My Running Goal for 2021: Repeat 2020

I always used to love signing up for races, putting together a training plan, trying in vain to stick to it, then enjoying the end result of completing an event in, or around, my goal time.  Then a funny thing happened the last couple of years… I found that I still enjoyed signing up for these races, but then when I started looking at the training, my anxiety got the best of me.  I started worrying about whether my training would be enough, if I could actually get my training completed and still have time and energy for everything else in my life, and what if I got to the race and I failed to meet my goal?   Well, it seems as though a positive did come out of this horrible pandemic.  With the cancelling of events and the inability to do too much “formally”, I, and most others, were left to determine what the next steps would be for 2020.  And I have to say, runners got creative.  More local runners were flocking to mountain trails and completing full day traverses in Banff, Jasper and Kootenay National Parks, a lot of the speedy ultrarunners in the world were going out and shattering FKT’s (Fastest Known Times) on mountain trails, and others turned to challenges on apps such as Strava to test their speed, endurance and longevity.

Falltra 55k Finish

For me, I feel that I spent my year as a pacer and a running partner to others with no set goals of my own, and I had time to do it without the usual anxiety.  With most everything getting shut down in March and staying shut down into the summer, I found I had nowhere I needed to be in the evenings or on weekends.  And I mean nowhere.  No sporting events, no coaching, no socializing… the list goes on and on.  Aside from the odd errand, time was on my side… almost all of the time.  It started by supporting my son’s first marathon attempt in May (which I have written about previously).  I ran the last 25kms with him and paced him into a sub four hour finish, meeting his goal.  Little did I know this was just the beginning of what would be a very unique and unplanned running season. 

Arriving at Glacier Lake early in the day

In June, in recognition and celebration of my son’s eighteenth birthday, we ventured into northern Banff National Park on the Glacier Lake trail and spent a full day out trail running.  Canada’s National Parks had only just re-opened June 1st, and the previous weekend had been miserable, so we were pretty sure we would be one of the first ones into this valley this year.  It started out great, with a temperature of around 7 degrees Celsius and no rain.  We knew we would be out there for 8-10 hours based on the terrain, so we ensured we packed wraps for lunch, rain jackets and fire starter, just in case of an emergency.  It was intended to be a 50km day and all was going swimmingly until we stopped so I could take off my running jacket. 

One of many obstacles on some unmaintained trails around and past Glacier Lake

The water levels were very high in the spring and as such we were standing on a bend of the raging river (which usually is nearly dry).  I was taking my jacket off and packing it, while Eric was investigating a random camping site that had been there for a number of years (I pass the same faded red sweater every year on this trail).  He came over to me and pointed at the meadow we were about to enter once we got around the bend of the river.  “Hey Dad, what is that over there, looks like an animal… is that a cow?”  I didn’t even look initially, just turning to him and saying “what would a cow be doing out here?”  Then I turned and looked and there in the middle of the meadow, not 100 metres away from us, was a grizzly and her cub laying in the sunshine.  I had been out here four times before and never seen a bear in this area, but with the parks having been closed and no people in the valley, the wildlife surely had got more comfortable roaming out of their normal spots.  They were laying directly in the area that we had to run through to proceed to the Lyall Glacier, which was our goal for the day.  A bit stunned, I said “well, look its not even noon, we have lots of time, lets just wait a bit and see if they wander off.”  We watched for a couple of minutes, then all of a sudden the grizzly turned its head and locked eyes with me.  I have never locked eyes with a grizzly before, only having seen them walking away from me in the backcountry.  As soon as it saw me, it took a little over a second to go from laying to up on its hind legs growling at us.  The cub mimicked what the grizzly was doing and followed suit.  Alarmed, neither one of us moved.  Then the grizzly came down and then drawing on our worst fears, started running towards us.  Let me tell you… a four hundred pound bear can run fast!  I told Eric “get your bear spray out and be ready.”  As our hearts moved to our throats and we wondered if this was in fact the last mountain meadow we would ever see, the bear took a few more strides, then forked off to its left, and into the bush.  It had clearly stunned Eric, being the first time he had experienced something like this.  Of course my first thought was… well, lets wait a few minutes and then I’m sure we can cross that meadow and still make it to the glacier.  Then logic kicked in, realizing that we may be able to make it to the glacier, but we then had to come back the same way after and if we spooked that grizzly and cub again, chances are they weren’t running away this time. 

Post-Bear, outlook of the Howse River Valley

So our 50km plan turned into a 43km day instead, as we turned back a bit early, but still got to see some amazing sites on the way back and even got onto an old wilderness route for about six kilometers before heading back to the trailhead.   With the memory of the grizzly fresh in our minds and our legs cut up beyond anything I had experienced before, we enjoyed a long downhill back towards the trailhead, getting rained on the last three kilometres or so and spoiling any chance to hang out at the vehicle and enjoy a beverage while reflecting on our day.  Still, a great day out and it definitely did not go according to plan. 

That smile that says we did 43k!… and we didn’t see any more bears… YAY!

Not one week later, I was on course for the only “official” event that I was registered in this year.  The event, Canadian River Valley Revenge, was a 50km run from the Town of Devon into the west end of Edmonton.  As the pandemic raged on and events were being cancelled in every direction, the race organizers got creative.  They changed the event to a self-supported, route finding trek.  With no volunteers, aid stations or support on the course, they marked portions of the course and then provided all runners with access to an app called Racejoy, that would not only allow runners a map of the course, but also allowed others to download and follow along, even providing virtual cheers!  Another unique element of this event was that to ensure no crowding on the course or mass start, runners could start anytime over a four day window.  This was my wife’s first attempt at this distance and having done many training runs/hikes on the course, I knew the route would be slow.  We were likely going to be out for around twelve hours due to some sections of the course that can only be best described as bushwhacking. 

River cliffs along the North Saskatchewan River between Devon and Edmonton

It was a comfortable early summer day… around 11 degrees Celsius to start and since it was a self-start, we chose to get going at 7am, ensuring we had lots of daylight in case we ran into any additional challenges.  The first five kms were bushwhacking, and it was slow.  I think we only covered three or so kilometres in the first hour.  And only two kilometres in, Mel slipped and fell, cutting open and bruising her arm.  I remember thinking, oh no, the run can’t be over already, we just started!  But, with my role as the pacer for this event, I took a deep breath and checked in on her, trying to encourage her to just keep moving forward so the thought of stopping would be less likely to cross her mind.  Now my legs that had been cut up worse than ever before the previous weekend at Glacier Lake, were now getting re-ripped up due to the tight bush we were venturing through.  My mantra became “Thanks Todd” whenever a scab would re-open, or if I would slip and fall, giving “thanks” to Todd, who was our evil, conniving race director that we all, in reality, love to bits for taking the time to still give us this opportunity in trying times.  His mantra was “this ain’t no lulu lemon run!”  Damn straight it wasn’t… it was barely a run at all in spots like this.  But again, with my different focus during this year, I wasn’t worried about time at all and just embraced the adventure. 

Golf Ball Alley… a paradise for anyone looking for free golf balls below a local golf course. Mostly a goat trail for runners

We spent parts of our day helping lost runners that had gone off course, reminding each other to eat and hydrate, and above all just continuing to move forward, regardless of how long it took us.  It got hot, the trail got exposed on some narrow ridges… but we kept moving forward.  We were fortunate to have family supporting us and meeting us at a few designated spots along the course to re-supply water, get nutrition, change clothes if needed… and at 44km mark, they had slurpees.  And it was hot out.  It had reached 27 degrees Celsius, which was hotter than it was supposed to be that day.  I can now say in all honesty that I knew my job was to get Mel to push through to the finish, but the heat (which has never been my friend while running) was taking its toll.  That slurpee was a godsend and it gave me the juice I needed to finish the next eight kilometres (because a Todd course is always longer than expected!).  Finishing that day by going up 108 steps to the top of the Rio Terrace stairs was such a great moment. 

Finish! 52k later…

I was proud of Mel and excited that she not only accomplished this, but never once complained in the twelve plus hours we were on course.  This was a very unique adventure, and I am glad that Mel and I were able to take part in it.  Now as a last note to this run, I had told Mel to not take her shoes and socks off at any point in the event.  Well, thank goodness for that because once she actually took them off after we were done, her feet looked like mush.  Big ol’ blisters on every part of her feet… so much for those cute toes!  But as I told her these were war wounds that she should be proud of now, but next time, perhaps a different type of sock?  😊

A little scuffed up but nothing is wiping that smile off her face!

Over the summer months, I was able to maintain a long run every weekend and even began running to work once or twice a week.  My mileage crept up weekly, but I didn’t find myself tired.  I looked forward to every run, and sometimes I would run twice in a day, just because I could.  I learned to not worry about how fast I could get a run done and began spending more time on the experience, making sure I got the kilometres in and learning that it was okay to stop and take some photos, or enjoy a view for a couple of minutes.  Eric was still getting lots of running in as well and decided that completing a marathon and his first mountain run weren’t enough this year, so he created a route within Edmonton that would have him complete his own 50+km route… his first ultramarathon. 

Tricky footing on a washed out cliff on Two Truck Trail (yes there are two old trucks here… possibly more!)

Now he was very creative about this, because he broke the route up into chunks and asked different people to run portions of it with him.  He had a few friends from school and cross country/track teams join him for a few legs, his brother joined him for three kms and his Mom joined him for five kms.  So when he came to me and asked me to do a 15 km portion of the route with him, I looked at it and it was by far the most technical section of the course he had created.  Two Truck, Flat Pete and Golf Ball Alley were three of the slowest, most technical single track trails in the city.  I asked him why me and he told me that he felt if he had any of his friends do these sections, they wouldn’t be his friends anymore after.  I guess I’m his Dad no matter what right? 

Back on Golf Ball Alley this time with Eric and going the other direction – not like it makes any of it easier!

In addition to pacing him through this section, I spent time the day before and the day of, preparing and supporting him.  Making sure that we met him at each checkpoint to re-fuel and see what he needed.  Even when I was running with him, I made sure I had what I needed in my pack, but also carried extra for Eric.  Despite his best efforts, he started fading around 35kms and I gave him some beef jerky, some salt and he drank one of my water flasks.  Once through that tough section, he was good to go.  When I handed him off to his Mom, I knew he would surely finish.  Of course, his mapping skills needed a little bit of work because his 50ish km route turned into 56kms.  But nonetheless he finished it in just under 7 hours and everyone that took part in running with him came to see him finish.  It was truly a great experience to be a part of and I was thrilled to see so many young people doing such a cool thing with him.  

