trips and mountain hikes, eventually taking my 15-year-old daughter on the West Coast Trail.

This fall, I was cycling in Amsterdam and hiking the Alps while cheering for Todd, by now an accomplished ultra runner who had only taken up the sport six years earlier. He was doing my bucket list race that I couldn’t do: 8 days, 280 kilometres, four countries, in the Alps. While he ran each day, I chased him around, hiking to mountain top aid stations, learning German, trying out all the local foods, and letting Europe steal my heart.

Soon, we were back in Canada and facing a new, harsh reality: no vehicle. A faulty recalled part in our new van had set the engine ablaze, starting on fire while we were in it. Our family narrowly escaped. We are currently still without a vehicle and also paying a large loan for a big hunk of melted steel. But, our time in Europe left an impression, inspiring us to re-shape our reality. The girls already had bus passes for school. So, we winterized everyone’s bikes and challenged our family to our own “Amsterdam Adventure”. One of our daughters even opts to bike some days to school instead of taking the bus. It’s winter in Edmonton . She is undeterred. I wonder with admiration how this adventure is shaping our girls’ perspectives, allowing them to see setbacks as opportunities. I’m not saying it wouldn’t be nice to have our van back, or at least the money we paid for the van. But, we’ve taken a harsh event and controlled what we could: how we react to it.

Now, I get to bike every day and everywhere, and I’m also running again, so I get to do that too. And I go on lots of walks in the trails with my senior dog who can’t run as much as she used to. I get to enjoy beautiful trails with her while she’s still around. Occasionally, I remember my long-time friend, the piano I’ve owned since I was 10. I sit down and play some tunes and sing my lungs out until the girls beg for mercy. Then, I get up and return to other passions that consume my life now: my family, a job that I love, my trail running community, biking, camping, hiking…

I add the dots because they represent all the things I haven’t yet fallen in love with. I’ve learned that our passions aren’t static. What consumes our time and interests changes if we let it. Imagine if the things we started out doing were the only things we ever did. Life is full of twists and turns. All the good things and all the bad things are the real adventures. Had I focused only on music as the one thing I could love that much, or wallowed in pity when life sidelined my passions, or let unfair circumstances consume me, I’d have never discovered the incredible experiences that have enriched my life beyond measure.

So, when life throws you a curve ball, follow where it leads. Explore opportunities. Embrace new things. You only have one life: might as well fill it up.

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The Fit Life: How to bike in cold weather.

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It’s no surprise to those who know me that my favourite outdoor activity is trail running. But a close second, and one that keeps me running, is trail biking. It’s low impact and a lot of fun, with all the views from a slightly higher perspective. But, bike riding in cooler weather? Isn’t that hard? Not as hard as you’d think. Read on for easy tips on how to bike in cooler seasons without breaking the bank.

Bike Clothes

I bike year-round and in every weather condition, from hot summer days while being chased by mosquitoes to frigid winter temps as cold as -25 degrees celsius. Biking, like trail running, is about layers. For an example of what that looks like, today was 2 degrees celsius when I headed out. This is what I wore:

I didn’t buy all of these items at once, and when I started biking, I mostly made do with what I had. Keep in mind that cold weather biking is going to do some damage to your clothes. It’s better to choose functional gear over expensive labels. What you do, not what you wear, makes you legit.

Bike Gear: My Three Favourites!

Where I had to spend some up-front money was on bike gear that would get me comfortably through fall and winter conditions. Gear can get addictive and there’s no end to tweaking a bike. I’m recommending three to get started. Build from there, and personalize for your own preferences:

