Words: Kelly Irwin
Images: Chase White
Over a year ago, I made the decision to leave behind city life and chase my personal goals and passion. I quit my corporate job. I sold my house. And I left it all behind to move to a new town in the mountains. That town is Squamish, BC. I haven’t looked back since.
Squamish has traditionally been a logging town right smack in the middle of Vancouver and Whistler (both less than one hour away). It had a quaint beginning during the construction of the Pacific Great Eastern Railway in the 1910s, although in recent years it’s seen massive growth from outdoor adventurers (and more logging). The cat’s out of the bag—the town has naturally grown as more people have been steadily trading the high real estate costs of Vancouver for the outdoor access of Squampton (as the loke-dogs call it).
Squamish is a mecca in the outdoor recreation world. The proximity to the mountains, ocean, rivers and valleys make it a beautiful playground. And with a mild year-round climate compared to other parts of BC, there are plenty of times when you can climb, ski and bike all in the same day.
All of those activities are great, but running is a dream here. You have endless stunning views of mountain peaks, scenic rivers, ocean views and lush rainforest. And if you want it, you can have urban road runs and alpine ascents. I have yet to go on a run here that wasn’t beautiful. Even the old train bridges covered in graffiti give it a sort of European flair. I always end up feeling inspired by the beauty of this place. Every trail or road has its own flow, and it’s fitting in with that flow that makes every run different.
For the competitive type, there’s an extensive trail system, which is a key feature of our annual 50-mile ultra trail run, the Squamish 50. Solo runners and relay teams run on the same trails as the Test of Metal, and pass through Alice Lake Provincial Park and even the campus of Quest University. “The Double” is an award offered annually to the participant with the fastest combined time for both the Test of Metal and the Squamish 50.
However, I run for myself. And as a solo runner, you’re never running alone here. There’s almost always wildlife with you. Sometimes I’m running with deer, eagles or bears, and other times I’m running away from things like angry owls (true story). You’re also often surrounded by mountain bikers, people fly fishing or the usual commuting folk. It’s a different sort of company, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything you would find in the city.
Someone asked me the other day what really got me into running and my odd reply was, “running away from my parents”. And as dark as that may sound, I don’t mean it to be…I’ve always loved breaking free, being independent and burning energy.
For me, running is the closest I’ve come to finding meditation and peace. It calms me down. It makes me feel centred. I often think of running as an escape from life’s pressures, as you’re constantly thinking about your next move. Mentally, it takes the focus off of everything else. You’re in charge of your run.
Often, I think about how lucky I am to be able to get outside, push myself and feel my feet strike the ground. It’s amazing to see what our bodies can do when you push them to their limits. With running, you have a very simple goal. And in that simplicity, you find a way to feel empowered in your bodies’ ability.
I’m so insanely happy to be here and alive, exploring and adventuring my way through this wonderful western corridor. It never seems to get old and I can’t seem to leave it for very long. Having travelled to over 40 different countries, my home can’t be beat. New trails are always being added, and new terrain is constantly being discovered. It’s simply a bright and beautiful place to be.
At the end of the day, I think it’s important to find something—anything—that you love. And to stay inspired by that love. Running is a way for me to do exactly that. It’s time with myself, full of inspiration. Some people call it a runner’s high, and that’s the truth.
My advice for you: if you’re ever feeling uninspired, change your surroundings. Go find somewhere that you love. Somewhere that inspires you.
Running is a wicked way to find that place.
Based out of Squamish, Kelly Irwin is BC native, an outdoor enthusiast and totally obsessed with running in her back yard.