Great group that all ran different parts of Eric’s 56k with him

To put in to context the difficulty of the section he and I did together… it took him around 4 hours to do 41kms.  The 15kms he spent with me took 3 hours.  I can now see why he feels his friends may have abandoned him after.  To me, it was another unique, uplifting experience in a year that was anything but for many.

That feeling when you finish your first 50k… and add an extra 6k for good measure

Late summer saw the only vacation of the year and some hot, dusty trails around Vernon, British Columbia.  It is always great to get out in a different setting and experience the expansive lake views and hot valleys of the Okanagan. 

En route from Predator Ridge to Ellison Provincial Park in British Columbia

As fall started, things got back to some sense of normal, at least more normal than we had previously.  School was back in-person for my youngest, hockey tryouts led to being put on a AA hockey team and being on the ice 5 days a week, I was back in the office more and there just didn’t seem to be the free time that we had previously.  I was still running regularly, albeit not quite as many long distances through September.  Then we heard about a unique challenge being staged in early October to coincide with Canadian Thanksgiving.  It was called a Falltra – an ultra in the fall – pure genius! 

When we heard about the Falltra all we could say was – YES!!

What made this event unique was that it was consisted of a 7ish km loop and runners were challenged to do as many loops as they could in 9 hours.  I must stress this was not a flat, road route.  It was a pure trail run, complete with several sets of stairs and had a 1.3km section that was pretty much bushwhacking, which was charmingly dubbed “Mary Poppins.”  When runners finished a loop, they would log their time on the race directors front lawn, then head back out in the opposite direction, meaning that if you ended one loop with Mary Poppins, you had to do it first on the next loop.  There was no fast way through this, so I learned to enjoy the dipping, ducking and dodging of trees.  Eric and did the event together and my wife and younger son also came out for a couple of loops. 

Ran into some familiar faces on course… definitely non-threatening

It was a gorgeous fall day for this physical, and mental challenge.  In the end, Eric and I ended up doing 8 laps of the course, for a total of 55kms in about eight and a half hours.  What a day!  Again though, I wasn’t worried about how many loops to do or how fast we were, I loved the opportunity to just be on my feet for most of the day and see what the end result was!  A big thank you to Race Director Todd (yes the same one as mentioned previously) and Sheryl for putting together such a grand adventure before winter hit. 

This photo makes me yearn for fall, such a short season here but so beautiful

Which brings us to where we are now.  It is the beginning of December, and we have been out on the trails for the past number of weekend doing runs that range from 25 to 30 kms and gnarly trail runs that last over three hours.   Eric and I have another running companion now (Robin) so we are a hearty group of three getting out every weekend and making the most of what nature has to offer us.  The snow fell a few weeks back and that tends to deter some people but we’ve just found our warmer clothes and our spikes and kept on going.  In fact, we’ve even registered for the winter version of Canadian River Valley Revenge, once again self-supported, in January.  Here’s hoping it actually runs (no pun intended) and that our experience is less stressful than last year (see my blog post on hypothermia from last January). 

Adjusting to winter running and the “perks” that come with it

So in a year when so much went wrong in the world, in which we lost loved ones, lost jobs, were forced to change the way we do most everything, running was the one thing that I had control over.  It was my choice to still find ways to challenge myself when races and other events weren’t always there for me to choose from.  When our summer event changed itself to self-supporting, many registrants chose not to continue and cancelled their registrations, knowing it wasn’t what they had planned for.  The pandemic and the limitations put on events led me to experience running differently.  I was more relaxed, less worried about pace and really just enjoying getting out on the trails for a longer period of time.  Honestly, I don’t recall the last time I had so much mileage in a year.

Taken on my birthday a few weeks back after a 21k morning run on a Thursday… because I could… I did!

In 2021, events are hoping to be put back on.  We have re-registered in the events that were cancelled in 2020, hoping they can be run this time around.  But if there are limitations and changes once again, I know that I can continue to get what I want out of the sport on my own, with my family and friends, and with the goal of not setting any concrete goals in 2021.  Often the best moments are the ones you don’t plan for…

Looking forward to new valleys and more unknowns in 2021…

First One…

I remember my first one… do you?  It was October 2001 in Kelowna.  The air was crisp that day, a balmy four degrees Celsius outside and I felt ready to get the job done.  I was getting ready to run the Okanagan Marathon… my first foray into the distance. 

Waterfront park in Kelowna at the Okanagan Marathon 2001

Back in December of 2000 I had a corneal transplant on my left eye.  This was the result of a condition in my eye called Keratoconus, which caused my cornea to swell, leaving me with the inability to keep a contact lens on my eye and also it constantly changed my vision, even with my glasses on.  Once the surgery was completed, I was left with stitches in my eye for a year.  With my eye healing and stitches in my eye, I could no longer play any contact sports, such as basketball, which I had played for many years to that point.  My ophthalmologist told me I could start running or start swimming.  Ugh.  Swimming?  Sorry for all you swimmers out there, but I was not a fan.  So running it was.  I recall having done a couple of fun races the previous summer including the Beat Beethoven 8k and a Fort Edmonton 5k.  So I threw myself right in for 2001.  I completed races of every distance including 5k, 10k, 15k, 21.1k and now I was staring down 42.2k.  I had grown quite strong that year and like many people new to the sport, learned a lot.  My confidence was high and I had followed my marathon training guide (for the most part) so I was fully confident that I would finish in under 3 hours and 30 minutes.  I was 22 years old, overconfident and hadn’t put in the longest training runs or learned how to pace myself for this distance… it would be a memorable day.

My running partners for quite some time that day in 2001

The day before the Okanagan Marathon we did a course tour plus a winery visit.  We had also gone for a walk around Kelowna later that day.  I had wanted to pick up some new headphones from A & B Sound (remember them?) and recalled seeing a store just a few blocks from our hotel when we had drove in the day before.  So we started walking and we walked and walked but never found the store.  Eventually we ended up at a mall which was about five kilometres from the hotel.  How did we miss it?  So we walked back, finding that we had missed it by a block and now they were closed.  Seriously?  We had walked ten kilometres the day before my first marathon looking for headphones that I really didn’t even need.  I shrugged it off, we had dinner and I noticed a vehicle outside on the street that looked an awful lot like my Dad’s truck.  Sure enough, it was!  My parents had driven down from Edmonton to surprise me for the race.  What a treat!  It would be good to see them on the course the next day and they would see me meet my goal… for certain! 

Early on in the Okanagan Marathon 2001

So race day arrived and I got up early and took advantage of the empty streets by going for a warm up jog on them.  I probably warmed up for longer than I had to, but in my head, I was doing what the top athletes all did.  Of course, it probably wasn’t their first year of running several distances, particularly a marathon distance.  As I did in the early days of running, I never ate anything before a run, always nervous that my stomach would become upset on my run.  So… to take stock… as the race was about to begin, I had tired legs from the walk the day before and the excessive warmup that morning, I had zero nutrition in my system, and my girlfriend (now my wife) and my parents were here to cheer me on, not realizing that I was likely going to bonk HARD. 

Post race 2001… yikes!

The race started and all was fine for the first thirty kilometres or so.  I was on pace for about a 3:20 marathon and I found the fans great and the course fairly flat with the exception of one larger hill.  I recall being disappointed that in those days, the course barely ran along the waterfront, but spent most of its time in neighbourhoods and then on the outskirts of the city running through pumpkin patches.  Now remember, I had followed MOST of my training plan.  What I didn’t follow well enough was getting the longest of long runs in.  I did one thirty two kilometre run, up from a twenty six a week before, then never came back to the distance.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I didn’t even long run for a couple weeks after.  So… around thirty three kilometres I started faltering.  My legs became incredibly heavy.  I ran past a McDonalds, smelling the breakfast being made and all of a sudden I was starving.  Then I started walking.  And I walked a lot.  People began passing me and I just couldn’t keep up with them.  I walked and ran up to about the thirty nine kilometre mark before running the final three kilometres in.  Everything hurt, I was tired, and I wanted to be done.  It was a grey cloudy day that matched my mood for that last hour or so.  I came across the finish line in 3:35 and was in tears because I had missed my goal by five minutes.  But hey, at 22 years old, I had finished a marathon, and believe me, I had a LOT to learn from this experience. 

Sprint finish at the Red Deer Marathon 2011?
Finish line smiles at the Red Deer Marathon 2011

For those of you that have followed my blog for awhile now, you will know that I shifted my focus more to trails and the ultra/relay circuit in around 2007.  So I haven’t actually run many road marathons.  Three in total – 2001 Okanagan, 2004 Edmonton and 2011 Red Deer.  Okanagan was a learning experience, Edmonton was my fastest (3:27) and Red Deer was my most consistent pacing (1:44 first half, 1:45 second half) and the one I felt best about all around.  I have thought of doing the Edmonton Marathon again, but I keep getting pulled to the trails and away from the road. 

Eric at 9 years old with me at the 100km mark of Sinister 7 2011

Fast forward to 2020, the year of the pandemic.  Races are being cancelled or are going virtual everywhere.  My seventeen year old son Eric has had a strong fall, winter and spring of training as part of his original plan to relay Sinister 7 this July and solo Canadian Death Race this August.  Despite a frightening experience with hypothermia at an ultra in January and some nutrition issues when he re-attempted the course about a month later, he has put in a lot of solid miles.  He has put in many, many thirty plus kilometre long runs, including two thirty five kilometre long runs in the last few weeks.  He stretches, rolls, does yoga, gets out on his bike and all around eats well. His high school track season has been cancelled as well, so he was looking for goals to work towards.  So I mentioned to him in April that he should attempt a marathon distance on the roads in early May, before moving most running back to trails for the summer.  It would be a good goal for him to have in the spring, and I honestly felt that he was strong enough physically, and probably mentally now, to do it.  So after a thirty five kilometre trail outing west of Edmonton a couple weeks ago, we nailed down the date for his marathon attempt.  May 9th, 2020. 

