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Trail running after 50: go big or go home

Edmonton's Todd Savard has big goals and no excuses

“What’s my excuse?” asks Alberta runner Todd Savard, 51. When Savard had the opportunity to guide and pace a runner who was blind for 30K of a mountain race, he realized he has no excuses. With that mindset, Savard started exploring and racing trails and mountains up to 100 miles at age 45. Savard’s life motto, therefore is “Go big or go home. There really are no barriers to trail running. Just perceived barriers and limits that are just created.”

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Photo: Jarrid Holscher

Less than a decade ago, Savard went along to cheer for his wife Sheryl and her relay team at the Canadian Death Race. He was captivated by the trail running community fostering unconditional support and encouragement. He thought, “Okay, this is pretty neat. I like that it’s a sport that you seem to do alone, but also are connected with a lot of people. You need support, and without that, it’s hard to be successful. You can’t really do well at trail running in a silo. You have to rely on people. And it’s a good community!”

The following year, Sheryl began the trail running group Edmonton Trail Runners. Savard met ultrarunners who invited him along to their weekend adventures, and he was sold. “I realized that [running] doesn’t have to be a straight line with a set destination. I got hooked on exploring. It was the connectivity that fascinated me. The more I was running, the more I felt like I was connecting the dots and building a picture. When I’m out on the trails, I can be frenetic. That allows me to channel a lot of my energy, so it’s easy for me to go from that to racing, because racing isn’t frenetic for me. The unstructured feel relaxes me, [and] feels fun.”

Photo: Steven Csorba

Unstructured also relates to Savard’s training philosophy. Although he has a coach, he “hates the Bosu ball. I think that training is specific to people. I try to incorporate a lot of activity and movement throughout the day. Some people need structure. I am not a structured kind of runner, but I seem to figure out the most important elements. I’m definitely training better now than ever before.”   

The approach is working for the 51 year old. In a few years, his trail running adventures have taken him to the West Coast Trail (75K) and the Grand Canyon (70K+). Savard also has raced tough Canadian trail races (many more than once) such as the Blackfoot Ultra (50K), Lost Soul Ultra (100K), Broken Goat (50K), Iron Legs (80K), Nimble Bear (50K), Rundle’s Revenge (50K), Sinister 7 (100 mile), Squamish 50/50 (50 mile/50K), Iron Horse Ultra (100K), Wild Horse Traverse (45K), Golden Ultra vertical kilometre, and Saskatchewan’s Beaver Flat (50K). Savard adventures and races different routes for different reasons. “Knowing the type of runner that you are and the type of terrain that you enjoy makes for a successful running career. Do what you love. I did the Squamish 50/50 because I wanted something really technical. I did the Grand Canyon because the opportunity presented itself. I always like to try new things.”

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Photo: Sheryl Savard

Despite Savard’s trail running and adventure resume, his most memorable experience was discovering a local trail in Edmonton, Alta. “That was the beginning of me figuring out what makes me tick as a trail runner, which fits with my personality. I discovered a wildlife (rabbit) trail that I later called Two Truck Trail because there are two trucks hidden in the bush on the side of the cliff where the trail exists. I had to figure it out by working backwards from where I needed to end up back to where I started, which changed the way I thought about trails and exploring and adventuring. Working backwards by design. That whole experience shaped how I see things and function as a runner.”

In a few years, Savard has learned the art of suffering. At one of his 100K races, everything went wrong. He lost all his gear, was running in freezing rain for 10 hours, had wet shoes, etc. “I had to figure out how to be a better athlete, and how to suffer better. If I can have a good frame of mind, then I can make better choices. I can be more adaptable. I’m in control, even if everything around me is out of control.” 

Photo: David Checkel

“Do what you love,” says Savard. This is logical advice for most people. But when you love exploring trail and mountains up to 100 miles at a time, the advice means something a bit different. Next up, he will  be running the iconic Trans Alpine race in the Swiss Alps this summer. The 273 K race with 15,000 metres of elevation gain over seven days is definitely something new, exciting, and what he loves. 

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