A Rare Encounter with Trail Runners

My buddy Moe took photos on this ride, kind of weird to see what I look like riding,  Thanks Moe!

My buddy Moe took photos on this ride, kind of weird to see what I look like riding, Thanks Moe!

I found myself with Friday off work and the chance to go on a mountain bike ride, this was the best and only present Work gave me.  5 riders met up at the gravel pile for a ride on the back nine of High Knob.  Trails were surprisingly dry despite recent rains and conditions were excellent with temperatures around 50 degrees.  Not your typical day after Christmas weather, it made for an excellent ride.

Near he end of the ride with about a mile to go while we were regrouping at a 3 way intersection I saw a pair of trail runners coming up the trail.  This is actually unprecedented in the Shawnee.  We encounter horseback riders maybe every 2-3 rides in winter, ATVs every 4-5  rides and we encounter hikers maybe once every 10-20 rides year round, we even encounter other mountain bikers a few times per year, but I have never seen trail runners before.

Luke blasting up a hill on his fat bike

Luke blasting up a hill on his fat bike

Turns out I knew these guys having ridden with him in the past.  I had ran into him a few years ago and found out he had become a dedicated trail runner and was competing in distance events.  He had asked what kind of pace we averaged and back then after a few moments I said around 5 mph.  The trail runner said he usually averaged around 5 or 6 miles per hour so he could keep up with us while we ride and that he might even be faster on some trails.

I have to admit that’s been lodged in my mind ever since.  Is it possible that someone on foot could be faster then someone on a bike, even on a mountain bike trail.  Do I really average around 5 mph on a mountain bike, that seems pretty slow?  I just looked at the average speed for my last 12 rides, the max was 7.4 the minimum was 5.0 and the average was 6.28 or around a 9.5 minute mile.  That includes a mix of terrain and all fun group rides, no races or high speed training.  I should note those are all moving averages, looking at total averages on my group rides would be pointless.

Gholson struggling up a hill

Gholson struggling up a hill

So I’m not as slow as I thought, but not much faster either, according to singletracks.com the average pace of a mountain bike ride is 6.98.  Considering the fast guys that I follow on strava I think that’s just about right.  Anything over 10 mph on a “real” mountain bike trail is FAST.

So back to the present.  After we finished regrouping and chatting the question came up again, “How fast do you guys ride,”  someone answered, “around 5-7 miles per hour,” and again the trail runner said he could keep up with us running.  One of our riders noted that we go significantly faster downhill, but the runners would have the advantage in the technical stuff or where we have to dismount.  The trail runner agreed.

Catching the trail runners

Catching the trail runners

Just as we were about to take off and trail runners quickly shot off the trail, it was time to put theory into action, could they really keep up with us?  The next half mile up to the gravel road was all uphill, if the runners would have a chance this would be it.  Luke, sensing a challenge, blasted off after them and almost instantly picked up a large stick in his brake rotor that brought him to a halt.  I passed Luke off trail which significantly slowed me down and the runners were gaining a good lead on us.

Keeping pace with the trail runners!

Keeping pace with the trail runners!

As the trail climbed I was breathing about as hard as I could and gaining on the runners but it quickly became apparent that they were “the real deal.”  They were flying up the trail.  With still 30 feet between the runners and me Luke caught up, the 4.8 inch tires on his fat bike sounded like a Hummer about to over take me.  My road bike experience kicked in and I gave him lots of room to pass.  In a few pedal strokes he had caught the runners but didn’t pass.  In a few more seconds we were all lined up.  We followed the runners the next few minutes to the gravel road and went our separate ways.  Actually passing the runners on the trail would have been problematic, any kind of pass on single track is tricky especially when the rider in front is moving at a good speed.

I would have no problem riding with these guys while they run, we would be very close to evenly matched with our typical group.  Riding alone or going for a tough workout would be a different matter as I think we would be getting in each others way.  I’m still a little stunned by the speed which they moved uphill, but it’s given me some motivation to get out and trail run more.


About Matt Gholson

Cycling, school teaching, husband.
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One Response to A Rare Encounter with Trail Runners

  1. capejohn says:

    Nice story. Runners are much faster than we thing. I do the Midnight Marathon every years. It’s the Boston Marathon route and 1000 bike riders begin at midnight in Hopkinton and ride the 26 miles to downtown Boston. Last year at least a dozen runners times were faster than my bike riding time. These runners can be discouraging.

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