The Best Trail Running Clubs and Races around Vancouver

June 26, 2014

Written by: Karl Woll

This is the third and final post in a series on trail running for beginners around Vancouver. You read post one and I suckered you into trying out trail running. You read post two and discovered some great trails to train on. Now you’re ready to put all that training to the test and line up at the start line of a race with a whole group of nutters trail runners.

Your first race can be a little intimidating. You’re not really sure how the whole thing is going to go down and you might be worried about your fitness or otherwise embarrassing yourself. But here’s the good news; the trail running community is one of the friendliest groups of people around, and every race has runners of all abilities. No one takes it too seriously, and the guy (or gal) who wins the race is just as likely to give you a high-five as you cross the finish line as anyone.

For me, the races are the best part of trail running. It’s where you learn to push yourself to a new distance you didn’t think you ever could – and at a pace you didn’t know you had in you. It’s where you meet new people. And its where you find the motivation to keep training and pushing yourself to keep improving.

So, where can you sign up for these races?

Here are the best local races to check out (along with a few training groups/ clubs you can join)!

Local Trail Races

1) 5 Peaks Trail Running Series


The 5 Peaks Trail Running Series was my first introduction to trail running. I did a race at Mount Seymour and was hooked – on both the sport and this series.

The concept is simple – 5 Peaks wants you to ‘get off the road’ and they host a series of 5 races in a variety of regions around the country (and they are growing). Each race offers two distances: a Sport (short, ~6 – 10km) and Enduro (longer, ~12-18km). In British Columbia, the races are run on singletrack trails in a variety beautiful areas, ranging from Maple Ridge to Whistler. These races very beginner and family friendly. They even offer a free 1km race for the kids.

The Races
  • Golden Ears, Maple Ridge (May)
  • Alice Lake, Squamish (June)
  • Cypress Mountain, West Vancouver (July)
  • Whistler Blackcomb (August)
  • Buntzen Lake, Anmore (September)

Further details:

2) Coast Mountain Trail Series


Cap Crusher. Photo by Rob Shaer

The CMTS is the new kid on the block, having only launched in 2013. Like 5 Peaks, they have an amazing series of local races on some incredible terrain. Unlike (or perhaps not unlike) 5 Peaks races, the CMTS race directors take a particular satisfaction in your pain (and to be fair, also in seeing you smile once you recovered at the finish line). The courses are about the same distance as 5 Peaks races or slightly longer, but they designed to challenge you as much as possible on the given terrain. One example is the Buckin’ Hell course, which take you 10km STRAIGHT UP Old Buck trail to the summit of Mount Seymour, only to take a quick break before you bomb all the way straight down for another 10km (this route was actually redesigned for 2014, but looks no easier).

The Races
  • Cap Crusher, North Vancouver (March)
  • Survival of the Fittest, Squamish (May)
  • Buckin’ Hell, North Vancouver (June)
  • Squamish 23k, Squamish (August)
  • Sky Pilot, Squamish (September)
  • Rubble Creek (September)

Further details:

3) Mountain Madness

Another great series of local trail races is put on by Mountain Madness. They host a diverse series of races, including two of my all-time favorites – the Dirty Duo and the Hallow’s Eve Trail race. These races are very much beginner-friendly and bring out a great crowd of smiling faces. The races all offer a variety of distances too, so you can slot into where you’re most comfortable.

The Races
  • Dirty Duo Trail and Mtn Bike Race (March)
  • Run Fred Run (formerly My First Trail Race) (April)
  • Iron Knee and Tender Knee (May)
  • Hallow’s Eve (October)
  • The Phantom Run (November)

Further details:

4) Seek the Peak

Seek the Peak is a unique race, that takes runners from Ambleside Beach (sea level) to the peak of Grouse Mountain (4100ft climb) over 16km of trail. Many will be familiar with a particular 2.9km stretch of the course – the Grouse Grind. This may not sound like a good choice for your first trail race but you might be amazed by how much ground you can cover in a few short hours. Also, there is a 4-person relay option for this race which makes it very manageable if you can trick three friends into joining you. This race is run in June each year.

Further details:

5) Mountain Equipment Co-op

Between the North Vancouver and Vancouver locations, MEC offers 10 races throughout the year. Almost all of these races are on the pavement (at least as of 2014), but a few of the North Vancouver runs are trail runs, or mixed surface. At only $15 for registration (or $20 on race-day), these races are a great way to get some race experience in a relaxed, friendly environment.

Further details:

6) Club Fat Ass

Club Fat Ass is a grassroots club based out of North Vancouver that organizes low-key running events. Each event is self-timed and self-supported and they usually offer a variety of distances. These events are about getting outside and doing something fun (trail running!) in a no-frills way. There used to be a membership fee, but now its free to attend.