  1. Bar mitts. These are my comfort item that get me out the door in even the harshest conditions. Mine cost $40 at MEC and work in every condition. Easy to install – literally velcro straps wrapped around the handlebars – they allow more mobility to change gears or use the brakes while only needing gloves or light mitts.
  2. Studded tires. There’s nothing that feels more bad-ass than cycling confidently over iced-up trails. Studded tires make that possible. They’re not cheap, so break open your change jar, because they will save your hide in almost any condition below freezing. If you can’t afford two tires, start with one back studded tire. Just remember that the rules of slippery roads while driving also apply to slippery surfaces while biking: go slower, don’t take sharp turns, and pump the brakes. I’ve never fallen while using studded tires. I’ve taken numerous falls without them.
  3. Steel bike lock. My bike lock cost as much as my tires, well worth the price after the cable lock on my brand new bike was cut seven years ago. I’ve had this steel folding beast lock since then and not a single theft while using it. The reality is that bike theft is an organized criminal activity in any major city, and any bike with only a cable lock is vulnerable. Make it hard for thieves to take your bike. U-locks should be minimum code. To further protect your bike, register it with Edmonton’s Bike Index, partnered with Edmonton Police Services to recover and return stolen bikes.

There are lots of other gear essentials that will make biking safe and accessible. To find affordable products, and even learn how to change a tire or fix a chain, check out Bike Edmonton, a volunteer-driven organization committed to bringing cycling to the masses.

What Kind of Bike do I need?

For the best success at cool weather biking, a mountain bike is preferable, even if you’re road biking and especially if you live anywhere north of the 49th parallel. The wide, knobby tires are ideal for navigating changing road and trail conditions. Yes, some cyclists will use road bikes in the winter. More power to them and all my respect. They probably also get to wherever they are going with a few more gray hairs if their technical bike skills don’t match their enthusiasm.

If you are sticking to road, wide trails, paved paths, or even easy single-track, you don’t need to spend more than $100 on a used mountain bike to enjoy cool weather riding. The reality is that the weather and terrain are going to beat up your bike. Do you really want to drop a couple grand on a bike that you’re scared to get grungy? Budget for function not fashion.

When To Start

The best time to start cool weather cycling is yesterday. The second best time is now. The worst time is at the first sign of snow. Get familiar with how to layer now before the white stuff falls. Then you can focus on navigating snowy trails. Change happens mostly in steps, rarely all at once.

Here’s what I’ve learned about cycling in every season, whether it was perfect conditions or a harrowing experience: I’ve never once regretted it. Mostly, I’ve impressed myself. How cool is that? Impress yourself. Then post that sh*t everywhere.

Do you cycle in cool weather? Share your tips for getting the most out of every season.

For more tips on winter cycling, check out this article by CBC producer Isabelle Gallant.

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Are you safe on the trails?

emily murphy trail.jpgA month ago, panic spread through our city’s run community.  A predator was hiding out in the river valley trails.  14 incidents of sexual assault were reported in two weeks.  Runners posted on social media sites, warning females to be careful.  A “Take Back the Trails” rally was held.  People were worried.  While widespread cross-sharing and well-intentioned rallies temporarily raised our vigilance,  they didn’t offer long-term solutions.  So, the question remains:  how do we stay safe on the trails?

There are two schools of thought on trail safety:

(1) It’s fine, stop fear mongering; and

(2) It’s not fine, be careful out there!

I have come across both in equal measure: the first mindset from the naive and uninformed; the second mindset from law enforcement who manage threats to the public every day or, sadly, from those who thought it would never happen to them.

“I was lucky”:  Jennifer* from Edmonton

I was going for a run in the trails just like always.  It was fall.  I was alone.  No one was expecting me home, no one knew I left. I didn’t think anything of it, I had been doing endurance training for years- mainly alone. I didn’t have my phone, I never ran with it, but I had my trusty iPod shuffle cranking out old favourites.  

The difference between “every other run” and this one is that when I came to a bend in the trail, I was grabbed around the waist and pulled to the ground. I don’t remember if I made any noise at all, but I reacted with my body. There was a close scuffle and I could feel he was a lot stronger than me.  He grabbed my hair and pulled my head back, I kept kicking, writhing and punching until I surged out of his grasp.  It was a bit of a goat trail, and I felt like a pinball being set loose and shot out of there. I could hear them moving behind me but I didn’t look back, feeling certain by the smell of alcohol and cigarettes on them, that I would outrun them. I was right. I was lucky.

* This is a true account of real events.  Jennifer’s name was changed to protect her identity.

What happened to Jennifer is not an isolated incident.  Even though she was “lucky”, she still carries the psychological effects of that attack with her.  And let’s be clear:  Talking about trail safety is not about casting judgment, except on the one committing the crime.  The victim is not at fault.  Ever.

The goal of this blog is intended to make it harder for predators to harm us, and to increase every person’s ability to enjoy the trails safely.  We can’t get rid of crime, but we can make it more difficult for criminals to succeed.

Learning from the Experts

37488788_2167941610141773_1643949335848681472_n.jpgEdmonton Trail Runners was founded in 2014, in part so that the founder – me – could run trails safely.  A few years afterward, at our community’s request, ETR received  trail safety training.  It was based on the Hard Target Principle. a concept developed by Sven Leidel, a former member of the German Military:

“A hard target is a person who, due to their actions and/or appropriate protective measures, is able to minimize existing risks and thus most likely represents an unattractive target.”

From this principled approach, ETR’s trail athletes were taught practical tips used by Edmonton Police Services in community self-defence courses.  While I cannot speak to any stats on prevention efficacy using this method, I can attest to my own successful use of  it, and will gladly share the salient points to the best of my recollection:

Six Safety Tips for Trail Users

  1. Be AWARE of your surroundings.  19990284_10101155455446025_3645045147960231334_nThis sounds like common sense, and yet I pass someone at least once a week who is alone on the trails with both earbuds in and the volume cranked so loudly that I startle them as I run or bike past, often after I’ve called out “passing on your left!” or repeatedly rang my bike bell.  That’s pretty vulnerable.
  2. LOOK like you’re aware of your surroundings. A predator generally wants the element of surprise.  While there’s no real way of protecting against an ambush, most of the time, we can manage risk simply by looking someone in the eyes, saying hello, even turning back to someone behind us and waving.  What we’re communicating is – I see you.  I know you’re there.  I’m not afraid to use my voice.  I could identify you if I had to.  We’ve made ourselves less appealing to someone looking for an easy mark.
  3. Run with others.  I mentioned earlier that one of the reasons I started Edmonton Trail Runners – besides having a contagious love for trails – was to be safe.  ETR regularly gets newcomers who join because they don’t feel safe running alone.  Interestingly, while the serial attacks were occuring last month, we had two groups of ETR athletes using those same trails without incident.  This group has literally “taken back the trails” by running together: every person, every age, every pace.  #safetyinnumbers
  4. Run with a dog.  Sheryl and SidneyMy lab-boxer has saved me from two attempted attacks on the trails, both harrowing and enough to earn her a special place in my furever heart.  While I’m not personally persuaded that a cute little Shih Tzu is much of a deterrent, dogs are unpredictable in any shape and size.  Unpredictability tips the scale in your favour.  But, keep in mind that not every dog has a protective drive.  Just like humans, some fight and some flee.  That’s why it’s important to follow more than one trail safety tip.
  5. Use Your Voice.  This is by far the most useful advice I’ve received on trail safety.  It’s common for us to feel embarrassed about making a scene or falsely accusing someone of wrongdoing.  But, your voice is your best non-combative weapon.  I’ve learned to ask – “Hey, do you need to pass?”, i.e., are you following me because I see you and I’m pretty comfortable yelling for help if I’m already yelling at you.  Anyone who is not intending to harm you will understand.  And if they don’t, who cares?  #safetyfirst
  6. Pay Attention to how you’re feeling.  Whether the hairs on the back of your neck raise for no reason, or you’re running towards someone who looks sketch, your best img_2816defense is always to leave a potentially unsafe situation.  Sure, you can carry a weapon, but would you have the fortitude to harm someone if confronted?  I’m not sure I would.  It’s like bear spray:  why wait  to defend yourself from a charging bear six feet away when you can see the bear from a safe distance and simply turn back? #trailsmarts

There are other important ways to manage trail safety, like leaving a route with someone or carrying your phone.  I call these safety management strategies because they won’t prevent an attack, but they will aid you in getting help should an attack or near-attack occur.  Let’s do what we can to make it hard for predators to attack us in the first place.  And remember:  The only person at fault in any crime is the criminal.


