How to become a trail runner: find a trail and run
Avid trail runner Robb MacDonald shares tips on local spots to run and how to do it safely
If you’re like many people trying to stay active and fit during the COVID-19 pandemic, you may have considered resuming – or starting over – running or jogging. With gyms and other indoor fitness facilities being closed or having limited opportunities, running outdoors could perhaps help fill the lack of physical activity.
Considering the many beautiful trails in Orillia and the surrounding area, we reached out to local trail runner Robb MacDonald for his advice.
MacDonald was first introduced to trail running as an elementary school student in Wakefield, Quebec, just outside Gatineau Park, Canada’s vast wilderness in the capital region. As a member of the school’s cross-country running team, he regularly explored the trails bordering the park. Trail running continued to take different forms throughout MacDonald’s life, including the chance to compete with a team of Canadian military reservists while a student at Western University in London, Ont. The five-event competition included orienteering and obstacle courses, among other challenges.
“It was probably the best summer job I have ever had,” MacDonald explained. “We trained outdoors all summer and then went to Athens, Greece, for the competition.”
With a master’s degree in physical education, MacDonald has pursued a career focused on promoting health and the benefits of physical activity. Her work has often supported clients involved in promoting physical activity and the impact of the environment on our health.
As someone whose interest in being active outdoors is not only a matter of personal health, but also related to his profession, MacDonald is always ready to encourage and help others to reap the benefits of l outdoor activity.
Can you describe your trail-running activity in the region?
After moving to Simcoe County about 30 years ago, I first discovered trails near my home in Midhurst and then, over the past decade, in the Orillia and Horseshoe Valley areas. . I am now fortunate to have the Copeland Forest of Simcoe County as my backyard. I love being in the woods and trying to go out for a trail four or five times a week, often with the two family dogs.
Why do you recommend trail running to stay active?
The most important reason for me, and many others as well, is simply to go out into the wild. There is a growing body of research showing that nature’s time matters – for both physical and mental health benefits. The researchers compared being active in an urban environment with a forest environment. The results show that stress levels are lower when the activity takes place in a natural outdoor environment.
Second, it can be easier on the body than running on the sidewalk, especially in Simcoe County. The clayey and sandy soil provides a smoother surface and is more forgiving on the joints and muscles.
I also like the diversity of the trail. Not only are there a lot of different trail locations, but there is so much variety – from straight and flat to very technical with ups and downs and obstacles like rocks and roots. This means that sometimes you need to be a little more careful.
What’s the best way to start?
I have a T-shirt that says, “How to be a trail runner: Find a trail runner.” Run. “That’s about it!
There are things you can learn on the trail, like cadence, foot placement, body position for going up and down hills, but the most important thing is to start on a trail where you feel like you are in. comfortable, as a simple and fairly flat Piste. You can start walking, then add a little running and slowly increase the running time. If you are outside in nature and safely move your body and increase your heart rate, you will benefit. More technical skills can come later if – well, more likely when – you get hooked.
Do you need specialized clothing or equipment?
The advantage of running is that you don’t need a lot of equipment. That doesn’t mean you can’t spend a small fortune on things like hydration vests, sports watches, and other high-tech gadgets, but you don’t have to. I recommend choosing a pair of runners that are specifically designed for trail running because they provide extra support and traction, which is really important.
Where are the best places to run on the trails in and around Orillia?
For those just starting out, the rail trail (Uhthoff Trail to Orillia and beyond) is awesome. There are a few shoots near Orillia that are also beautiful – the expanses of Slessor and Silver Creek, which are part of the Simcoe County forest system. Simcoe County has a fantastic interactive map that shows all of the county’s forests including my favorite, Copeland, near Horseshoe Valley in Oro-Medonte. There are a variety of access points, including the parking lot at the Horseshoe Resort Cross Country Ski Lodge.
Hardwood Ski and Bike also has a well-maintained trail system. Runners can purchase a special membership or pay per use to use the trails. Signage on the trails is excellent and there is a lot of variety. In addition, there is the safety factor of having staff on site.
Closer to Orillia, there is also the Grant’s Woods Trail from the Couchiching Conservancy and Scout Valley, two great places to enjoy a trail.
What about security?
It really depends on common sense and choosing a route that you are familiar with, as well as the proper weather conditions. If you are unfamiliar with the trail I would recommend running with someone else. It’s always a good idea to bring your smartphone; it gives you built-in GPS and phone for emergencies. And since most trails are multi-use, it’s important to be vigilant and not wear headphones or earphones, especially on technical trails. You often share the trail and the forest with cyclists, hikers and even horses. And at certain times of the year there are hunters, so you might want to consider wearing a bell or whistle and wearing some bright colors. If I run with my dogs, I make sure to keep them on a leash.
Are there any races or races organized in the area?
Yes! The beauty of trail running is that it lets you go out on your own and at your own pace. However, there is a whole community of trail runners in the area. While many events have been canceled this year, there are usually a variety of races and races that can add to your social or competitive nature. Hardwood Hills offers a series of trail races, including races for kids. The Five Peaks Ontario Trail Races and Ontario Ultra Series feature running events across the province, including the popular “Pick Your Poison Run” in Horseshoe Valley.
Outdoor enthusiast and fitness instructor Virginia Gingras offers trail running groups and classes in the Horseshoe Valley area. She has also produced an excellent map of the Copeland Forest area which is available for purchase on her website.
Whether it’s a relaxed run on your local rail trail or a technical long distance run along a forest trail, there are many ways and reasons to get into trail running. MacDonald concludes.
In addition to inspiring others with his own activity and love of nature, MacDonald continues to encourage people to be active outdoors through his involvement as a board member of the Copeland Forest Friends. Association. He is also president of the health and wellness sector at Sustainable Orillia.