It’s a crisp, late-winter Thursday afternoon and while it’s perfectly acceptable to spend days like these business casual in a cubicle somewhere, for a contingent of devoted Victorians, the dress code is Dri Fit and compression socks, best worn outdoors. These are the trail runners, the people who come together in snow, sleet, rain or shine, year round to scoot beneath shady canopies, along the same pathways towards individual goals.
Mike Suminski is a seasoned ultra-marathoner, local running running coach and the man about to give me the proper introduction to running the trails at Mount Doug. Though we’ve never met, it’s immediately apparent I’m approaching the right guy in the parking lot. Not only is he well-branded in his Trail Guys gear, an ode to his online presence as Victoria’s source for trail running advice and inspiration, but it seems as though 37 marathons (42 kilometres), 18 ultramarathons (anything over 42 km) and two 100-milers builds an endorphin forcefield, a gleaming beacon of positivity that screams: grab the runners and ditch the apprehension – we’re headed out for a frolic in the woods.
And so we arrive at his first piece of advice: exchange the regular running shoes for something more suited to the rugged terrain. The recent unexpected snowfall is now nowhere to be seen, but the trail is wet. Suminski says I’ve got the summer tires on and it’s time to bring in the winter treads. Side by side we trot across the soft ground at conversation pace – the speed I need to go to conduct my first-ever running interview, outside of my time attempting streeters as an intern in Northern B.C. With my post-surgery feet finally healed up, I’ve spent these last couple of months returning to my longtime love of running. Joyful, meditative, sometimes chatty, and almost never timed – running. It seems that style makes Suminski’s second tip to success on the trails almost impossible not to follow: start slow.
Within a few strides Suminski doles out some more basics: pump your arms in a pendular motion; look forward.
It’s hard to imagine the 62-year-old positive powerhouse as anything less than über fit. But before he was a running coach, he was a socialite realtor in Calgary, with no plan or direction in his regime. At 38 he signed up for a learn-to-run marathon course through the University of Calgary and eventually came up with his winning equation: goals + plans + action + persistence = success.
He says when he’s not in his running gear, he wears a belt buckle from the Leadville Colo. 100-mile race, a proud symbol left concealed by an untucked shirt.
“I’ve been told, ‘Don’t tuck – you’ll show you were born in the ‘50s.’”
Lucky for him, his fitness level doesn’t.
“My big thing is if I can do it, then you can do it and it’s true,” he says, but like a true veteran of the destination run he puts a caveat to the statement. “You’ve got to get a goal that excites you.”
Go ahead, sign up for the Honolulu marathon when the April showers won’t stop pouring.
Two technical tidbits may also help the journey. First, turn the run to a brisk walk up hills, keeping your hands on your quads will ensure maintenance of the heel-toe strike and lessen potentially damaging hammering on the ball of the foot. Second, when you’re descending on the other side, angle those feet outward slightly. It’ll create a solid base and reduce your chances of rolling an ankle.
When I call my time dancing about through the streets in runners and earbuds meditation, he agrees. “Meditation and medication.”
It’s an activity, Suminski says, open to anyone with an open mind. He runs with a group of about 30 people every Sunday and while any open minded road runner who visits trailsofthewestcoast.com is welcome to see where they’re headed and join in, the shortest run length is two hours.
“People tend to get intimidated by trail running, or joining a running group with a two-hour minimum run duration, but 99 per cent of the time people fall in love and aren’t that intimidated.”
Perhaps the most important tip towards success trail running is the one not made explicit, but implicit in every moment of my stint at Mount Doug. It really is a lot of fun out there with a buddy.
“The full ultramarathon community is so welcoming and not talking splits and timing – I love that,” he says. “An ultra is more about the social aspect, the road trip and enjoying the nature. It’s not to beat each other, it’s to be with each other.”
As we approach the parking lot once more, I’m aware that some of this excess positivity has rubbed off on me. Not enough to sign up for an ultra, but ample to accept the fist bump coming my way.
Suminski’s top trail runs
• Gowlland Tod Provincial Park
• Thetis Lake Regional Park
• Mount Work Regional Park
• John Dean Provincial Park
• Goldstream Provincial Park