7:05AM May 9th… Kilometre 0

Now we thought about making a big deal of it and having family and friends come along the course he had created to cheer him on.  But it is a funny time right now with physical distancing and all, plus Eric seemed to want to keep it low key, which is what we decided to do.  The plan was for him to do two loops of a 21.1km road course that started and ended at our house.  He would run the first 17 or so kms on his own and then I would join him for the last 24 or 25kms to pace him in when things could start to get tricky for him in the late 30kms range.  We ordered some extra nutrition online ahead of time and he laid out a plan of what he would carry and what he would like at certain points along the second lap.  My wife and youngest son would be the support crew along the course on lap two while I would be responsible for pulling him out of any mental challenges and filling any uncomfortable silence with a lot of annoying chatter to pass the time in those late kilometres of a marathon distance. 

Awesome Support Crew

At 7:05am on Saturday May 9, 2020, Eric started his marathon run.  His goal was simple and attainable, get in under four hours.  Given the pace he had been running his 30+km runs in, I felt this was do-able and he could likely even be closer to 3:50.  On lap one he ran solo and we met him at about 18kms so my wife could re-fill his water bottles and so I could join him on his last few kms of lap one.  He came in ahead of schedule so I once again reminded him of pacing and that the last ten kilometres of this distance will be the hardest he may have ever done.  At home after lap one we made a quick washroom break (note: there is a real lack of public washrooms currently due to the pandemic and closures in the community) and headed out for lap two.  My job was pacing.  I told him I wanted us to float between a 5:15 and a 5:25 per kilometre pace.  He was taking nutrition every five kilometres so this would consist of a minute or so of walking at regular intervals. 

38k fueling station…

The morning was lovely out, it was about plus six degrees celsius and sunny.  A bit windy, but not cold.  We hit 25kms feeling good.  We hit 30kms at the high point of our run feeling good.  Around 34kms though, I could tell he wasn’t feeling great.  He said he felt like he was going to throw up and couldn’t stomach another gel when we stopped for his next nutrition break.  We hit 35kms and walked for a couple of minutes.  I stressed that this is where it gets hard and mentally and physically you may want to stop.  If you can keep moving forward, you can drown out the voices in your head telling you to stop.  So we ran up a 500 metre hill at 36kms.  We walked at 38 and 40k and hydrated.  At no point did I really think he was going to stop, but I knew he was struggling, and at that point you have to decide if what you are feeling is enough to make you stop, or if its just smoke and mirrors, keeping you from your ultimate goal.  When we started running again with two kilometres to go, I told him firmly that we weren’t stopping again. I kept talking, trying to distract him, and he was still talking as well, which is a great sign at that point.  Once we got to the field beside our house, he picked up the pace and with his Mom and brother cheering him on, completed his first marathon distance right in front of our house.  I yelled out “you did it!  First marathon!” and a man walking with a stroller stopped and clapped for him.  That was pretty cool and unexpected! 

Final 800 metres to home… familiar territory

In a time of much uncertainty and limitation, I am very proud of Eric for completing his first marathon distance.  Although he met his time goal, that really is irrelevant.  What is more important is that he was physical and mentally prepared to tackle this endeavor; something that I was not in October of 2001, the year of my first marathon (and eight months before Eric was even born).  I thought I was ready, but I had not challenged myself enough prior to my first marathon to really know if I could get through it like I had hoped to. 

Feeling exhausted and exhilarated at the same time

Eric has been through a lot of adversity these past few months, starting with his hypothermic experience at Canadian River Valley Revenge in January, then getting into a car accident in February and most recently, finding out that he will not have a Grade 12 graduation ceremony due to the current pandemic.  Even his 18th birthday in late June will look a lot different than it may have prior to all of this physical distancing.  A lot of people, not just teenagers, would have backed off and changed direction, but Eric has found solace in running and he goes out almost every day still.  It may be his one constant in a time where nothing is “normal” anymore. Aside from reminding him to stretch more, there really isn’t a lot of direction that needs to be given from me.  All I try to do is share my past experiences with him so he can learn from them, try to emulate the things I did well and try to avoid making the same mistakes that I have.  Really this is no different for any parent/child relationship.  As a parent I want my children to succeed but also to learn from their mistakes. 

And now that he was able to lay down… he did!

I am confident that this is yet another step in what will be a great future for Eric.  When he gets into the 35-40km mark at his first official road marathon sometime in the not so distant future, he will know what it feels like at that point, mentally and physically. I am confident that the energy created by the fans, the music and the other runners, will just power him to the finish line even faster than he expects.  I am so grateful that I was able to run with him and celebrate with him… as I will continue to do with all he does and accomplishes, running related or not. 

Eric and Charlie the dog basking in the “finish line glow”

Choose Your Own Adventure

Growing up, I loved a series of books called Choose Your Own Adventure. If you are between thirty-five- and forty-five-years old right now, you probably read these too when you were in elementary school. Each book had a different theme, but at the end of every few pages you had to make a choice and depending on your choice you would be directed to the next page. For example, if the main character entered a cave at the end of page 34, you could want the character to go left and be directed to page 35 or go right and be directed to page 70. The main premise was that there were many different stories within one book and whichever one you chose to follow was all dependent on the decisions that you as the reader made. Currently, we as trailers are left to choose our own adventures outdoors. With many parks and trails being closed and the outdoor race season canceled until at least the fall, many of us are left without end goals and finish lines. Virtual races are popping up everywhere, race directors are getting very creative and local trails are seeing more foot traffic than ever before. But what if you crave a unique experience and are seeking what in the past, only an ultramarathon or a multi-day backpacking trip can provide? Well… decide to turn left or turn right at your own personal trail intersection and enjoy the adventure that awaits. You may be surprised at what you find…

Finding an icy island just outside of Edmonton was quite the surprise!

For the past four years, every spring myself and some friends get out backpacking in early May. In the Canadian Rockies there are very few trails that are somewhat snow free before June and next to no backcountry campgrounds that are dry and accessible to running water this early in the season. There is one though, and I will not name it here so that word does not spread too far about this peaceful, serene early season beauty. Nine kilometres from the trailhead to the campground can be dry some years or have hip deep snow in spots some years, but you can be assured that after about three hours of hiking, you will have a dry spot to pitch a tent, have a large backcountry firepit beside a massive (mostly) frozen lake and have a view that you will never tire of. On the second day you can venture out around the lake and follow the river flats to a smaller backcountry lake and an impressive glacier. It is a full day out, about twenty-two kilometres of defined trail, bushwhacking, and following the natural course of the flats. On the third day, there is one other old trail you can explore which takes you to some impressive views of the next valley and you can often hear avalanches coming down across the valley. Day four is a nice easy nine kilometres back out with chips, a cold beer and a change of clean clothes waiting in the vehicle. On the trail, each day starts and ends with a big campfire, great company and solitude. We have only seen a handful of people on this trail over the years and that is one of the things that I love most about it. The odd person or small group will come into camp for a night and then leave the following morning, leaving us on our own again.

The annual spring pilgrimage on day two of the backpacking trip. This view NEVER gets old

This year we had planned to go earlier than ever… late April to be precise. We were already planning to bring the snowshoes and an extra layer to keep warm overnight. Then COVID-19 happened, and National Parks got closed down and our trip got cancelled and refunded. What a downer. I don’t know how else to describe it for me than painful. As we got closer to the dates that we had originally planned to go, all I could think about was the trip that I was not getting, that I was being cheated out of. I started looking at my old photos of the trips and could visualize parts of the trail when I closed my eyes. Then the National Parks closure got extended to the end of May and our first frontcountry camping trip of the season got cancelled and refunded. We had planned to camp in Jasper and spend the Saturday running the Berg Lake Trail in neighboring Mt. Robson Provincial Park. Well, scratch that off the list. Then races got cancelled. Sinister 7 and Canadian Death Race were unable to run this year due to provincial restrictions put in place on large gatherings. And don’t get me wrong, I understand the reason behind all of this and I do agree with most of the decisions made by governments to keep us safe at this time. It just seemed like a lot hit me at once.

Great times at the backcountry campfire

So as the weekend came in late April that I was supposed to be at an unnamed lake in the Canadian Rockies, I had to decide if I still wanted to take the time off of work still or if I should just work. I shifted my days off a bit but decided to take a Friday and a Monday off. Being a bit unmotivated at this point and having already cancelled a morning of physically distanced local hiking with one of my hiking buddies the day before, I forced myself to get out on some local trails each day since most of them had dried up by then. So, on the Friday I took the boys and we went to a city park for a couple of hours and hiked some fun single-track trails. Then on the Saturday the family went down in the ravine near our house for a couple of hours. Sunday morning, I took the dog down into a different part of the ravine near home for an eleven kilometre walk. It felt good to be out, but I still hadn’t come close to scratching my itch for an adventure. All of the trails that weekend had been lovely, but I had been on all of them before. Where could I go on Monday (without breaking any law) for something new? I had an idea in my head… I had gone here before, but it had been a long time, and I had turned back pretty early on. So far in my personal Choose Your Own Adventure, I had been taking the easier, more known choice. Now it was time to turn the page to a different challenge.

Turning the page is tough especially when you are used to views like this in early Spring!

Sunday night I asked my oldest son Eric if he wanted to join me for an adventure the next day. Living in the City of Edmonton there are hundreds of kilometres of defined trails in the river valley and the many ravines. We are very fortunate to have such a large urban park and trail system. However, there aren’t really any trails heading west along the North Saskatchewan River outside of Edmonton towards the Town of Devon. That was where I wanted to go. And just by fluke that night, we noticed that our friendly neighborhood Race Director Todd had been out that way a couple days before and tracked his route on Strava. Now, knowing Todd, we knew that his “route” may involve bushwhacking, hopping wire fencing, swimming in the river and climbing a tree or two. We may even have to do some cow tipping! So, we figured we would use it as a “guide” but have some flexibility to do our own thing as well. Eric liked the idea and we embarked around 8am on Monday morning for what was, a new adventure for me!

Traversing River Valley cliffs

What a day it was! Nicely defined trail for a few kilometres, followed by some very tight single track and coming out to some sweet river valley views. Having to tread carefully in spots, you couldn’t stride and view at the same time or you’d end up down a cliff and in the river! We ventured into some meadows and across the water to what appeared to be an island. Travelling around the island we came upon massive ice chunks that had been beached here by a windy day on the river the day before. Each step was an unknown, not knowing if you would slip through (which we did) or slide off (which we also did).

