Thursday trail runs with the Sooke Trail and Road Runners often wrap up with a get-together at a downtown Sooke coffee shop. It’s where runners check in with each other or follow up on text exchanges.
But don’t let the one-liners and zingers over eggs fool you.
The club members take their running seriously, but approach the social element with equal ferocity.
“Running is very social,” says Steve Kent, president of STARR, who’s run trails for more than 19 years as a recreational runner.
“The camaraderie comes with doing something a little bit tougher with friends.”
Trail and ultra trail running is one of the fastest growing segments of the running world, and while there’s always been a trail element with STARR, it’s only recently the sport has taken off and become more competitive within its ranks.
A large contingent of club members now competes in the Vancouver Island Trail Running Series, a circuit of six races spanning from Royal Roads in Colwood to Mount Washington in the Comox Valley, and other challenges ranging from local races to ultra-marathons throughout North America.
Two of STARR’s most ardent trail runners are Greg Balchin and Pauline Nielsen, who’ve only recently decided to take on some of the toughest races and terrain.
Balchin, 59, has run since his high school days, but in the last year became a competitive trail runner.
He runs upwards of up to 100 kilometres a week often with running mate Nielsen.
The pair competed in this summer’s Vancouver Island Trail Running Series, and working toward goal ultra-marathons.
“Trail running is way different (than road racing),” Balchin says. “The races are tough and demanding.”
The biggest draw to trail running is the runner’s high and enjoying the peaceful sounds of nature rather than traffic and crowds, say all three runners.
Compared to road running, trail running allows you lose track of time no matter what distance you run, Nielsen says.
“You end up dreaming it, thinking about it … every time you’re walking around,” Balchin adds.
Still, the sport has it challenges.
With road running racers faces a constant repetitiveness on their body, while trail runners ease that pressure with softer running surfaces.
But trail runners are also must be able to stay on the lookout for outcropped rocks, roots and other dangers on single-track pathways. And don’t forget the steep climbs at almost every turn.
“We like it a bit more rugged,” quips Kent, 64, who admits to injuring his ankles, back, and knees over the years, never mind the cuts and abrasions.
Balchin says you aren’t a trail runner until you’ve fallen flat on your face. It’s considered a badge of honour in the running community.
“You just brace for it and watch for it,” he says.
Nielsen is currently nursing a foot injury that’s kept her off the trail for three weeks and last years was out six months with a leg injury.
The three say that while running is a social sport, it hits a new level with trail running, where the community is closely knit.
Some people have started in the sport well into their sixties and competed into their eighties.
Balchin and Kent hope to run well into the future.
“I’ll do this until I’m dead,” Balchin says. “They’ll probably bury me in my running shoes.”
The Sooke Trail & Road Runners, or STARR, is running group that caters to the non-elite runner who is interested in exercise and camaraderie. The group meets three days a week for group runs. Runners of all abilities and speeds are welcome. For more details contact the group online at www.runwithstarr.com.