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Nine early-season Canadian trail races for 2018

These events kick off the trail running season, from Quebec's Eastern Townships to B.C.'s Okanagan Valley

Empire Trail
The Great Trail
Photo: @mhaines888/Instagram.

What makes a great trail race? We look for a scenic course with varied terrain, decent swag, and enthusiastic volunteers, all of which you will get at these events across Canada this spring. If you’re considering some serious trail running this year, now is the time to start planning, since many races have a cap of only a few hundred entrants, and at least one is already sold out (the Sulphur Springs 100 miler). 

Pick Your Poison

April 28 – Horseshoe Valley, near Barrie, Ont.

12K, 25K, 50K options

This technical but rewarding race is the first event in the Ontario Ultra and Trail Race Series. It starts with a fast downhill section, followed by some winding singletrack for the first 3K, then goes into four major climbs up the beautiful hills of Horseshoe Valley. The ascents alternate with some speedy descents, since, after all, what goes up must come down. Most of the 12K looped course is a combination of singletrack and ski trails. There are three aid stations in the loop, offering drinks, snacks and gels, and the race finishes with a delicious home-cooked meal for all participants. Entrants receive the much-desired skull-and-crossbones shirt, a jar of honey, and finishers get a pair of the smashing Pick Your Poison socks.

Kal Park 50

May 6 – Vernon, B.C.

8K, 25K, 50K options

The first race in the North Face Dirty Feet series, this race consists of a 25K loop in the Okanagan’s Kalamalka Provincial Park, which the 50K runners do twice. The course, which features great views, a good variety of terrain, and 1100m change in elevation, should be similar to 2016’s, according to the race website; weather necessitated some changes in 2017. There are two “feed zones” on the course plus the one at the start/finish, offering sweet and salty snacks, water and Torq energy drink. Race shirts are $20 and may be purchased online. 

Seaton Soaker

May 12 – Pickering, Ont.

15K, 25K, 50K options

The second race in the Ontario Ultra and Trail Race Series is a great race for the both the city-slicker newbie looking for something close to Toronto, as well as the seasoned ultra racer, since there is something for everyone. The race starts on a paved trail and quickly leads into some undulating singletrack that will most definitely become muddy if it rains. The 25K loop has some nice, open, flat sections that allow you to pick up some speed, but near the end you will ford a rushing stream (always great fun, say those who’ve done it – 50K runners do it twice, and 15K runners do a modified loop that includes the river). The race ends with hot showers and lunch.

Sulphur Springs

May 25-27, Ancaster, Ont.

10K, 25K, 50K, 50 miles, 100 miles, 200 miles, 100-mile relay for teams of up to eight

There’s a staggering variety of choices at this popular event near Hamilton, Ont., which has been going strong since 1993. It’s run on the wide, groomed trails of the scenic Dundas Valley Conservation Area and the forest canopy and streams provide some relief from the heat, with a good mix of flats, relatively un-technical climbs and descents. The 100-miler is sold out, so click over to the race site to get registered for one of the shorter distances. The longer distances run a 20K route multiple times. This is a great choice for the passionate environmentalist, since proceeds support trail conservation and maintenance and free running programs in lower-income communities, and there are no cups at the aid stations. And, admittedly not unusual for a trail race, you’re sure to see wildlife.


Tidal Trail Run

June 3, Cole Harbour, N.S.

10K, 15K options

This east-coast trail race has been moved to the spring and is no longer part of (though still affiliated with) Maritime Race Weekend in September. Both distances feature the salty sea air, flat terrain, and beautiful coastline scenery of the well groomed Cole Harbour Heritage Trail and Salt Marsh Trail and causeway linking Cole Harbour and Lawrencetown, just east of Halifax-Dartmouth. Seventy per cent of spots are already sold, so no time to lose if you want to take advantage. 

Vancouver Trail Race Three

June 3, West Vancouver, B.C.

15K, 55K options

This race in West Van’s Ambleside Park is the third in MEC Vancouver’s ultra series that began on February 17 at Inter River Park in North Van. Featuring climbs of over 2,000m, the 55K option is a major quad-buster, but the coastal rainforest and spectacular city views provide some distraction from the pain. The slightly less ambitious but equally beautiful 15K option takes you from the ocean to the Cleveland dam. One definite plus: the race is accessible by transit.

K Town Classic

June 3, Kelowna, B.C.

5K, 10K, 21K options

The second race in the North Face Dirty Feet series is run in Kelowna’s Myra Bellevue Provincial Park, with some singletrack, some great hills, and some beautiful views of the lake and the city of Kelowna. As with the Kal Park 50, race shirts must be purchased online. 

Tour du Lac Brome

June 15-17, Knowlton, Que.

2K, 4.5K, 9K options

Now in its 38th year, the very popular Tour du Lac Brome is only an hour from Montreal, and attracts thousands of runners. It features a challenging race route through Quebec’s Eastern Townships, and if you enjoy running with your dog, consider the Canicross Challenge. (In case you’re not aware, Canicross is an entire subculture of dog running within trail running, in which the dog is harnessed to its human and runs ahead, and is trained to obey directional commands.)  The event also offers road distance options.

Canadian River Valley Revenge Ultra

June 15-16, Edmonton, Alta.

5K, 25K, 50K, 50 miles, 100K, 100 miles, 25K relay, 50K relay

Considered an “urban ultra,” this race, which features a summer and a winter edition, winds through the centre of Edmonton as well as through forest and steep cliffs on singletrack and doubletrack trails, with spectacular views of the North Saskatchewan River valley. 

Whichever race you choose, serious outdoor fun is pretty much a given at any of these spring trail races.