There was a lot of mud…

Upon leaving the island (it was attached to land in one spot, so not quite an island) we came across an area that appeared to have people living off the land on it. A large tent draped in hundreds of scarves, a large fenced wire pen (used for Fight Club perhaps?), skulls on tables, stained glass, a basketball hoop with the backboard on upside down and last but certainly not least the steeple of a church. It was at this point that I do admit we got a little concerned and spooked. Were there people living here right now? This feels like a horror movie where only one person gets out alive. That trailer over there with all the blinds closed… did a blind just move? I turned to Eric “where is the trail from here?” He checked his watch and said it was right behind the creepy trailer. “Oh good, hopefully no one jumps out with a chainsaw at us!” After some searching, we found the trail and got out of there. What a strange sight to come across…

There was no church, but there was this random steeple…
A bit creepy…
Anyone interested in a slightly dented vehicle?

What followed was some lovely single track with some large trees offering us shade. Down down down we went to an old quad road that followed the river for about five kilometres. On this trail we came across an old car just abandoned there along with many other trinkets and a great deal of No Trespassing signs that always seemed to be in a different direction than we were headed, so hopefully no landowners would be popping out chasing us with a shotgun. After coming out of the quad road we passed a beautiful ranch and a private hall, campground and golf course that I never even knew existed. After 17kms we were up on a country road with no other trails in sight. The sun was out and we saw three deer nearby. It was so peaceful and quiet in that moment… it reminded me of my backcountry trip. This is the feeling I was looking for and I had found it.

Great quad trails to run on and not a soul in sight

As we ventured back on the same route, now familiar to us, I took it all in differently. We ran when we wanted to and we walked when we felt like it, or when the trails demanded it of us. I took off my hat and enjoyed the sun and the breeze in my face as we got back alongside the river. After leaving the island I took a wrong step crossing the mud bridge and totally submerged my foot, ankle and calf in the murky water. Rather than get upset or frustrated, somehow it felt refreshing and it made me smile. The way back to “civilization” had some tough climbs and some fun descents. My watch died at around 30kms and I asked Eric if he wanted to make this into a 35km run rather than a 32km or so that it was likely to be if we went straight back to the vehicle. He agreed and once we got back across the river, we took a route towards our local dog park and did a loop before heading back along the road to where we had parked.

Our friendly neighbourhood Race Director had been marking for an upcoming event!

As I passed many people out for walks, runs and bike rides in those last few kilometres I realized a couple of things. First, we had only seen two people in the first 31kms of our day. A couple ladies had been out walking their dogs on the quad road down near the turnaround point. That was it. Despite thoughts of chainsaw massacres and creepy old summer camps at points in the adventure, we didn’t actually see anyone else. Just like being in the backcountry… solitude. The second thing I realized when passing all of these people near the end of our trek was that they all had their own adventures that day. They were likely tamer that what we had done, but maybe they had gone further or faster than they ever had that day. Isn’t that what adventure is all about?

I love being able to go trailing with this guy… even though I am almost always trailing him

As we hit 35kms near the vehicle and we high fived I was overcome with a sense of relief. I had found my adventure, I had found solitude, and I had great company along the way. While this adventure couldn’t quite end like my backpacking trip would have with a cold beer, I surprised Eric with a cold Orange Vanilla Coke, and we enjoyed a nice refreshing beverage as we talked about our day. Remember, adventure is still out there, it is just what you make it. And you may have to be a little bit more creative than you were before, but trust me, it is so worth the effort.

Water crossing to the frozen island… not great footing and yes I did get my feet wet!

This week is Mental Health Week in Canada and this year’s message is to #GetReal with how you feel. If you are struggling, don’t just say you are fine. Reach out and connect with family or friends. If you know of someone who would benefit from a phone call or a text, don’t hesitate… get in touch with them. It could be the most important thing you do all week.

Find beauty in the little things and in the new places you discover…

The Berg Lake Trail… A Right of Passage for Rookie “Trailers”

It is June 1996 and three young fellas have just written their final high school diploma exam. While most teenagers were about to plop on a couch for the next few days and hang out with friends at the mall before summer jobs were starting, these three were about to embark on an adventure of sorts. I was one of these three, likely the one pushing the need for us to try this, but my friends Kevin and Dan were both “all in” to explore the backcountry of the Canadian Rockies. This all started when I was about 16 and I purchased a book entitled Classic Hikes in the Canadian Rockies by Graeme Pole. A book of this sort could do nothing less than expand a teenagers curiosity of what was actually out there, beyond the family campgrounds and short hikes from the highway. This book is what I term a “bathroom book” meaning that it is a book that gets flipped through, usually starting at a different page, every time a washroom break is needed. I apologize in advance to friends of mine that I have lent this book to without the proper disclaimer of where it has been. Over two years of looking at the many glorious trails, I had settled on the Brazeau Loop, an 80km backcountry loop in southern Jasper National Park. It would take five days to complete and would be a great start to what I hoped would be many many trips to do similar trails. We packed into Kevin’s Dad’s car (which barely fit two people, let alone three and hiking equipment) and headed west…

Large pack on Dan and some nice cotton shorts on me… ah we wonder why it wasn’t easier!

Upon arrival at the Columbia Icefield Centre, we strode confidently up to the Parks Canada desk and essentially said to the much older staff member behind the desk “three backcountry passes for four nights for Brazeau Loop my good man. And make it quick, we have bears to wrestle and caribou to run beside.” We may not have actually said that, but we were likely quite overconfident in our abilities. The staff member looked at me and said “do you have an ice axe?” Not knowing exactly why I would need one and definitely not having one, I told him that “I did not but would be fine without it this time” as though I had used one before and was much more worldly and experienced than my eighteen years. “Well, there is still too much snow and ice heading up Jonas Pass and over Jonas Cutoff. Without an ice axe your chance of making it are bleak. However, if you could complete the loop, you would be the first ones this year to make it through.” In my head I was thinking if others had tried and not come back or perhaps they were still waiting, sitting watching the snow and ice melt until it was clear sailing on the trail? “Most backcountry trails are still snowbound because we’ve had a long winter and late spring. I would recommend you head up to the Berg Lake Trail at Mt. Robson Provincial Park, just west of Jasper townsite.” Dashing dreams of being the first to circumnavigate the Brazeau Loop in 1996 and whatever fanfare would come with it (likely none at all as the age of social media was far away still), we begrudgingly got into Kevin’s tiny car and headed up two and a half hours to Mt. Robson. Now in those days you didn’t need a reservation to get on the trail. Despite the fact that it was already the most travelled trail in the Canadian Rockies, you could still hop on the trail on any given day. So being that we had already driven five hours to the Columbia Icefields Centre, plus two and a half hours back north to Mt. Robson, we got a late start on the trail, but fortunately for us it was a fairly flat 6.5kms to Kinney Lake where the first campground was located.

Were we moving to Berg Lake? How much stuff did we have with us…

For those not familiar with the Berg Lake Trail, it is a 22km one way hiking route from Highway 16 (about an hour west of Jasper townsite) to the base of Mt. Robson, the highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies. Not the largest in Canada, that belongs to Mt. Logan in the Yukon, but as the largest in the Canadian Rockies, it stands tall against many other legendary peaks. The trail is a great trail for beginners as there are campgrounds spaced about every five kilometres. Lots of places to stop to rest your pack and short distance days if that is what you need. The trail itself is well maintained and in excellent condition. There is a long climb after Whitehorn Campground that starts with a large sign indicating that there is no access to water for the next four kilometres. Something that every first time backpacker wants to see before frantically filling up every bottle, cup, bowl and pocket that they can with water from the creek. There are many beautiful waterfalls along the trail, including the Valley of a Thousand Falls which makes your neck sore as you crane it to look up in every direction possible. The end goal for most is the Berg Lake Shelter, which is in the shadow of Mt. Robson, next to Berg Lake and Berg Glacier. A little bit further along the trail, you can see the Park Ranger’s house (which looks nothing like a normal ranger cabin), the landing pad for helicopters and the BC/Alberta border, which if you continue on will take you onto the North Boundary Trail in Jasper National Park. There are many highlights along this great route. 22kms to get there and 22kms to get back, not counting the many sidetrips you can take along the way. It is a great way to start backpacking and was the first overnight trip that I attempted. It was the first overnight trip that I took my wife Melany on. It was the first overnight trip that I took my oldest son Eric on when he was ten years old. And I would like it to be the first overnight trip my youngest son Elliott goes on. Now back to my first trip to Berg Lake…

Note Kevin’s sweet packing job, multiple garbage bags and bags hanging off of bags!

The first night at Kinney Lake was lovely. The sun was shining, it was warm for late June and we had brought a frisbee that we were throwing around in the lake. Since we had started so late in the day we were the only ones at the campground (others I’m sure were much further along the trail) and we had a chance to spread ourselves out and enjoy the moment. We were sure that the remainder of the trip would be just like this – warm, dry, and having the place to ourselves. Well, on day two things changed quickly. It started raining… and it didn’t stop for three days. I don’t just mean rain, it started pouring as though we had just started the “wet season” in Canada, if there was such a thing. We trudged the remaining 16kms to Berg Lake campground through so much mud. I had mud in spots I didn’t think I could have mud! But I won’t get into that in this blog post, or any others for that matter. The great thing at Berg Lake is that there is a shelter, the Hargreaves Shelter, that has a wood stove, tables and bins to store your food. Well, even though it is raining, we would have this shelter to spread ourselves out in, dry our clothes and cook dinner. A rookie mistake when backpacking is assuming that everything will go according to plan. Somehow we had set our tent up away from all the others so we had no idea of the number of people at this campground and in the shelter. The place was packed when we entered. On top of the many people seeking shelter and warmth in there, every hook, nail, beam, table, and bench had wet clothes hung on them. The place had a defined stink to it that I can only liken to a warm hockey dressing room with the ripest of equipment in it. There was barely a place to sit down, let along hang your dry clothes. And so began our three days of unsuccessfully drying out, only to put semi-wet clothes back on and get soaked all over again. We ventured up to a cave which was probably the highlight of this area. Getting to explore that for a couple of hours was a pretty cool experience, except for when Dan nearly got stuck between a couple of larger rocks! Overall, we made the best of it but the rain definitely got the best of us. On the fourth day with soaked sleeping bags, damp clothes and water seeping into most corners of our packs, we trekked the full 22km out to the parking lot. Along the way we somehow got onto the horse trail instead of the hiking trail and when needing to cross some standing water, Dan stepped onto a log that he thought would help him hop over the water. Of course, the moment that he stepped onto the log it was evident that it was just floating there because it shifted to his right and all of him, pack included, went to the left and straight down into the clear blue beneath him. Now even more soaked than previously, Dan got upright, did not respond to any of our questions checking to see if he was okay, and promptly stormed off. We next saw him at the parking lot, nearly eight kilometres later. And so that was the first trip to Berg Lake… what a beauty right? Why would I want to come back here after such a crappy few days overall? Well, let’s be honest, every trail is worth giving a second shot to right?