Share your own experiences and trail tips in the comments section or send me an email at  I don’t claim to be a professional on this topic, just an experienced learner.  Telling our stories and giving sound advice creates safe communities. #notjustabouttherun 






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The Fit Life: Injury-free Training!

30724988_10101334393118495_7308905006206287872_nI understand injuries. I also understand injury prevention and, like many of us, can tell you in hindsight that if I had followed my own advice, I would never have injured. When time constraints and tight deadlines hit us, if we are avid runners, we cut out everything else except the run. So, what do we do when running is not enough?

Six Injury Prevention Tools



Trevor Meding, Canadian River Valley Revenge, 1st Place 100-Mile Finisher

The biggest bang for our buck is this one thing. Ask any fitness professional. And yet, how many of us have done the self-deprecating brag about not getting enough sleep? “I was sooo busy, I didn’t get to bed until 2am!” I’ve done it. Like we’re super heroes. More like super zeroes. Don’t play the deprivation game.

Moderation. Generally speaking, we think that more is better. If I do something a lot, then I will get better at it. Actually, smart is better. More is just more, and sometimes less. In fact, a good determiner of an athlete’s progress is not how much they can do, but in fact how quickly they can recover from what they do. That makes sense. If we can recover quickly, we can train more. If we exceed training load and need days or a week off, we are now training less and inconsistently. Instead of measuring your progress by load, measure it by rate of recovery.

Lifting Heavy. IMG_1326If you want to get faster, get stronger. From a running perspective, there are four basic exercises that never let you down: Squats, Lunges, Sit-ups, and Push-ups. Anyone can do these anywhere. For a more specialized (and interesting) program, hire a coach or join a boot camp.

Cardio Cross Training.todd swiWe can build our running fitness without running! It’s true. If we can do other cardio activities that are low impact, we can do high impact running without getting injured. Cycling, swimming, rowing… there are lots of great low impact cardio activities available. Find your fit and do it at least once a week in place of a run. NOT in addition to a run…instead of a run. That’s why cross training works. We don’t train more. We train smarter.

Tendon Care. Muscles take a couple weeks to get stronger; tendons take a couple months. And a broken bone can heal faster than a tendon tear! So, why do we ignore these hard-working elastics holding our muscles and bones together? I think because we just don’t know how important they really are. Buy a foam roller and a lacrosse ball, search YouTube for some great videos or ask a trainer, then put on an episode of Game of Thrones for an exciting evening of suffering both on screen and off.

What about ankles? muddy-shoes-by-scott For trail runners, this zone has been the victim of many sprains and tears. Doing a short and easy run once a week in minimalist footwear, or even a weekly yoga session, will keep your feet smiling even after tripping on a gnarly root.

Fitness Professionals. Paying for someone to fix our bodies is usually a good sign that we have humbly acknowledged our own limits. We’ve used all the tools in our kit and now we’re asking someone with more tools to use their kit. Smart. Fit living hurts so good. Find your support team for the best money you’ll spend on your health: Massage therapist, Physiotherapist, Chiropractor, Acupuncture… the list is long and awesome. Find your Person and see them as often as you cut your hair.


1128Six things that can help keep us injury free: The list isn’t that long! There are more things to add, and please add yours. I tried to keep my list to what I’d say are the essentials: If I had done these six things consistently, I would not have injured. If I’m doing them now, I’m not going to injure – unless I do a face plant into a metal door jamb.  Spend your time on the things you can control. Let go of what you can’t.

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The Fit Life: 4 race secrets every runner should know.

Two years ago, I became a Race Director.  The race had been around for a while and was one I loved.  In 2016, it had permit problems and other issues and had been cancelled.  When I was approached to resurrect it, my trail group already had a course ready to go, plus a race roster of eager participants and volunteers.  We were golden, right?  Not so much.

