The trails, club and race you wish your city had
By Kurt Beaudoin
When Canadians think of Edmonton, cold winters, Wayne Gretzky, oil and a big mall usually spring to mind. But for the trail running crowd, thoughts of Edmonton should conjure something different: a twinge of jealousy. That’s because Edmonton is home to the longest network of urban singletrack anywhere in North America (and some say, the world). As an example, this summer, the Edmonton Trail Runners will host The River Valley Revenge—a trail Ultra that will feature a 100K option that will never double back on itself and a 150K version that will be run on a 75K loop of singletrack trails—all within city limits. This begs two questions: How has Edmonton achieved this? And when you should book your trip?
Canada is full of jaw-dropping, world-class trail and mountain running destinations. What makes Edmonton so unique is you can enjoy true, epic singeltrack trails while being surrounded by all the comforts and entertainment options of a modern, bustling metropolitan city. To put it in perspective, the parkland that runs through the middle of Edmonton is 22 times larger than Central Park.
We’re not talking about smooth, flat dog-walking paths here either. These trails are the real deal. This is all because the North Saskatchewan River runs right through the middle of Edmonton with steep banks carved by glaciers melting away over 12,000 years ago. Impressively steep banks. Along both sides. Perfect for the local trail fairies (of which there are many) to carve out endless intertwined spaghetti strings of sweet singletrack. The trails are never flat and always twisty, with loads of roots, ridges, side-hills and steep scrambly bits. Not to mention the stunning vistas and a feeling that you’re in the middle of nowhere—even though you’re smack dab in the center of a city with 1 million+ population.
Hikers and mountain bikers have been building this network of trails for decades. Recently, trail work has exploded with the help of local trail running and mountain bike clubs. Now there are an abundance of trails for every runner, from near-vertical climbs and descents to, yes, some leisurely creek-side doubletrack perfect for walking your dog.
The unofficial hosts of trail running in Edmonton, are the Edmonton Trail Runners—a passionate, thriving, community-oriented, no membership-fee required group of runners, volunteers, trail builders and event organizers. This is one of the most welcoming, inclusive clubs you will ever come across. Led by husband/wife duo, Sheryl and Todd Savard, the ETR is founded on the grassiest of grass roots philosophies. As Sheryl puts it, “We always say it’s not (just) about the run. We are about building community and connection together. The run is simply the forum for that.”
If and when you do visit Edmonton, the club and their activities can easily be found on their very active Facebook page (www.facebook.com/groups/edmontontrailrunners/). Newbies and visitors are more than welcome and there’s typically a run almost every day or night of the week. Runs range from trail technique sessions to nighttime hill repeats to epic long runs on the weekends to casual, impromptu coffee runs.
The crown jewel of Edmonton trail events is the River Valley Revenge, a popular and growing bi-annual event with a summer and a winter edition and that is entirely volunteer run. The River Valley Revenge (RVR) was the brainchild of Fast Trax Run and Ski Shop, created as a way to take in the best and most difficult of these trails all in one day, with a little support and a healthy dose of competition. It was rescued from the brink a few years ago by the ETR and is now more popular than ever. It hasn’t lost its grass roots vibe, though. Finisher medals are hand-carved, and the after-party is fueled by volunteer-made chili, baked goods and custom-labeled craft beer courtesy of Red Deer, Alberta’s Troubled Monk Brewery. Todd Savard hand-crafts the trophies out of vintage car parts found on the Two Truck Trail (Savard also built the Two Truck Trail, along an impossibly steep escarpment formerly used as a dumping area in the 1940s). “We ensure every racer has the same quality of experience, with full aid stations and cheering, regardless of their pace,” adds Savard. “That is also why the prize for first [finisher] is equivalent value to the prize for last [finisher]. Pride in finishing counts for all.”
If you’re considering tackling the RVR (www.rivervalleyrevenge.com) as a destination race (or if you’re just considering a trip to run some awesome trails) you won’t be disappointed. Visit exploreedmonton.com to find out everything you need to know about Edmonton’s other hidden gems including cultural surprises, culinary delights and a legendary festival season. The summer running of the River Valley Revenge is June 9-10 and includes a 150k distance to commemorate Canada’s 150th anniversary. If you want to take on the winter version it will be running again next January and would coincide nicely with some beautiful winter river valley scenery, a chance to go watch Connor McDavid (the new Wayne Gretzky) or a visit to the big mall.