The arrival of spring is a sublime time to be trail running, but for some it means a date with a grizzly fate waits around the corner
Contrary to popular opinion, bears don’t actually hibernate during the worst of winter. And neither do true trail runners. We can’t. Not where I live anyway. Because here, spring brings the best trail running events and the most stunning conditions of the entire year, and if you cruise, snooze and booze through the calendar’s cruellest quarter, you’ll arrive at this sweet spot completely bent out of shape.
Around these parts, the very first date inked on every runner’s calendar at the outset of each new year is an epic local race called The Grizzly: a 20-mile, mud-splattered, springtime test that traverses sections of the South West Coast Path and the hilly hinterland trails of East Devon, attracting a couple of thousand runners every year, including quite a few international entrants. It’s the kind of race that will dish out a mighty mauling if you haven’t done the hard yards over winter.
The only runs you really regret are the ones you don’t do
Every year some of my trail running mates do slip into the trap. Their ardour for adventure becomes numb as they succumb to late winter lethargy, and they forsake the rough stuff to do the jog of shame, joining our tarmac-trotting second cousins once removed, with their strange bouncy-bald-bottomed shoes. A few even retreat indoors altogether and join a gym. But let’s not talk about them.
But most will grit it out, layer up and plough on – braving January’s juddering cold and February’s thaw-fed filth, tackling tracks transformed into mucky, shoe-sucky quagmires and returning from training sessions resembling The Thing from the Black Lagoon.
And, as we all know, no matter how daunting the forecast or unappealing the view through the rain-strafed window appears, once you’re out trail running, crunching through forests or battling along a wind-whipped ridge, the experience is invariably exciting – edifying even – if not necessarily pleasant in the traditional sense of the word.
You return feeling properly alive, legs muddy and face flushed ruddy by a mixture of exposure, adrenaline and a sense of achievement. The only runs you really regret are the ones you don’t do.
But apparent masochism notwithstanding, there’s no denying the delight that floods through our systems on the day the first snowdrops suddenly erupt beside the singletrack. There’s magic in that moment. It’s the point when endurance ends and enjoyment begins.