When we did our first orientation run, the race’s previous “regulars” were not happy.  What kind of course is this?  This is dangerous!  Do you have permits?? It’s not even runnable! We’re all gonna die!  (The latter might have been their inside voice, but some were definitely thinking it.)  After one especially long orientation run with a few frustrated and very vocal participants, I turned to them and suggested – Perhaps this isn’t the race for you.  They heartily agreed.

There was a lot of pressure to re-design the course to something like what it had been before.  But, I  had my own vision of the type of course I wanted, something that showed off not only how beautiful our natural river valley could be, but that could also hold its own amongst the toughest of races:  gnarly, rooty, edgy, breathtaking and beautiful.  Being married to someone who thinks a lot like Lazarus Lake, also the course designer, I was certain (hopeful? nervously optimistic?) that even if we lost previous participants, we would attract those looking for what we were offering.  The risk paid off.  In just 18 months, the race tripled in size and has been featured in every major Canadian and North American trail running magazine.

One of the things I learned from this experience is that there are races that are right for some and not right for others.  Knowing how to choose the right race for you will help you get the most out of that experience.  Below are four “trail secrets” that every runner should know when choosing their fit.

Trail Secrets I Wish I’d Been Told

When you decide to do a milestone race, choose the race wisely.  Think beyond the training plan to what you want to get out of the whole experience.

  1. Do you want support or anonymity? 

img_9745For my first marathon, I did what I’d done with all my previous races:  I told hubby to stay home and watch the girls while I did my own thing.  It was “me time” and I loved the solitude of the experience, even in a crowd of runners.  I didn’t realize the importance of a first marathon – that sense of accomplishment – until I was at the finish line with nobody to hug but strangers.  It was a let-down.  That said, I know those who prefer to be alone for milestone races, traveling far enough away from home to be guaranteed anonymity.  Know yourself.

2. What kind of energy do you want the race to have?

For my first ultra – a 50-km race in the mountains – I invited Todd to join me.  Marathon lesson learned.  But, I also made the mistake of choosing a race whose energy wasn’t my fit, at least as a soloist.  It was a hyped-up relay race where solo runners could get lost in the masses.   Teams of cheering crowds hardly noticed fatigued soloists crossing the finish line as their own relayers did a fresh-legged sprint and clicked their heels for the camera.   Worst of all, my solo medal was identical to that of the relayers. In a later moment of good-humoured reflection, I used a permanent marker to scrawl “50” on the back of the medal.  I have never gone back.

Two subsequent ultra races that I thoroughly enjoyed had the type of crowd energy I was looking for:160 specifically, they did not have relay teams.  Somehow, knowing that every person I saw was doing the same mileage as me had the feeling of camaraderie and support that I had been seeking.

I know a lot of runners who prefer to run as a soloist at large relay events.  They like the hype and energy, returning year after year.  That I prefer a “true” solo event is really about how I like to race.  Know yourself.

3.  Do you want others to read your race report?2016-07-29 20.50.37

There is nothing more exhilarating than recalling in fine detail every high and low of our race experience.  Race reports are the best…and the worst.

The most important question you can ask yourself when you are writing a report is:  Who am I writing this for?  If you are writing to remember the experience, learn from it, maybe provide insights for others who decide to run it, the more detail the better.  But, if – and this is usually the case – IF you are writing the race report to share an epic event as broadly as possible, keep it short and sweet.  Simple, like an orthopedic surgeon explaining a blunt-trauma compound fracture: “The bone is broke.”  My rule of thumb is, if I have to scroll down, I stop reading.  And I like running!  Imagine how our family and friends must feel.

I wrote my first race report years ago, shared it with my husband, suspecting he would be in awe of what I’d been through. This was his comment:  I’m gonna need the Reader’s Digest version of that – as he handed me back my masterpiece.  Shocking?  Yes!  Am I over it?  So much.  You can thank him for my last race report, which went something like this:

Inkedheart and brain_LI.jpg

Occasionally, I read long, detailed race reports.  Either the content is useful, the person is meaningful, or the author is an amazing writer (rarely the last one, including my own reports).  So, decide why you’re writing a race report and who you want to enjoy it, then go crazy within those parameters!  Otherwise, expect skimming and lies.

