The Douglas Fir Trail: Urban Dirt

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Not far upstream from downtown Calgary, you'll find a tiny piece of modified nature called the Douglas Fir Trail. This 1.5 km chunk of dirt runs parallel to the pathway on the south side of the river, and provides a nice change of pace and scenery. It's no Grouse Grind, but at 2 km from my house, it has a certain appeal.

I haven't been posting much about low HR training, despite it being the ostensible reason I started this blog. Primarily, there really isn't much to say. I've done some runs, I've kept under my target heart rate, I still cough far too frequently. I believe I'm getting better at maintaining my slow pace, and I'm looking forward to doing my second MAF test to see if there's been any true improvement. However, I do have a secondary reason for not posting about running: I got yet another cold during the second week of this venture.

<rant>As my friend kindly pointed out the other week, for someone with a fairly healthy and active lifestyle, I tend to get sick a lot. I'm still haven't quite lost the cough from a summer of bronchitis, and I come down with a cold on top of it? It's not fair! I seem to get sick at least 4-5 times a year. I exercise, I try to get plenty of sleep, I eat lots of vegetables and whole grains, I don't dri-- well, maybe it's the drinking. </rant>

Rant aside, back to the Douglas Fir trail. Yes, it's only 1.5 km, but it's full of stairs, as I've tried to depict with my blurry cell phone photo. Trying to keep my heart rate below 149 makes this 1.5 km section take an embarrassing 20 minutes! You can see on the graph below where my pace starts spiking off the chart; I think my Garmin was reporting a few divide by zero errors as I slowly put one foot in front of the other to crawl up the stairs. The total elevation gain is rather pitiful, somewhere in the neighbourhood of 60 m, but it all happens at once so it ends up being a good workout - about the equivalent of walking up a 20 story building. I started trying to count stairs, but I'm not OCD enough and I lost count after around 170.

Each time I do this trail, I break the 149 heart rate rule a little bit more, and I think in the future I might give up on it entirely. Judging by the sweaty faces I see on the trail, I'm not the only one who gets out of breath, and it's much more fun to try to race up than it is to slowly plod. Besides, there's a nice spot at the top to take a break and admire the view:

All things considered, the Douglas Fir Trail is worth checking out if you're looking for some stairs, some softer footing, and a few minutes away from the city. According to the City of Calgary, there's even some 500-year old 2-metre diameter trees along this trail, though I've yet to see anything of the sort. Technically, the trail is 2.5 km long, but a portion of it is closed right now; perhaps that's where the big trees live.


  1. About that cough -- I've had a laugh cough as long as I can remember. Phlegm gathers and I have to cough. I used to think it came from having had pneumonia as a baby, but a few years ago a doctor told me that was nonsense. Nonetheless, I've never had a doctor figure out why I do it. It can also come on from exertion, though less commonly.
    Has the doctor verified yours is just from a cold, or might it be the same sort of mysterious family thing?

  2. I'm pretty sure this is lingering from bronchitis, as I was quite sick back in July and I've slowly been improving since. The doctor did confirm that bronchitis can sometimes take months to go away completely, especially with asthma involved. This is the type of cough that makes strangers stop and ask if I'm okay, so I sure hope it's not a mysterious family thing that will stay with me!