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Sitting at 1,383m above sea level, Banff is a little town in Canada, at the centre of Banff National Park with a population of 8,000 that sees some 4 million visitors a year with people coming to soak up the grandeur of the mountains. I arrived in Banff in 2018 as a wee trail baby, I had a hilly Glencoe trail marathon and Dartmoor 50k under my belt and that had me feeling pretty cool. The mountains changed everything.
Banff’s neighbouring town of Canmore has previously hosted the winter olympics, and now hosts many retired olympians whose recreational habits are nothing short of savage, and the general trail running populace of both Banff and Canmore are a wildly talented bunch with a vivacious appetite for big vert and huge challenges. Having a selection of 2,000m + peaks around will do that for you!
I had two very happy years running in Canada, and then poof. Visa expired. Flights booked. Bye mountains.
I found myself home in March 2020, and got locked down with family in the north. I missed the mountains and I felt like I was rapidly loosing my incline endurance without big sustained climbs on my doorstep. As soon as things loosened up, I packed a tent and set off down the M5 in my Micra to come back to the west country for a visit. I didn’t end up going back to see my family for another 8 months!
I’d lived in Plymouth and played on Dartmoor for years before going to Canada, but really I’d barely touched Cornwall. 2020 and 2021 I dedicated to covering the coast path of Cornwall, and I was more than pleasantly surprised at how much vert you can generate - I matched and surpassed a lot of my Rockies vert week to week - in Canada the valley bottoms are pretty flat so easy runs are real, well, easy. Here in Cornwall everything rolls and undulates whether you’re on road or trail - it’s unavoidable, and it’s brilliant for building strong resilient legs.
I recently went back to Canada to activate my permanent residency visa, a visa I’ve waited for 2.5 years for, donned my Ponnek gear and went for a spin on my old trails. I’m coming off an injury, and I’ve spent the last 2 years at sea level, but the cliffs of Cornwall saw me returning to the mountains way stronger than the last time I arrived. I’d managed to bag a first place finish in the Brecon Beacons in October, but really couldn’t fathom how well the cliffs and coast path had set me up for going back to big peaks and running at altitude.
May is a pretty weird time weather wise in the Rockies, the alpine (around the 3000m mark), and treeline are hot beds for avalanche activity as the warm day time sun thaws the mountain tops, and some of the best trails around are in avalanche paths, but there was a handful of climbs still good to go. Namely Sulphur Mountain, you can get a gondola to the top to rise 2,400m above sea level, or you can do as trail runners do and mission up amongst the hikers (have you even been running if a random old guy/lady absolutely crushing it with some hiking poles and a big pack hasn’t told you you’re looking really strong?!). I picked the Trail Tee and short shorts for this and it was the perfect combo, though I did posthole up to my waist stepping off trail on the way down…
The Duster was in my pack at all times, the climbs up can be sweaty work, even in the snow, but spending any time on a peak is pretty cold and whizzing downhill it’s easy to generate a chill, The Duster snood was great for those climate adjustments on the fly (they’re also great for mountain days when it’s plenty below, I used to train at -20, and pulling a snood over your mouth helps warm the air before you inhale and avoid athlete’s asthma).
The nice thing about leaving Canada this time wasn’t only that I know I can come back, but that I was returning to all of the challenge and beauty of Cornwall this summer, continuing to get strong for my next trip. I think UK ultra and trail running can get a touch dominated by the Lakes and Welsh trail scenes, but we’re sitting on some gems down in the West Country. Nicky Spinks coming down for the Arc I hope is part of a change where folks up country begin to realise how nails our coast is, and how awesome our community is too, it’s rad seeing Ponnek tying that community together more already having only just launched in early May.
I’m looking forward to continuing to heal from IT band hell and get back in my Racers Vest in the warm weather and onto some of my favourite climbs - no amount of mountain training will take the sting fully out of sections like Crackington Haven to Tintagel, Bude to Heartland Quay or Portwrinkle to Downderry!
See you out there!