Our first caving experience… just before Dan (right) got stuck temporarily

It is June 2, 2005 and thanks to an early spring, some trails, including Berg Lake, are snow free already. After nearly ten years of frontcountry camping and day hiking, I have convinced my wife to hop on a backcountry trail with me. This is something she is terrified to do, or at least has been, and on this trip hides it well. It is not the trail or the conditions that concern her, it is the potential for running into a bear on the trail, or on her way to the outhouse in the middle of the night. Having been on this trail before and not having seen any wildlife, I try to assure her that we will be fine and that bears are just as scared of us. One whiff of me after three days on the trail and they will be turning around and hightailing it out of there! Our trip is only for three days and consists of setting up camp at Emperor Falls campground for two nights. This will allow us to hike in about 16kms the first day, then travel without the weight of our packs the second day to Berg Lake, before strapping on the packs again for the trip out on day three. We got pretty fortunate on this trip as we had good weather and because it was so early in June, there weren’t many people at all on the trail. We had Emperor Falls campground to ourselves both nights, with a lovely tent site right next to the creek. Three days on the trail with nice weather, some great photos and time to ourselves. As we got back to the vehicle on the third day my wife explained that she had a great time and would love to do something like this again. That feeling last all of a few minutes when we drove out of the parking area, down the service road and turned onto the highway. At this point we saw a large grizzly bear crossing the highway in front of us, which prompted my wife’s tone to change to “we are never coming back to this trail again!” Sigh… so close eh?  I’m sure the third time will be the charm for the Berg Lake trail…

Valley of a Thousand Falls is one of the greatest places on this trail. Your neck will be sore from looking up so much!

Trip three was in August of 2012 and was an adventure in itself as it consisted of two adults and two ten year olds. Yup, ten year olds. Why I felt this was a good age to try them out at this I still don’t know. I met Geoff and Noah back in the spring of 2007 when I coached Noah in indoor soccer. We became good friends and began frontcountry camping together a couple years later in Jasper. Geoff and I had talked many times about our past hiking adventures when we were younger; his outnumbering mine by a great deal. It seemed that he had been on every trail imaginable and we got talking about taking Eric and Noah with us on an easier overnight adventure. So we planned, found available nights to book campsites in late August and drove west for nearly five hours.  As we prepared in the trailhead parking lot, both boys were very confident and eager to get started.  Eric and Noah wore smaller packs, responsible for carrying their own sleeping bag and clothes, and Geoff and I overloaded our packs with everything else required for this trip. The first two kilometres of the trip were the most painful I have ever experienced. The crying, the tears, the scraped knees, dirt in eyes, dry throats and of course sore backs and shoulders. Apparently our very excited ten year olds went from excited to exhausted in the span of about half an hour.

Berg Glacier in the background en route to Berg Lake and the Hargreaves Shelter

But, like the good Dad’s that we were, we told them to suck it up and carry on. Kidding of course. That may have been what I was thinking though, although I will never tell my secrets! Through very patient interactions with the boys we moved on slowly finally finding our stride about five kilometres into the trail. We hiked 11kms to Whitehorn Campground that day and thoroughly enjoyed the chance to set up camp and just hang out by the Robson River. The boys took it all in and at this point were happy because the hard work of the day was done. The next day we left our tents at Whitehorn and day hiked to the Hargreaves Shelter at Berg Lake and back. The boys only had to carry water bottles and Geoff and I wore daypacks. There was next to no complaining that day and it was great knowing that at the end of the day there was no tent to set up. An early night led to an early morning the next day for the hike out. We all had different experiences that trip. Geoff and I were ready to do it again the next summer, but the boys weren’t quite at that point. We have continued frontcountry camping with the boys over the years and had many a day hike but haven’t yet got back into the backcountry with them. I know that the time will come now that they are seventeen and eighteen. They may decide to go into the backcountry without us now for all we know. Maybe that is what they have been holding out for… a chance to explore on their own time and terms. I feel we have instilled some useful outdoors skills and habits for the boys and as long as they continue trailing, I know that we as parents will be thrilled.

Outdoor skills being learned at an early age at Whitehorn Campground

As you can see, the Berg Lake trail is great for beginners, but can still come with its share of challenges.  Some will make first time trailers want to return, while others will not.  They may not see it as a great experience in the moment, but upon reflection most see it as a stepping off point to greater adventures in the future. Sometimes it just takes a little time to get there. I have been fortunate enough to get out on this trail four times. The three overnight trips mentioned, plus a fourth was completed a year prior to taking the boys out. In June 2011 as part of our preparation for soloing the Sinister 7 race in July, my buddy Carl and I ran the trail out and back in about six hours. It was a day that started by running into some hikers telling us they witnessed a bear and wolverine fighting up near Hargreaves Shelter. Although we were quite sure they were pulling our legs, it was in our minds all day that we may see an epic battle at our turnaround spot for the day!  Where would we stand to watch this, should we bring weapons of our own to fight them off and how fast can we run away were all questions that crossed our minds.  Note to all and safety disclaimer in all seriousness, don’t ever try to outrun a bear.  But I’m sure you can outrun a wolverine. 

On the way back from Berg Lake… into the rocky flats

Running this trail was amazing and honestly most of it is runable. With the exception of the long uphill between Whitehorn and Emperor Falls Campgrounds, the whole trail was doable. It was a great day out and on the way back through Whitehorn Campground there was a naked woman bathing in the river. Seeing this as we were crossing a suspension bridge almost put both of us in the water as one of us tripped on the steps up the bridge upon first noticing, then told the other who also tripped up the stairs while looking over the side.  Ah the things you see, yet never expect to see on the trails.  This day out on the trail prepared us well for Sinister 7 and both of us were fortunate enough to finish that 148km race.

Finish! A great day out in the mountains…

While all of these stories had great moments and tough moments, it is important to remember these times and the joy that they brought and will bring again.  I personally am struggling right now knowing that National and Provincial Parks are currently closed to the public and likely will be through the spring and summer. Much like my children have always gauged their days by how much time they get to play, I tend to gauge my seasons by how often I get to the mountains and onto the trails. Currently I am stuck. It is a long winter that doesn’t seem to want to end in Alberta and due to the current health pandemic there are restrictions in place to stop the spread. And I get it. I agree with what is being done, and I want to get out of this situation healthy. I hope that I am able, in the not so distant future, to once again experience Berg Lake and similar trails that have brought so many good memories over the years. Even the struggles on the trails become memorable because they become good stories and things to laugh at as time goes on. Right now I am just looking for another story on a trail like this… and maybe when I get back onto that trail I will finally see a bear take on a wolverine in a primal battle to the end. I’m going with the wolverine, who’ve you got?

Emperor Falls in all of its glory… here’s hoping to gaze upon its beauty again soon
Mel hitting the borderline for BC and Alberta
At Hargreaves Shelter with the boys…
BC/Alberta Border time with Carl…
What a rookie trailer!! So much to improve on…

The Day We Left Heidi Behind…

In the fall of 2010, my good friend and running partner Carl and I decided to run the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park with a relatively unknown young lady named Heidi. Normally a three to four day backpacking trip, we felt the 44km route that spends most of its time above treeline would be a great training run in the mountains. Carl and I were gearing up to solo the upcoming Sinister 7 race in 2011 and were hoping to get this done in seven to eight hours, knowing there was some serious climbing involved. What we didn’t expect was that on Saturday, September 11th 2010 after many warm dry days in the area, that we would end up in over twenty centimetres of fresh snow in some spots, having completely lost the trail and hoping not to take a wrong step in the whiteout and fall off the ridge. Heidi started with us and was left behind at one point. After much mulling about whether to go back for her, Carl went back. Was it heroic? Was it a suicide mission? Was it worth the risk involved? This is our story…

What most of our day was going to look like on Skyline

The morning of September 11th was wet as we stopped for coffee and a bagel on Connaught Drive in Jasper townsite. It had started raining lightly overnight and was now coming down pretty steady. We had two vehicles with us and since the Skyline Trail is not a loop trail, we parked one at the end of the trail so that we had a quick and easy way back to town after. As we began the forty minute drive climbing up to Maligne Lake to start the trail we noticed the temperature gauge in the truck slowly starting to get cooler. What had been raining and plus five in town was now zero degrees celsius and sleet. Upon parking at the trailhead the discussion turned to “well, if its like this here and we are about to gain nearly a vertical kilometre in elevation today… what is it going to be like up top?” Best not to think about that too much is what we decided. Best to gear up and get going.

