Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Trail Running vs Hiking

I always thought that trail runners and hikers had a lot of things in common. Both seem to like getting out in the wilderness and enjoying nature. The main difference that I can tell between the two was just that trail runners tend to enjoy their time on the trail just a little bit quicker than hikers do...and can see more during the same amount of time. It never really occurred to me before that there could be any sort of animosity between these two groups, however I have been surprised to notice some recently.

Most of the trails I run on are multi-use recreational trails, snowmobile trails or private trails, so I don’t often share the trails with ‘just’ hikers when I’m trail running. Over the past few months I have had the opportunity to do so with an increased number of runs at Frontenac Provincial Park, in addition to our recent trip to the Adirondacks.

At Frontenac Provincial Park, I very rarely see any hikers on the trails. It seems as though it is more of a place to paddle due to the vast number of small lakes that can be connected by portages. When I do see hikers, I am always quick with a ‘hi’ or making myself heard with a ‘coming up behind’ when about to pass a hiker on the trail. Usually this is met with a friendly response, but not always. Maybe just because I am becoming more aware of it, but I have noticed an increased number of hikers who don’t say anything or even seem to frown upon me as I pass.

The Adirondacks are home to some of the most beautiful trails and mountains I have seen. You have access to many great peaks within relatively short distances. For this reason, the trails in Adirondack Park are very heavily used. During some recent runs I was quite surprised at the number of grumpy hikers on the trail and I’m still unsure why.

On one of my runs I ran to the top of Mount Marcy which is a very popular hike, as it is the highest mountain in the Adirondacks. I had a fairly early start to my run, but because of the distance into Mt. Marcy, I still passed a large number of hikers who had gotten a very early start to their day. While most of the hikers where very pleasant when I passed, there were a few who seemed like they did not want to let me pass them on the trail. I got the impression that since they had an earlier start than I did that they wanted to be the first to see the summit on that day. There were a number of times that I actually had to squeeze around hikers to get by even though they saw me coming up quickly behind them.

The same thing occurred on my way down from the summit. I would be running down the mountain and meet a number of hikers who would just not want to share the trail and practically force me into the trees or rocks off the side.

In fairness, I did meet quite a few hikers with great attitudes and thought it was pretty neat to see someone running up and down a mountain. I found that it tended to be families with young children who were most intrigued by seeing someone running on these trails and would offer words of support or enthusiasm. I felt that this was probably due to the parents who were already setting a good example by taking their kids for a hike and that this was another affirmation that the trails could be enjoyed in another means if the kids so desired, and speed is always of interest to kids. I had a number of kids ask me how long it took me to run to the top and who thought it was a pretty cool way to see the summit. Their enthusiasm was very refreshing.

My impression was that it was the old school hikers, who wanted the trails to themselves and didn’t appreciate something a little different like a runner sharing THEIR trails. It was with these sourpusses that I tried to be extra friendly to and flash my cheesiest smile with a ‘great day on the trails, eh?’. I thought it was especially good to throw some Canadian content into the conversation just to let them be pissed off at those ‘damn Canadian trail runners’, even if they are nice people.

Maybe this phenomenon was just the day and my increased level of awareness in thinking about it during longer trail runs alone recently. Or maybe this is more common and a growing issue with hikers? I’d be interested in knowing what others have found.

Time to finish my coffee now and go terrorize some hikers;)


  1. Hey Rick ... you knew I'd be the first to comment, right! As hikers, J & I welcome any other (non-motorized) trail users and can't understand why we wouldn't. I haven't heard any attitudes about runners, but I have noticed that some other hikers are especially intolerant of mountain bikers and have even seen reference to "inconsiderate" mountain bikers in hiking books. We are on the trails hiking almost every weekend and have overwhelmingly encountered considerate runners and mountain bikers. We are consistently alerted of their presence by a friendly "passing on your left" and then usually "Thanks! ... great day, isn't it" or something similar. We have occasionally gotten behind slower hikers who have been reluctant to have us pass and forced us into the bushes to get around them, but that is the exception rather than the rule. We have no ego about being the fastest on the trails (maybe because we've been passed by 80-year-old women in Nepal with huge loads on their backs!) I'm not sure if we'd fall into the category of "old school hikers", but that's our approach. Hey, we're all out there to have fun ... lets all be respectful, considerate and share those trails!!

  2. Hey Deb,
    All good points and certainly nobody better to comment than you and Jack. As mentioned, this is not always the case, but has happened a number of times recently and I don't think that it's something that I am doing in a negative sense. Good point about mountain biking, as I do see that as considerably more destructive of trails than runners (though my main beef is with the ATV's around here). I guess to clarify, when I said 'old school', the definition I would give is possibly more 'traditionalists' and what some would say that hiking/backpacking 'should' be...and resistent to change or increased use of trails in a different way. Which I think is different than what I have observed from people who seem to be serious or even hardcore with regards to hiking/backpacking, as they tend to appreciate/are more accepting of trail runners or fastpackers more so. In addition, it's interesting that there are many hiking trails that are resistant to allowing trail races to take place. The Damn Wakely Dam Ultra is one I've run that comes to mind. The race occurs, but recieves a great deal of resistance along the way. There is also an interesting article I just read ( http://www.denpubs.com/Articles-c-2009-06-24-60266.113116-sub8587.113116_Tackling_the_Adks_on_a_fast_trot.html ) discussing this as well. I'm with you though, as long as people are respectful, considerate and aren't doing any damage, than there's no reason to not share the trails.

  3. What was your time on marcy?

  4. Hey Drew,
    I took it very easy on the way up and was around 2:05-2:10. It was quite wet.

    Any idea what the FKT on Marcy is?