Further details:

2014 MB 5 Peaks BC Alice Lake-113

5 Peaks race at Alice Lake, Squamish. Photo by Mark Bates

Groups and Clubs for Training

Ladies of the Trails

This is a free group for women in the lower mainland to connect and go on guided group runs, mostly on the North Shore, but in other areas of greater Vancouver as well. There are discussions about upcoming races, sales, products, tips, and training questions all in one place for the ladies.

Further details:

Kintec in North Vancouver and Port Moody

Kintec offers a paid trail running clinic out of their North Vancouver and Port Moody locations, for both beginners and advanced trail runners.

Further details:

Mountain Madness Clinics

If you are doing any of the Mountain Madness races, they offer training clinics that will prepare you for the race. They are 8 – 10 weeks long, depending on the race and range from $100 to $135. They also have free orientation runs for a number of the races.

Further details:

Orientation runs

A lot of trail races offer orientation runs. Typically, they are for the longer races like the 50km Knee Knacker. However, you generally don’t need to be signed up for the race to join in, and there is a wide variety of skill levels. So if you are worried that you will be left in the dust of all the other runners, that is never the case and you usually have a group of people around your ability to stick with during the run. Finding a few of these is a great way to meet some new people and become familiar with new trails.

That is not an exhaustive list of races and clubs to run with, but those are the main ones. There are some other great individual races you can find, and groups organized on websites like Ask around at your local run shop or with your running friends to get even more ideas if you need! The Outdoor Vancouver website also has an Events Calendar with all the local races.

Karl Woll, born and raised in Vancouver’s Lower Mainland, has been passionately exploring the area’s local mountains over the last decade. Beyond hiking, Karl fulfills his desire to be in the outdoors by kayaking, cycling, scuba diving, snowboarding, and most frequently, trail running. He blogs at Outdoor Vancouver and is the author of The Great Hikes of Vancouver eBook.

6 responses to “The Best Trail Running Clubs and Races around Vancouver”

  1. Harry says:

    I’m pretty new to running but have been in the mountains all my life. The nice part about trail running is that after you get your shoes and a few other odds and ends it’s free! The races all sound like good fun and I would probably go in a few if they weren’t $50 or $60 or more! Are you kidding me. Then on top of that you have this monopoly Race-on-line charging almost 10% to register online. Give me a break. Fat Ass is awesome and a great to meet other runner without paying these ridiculous entry fees. Kudos to MEC for charging reasonable entry fees. Hopefully supply and demand will lower race fees as all these new organizers try to get a piece of the pie with their new races. I don’t mean to sound like a downer but there is some real greed going on here. I say just go out and run with your friends have a great time and save your money!

    • Karl Woll says:

      Yes, some of the races can be a little pricey. But $60 isn’t much compared to the $100+ that you can spend on marathons or $300+ for triathlons.

      A lot goes into getting all the permits, website maintenance, marketing, bibs, timers, speaker systems, aid stations, etc, etc and the more organized the event, well, the more you have to pay. I personally know some of the owners/ RDs of the above races and I can guarantee you there is no greed involved. These races are put on by fellow trail runners who put in work weeks far beyond 40 hours because they love the sport, the lifestyle and providing a means to draw more people into a healthy activity. It’s not a cash-cow by any stretch!

      But I agree, you don’t need to pay to attend races if you don’t want. There are no/low-frills options like MEC and CFA that are a blast too! The greatest thing about this sport is putting on shoes and getting into the trees. Whether that’s by yourself, a group of friends, or during a race – it doesn’t really matter as long as you’re out there!

      • Harry says:

        Thanks for explaining about some of the expenses involved in putting on a race . I guess I have to come to the realization that it’s 2014 and $60 is not what it used to be. I’ll eat crow tonight for my somewhat uninformed opinion and check my spelling next time also.

        Really enjoyed your very informative article though. I think we are so lucky to have the North Shore in our backyards for all it’s running, mountain biking and back country skiing! Cheers

        • Karl Woll says:

          No crow being eaten, you’re right, at the end of the day $60 is a lot of money. But I do feel the value is there in the trail races, and a lot of work goes into them.

          Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed the article. And yes, we are very lucky!

  2. Alexandra says:

    I want to be part of a trail running group. I would like to know where I can get together with the group so I can go and run on my weekends.
    I am new here in Vancouver, but I used to have my trail running group in Edmonton.

  3. Rashel Pena says:

    Hi guys,

    I’m quite new in Vancouver. I would like to join a trail running club I could run with as i am not yet familiar with the trail running areas here. I would be so thankful if you’ll include me in the group.

    Here’s my email:

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