Good to get an early stretch in for the long day ahead

The Skyline Trail is one of the best known trails in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, and one of the oldest. Mary Schaffer took this route back in the early 1900’s as there was a great deal of exploration in Western Canada at this time. The south section of the Skyline was travelled by Schaffer on her way to Maligne Lake in 1911 while Fred Brewster, who started Brewsters Tours developed the northern section in 1937. Over the years, the trail has become best known for it’s exhilarating views along the ridge, seeing for miles and miles on a clear day. While most people choose to hike the route over a few days (as I have most recently done in 2017), it is not out of the question to trail run or fast pack it in a day. Long, slow climbs on the way up to the ridge are followed by long steep downhill switchbacks on the last stretch. There is no question that it is a long tough day out, but with the views that are promised on this trail, I saw no reason why it wouldn’t be a great day…

The early kilometres were more mud than snow on the trail

The trails were a little bit muddy as we started working our way up to Evelyn Creek campground, which is about five kilometres in. Still very much in the forest, the damp smell made me think of Vancouver Island as we followed a very gradual uphill to the campground. The uphill wasn’t the biggest challenge on this section, it was the mud. Although normally this section of the trail would be very runable, the mud made is a slippery mess in spots, slowing us down as we tried to tiptoe around the sloppy obstacles in our path. Evelyn Creek came into view and it was a short stop for a snack. We had planned to stop at each campground, as well as at the Notch, which was the high point of the trail, to get some nutrition. Looking back now, I realize how we were really not carrying much with us. If I were to do this trail again I would be much smarter. I had a few gels, beef jerky, some sort of powerbar chocolate balls and two litres of water in my bladder. In addition to the food, I had my bearspray and an extra long sleeve top. That was it. I was wearing capri tights rather than full length ones, so that got fun once I got into shin deep snow. No space blanket, no raincoat, no fire starter. Given what the circumstances we were about to face, I should have been more prepared for the conditions. Still we were hopeful leaving Evelyn Creek that the conditions would improve, as the forecast for that day in town was eight degrees celsius and sunny.

Once out of the trees the snow was much more prevalent

It got worse. So much worse. Leaving Evelyn Creek, we began a steep series of switchbacks towards Little Shovel Pass. It was all in the forest so we were somewhat protected by the wet weather. However as soon as we came out with a view of the pass we realized we were just getting started with the poor conditions. Snow everywhere. You could make out a bit of the trail we were heading down, but otherwise, it was tough to discern many landmarks.

Snow and more snow made for some beautiful photos but miserable trailing conditions

Onwards and upwards from Little Shovel Pass Camground towards Snowbowl. We started to notice leaving Little Shovel that many of the hikers we had seen that day were either moving slowly, ill-prepared (hiking in jeans in snow… I don’t recommend it!) or they had simply decided to stay put at their campsites where they could stay somewhat warm and dry. I do not have good memories of Snowbowl Campground. When hiking here in 2017 the rain was coming down so hard when we passed through that we had to hide in the trees to eat our lunch. At this point though, it was a quick stop for a snack and then carrying on and upwards. We were about two kilometres past the campground when we realized that we were breaking trail now. All day we had seen some form of tracks in the snow, mainly from hikers that had left their campgrounds that morning and began moving towards their next destination. But now there was a lot of snow as we climbed towards Big Shovel Pass and it was getting a bit tougher to determine the best route at times.

Looking back from Big Shovel Pass at a storm blowing in

We made our way up Big Shovel Pass, which was a long steady climb through a lot of fresh snow. After a brief break at the top, we dropped back down the other side into some very thick clouds. There were no footsteps at this point and after dropping a couple of kilometres into the hanging valley between Big Shovel Pass and the Notch, not only could we not see the trail anymore, we couldn’t see anything. We had no idea what was to the left or right of us. Were we heading in the proper direction still? It was so difficult to tell. We came upon a group of nine hikers that had all congregated, trying to find the correct way forward. There was a trail somewhere, but no one could locate it in the whiteout.

Whiteout conditions had us as well as many hikers stuck looking for a way forward

One thing was very clear, we were carrying the least of the group and would be best suited to scout out the area to find the trail, or at very least the direction it travelled in. So, Carl and I in our matching outfits, which by the way was completely unplanned, set forth to find a route while the group stayed behind. What I recall about this experience was not knowing where a cliff may be. And I nearly found one. Having hiked this section in 2017 I now realize at that moment I was standing above the trail that drops down to Curator Campground. But at this point, I nearly took a step off the edge and likely would have tumbled all the way down to Curator. Carl and I spent about half an hour looking for the trail when the snow falling from the sky and the clouds lifted enough to show us the way. Upon locating a trail sign, we reported back to the larger group, wished them safe travels, and carried on our way. Once past the trail sign and heading towards the Notch, which is the high point of the trail, we started talking about our own journey on this “fine” day. There were two sidetrails that would take us off of the Skyline from here. One was down the Wabasso junction which would leave us quite a few kilometres from the town of Jasper and the other was down the Watchtower trail, which would plunk us down halfway between our vehicles on the Maligne Lake road. Either way, we were looking at an additional 10-12kms of hiking just to get off the trail on one of these routes plus then getting to town or a vehicle. Or… we continue to move forward knowing we have about 25 kilometres to go, but once we get down off the ridge section, there is a lot of downhill and descent should mean less snow. The other option was to turn around and go back the way we came… in itself nearly 20kms back. After much humming and hahing, Carl said, we’ve come this far and I want to earn my pizza and beer at the end. So forward we went towards the Notch…

Below the notch trying to find the best route up through the rocks

Not only is the Notch the high point on the trail, it is supposed to give you your first glimpse of the many, many peaks that surround you. Upon reaching the Notch, you follow the ridge for about six kilometres. On a clear day, we were told it was one of the best views you will get on a trail in the Rockies. Well… first we had to get to the top of it. At first sight it was very intimidating, partly because of the sheer size of it and partly because we did not know which route to take to get to the top. With all of the fresh snow, and never having been on these trails before, we had to pick our way through what was at one point a rockslide I am sure with no markings. Not a soul had been up through here yet that day and we were certainly hoping to be the first. Then the sun came out… the glorious sun! It turned whatever despair and helplessness we were feeling into a feeling of hope and motivation. I do not recall how long it took us to get to the top, but I know it was longer than it normally would have. At least with the sun out, you could take breaks climbing and look back on the valley that we had come out of and see actual mountains! Not just clouds and snow.

A snow capped Notch

Remember when I mentioned that we had hoped to do this trail in seven to eight hours? Well, lets just say that was completely out the window at this point. We just hoped to get off the trail period. In one piece. And preferably in daylight. Things were looking up now that the sun was out and we were nearly at the high point of the trail. As we took our last steps to the Notch, our excitement turned to, well….COLD. We had been protected from the wind on the other side of the Notch the whole time, but once we hit the top, we now got the weather system from the adjoining valleys. And of course, the clouds rolled in at the top, taking away what would have been an amazing view. Still spirits were high as we stopped to take a few pictures before moving on, because it was just too cold to stay put for too long

Along the ridge was frigid. It wasn’t snowing anymore but the wind and low laying cloud made for a tough stretch of trail. Every now and then the clouds would lift enough so you could see some trees down below, or at one point I could see Highway 93 south of Jasper townsite. But these were few and far between and did not elicit any “highs” as we struggled to make our way forward. The positive thing at this point was that we were actually able to do some running after spending the previous couple of hours simply hiking and route finding. That was what we had come here to do after all…

Definitely the coldest part of the day was on the ridge

I would like to say that the ridge was memorable and that we were able to really enjoy it, but that would be a lie. We were at a point in our day where we just wanted to get out of the snow and out of the wind. There was a sketchy section that we had to climb up and over that involved many large, slippery rocks and a quick drop off on either side if you took a wrong step. The funny thing about this section is that when hiking it in 2017, I found the actual trail went below it. There was no rock climbing needed at all. But with all the snow and low laying cloud, we hiked into an area that we shouldn’t have even been in. And it definitely could have ended poorly. In 2017, I said to myself on the ridge (which was a clear day) where is the extra climb we had to do up here? And when I saw what had to be it, I was kicking myself repeatedly but also smiling a bit at the humour of the situation now.

The trail was actually below this but I wouldn’t find that out for seven years…

Ahead, we could see the sun teasing us down in the valley where Tekarra campground was located. And we could see green, real green. Not just white everywhere. Things were looking up, I just knew they had to be. We started the long winding climb down to Tekarra which was quite nice compared to what we had just gone through. Most noticeable was that getting off of the ridge meant getting out of the wind.

Starting the descent down to Tekarra Campground

It is fair to say that this is where our trip turned around and some smiles started to come out. We were serenaded by a group of hoary marmots once we got near the campground, and shortly after passing the very muddy campground, the sun came out again. But this time we weren’t near the high point of the trail in snow. We were starting to see some dry trail and were out of the wind. A point came where we actually were able to take off our coats and begin the process of drying out.

A hoary marmot that was happy to see us?
Shedding a layer and basking in the sunshine with about 12k to go

Now you have to realize that since Carl first brought up pizza and beer when we were route finding around Big Shovel Campground, he had been randomly yelling out “beer” and “pizza” about every twenty minutes. Knowing how good that would taste and knowing that the food I had with me tasted nothing like that made it hard to hear. Well it was safe to say that when we started descending more and more and nearing the old fire road at the end of the trail, I could finally think to myself that yes, I would have beer and pizza tonight. And it will be glorious!

Carl running through one of the last meadows before dropping down the old fire road

Once you hit Signal Campground it is a downhill from there. Nine kilometres of downhill. Nine kilometres of knee knackering downhill switchbacks. With no view but the trees. Where every corner looks the same and you start thinking “the end of the trail must be around this next corner” every few minutes. It was great to be able to run on such a wide and dry trail but after about six kilometres of downhill our knees were starting to rebel. It had been a tough day on our bodies and our knees were now crying out to us… After a short walk break we continued onwards and would you believe that finally, around one of those corners, was the trailhead at the north end of the Skyline. Packs off, high fives and one last picture. What was supposed to be an eight hour day ended up being over a ten hour day. Back to the hotel for a shower, a change of clothes and off to Jasper Pizza for that well deserved pizza and beer that Carl had been chanting about so much today!

Finish Line Photo!

Oh but wait, what about Heidi? I completely forgot to tell her story. About two kilometres past Snowbowl Campground, Carl stopped running. I looked back and he was looking all over the place, near frantic. I asked him what was the matter. He said Heidi was gone and he didn’t know where she was. Now remember this was the section where it was getting difficult to find the trail and we were getting socked in by snow. “I’ve got to go back” exclaimed Carl. “I think we left her at the campground.” “Are you sure you want to do that” I asked, sounding like a horrible friend I am sure. “It’s just going to get worse from here and you’re going to have to put on some extra mileage going back and what if she’s not there?” Carl looked at me and firmly said “I have to go back for her, I can’t leave her here.” And so Carl went back. I have to admit I didn’t think he would find Heidi. I actually thought I may not see him again if he decided to go back further than the campground. What a day, what a day…

Then the incredible happened about twenty minutes later, I could see Carl coming back down the trail. And he had Heidi with him! “I found her just before I got back to the campground, she must have fallen.” And just like that, he showed her to me, yup she was a bit dirty but in one piece. It was great to have our “third” back with us as we moved back along the trail at a pedestrian pace. I would have been fine leaving Heidi, but Carl, he’s a good man and he was determined to bring Heidi back home. After all, Carl’s daughter would have been devastated if her doll hadn’t come back home with him…

Heidi and the Notch! What a gal…
Heidi got to see all the same snowy sights we saw…
Note Heidi hanging out the front of Carl’s pack… shortly before she went missing
At the start of the trail, not knowing what she was getting herself into!

