Trail Sisters: Best Run of the Week

Sometime in late spring of 2021, I was asked by Tess and Laura to join them in leading Trail Sisters Edmonton. It is a group of female trail runners that meets every Thursday evening to run 5-7km through our incredible river valley. The logical part of me protested loudly with every excuse, most of them quite valid. Working full time, raising three kids, plowing through my Masters degree, race directing, and chauffeuring kids to sports practices most nights is a lot, and taking on another commitment didn’t sound like a good idea.

But, underneath the excuses, was this quiet voice that said:

Do it.

This is good.

Good things are worth the effort.

I had already been attending most of the weekly Trail Sisters runs for nearly a year, and was loving the community. It quickly became a place for me to show up as I was, sometimes feeling tired and broken, sometimes energetic and joyful. Always grateful. Even if the group run wasn’t doing much for my training goals due to the shorter distance and beginner pace, the trail time was doing important work in the parts of me that needed a safe place to simply be a part of something bigger then myself. Also, the philosophy of the group so beautifully aligns with so many of my values, its easy to get behind something when it checks all those boxes.

Our Trail Sisters Edmonton Chapter is a small part of a much bigger group that is all over North America and its mission is simple: To increase womxn’s participation and opportunity in trail running and hiking through inspiration, education and empowerment.

Movement. Nature. Community. See? That’s a good thing worth saying yes to.  

It hasn’t been the easiest time to start a running group. Our friend Keri and Tess first launched Trail Sisters in the summer of 2020, and the group rode the waves of lockdowns and restrictions of the pandemic. In the darkest weeks, when life felt uncertain and restrictions were as tight as ever, our group runs were sometimes as small as three of us. Sometimes we cancelled the group runs entirely, even though running outside in the cold presents minimal risk of transmission and massive payoff for good health in every way possible. As restrictions lifted and the weather warmed, our numbers grew to thirty or forty women each week and we split into two or three groups, off in different directions at different paces to accommodate all abilities. We added Julia, a long-time friend and running enthusiast to the leadership team, giving us lots of options for leaders to handle large groups or to fill in when one of us couldn’t make it.

Every single week, I was reminded about how important our little group runs are. Stories on the trails each week of women overcoming isolation, injury, anxiety and burn out and saying ‘yes’ to taking time for themselves, bravely showing up to meet new people and try something new. Trail conversation oscillates between running goals, to ridiculous laughter and back again to heartfelt conversations about the tough stuff in life. Whispers of struggling marriages and broken hearts, the ache of parenting in a pandemic, stories of grief and loss, rebirth and fresh starts. Tales of quiet bravery with a splash of rage and a whole lotta hope. Cause that’s what us women do best.  Hope for better, and then get out there and build towards better. And when a group of diverse women come together to unconditionally support each other, amazing things happen.

Laura leads our ‘Learn to Run’ group, doing a consistent 5 km loop with a gentle mix of double wide and single track and run/walk breaks. I lead what we call the ‘adventure group’ offering a bit of a faster pace, often longer distance (closer to 7km) and living up to our name of being adventurous. The rules are simple: Show up, introduce yourself, don’t get behind the designated sweep and call out if you think you are lost (you probably aren’t and we are watching out for you!) On weeks we have lots of runners and an extra leaders we even offer a ‘half and half’ group that falls somewhere in between the two groups. We’ve also branched out beyond our Thursday night routine. We put together enough volunteers from our group to course marshal the run course at World Triathlon this summer and we even took a day trip to Nordegg to run/hike Mount Coliseum, providing an opportunity for a few women to reach their first mountain summit. Every week, we feature a “Buddy Bench” where you can post your run plans if you’re looking for other women to run with. This is how community is built. Put yourself out there, show up, give back.

Community is an elusive thing. In our very independent society, you can get away with very little social connection and still survive, and I think a lot of people have gotten used to that during the pandemic. But once you find your place with a group, and realize what it is like to be a part of something, you understand the value of connection and a supportive community. It’s messy, it takes courage, but it’s worth it. I love our Edmonton run community, and Trail Sisters is an integral part of it.

As the temperatures dropped again, so did our numbers. Despite our efforts to educate new winter runners on how to dress and wear the right shoes, cold weather running is intimidating even to seasoned veterans. It took me many years of running to embrace year-round outdoor runs, so I don’t blame people for not showing up on cold nights. These last few weeks we have been just a handful of hearty souls bundling up each week and posting frosty face pictures to show that the trails are still there and still gorgeous, even in the dark winter nights.

After our last Trail Sisters of the year, we went out for nachos and beer to celebrate a successful year on the trails. Our ragtag effort at leadership, spread between four ultra-busy, ultra-running moms, has paid off and our community has grown into a mighty force on the trails.

I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished together and value my relationship with my co-leaders so much. As long as I keep hearing from women that they have been watching us on the Facebook Group and finally mustered the courage to show up and run with us, I am happy to keep showing up, leading the adventure and sharing my love of running.

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