4.  Which race will set you up for success?

2016-10-14 21.33.39There are rarely race reports by those who didn’t finish.  If you want the medal, you need  to maximize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses in the race you choose.  Not to say that you should do the same race year after year.  Push your limits, challenge yourself, chase the white whale.  But, a lot of things can go right and wrong between the start and finish.  The more you choose a race that matches your skills, the more you can push your limits.

The last race I did was two and a half years ago.  I was going into the race with an injury but was in denial, never good.  Even more significant, I was taking on a race that was going to make me work in areas of weakness for 50 miles.  There are things I do well:  uphills.  There are things I’ve learned to do well: downhills.  All things athletic I have learned that I have to work hard to do well, period.  I’m a runner, not an athlete.

So, I went to this race, in a different province, on unknown terrain, to discover that I was not ready for it.  An athletic person like Todd figured it out in minutes.  He had a blast, whooping and careening down crazy mountain sides.  To date, it’s his favourite race.  It took me about 62-kilometres and 13 hours into the same race to realize that I didn’t have the athleticism to learn on-the-spot and nothing else could prepare me for the tough course except time.  The one thing a race does not give you is time.  I timed out and that sucked.  But, I learned something valuable:  That was not the race for me.  Yeah, yeah, if I wanted to prove something, I could train for the conditions and return to finish it.  For what?  Pride and ego aside, I didn’t enjoy the race, I struggled, I was frustrated with my hesitations and nerves.  It maximized my weaknesses and minimized my strengths.  Not my fit.

Find what you’re good at and do that race, and other races like it, as many as you want. Occasionally, you may want to try something that frustrates and drains you, so go for it.  But, if you’re going to pour time into training, money into racing, and effort into finishing, find your fit.  Train your weaknesses and race your strengths.

Above all, and in case you missed it, in any milestone race you choose, the best trail secret is this:  Know yourself.

to think own self be true

Feature Photo Credit:  Angie Zee Photography

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The Fit Life: 4 Reasons to Love Trails

87840331_874897469630253_118659166020567040_nYesterday, I decided to run home from the Little Brick Cafe, a  charming restaurant in an old brick house.   I’d been there to enjoy a monthly run-n-brunch led by Project Love Run.   As we all said goodbyes to each other after a delicious brunch and amazing conversation, I tightened my pack that already felt too heavy and headed out.


Point to point. That’s always a mental game, a commitment to finish what you start because, well, you have no other choice. The run started on paved paths, my least favourite terrain.  I quickly tried to scale a fence at a construction zone blocking some trails. But workers were there and I chickened out. Begrudgingly, I turned back to the pavement, trudging up a hill around the construction. Granted, pace is always faster on paved, but so what?

Why I Love Trails, Reason # 1 Trails keep me in the moment.
Doing a run or a hike or ski or whatever draws me outdoors is not about getting from Point A to Point B for me. It’s about, am I enjoying every step?  That’s my motivation.  Basically, if I don’t like it, I won’t do it.  Not very disciplined, true, but it’s what makes me tick.


As I pounded the pavement, mostly covered in softly falling snow so not a totally terrible experience, I looked around and took in other views without trying to think too much about cadence or pace or left foot right foot. My mind wanders easily and I do OCD things like counting – left foot right foot left foot right foot. When I was running on the painfully long stretches of beach at West Coast Trail, I would count left foot right foot to 100, then start over, again and again, until I was finally back in the jungle. Trails help me release that intensity by giving me other things to focus on, keeping me engaged in the present instead of disengaging from it.  Trails make me want to be in the moment.


I eventually found a mix of wide and narrow paths, was chased by some friendly fat bikers, barely outpaced a senior hiker whose gait was astonishingly fast, and played leapfrog with a young female who had a bouncy ponytail and perfect strides.  I looked down at my attire, still covered in sticky brambles and dried mud from last weekend’s adventure.  My makeup had smeared into the creases around my eyes about five kilometres back.  I smiled “hi” as I passed by.   She jumped, startled, music flowing from her earbuds.  I stopped and did a quick check-in to warn her about wearing both earbuds in the trails. “Not your fault if someone targets you, always theirs, but don’t make it easy for them!” She smiled and took out one earbud, possibly to reassure me.  I’d like to think I helped someone be a little bit safer in the trails, but it’s possible that I just ticked her off.  Geez mom.  Nonetheless, we smiled and waved at each other as we played hopscotch for a while, then she turned left and I kept going straight.