Her name is Rio…

I love classic rock. There is nothing else I would rather listen to. Well, maybe anything 80’s or early ’90’s. Actually there is some good old school rap out there as well. And don’t forget the classics of the ’60’s and ’70’s. Come to think about it, today’s music is pretty good too for the most part. Ah hell, let’s face facts, I love music. Except country, but I can generally avoid that. Whether it’s in the car, at home, or in the dressing room at the rink, the music you listen to is in tune with your mood. If you’re in a good mood, you are likely listening to something upbeat, or that brings back good memories. If you’re having a tough day, perhaps its something slower to help you wallow in your bad day, or it is something to energize you and allow you to scream at the top of your lungs. Music is essential to my life and I honestly could not live without it. When you are spending a lot of time with your teenager, you are likely going to have some musical differences and follow up discussions. Or sometimes, you’re in sync and some of your most memorable trailing memories are tied to some great music as if your life has an ongoing soundtrack.

Eric and I after 5 Peaks Chickakoo with some sweet tunes blaring behind us

Like many people, many of my best (and worst) memories are tied to music that was listened to at the time. I will always remember the music that I was listening to when I started dating my wife (Dave Matthews – Crash Into Me), that my kids listened to when they were infants (Raffi – Mr. Sun), and when I was training for my Sinister 7 solo attempt (Pearl Jam – Nothingman). There was music to warm up to in high school basketball (House of Pain – Jump Around), memories of college (Tea Party – Temptation) and songs that remind me of my good friend Steve that passed away of cancer way too young this past June (Elton John – I’m Still Standing). Music is everywhere and tied to so many parts of your life.

Now the funny thing about this blog post is that it isn’t about the music you listen to when you are trailing. A lot of people pop their headphones in and get lost in their mix tapes, mix cd’s and digital playlists. Music can be used during a run or exercise, it can energize someone, or it can simply help to pass the time. Myself, I tried running with music on many occasions and it simply doesn’t work for me. First off, I find that I can’t settle my breathing down. If it’s an upbeat song, my breathing gets rapid and I can’t slow it down. Weird right? I need to hear my breathing when I’m exercising, otherwise I feel lost and out of sync. Second, I like to hear what is going on around me when I am trailing. Whether I am in the ravine by my house, or on a backcountry trail in the Canadian Rockies, I want to hear the sweet sound of silence. Is silence a sound? On a trail, there is always some noise, albeit very quiet. It could be a bird chirping, or brushing against branches on a trail, or the sound of rain on the ground. Also on trails, it is best to be able to hear a bike coming up behind me or an animal prancing around in the bushes beside me. Third, when I am trailing with someone else, I like to converse with them from time to time, or throughout the entirety of the activity. When I do hill repetitions with my good friend Jason the Ironman, we talk the whole time. Well, he talks a bit more because he tells the best stories. He has several times told stories for the entirety of a 30km training run. And even though I contribute and ask some questions, I love listening to a good storyteller. And you can’t do that when you are listening to music. Now this isn’t to say there is anything wrong with listening to music while trailing. Many, many people do this and it helps them get through a workout or an adventure. For me, it has just never worked…

Terry Fox Run with my boys a few years back. The finish line music was pumping and you could hear it throughout the entire course

So once again, how does music relate to trailing with my son if I refuse to listen to it while I’m “out there” with him. Well I will tell you. It is the music that we hear at home when we are eating breakfast. It is the music we listen to on the way to a trail run or a race. It is the music blaring at the finish line of an event. It is the music we hear on the way home from tough day on the trails. Somehow, our memories connect trailing to music. I recall driving to start Sinister 7 in 2011 listening to Arcade Fire’s Wake Up. I had been listening to Pearl Jam the entire night before, wanting to have some of that stuck in my head, but it wasn’t to be. Wake Up played through my head for over twenty four hours. Well, the way I see it, it could have been much worse. The night before running Blackfoot 50km Ultra in 2007, my wife and I had watched a romantic comedy called “Music and Lyrics” starring Hugh Grant as a washed up ’80’s singer. They played his “big hit” several times in the movie and wouldn’t you know that while I was struggling through my second lap of Blackfoot the next day, all I could hear in my head was the awful “Pop! Goes my heart” song that made me want to run right into a tree to knock it out of my head.

100kms into Sinister 7 in 2011 with Arcade Fire stuck in my head…

Eric is the best at remembering music that we have listened to and what race or trail activity we were involved in. I don’t know how he remembers it, but he remembers what we listened to before during and after events such as the Grizzly Ultra, Five Peaks races, Canadian River Valley Revenge, and Blackspur Ultra as well as long runs and hill rep days. He will hear a song on the radio and say “hey Dad, this reminds me of… ” and spit out the exact moment he remembers hearing this as it relates to our trailing. The creme de la creme though is Rio, by Duran Duran. We heard Rio on the way to one of our first Five Peaks races and we had a good day on the trail. Then by some fluke, we heard it on the drive to the next one roughly a month later. And not to be outdone, prior to the third race of the season, Hungry Like the Wolf was pumping at the race start/finish area. I loved Duran Duran growing up, but Eric? I did not expect him to be enjoying this, but he did. So much so that he added it to a playlist and would regularly play it on the way to training runs and races from there on as it became “our song.”

Halloween Howl music a couple years ago had the Butterdome shaking!

Even though there is twenty five years in between us in age, for the most part, we can agree on most music, which I know not all parents and children do. Growing up, I listened to a lot of CCR, Guess Who and the Beatles on the eight-track player in my parents blue van. I don’t know if I was really consciously enjoying it back then, but as an adult I love that music. It makes me think of good times camping as a child and it just connects with me in a way that other music doesn’t. I am fortunate that Eric and I listen to most of the same music. He enjoys classic rock and ’80’s music but also listens to a lot of modern rock and popular music. He opens my eyes to some good music, and to some that I may not want to listen to more than once, but I’m willing to give it a shot. It also gives us something to talk about. I don’t think we really think about the fact that we talk about music a lot in the car, at home or on a trail. Music is all around us and it is great that it helps connect us as he gets older and more independent. There have been so many finish lines that are memorable in part because of the music being played and I know that we are only scraping the surface. I know that we won’t always see eye to eye on the same tunes, but based on our shared love of trailing and the experiences that come from it, I do know that we will always have Duran Duran!

The finish of the 2011 Red Deer Marathon was the first time Eric and I finished together to some great tunes!


For Miles And Miles… A Community Like No Other

The majority of people that are “trailing” are competitive to a certain degree; of this there is no doubt. However, it has been well documented just how inclusive, supportive and non-competitive activities such as trail running are. Sure, there will always be your elite competitors that make the rest of us, even on our best day, look like turtles or sloths depending on your reptile or animal of choice. Yet, even after these elites have duelled back and forth to the finish, most often mingle after their race is done. They chat with other racers, support crews, race volunteers and in a lot of cases even hang around the finish line to cheer on other finishers that are coming in well behind them. Aside from some other endurance sports such as triathlon, most sporting activities are every man (or team) for themselves. So what makes the trail running community so special?

At my first Blackfoot 50k in 2007

My first impression of the trail running community could be summed up in one word… relaxed. Upon arriving at my first 50km race I was somewhat surprised to see competitors sitting around campfires, greeting complete strangers and no one practicing their sprints or high knees prior to the race. The race start consisted of the race director dropping a sledgehammer to the ground. No start/finish line, no banner, and no kilometre markers on course. When you are transitioning from road racing to trails, these elements are somewhat surprising. A lot of people like how structured road races are and to some extent need to be. Myself, I was hooked on this relaxed environment in which everyone was just hanging out in nature with one another.

Last aid station at 2011 Sinister 7… a very relaxed volunteer told me I didn’t look dirty enough to be 142kms into a race…

Over time, I found that this wasn’t just a one-off experience. And while larger races and race series were a little bit busier, the relaxed charm was still there. Sure there may be loud music at some of the finish lines and chip timing has become the norm at most trail races, but the mood is still one without stress or anxiety. Some participants are chasing time goals while others are simply looking to finish. Inside, every person has their own stress and anxiety at these events, but by keeping the mood of the event relaxed, it in turn, calms the participant.

My parents and family are official “trailers” at these events

The trail community is supportive of each other and each other’s achievements. I have been involved in team sports for a number of years, whether it be playing basketball in high school or coaching hockey and soccer in most recent years. While it is deemed to be sportsmanlike to help up another player off the court or to compliment another teammates actions in a game, this is never the norm in these sports. Now don’t get me wrong here, I love team sports and have been involved with them all my life. However, the goal is always similar. Develop a player’s skills so they can help their team compete, with the end goal to win. Many youth coaches highlight the importance of having fun, but as the kids get older, fun is often associated with winning. And if you are not winning, your coach and teammates likely aren’t having any fun and as a result neither are you. You can be the best player on a team, but if you look at that scoreboard and you have less than the other team, you are likely going to be disappointed. So why is trail running different? Sure, it is not generally a team sport, but most importantly, any endurance sport focuses on trying to be your best. For most of us, we are only competing against ourselves and perhaps the clock, not the other hundred or thousand people in an event with us.

Volunteers make these events special and memorable

So in trail running, everyone has their own goals but they are not going to step over others to get to it. There is often casual conversation and laughter at the start line and competitors joke around and keep the mood light. On course, when someone is passed, there is almost always a “good job”, “keep up the good work” or “you look good in those tights” comment to make the other runner smile. If someone falls or is injured during a race, other participants do not continue on. They stop and ensure the safety of that individual, because they know that could just as easily be them in that situation and they would want the help as well. If there is a race to the finish line there is often a laugh shared immediately after and high fives all around. I can honestly say that I don’t know of many trail runners that leave an event unhappy because of a lack of support from everyone else involved.

