What It’s Like to Get Lost on a Run With a Pro Trail Runner

Hot tip: If you want to pick the brain of an elite athlete, just take them down a few wrong turns on a Pacific Spirit Park jog.

There’s one good thing about getting lost in Pacific Spirit Park with a trail running expert — you get several extra kilometres to grill her about everything she knows.

It was a cold February day when Judy Milay and I took several wrong turns on a jogging date organized by Adidas Terrex. (The sportiest li’l professional matchmakers in town.) But I was warm inside knowing that even an incredibly accomplished athlete like Milay could be decieved by the unintuitive way finding signs in Vancouver’s densest forest. (My baby, whom I’d decided to bring along in the running stroller, did not necessarily find this as empowering of an experience.)

two women and a stroller on a trail, jogging
Hitting the trail with Judy Milay… before the photographer lost track of us for an hour.

The additional, accidental twists and turns gave me a chance to learn more about Milay, founder of Colour the Trails. What started as an initiative to get more people of colour into outdoor sports like running, skiing and mountain biking has turned into a full-time gig—with a few breaks here and there to take short-of-breath journalists and their cranky one-year-old daughters out into the wilderness.

“I started trail running because road running became just too hard on my knees,” says Milay. But she stays at it because it creates moment to connect with nature and find some peace. “Trail running offers a more challenging and varied workout than road running—there are mental benefits beyond just fitness.“

She’ll head up to Squamish for an afternoon to lose herself on the trails there, or snag friends to join her exploring North Shore paths at a serious clip. When she’s not organizing events for Colour the Trails or connecting with sponsors (ahem, Adidas), she’s a fearless cross-sport athlete; she grew up playing basketball as her family moved from city to city to city, and now spends her free time hurtling down ski hills or mountain bike trails—the latter a sport she took up mid-pandemic.

a trail in pacific spirit park
The last known sighting of the intrepid runners, in their matching lavander windbreakers.

Though she’s fairly new to trail-running, Milay has proved a quick study. As we emerge from the thicket of trees, surprised to find ourselves on UBC campus somehow, she advises me to the importance of quality gear, whatever kind of sport you’re into.

“Just having the right supplies is so important, I’ve realized over the years,” she says. Layers that wick away the moisture keep you warm without making you sweat; lightweight shoes (like the matching Speed Ultra shoes we’re wearing, cuuuute) with good grip make muddy rainforest pathways a breeze.

“Ankle support is key for trails,” she says, as we lift the stroller over a particularly knotty clump of roots. As someone who runs cold, she’s rarely on a run without gloves on, too.

I’m feeling grateful as our Terrex saviours come and pick us up from the exit we finally find (a good five blocks down the road from our original meeting spot), but also that the new West 4th Terrex store chose Vancouver as its very first brick-and-mortar location. Because to get to Milay’s trail-running level (I’m already on-par with her for trail sign reading, obviously) I’m gonna need to kit myself out, ideally in some sort of fun shopping-spree montage.

close up shot of running shoes
Shoes with grip are the number one piece of equipment for successful (non-ankle-twisting) trail running.

The Terrex line focuses on outdoor sports—think running, hiking, skiing, climbing—which is an ideal fit for the Sporty Spice Vancouverites of Kitsilano and beyond. But even if you don’t fancy yourself an outdoor kid, the new space brings plenty of nature indoors, too: in the boutique, spot greenery galore, moss-inspired installations and floor-panels made of pebbles. The shop plans on operating run clubs and other community-building events soon, too: good news if you (for some reason) fear getting lost in the wilderness on your next jog.

To be clear: I wasn’t scared for a minute to be lost in the woods with Milay. (Also, we could hear the cars from 16th Avenue, so I figured our chances of survival were pretty high.) To have those extra moments of hearing our feet crunch on the still-a-little-frozen ground and watching the sun stream through the trees onto the patches of snow was really a gift.

In other words, I’m a trail-running convert, even if my baby isn’t. Were she able to lace up her own shoes, she might have enjoyed this final piece of Milay advice: “Know that you don’t need to go run up the mountains, you can start by exploring city park trails.“ Yeah, that’s right: trail running isn’t a route… it’s a state of mind.