A 135-mile, multi-terrain run following Canada's dynamic East Coast Trail
In 2016 James visited his Grandparents' home of Newfoundland to run 135 miles of developed hiking trails on the island's renowned East Coast Trail route. The run was spread over the course of five days, with an average distance greater than a marathon each day. The trail, a community-led route that is constantly under development, is located on the east coast of Canada on the shores of the Avalon Peninsula in the Provence of Newfoundland and Labrador. It takes in stunning coastal scenery, from high rocky bluffs to tiny coves, and has an overall elevation gain of several thousand meters. James ran unsupported by day but with extra luggage moved between night-time stops.
"The best trail you've likely never heard of" The Boston Globe
The East Coast Trail on Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula is managed by the East Coast Trail Association – a volunteer-supported charity. Each year it is developed further and, as such, has changed in length and quality since it was first established in 1994. The official opening of the trail came in 2001 when the main route, from Capphayden to St Johns, was completed. Since then a further 50 kilometres (31 miles) have been developed and yet 275km of undeveloped trail also remain still to be added. The potential total distance for the route is, in fact, a whopping 540 kilometres (335 miles). As the only continuous section of trail, however, James' run covered the 'original' 220 kilometre (136 mile) route from Cappahayden to St Johns.
If you would like to offer sponsorship for the run, then the best way is quite simply to support the route itself. The East Coast Trail is maintained by a charity and relies heavily on donations. To help James, to help the charity and to help maintain this trail for future generations, you can donate to the East Coast Trail Association here.
Advice, Resources & FAQs
Just like the Canoeing the Continent page on this website, the aim here is also to provide like-minded people with helpful information. Throughout the process James has be posting advice and information on running the East Coast Trail for anyone else interested in doing something similar. If you have more questions just get in touch.
Are there campsites available along the trail?
There are several 'backcountry' campsites along the route, particularly on the longer sections of the trail between settlements. On the Cappahayden–St Johns section of the route, these campsites are Miner Point Campsite, the Little Bald Head Campsite, the Roaring Cove Campsite and the Long Will Campsite. These are backcountry campsites and cannot be accessed by vehicles. They have wooden platforms on which you can securely pitch your tent and some also have long-drop toilets. There are, however, no facilities such as showers or electricity. Campfires are not permitted and you must pack out any rubbish you bring in. Leave it as you found it and respect the fact that these are 'wild' campsites.
How much water will you be carrying?
I plan to begin each day with around two litres of water, however I also carry water purification tablets. This allows me to carry a safe amount of water but also travel lightly, with the capability to refill my water bottle at every river or stream.
Is there a fee for access to the East Coast Trail?
There is no fee for hiking the East Coast Trail and there is no National Park-type fee or membership you have to pay. The trail is, however, cared for by a volunteer-based charity and therefore relies heavily on donations and the free contribution of volunteers' time. For those planning to use the full length of the trail I therefore recommend donating on the East Coast Trail Association website or even becoming a member to help support the route.
Where will you be staying along the trail?
In order to travel lightly and run with the minimal amount of luggage on my back I will not be camping along the trail. Instead, I plan to begin in Cappahayden and stay in accommodation along the way, as well as spending nights with members of my family who live along the route. I plan to stay in Port Kirwan, Calvert, Bauline East, Bay Bulls and then finish in St Johns where I will stay with my family.
Why are you not running all the way to Cape St Francis?
The East Coast Trail is a continuous trail from Cappahayden to St Johns. From St Johns north to Cape St Francis the trail is well developed and well maintained, however it does not run as one unbroken line and is made up of several sections. As such it is not currently possible to run a continuous route from Cappahayden to Cape St Francis. To follow the trail north from St Johns to Cape St Francis there are some sections where it is necessary to head back in land by road and link the different sections by other means.
What is the record for the East Coast Trail?
I'll be running over five days, while the current record stands at just 34hrs 40mins. The record was set by Caroline McIlroy, a Newfoundland resident, in 2015. You can find out more about her run here.
What is the best time of year to run the East Coast Trail?
There is no single best time to walk or run on the East Coast Trail – though, of course, in winter the trail is snowed over so it is certainly only a late Spring to Autumn route. I plan to run in August since I hope that, having had a summer's use, it will be clearer and in good condition. More importantly, running in August gives me plenty of time to train. There are good times to follow the trail to maximise your chances of seeing certain sights, though. Hike the East Coast Trail in late April, May and June for the chance to see icebergs. Hike in July and early August to see whales.
What are the best maps to use for the East Coast Trail?
There aren't exactly tonnes of options but you can find most maps on the East Coast Trail Association website. These are the maps I am using and come as several A4 pages – I advise laminating for protection on the trail. Two guidebooks for the original Cappahayden–St Johns section are also available and there is a new interactive guidebook available for ipads, kindles and mobile devices, though I have not used this personally.
How remote is the East Coast Trail?
In British terms the East Coast Trail is pretty remote. Though the path is well trodden, the number of hikers is not comparable to the likes of UK routes such as the South West Coast Path or the Pennine Way. It is narrow and natural – there are no long paved sections or large staircases. The population size along the route is relatively small and there are no large-scale conveniences such as supermarkets. This is all, of course, a big part of its appeal. Having said that, the East Coast Trail still passes through 30 different communities in total and the longest stretch of uninhabited path between them is just 10 miles long. As a result, you're always within waking range of a settlement.
How do you train to run the East Coast Trail?
I have not followed any form of strict training routine and do not have a coach. I have, however, ensured a high weekly overall distance and run six days a week, every week for several months. These six weekly runs are split between high intensity intervals (shorter runs with a higher tempo), steady runs (medium distance runs at a steady peace) and long distance runs. The longest individual distance I have run in training is only 27 miles (shorter than the longest day I will spend on the East Coast Trail) and my average weekly distance has been between 65–75 miles. Whether this is sufficient enough only time will tell. I also live in a flat area of the UK. To combat this I have sought out hills for specific hill training sessions and also, albeit briefly, visited the Lake District and more mountainous areas of the UK.
How fast do you plan to run?
Though I've trained hard over the last few months I am under no illusion that I will be racing along this trail. The East Coast Trail is an extremely challenging route and has a dramatic amount of overall elevation. When I can't run I will walk. The main ambition is to complete the full length of the trail and to do so within five days. I don't expect to be setting any records!