A 50km Trail Race in the Dead of Winter…

It is 5:00 am on a Thursday a few weeks ago and as I stumble downstairs with my eyes half open, wondering if I put my shirt on backwards or my slippers on the proper feet, I am greeted by a cheery voice.  “Morning Dad!” Am I hearing things? That couldn’t possibly be Eric up already? Usually he stumbles down shortly after I do and on occasion I’ve had to poke him to get up. I come around the corner into the kitchen and there is Eric eating some oatmeal and looking like he is ready to take on the world.  “What are you doing up already” I ask. “I thought I should start getting up a little earlier so I’m not as rushed before our morning runs and also it lets my stomach settle a bit more before we leave.” I’m impressed to say the least, but I don’t dare tell him that. After all, I need to open my eyes first and find the  coffee.

Following our enjoyable spring and summer of trail running this past year, Eric wanted to find the next great race for him.  He wanted to go bigger. We had taken part in a very challenging, well run event in January 2019 called Canadian River Valley Revenge.  The winter edition of this event has a 5km, two person 25km relay, 25km solo and 50km solo distances. Eric and I had taken part in the 25km solo distance and it was one of the hardest races I’ve ever done.  You were constantly shot onto single track trails that wound their way back and forth and up and down for a couple of leg burning kilometres, then you would get about a kilometre of reprieve, before the whole cycle began again.  No one entered this race to break their personal best at 25 or 50kms. Plus, add to it the fact that it is held in January and you never know what the weather is going to be like in Edmonton, Alberta at that time of year. It can be a mild winter, or it can be a flat out nasty winter!  Luckily, the 2019 race ended up somewhere in the middle for weather and conditions, with a high of minus 12 degrees celsius plus a cold wind whenever you came out of the trees. This race had us crawling on our stomachs under fallen trees and sliding on our backsides down hills.  It had us clambering up a near vertical ridge and then had us nearly slip and slide right into the river! We stuck together for the entirety of the event and finished in a little over three and a half hours. If that sounds slow to you, the winner finished in three hours, so believe me, this was about the experience, not the time it took to complete it!  

Fast forward to this past fall and Eric decides he wants to consider taking part in the 50km event of Canadian River Valley Revenge being held on January 19th, 2020.  I tell Eric “you know, you’re going to have to get out and do 30km runs in potentially cold, crappy weather to train for this. You are also going to have to do a lot of your running on the actual race course, or similar terrain, so you know what you are getting yourself into.  And last, morning hill reps at least once a week are mandatory.” We went over a few other factors, “now you have to realize that most runs will be done early in the morning, before school during the week. Weekend long runs will take up a few hours of his day and you may find yourself exhausted for the rest of the day or even the weekend.”  Eric thought about it long and hard… for about sixty seconds, before blurting out “I’m in!”

And so, training began.  Eric already had the base from the events in the spring and summer so it was more getting used to the terrain and the weather as fall turned into winter.  I was undecided about partaking in the event with him but told him I would do the training with him. This went well until late November when a day after a 31km trail run, I found myself walking the dog and hobbling due to a sore achilles.  How this occurred, I still do not know, but I can tell you that it has been extremely frustrating to deal with. Fast forward nearly two months and I am just getting back to 10km distances. Thank goodness I have a good physiotherapist that has helped get me back to running again (that plug should get me a discount shouldn’t it?).  So needless to say, I wasn’t entering the race this time around. Being hurt and not able to do the runs made my role more of a coach or mentor. I made sure he stuck to his training schedule, drove him to where he wanted to run (Eric hasn’t got his driver’s license yet), gave him nutrition advice and supported him on long runs, meeting him throughout to check in on him.  And so we continued on with this and Eric, to his word, put in the proper training. The only small struggle he encountered was getting quite sick with a bad chest cough in mid-December and not being able to run for about ten days. But once he got his energy back, he continued with what he had set out to do. His most challenging weekend of late came about two weeks ago when he ran 25kms on the Saturday followed by 20kms on the Sunday on the race course.  The two runs were completed within a twenty four hour period to see how his body would respond. He came out of it tired, but overall feeling confident and prepared for the full 50km distance.  

As we prepare for this coming weekend’s race, we have a list of things to consider.   A plan for fluids and nutrition along the course is essential. Ensuring that he has a full change of dry running clothes that he can change into for the second lap of the day (each lap is 25kms).  And we have our A, B and C goals for the race. The A goal is what Eric will expect to meet if he has a perfect day out there and everything goes well for him mentally and physically. The B goal is the projected finish time if Eric has a few bumps along the way.  And the C goal is generally to finish in the allotted time limit of ten hours for the 50kms. Rough time estimates along the course are also being discussed so that family and friends can come out and support Eric. The race course has completely changed this year and we are fortunate that it is very near our home, being run through the ravine that we can see from the front window of our house.  There are a lot of details and elements at play for a race such as this and one that we can’t control is the weather. It has been extremely cold this past week. Last weekend we ran in minus 21 degree celsius weather that felt like minus 31 degrees with the windchill. The past few days though the temperature has bottomed out near minus 40 degrees with windchills close to minus 50. Needless to say we haven’t been on the trails the past few days.  The weather is supposed to improve a bit for race day with a high of minus 20 degrees projected, which compared to the recent weather will be well received by all taking part!  

So when I see Eric getting up at 4:45am on a weekday to prepare for a run the past few weeks, I know he is committed to getting this thing done.  I do not know a lot of teenagers that would bring it upon themselves to get up in advance and follow a morning routine so that he can get out the door for his run by 6am and back in time to get ready for school.   To further elaborate on his choice of morning runs, he is not going out and running in the neighbourhood on flat, paved surfaces. Eric is strapping on his microspikes and a headlamp and getting down on the single track ravine trails, or on the hills near the river.  Aside from the actual running he eats pretty well, does well in school, finds time to spend with his friends and although he could probably get more sleep, overall he is balancing everything. The passion he is bringing into this run is contagious. He talks about the race all the time.  He went to a race clinic for the event so he could see the course and meet the race directors. He is constantly checking social media feeds about the event and making sure he is looking at the most up to date course maps. At seventeen years old, Eric is ready to take the next step in his running and I am thrilled that I get to be a part of this.  I truly think he will succeed. Regardless of which goal he meets (A, B or C) I believe he will finish and will have memories that will last a lifetime. And if things are not in his favour on race day and for some reason he does not finish, I will still be proud of him for attempting it and know that he will learn so much from the struggles of the day that he will be much much stronger the next time he toes the line or has a struggle in a different part of his life.  

So to my son Eric, I will say that you have put in the training, you are mentally strong and are confident on the terrain.  I am so very proud to see you attempting this event and to be your running partner, part-time running coach, and Dad.  Now go get this thing done and don’t be out too long because your Dad doesn’t like the cold!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: