Trailing (with) My Son…
My oldest son Eric is seventeen years old. Back when I was seventeen I was playing high school basketball, trying to date girls, working part time at a video store (do teenagers these days even know what those were?) and trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life after high school. Fast forward to present times and my seventeen year old son is an honours student in grade twelve, has been accepted into post-secondary in the fall, is a great big brother and is generally liked by all that meet him. Oh and he is about to attempt a 50km winter trail race this month. Kids these days eh?
This weekly blog is entitled Trailing (with) My Son. Trailing generally means “to follow behind someone or to be losing to your competitor.” I see the word trailing as having a different meaning. Trailing to me means to be in motion on a trail. In my case this encompasses trail running, backpacking, and day hiking. The main point being that trailing involves getting out and being active on trails, preferably with some great company. Now you must know that I get out trailing with my son Eric regularly. Four times a week on average. However as he gets stronger as a runner, I also find myself trailing behind him regularly. You will find my stories incorporate both definitions of trailing, specifically that I am getting out on the trails but am definitely following behind him at this point. This is the ongoing story of trailing with my teenager, the adventures and misadventures that occur, how he inspires me and the bond that has been built and that I hope will last a lifetime.
I feel that it is important to give you, the reader, some background before getting into my various stories. I am a 42 year old married, father of two that is currently unemployed. I have worked most of my professional career in the non-profit sector in a variety of roles from being a Recreation Coordinator for adults with mental health concerns to being a Manager of Disability Services for the entire province. I have been a volunteer coach in youth sports for the past thirteen years, coaching soccer, hockey and basketball. Above all though, you must understand that I have a passion for trails. My love of trails started as a child when my family would go car camping and we would go out and explore the trails around the campground or around a lake or river where we were staying. As I got older, I wanted to get further on these trails. After writing my final high school diploma exam, myself and two other friends drove to Mount Robson Provincial Park in British Columbia and hopped onto the Berg Lake Trail for four days. It was challenging, it was wet and our packs were definitely overloaded (why did we bring cans of beans?). But I was hooked. Over the next few years I got onto as many trails as I could in the Canadian Rockies. To me, this was the best way to live.
When I was 22, I had a corneal transplant on my left eye. I had played basketball for a number of years prior to this and was still participating in a men’s league at this time. After my surgery, I found out that I would have stitches in my left eye for a year. As a result of this, I was told I could not take part in any contact sports anymore for a year, basketball included. The Ophtamologist told me that “you can either start swimming or start running.” Well, since I despised swimming (I failed the blue level of testing too many times growing up), I guess I would try running. How hard could it be after all? I ran in basketball all the time up and down the court. Turns out running continuously for a few kilometres was a little more challenging than I thought. So I started running near home on the sidewalks and ensured plenty of walk breaks. As I got more comfortable I decided to enter some local runs and races to test myself. In my first year, with stitches in my left eye, I went from a 5k to a Marathon distance. I remember being crushed when I struggled late in my first Marathon and missed my goal of three hours and thirty minutes by a measly five minutes. But despite this, I loved the progress I had seen in myself and I found myself near the top pack in a lot of races so I kept on keeping on!
Over the next five years I ran mainly on pavement and road, mainly because it was convenient. Then one day I heard about a 50km trail race being held outside of the city where I live. Sweet, how hard can it be? Well… it was two laps of 25kms and let me tell you that the first lap was great. Two hours and ten minutes and feeling good. As I embarked on my second lap, I was certain I would finish in four hours and thirty minutes which was my goal. Piece of cake. Here’s the thing though… I wasn’t taking enough nutrition or hydrating properly. Turns out you burn quite a few more calories when you’re going up and down on uneven ground than when you are on paved, flat terrain. So I bonked. Hard. I remember my calves being so tight I was walking backwards on the course. People were asking me if I knew I was facing the wrong direction. I finished that second lap in 3 hours and 17 minutes. Wow. Was that an eye opener. But man was it beautiful running (and walking backwards) in nature. It was like backpacking but at a faster pace and without the massive pack weighing down my shoulders. I promised myself to come back to this race and to also find other events such as this one. And so a trail runner was born. Relay legs were completed in trail races as part of different teams. Trail runs from ten to twenty five kilometres were completed and sometimes even an age group victory occurred. Then I got the idea of attempting a 148km Ultramarathon in Southern Alberta. Sinister 7 was only four years old at that point and not nearly as popular as it is now. But I ran it twice as part of a relay team and knew it had every sort of terrain, could be very hot mid-day, and had the reputation of challenging even the strongest runner. I was comfortable attempting it and knew it was very well organized. Sure. I’m in.
The 2011 Sinister 7 was one of the greatest and one of the most disappointing days of my life. I lucked out and it didn’t get too hot that day, 21 degrees if I recall, we had no wild weather and overall my body felt good. I had good company throughout the event and a dialed in support crew. I finished the entire 148km race in a little over twenty five hours. Far from winning any age group, but I got er done! The disappointing part was that I had a sharp pain in my knee with about fifteen kilometres left that left me moving incredibly slow, going down hills on my backside and even climbing downhills backwards (am I the only one to move backwards in these events?). It took me four hours to complete that last fifteen kilometres. It led to months of knee pain after, followed by an attempt to train for the event the following year, which was taken over by the knee pain coming back with a vengeance. Turns out it was a meniscal tear and I had to go in for arthroscopic surgery. This is far from some knee surgeries that others have had, but for me this was heartbreaking. Once the surgery was completed I had a few months of recovery but even when I got back at it, I found my knee cranky and my motivation lagged as a result of not seeing success anymore.
So over the next few years I ran, but not at the same level or distances as I once did. Usually I just ran around home and my distances were short, six to eight kilometres at best. I was content with this and I regret it so much now that I look back. Then a funny thing happened… I got reconnected with my great friend Carl that had also completed Sinister 7 in 2011 and we got talking about doing a relay event in Canmore, Alberta. The Grizzly Ultra was a 50km race that was broken up into five legs from five to thirteen kilometres in length. Carl and I committed to it, along with our wives. But we needed one more runner. That is when my fourteen year old asked if he could run a leg. “And not one of the short ones” said Eric, my oldest son. “But Eric, you have to realize there are hills and uneven terrain and you have to carry bear spray. Oh my goodness your Mother won’t want you running where there are bears. Plus you’ve only done some cross country running as part of school and a few kids races when you were younger,” I said. “Dad, I’ll be fine, don’t worry so much.” And so another trail runner was born.
And so… trailing was about to begin. It would take us from the Grizzly Ultra in Canmore to the 5 Peaks Series in Northern Alberta to River Valley Revenge in Edmonton to the Blackfoot Ultra and most recently to the Blackspur Ultra in Kimberley, BC. But I will get to all of these experiences in the future. Trailing with a teenager is so unique as there is so much to consider and I hope you will enjoy my future commentary on some great topics including nutrition, technology, social media, our local trail running community, pooping before you run, lessons learned from injury, remembering to pack all your gear and much much more. To my son I am a running partner, a running coach, and a Dad. That can be a tough mix but I think I’m doing okay with it. Above all though, I love it.
We have big plans for this year as well. 2020 is going to be epic.
And it starts for Eric on January 19th…
This is the first post on my new blog. I’m just getting this new blog going, so stay tuned for more. Subscribe below to get notified when I post new updates.