Why I Love Trails, Reason # 2: The People are Awesome


Photo Credit: Mark Stevens

Friendly people are everywhere, not just in the trails.  But, the trails seem to attract an unusually high number of folks who will smile, wave, say hello and even chat with random strangers.  All ages and all paces.  It’s hard not to smile at everyone around us when we’re surrounded by nature.


About two hours in, I ran into an old friend. We both excitedly said “hi” and I would have stopped to chat, but right behind him was someone who brought back much less pleasant memories from the past. It’s the same stuff we see all the time that has sadly permeated our culture: the faceless fighters who hide behind screens to wage war. I like Brene Brown’s description, inspired by Rooosevelt’s famous quote, “The Man in the Arena” : There will always be people who sit in the thousands of stadium cheap seats, throwing rocks at those  in the arena covered in mud, sweat and blood. This person had thrown some pretty hard rocks at me a few years back, and not yet finished, stirred up a mob to throw a lot more too.  It had been ugly, unkind, and painful.


So, I didn’t stop. I just kept going, but I felt the anguish of that experience wash over me like waves. A few minutes later, by myself in the woods, I stopped and had a whole huge conversation with the trees, which was really me yelling out all my rage and hurt. We’ve all done it, right? Driving somewhere, standing in the shower, giving that invisible individual the lecture of a lifetime for nobody else to hear. There were f-bombs and how dare you’s and a thousand other words thrown into the frozen air and hurled at the trees who quietly comforted me with their outstretched arms. As soon as I felt the need to say “shame on you”, I stopped. No shame, nobody needs shame, not me, not you, nothing good comes from shame. So, I began running, quietly repeating “pain pain pain” until I had released all that negative energy into the strength of the woods.

Why I Love Trails, Reason # 3:  Nature is the Best Listener. 

20191228_090805-02If the trails could tell tales, it would fill all the quiet spaces with generations and lifetimes of stories from joy to anguish since the beginning of time.  It’s the best kind of free therapy, taking what I need to release and giving me nothing but kindness back.


I was almost done the run and my body was protesting, loudly. I got to an intersection: one way led to a bridge leading me home fast, and the other way led me into more trails and at least another 45 minutes of running. I spoke out loud my new mantra – “I can do hard things” – and continued on into the last trail section.

Why I Love Trails, Reason #4:  Trails Make Me Better.

ETR - prairie mountain climbVery little about nature is designed to be easy. Our bodies have to work harder: hip flexors, ankles, even my bum was grumbling. But, it always rewards, whether with views or with solitude or just proving that I can do hard things, Nature makes me believe in my best self.


We all get to love different things because we are all uniquely designed.  My story is not your story, and your story may not be mine.  Diversity is strength.  What do you love?


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RVR Ultra: Trails Don’t Have Bad Days


Edmonton’s award-winning river valley is designed for every season, and especially for Canadian winters. Ribbons of groomed trails wrap around snowglobe views for a hundred miles. Adventurous single-track show off a winter wonderland of glittering snow.

More than the views, Edmonton’s trails bring people together, outside, attracting adventurers of every pace, like ghost stories around a mesmerizing campfire.  The effect is much the same:  exhilarating, terrifying, some wishing they could leave, others leaning in for more.



Canadian River Valley Revenge, a bi-annual trail race in the heart of Edmonton’s river valley, embraces winter outdoors at the January race series. Our race is adventurous, bouncing hoots and hollers off cliffs as we canter and gallop and sometimes slide over toothpaste trails. Last year at this time was one of our training clinics… during a polar vortex.  Fifty people showed up. Introductions included a brief inspection of each participant’s attire and helpful instructions: If you slide off the trail, tuck and roll.  Oh, and Have Fun!  

Jarrid Holscher



Runners and hikers of every shape, size and pace head into the urban woods of Whitemud Creek Nature Reserve. Meanwhile, trail friends set up a pop-up aid station, hand and toe warmers strategically placed underneath layers.  One case of canned beverages makes a break for it, sending 32 rolling cans down a long path.  Add butter tarts and tunes, it’s a party on the trail.

Steven Csorba

The eager hydration crew wait at a point on the course where they know that Suffering will have stealthily joined the run, sucking the last vestiges of energy from most.  They anticipate a  steady stream of weary explorers staggering out of the single track onto wide views: Soldiers in battle, taking a swig from the canteen, wiping their faces with blood-smeared sleeves… onward! Victory is nigh!

Here’s where a long run in river valley trails during frigid temperatures becomes something altogether different and so much more.   As the runners and hikers merge, the ones and twos and “I know you’s” blend into a motley mix of new and familiar faces,  showing up with scrapes and stories and laughs and high fives, hanging out for ten minutes or more to pause and breathe and celebrate.  Eventually, they are on their way again, chatter lively skipping, smiles keeping pace with each other.

Jarrid Holscher

It’s a timely reminder that trails have no bad days.  The trail experience is not so much about conditions as it is about adventures:  a culmination of many moments, each one adding a log to make a blaze or stoking the fire to keep the flames glowing and warm, creating one story from many, crackling with excitement, throwing the occasional spark.  Tales from the trail always burn more brightly together.




20191225_135135-02  Todd and Sheryl Savard are race directors for Canadian River Valley Revenge. Sheryl is also the founder of Edmonton Trail Runners and Todd is an avid ultrarunner who recently returned from a 280-kilometre race in the European Alps.  They are both outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy Edmonton’s river valley trails with their three girls in every season. 

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The Fit Life: Staying Upright on Winter Trails

By guest blogger Victoria Twanow

Winter is my favourite season for running! There are no mosquitoes, the trails are quieter, and all of the roots are covered by a thick blanket of snow! However, this season is not without its challenges. But, if you follow a few rules and tricks, you too can keep up your training all through the winter without ever having to step foot on a treadmill or indoor track!

With many asking about grips for the winter, I thought I would share what I have learned in my many years of winter running.

Road and Groomed Trails

Korkers Ice Runner Traction Aids

You can purchase grips like Kahtoola Nanospikes,  Due North All-Purpose Traction Aids and Korkers Ice Runner Traction Aids. All of these products are great for roads, sidewalks and paved trails that are regularly cleared. They vary in price and can be purchased from many different stores including Costco, The Running Room and Amazon

Ungroomed Trails

If you want to venture onto ungroomed trails, you are going to need a lot more traction than the road spikes will offer. Yaktrax Pro Traction Cleats are a good option. For hilly single track like Edmonton Trail Runners regularly frequents, Kahtoola Microspikes fit snugly onto your shoes and the actual spikes provide enough traction for even the gnarliest of trails. 

Kahtoola Microspikes

The Kahtoolas and Uelfbaby brands would be too much on paved surfaces and groomed or compact trails. Without ice or snow, the spikes would dig into your foot after a while and possibly lead to ankle discomfort or injury

Shoes for Winter Running

The last option are shoes that are made specifically for winter running. These too would come in varieties that would suit the single track trails of Edmonton’s river valley. They feature a rugged tread, insulated uppers, and some even feature carbide tipped spikes built right into the sole such as the Salomon Spikecross or Icebug Studded Shoes.

Salomon Spikecross

With so many different grips available there truly isn’t a one-size-fits-all option. Your best bet in finding what’s right for you is to go to one of the locally owned running stores here in Edmonton that are staffed by people who run in Edmonton’s river valley in the winter! 

Recommended Resources

Fast Trax Run and Ski Shop: 7326 101 Avenue NW, Edmonton, AB

Track & Trail: 10148 – 82 Avenue, Edmonton or #107, 130 Bellerose Drive, St. Albert.

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