Brian from Sinister Sports (prior to THE BEARD)

Let’s hear it for Race Directors and Local Running Stores that help keep this community grounded. A strong Race Director such as Brian (Sinister Sports), Gary and Amber (Blackfoot Ultra) and Sheryl and Todd (Canadian River Valley Revenge) will give participants a memorable event from start to finish. Keri from Sinister Sports keeps us all motivated with training tools and race day words of encouragement while also ensuring a hug is never too far away! Often, these folks have been a part of this community for years and know what makes their participants satisfied. These individuals want the runner that is returning for her tenth 100 miler to have just as satisfying experience as the new participant that is attempting his first 5km trail race. These individuals listen to feedback from participants, have one ear to the ground at all times, and are visionary to try new things that will be well received.

Gary from Blackfoot Ultra (middle) has been a huge part of the community in Edmonton and Area

Local running stores and sales staff help bring your trail running experience to life. I mean, where else will you get expert advice on shoes, packs, nutrition and clothing? You need experienced people to help you get to the start time, and a knowledgeable store or salesperson will get you there. Locally, Jack and his crew at Fast Trax Run and Ski Shop as well as Beto from United Sport and Cycle have been those people. For a time, I worked way too close to Fast Trax and spent way too much money there I am sure. But the reason I kept going back wasn’t because it was convenient, it was, and still has been, that I know I will leave there satisfied and with the gear I need. The same could always be said for Beto, from his days with the Running Room and to United Sport and Cycle, you trusted what he told you. He would never sell you an inferior product and he truly wanted you to succeed so he made sure you had the right tools. On a recent note, I am sad to see both Beto and Jack leave this side of the trail running community, but I know they will both be involved in other ways and will still see them contributing in other ways. Thank you both for everything over the years.

Volunteers and crew at Canadian Death Race are set up and ready for runners

Volunteers can make or break an event and most often they make you feel like the most important person on the planet when you are interacting with them! Volunteers do so much at these events and should not be taken for granted. They are there to give out high fives (who doesn’t like a high five?) re-fill your bladder or bottles when your hands no longer work and tell you how good you look, even though in reality you likely look nothing like that. Last year I had a great opportunity to work for Sinister Sports as a Site Coordinator at Sinister 7 and Canadian Death Race. A large part of my role, along with the other coordinators, was to ensure the volunteers knew their roles and had guidance if needed. Volunteers helped with setting up tents and signage, moving supplies, preparing food, recording runner’s times, assisting solo runners, and even ensuring runners didn’t take the wrong trail out of an aid station. These volunteers helped out in warm sunny weather, in a hail storm, in pouring rain, and overnight since the stations I was at were open through the night for runners. Most runners don’t see all the little things that volunteers do to contribute, but having been on this side of things this past year, it was easy to see that a lot of events just wouldn’t flow properly and be as successful without the help from these folks.

We had the best views at our Transition Area at Sinister 7 this year… I was lucky to work with such great people

Now let’s not forget the fans and supporters of the trail running community. Not to say that they are quite of the “groupie” status, but it is safe to say that you will start recognizing a lot of the same faces in the crowds at events. Spouses, children, parents, aunts, uncles, friends, co-workers and of course pets. Who doesn’t love to give a friendly dog some attention between laps? A lot of fans will come out expecting it to be like a road race the first time, but then will also start to realize trail running has a different feel to it. They love to be there because usually despite poor parking, standing in mud and horrible swarms of mosquitos, they enjoy being in nature and seeing those they are there to see, be their best in the same environment. Support Crews are those people close to a runner, that attend an event with the main purpose of getting the runner what they need when they come into a checkpoint or aid station and getting them on their way. They need to have encouraging words and a smile on their face. Some will have a pre-planned speech for if their runner is struggling and a spreadsheet to work off of to keep track of if their runner is meeting their goals. A strong support crew can make or break a race. I can attest to that. My wife is a rock star of a support crew and got me through my Sinister 7 attempt. Words cannot express what that meant to me.

My wife as my support crew in 2011 had to deal with my spreadsheets and many many pre-prepared bags of food

There is so much more too! I mean group runs, race clinics, volunteering to help with trail maintenance… I could go on and on. But ultimately, when I think of the trail running community, the word unselfish comes to mind. People give of their time to make events what they are, they take the extra time to properly outfit the runner and they ensure the safety of others during the event. Recently, as a lot of people have read, my son Eric had a hypothermic experience at a 50km race in January. We received so many nice messages from friends and family, as well as readers of the blog and other race participants. However, the one message that will forever stand out above all others was from the race directors Sheryl and Todd. The message basically indicated that whenever Eric was ready to attempt the course again, Todd would go out with him to complete it from start to finish and Sheryl would set up a pop up aid station on course to support them. Wow. This message was such a gracious gesture as Sheryl and Todd truly wanted Eric to succeed at the next possible opportunity. It didn’t matter if it was on race day or after, they knew the time and effort he went to in training and the struggle he went through on race day. So a few weeks after the original race day, Eric set out with Todd back on the course. They ended up only doing 30kms of the course, but it was memorable for all the right reasons including Todd’s willingness to be there, his great stories and his sharing tricks of the trade to help Eric in the moment, and in the future. This experience summed up everything that the trail running community brings to our lives and we are fortunate to have these moments to keep the motivation and enjoyment alive.

Todd and Eric on their River Valley Revenge Re-Do last weekend…

Rocks, Roots, Elevation and Enlightenment…

It is 4:30am on a Thursday morning this past fall and I am about to step out the door into the black, damp abyss that I call my neighbourhood. It has been raining all night and I can see the once beautiful fall leaves now covering the ground before me. What am I doing leaving the house so early for? Well, that all started seven weeks ago when I met my friend Jason “The Ironman” to do a hill workout at 6am in the river valley. The workout consisted of a two kilometre warm up on flats, followed by three repetitions of a 600 metre hill, followed by a two kilometre cool down. The workout went well for many reasons and we had agreed to meet every Thursday thereafter, increasing the workout by one hill repetition per week, until our workout climbed to ten hill repetitions. The trick of course, is that with our other weekday morning commitments such as work and driving children to school, we still had to end at the same time each week to meet these commitments. So every week, we would meet ten minutes earlier to account for the additional hill repetition that added 1.2kms per week. By the time we got to our final week, we were scheduled to meet at 4:50am. Ugh… there is not coffee strong enough for this!

On the way to a lonely hill first thing in the morning….

I started doing hill reps when I was training for my first marathon. I still recall reading a learn to run book that had laid out a sixteen week program that would get me ready for race day! Every week for about eight weeks it scheduled me to do hill work. So I started going on my lunch hour and doing hill reps on either the Emily Murphy Hill or the Victoria Park hill, both near Downtown Edmonton. I have to admit I enjoyed the exercise and it was a great challenge. The one thing I never liked though was the amount of vehicle traffic that passed me and some days the number of runners and walkers that I had to zig zag around. Over time, road hill reps became trail hill reps. I just had to find that right hill. Fortunately for me, I didn’t have to look too far from home. I had been running in and around a large off-leash park in our neighbourhood and there was a long gradual hill that I always had to come up to end my run. This would do. And if I came in the morning, no one else would be down here. No traffic – check. No pedestrians to swerve in and out of – check. Hill to myself – check.

The lonely hill…

So hill reps became part of my weekly workouts. I found it helped me get stronger for road running, trail running, day hiking and backpacking. There was no downside to the results that came from this arduous activity. The results were there, but let’s face it, hill reps are difficult, not only physically, but mentally. The act of charting a course up a trail full of roots and rocks, then getting water at the top before making your way back down is no easy feat. Especially when you keep repeating it. Up and down, up and down, up and down. You start to feel every curve, slope, pebble, divet, fallen branch… you name it, you feel it. And it doesn’t get easier every time. Your body starts to fatigue and your brain tells you that “it’s okay to stop after this rep.” Some days are better than others. Some days your stomach rebels on your fifth cycle and you need to make a break for the port-a-potty in the parking lot before making your way back to finish your workout. Is there anything harder than sitting down to relieve yourself, relaxing all of your muscles and than gearing up to make them all feel pain again when you step foot back on that hill? There are days in the summer when you are already overheating at 6:15am and there are days in the winter when you know you could have used an extra layer because it is minus 19 and you really don’t want to be out here doing this.

Cold winter hill days…

So if there is so much challenge, so much negative sometimes, relating to getting out for these workouts, then how do we make them more enjoyable? Find a friend. Find a friend that has no idea what they are getting themselves into. Find a friend that has a training goal in mind and make them understand how much hills will help them to meet that goal. My first hill rep buddy was a co-worker and good friend of mine named Doug. He was training for a half marathon and he was the one that would get out with me on the paved hills near our workplace. Then there were other running teammates that were part of relay teams I participated with. Hills test people in many ways and if you want to see what your teammates are made of, do hills with them and you will find out after the third or so hill. But my longest serving hill buddy is my friend Jason “The Ironman”, who (as his name identifies) is a three time Ironman finisher.

Eric and I with Jason “The Ironman” on a training run this past summer

I met Jason through some mutual friends years ago and shortly after we found out he was going to be Eric’s hockey coach in his first year of Novice hockey. As we got to know each other better, we started talking more about running and hey, maybe we should go for a run together sometime. I had heard some crazy stories of his including how he was nearing the end of his first half marathon when he fainted, waking up to medical attention – what was I getting myself into running with this guy?! We lived close to each other so one run became two, which became more and eventually we were meeting two to three times each week. He was doing marathon training and I was training for an ultramarathon. When we crawled out of our cold, snowy winter that year, I told him we should go down to the river valley in the mornings because it was beautiful down there in the spring. Now keep in mind, this wasn’t to do hills… it was just to transfer our 6-10km morning runs from pavement to dirt. The first thing I learned when trailing with Jason was that he falls a lot. Take him onto a dirt trail and he is sure to be the one that finds the root sticking up from the ground, or the rock that is in your path. Fallen branches? Yup, he will find those too. All kidding aside, this was a somewhat regular occurrence and made for some funny training mornings. We always talked on our runs, mainly because Jason is such a great storyteller. I remember telling him about incorporating hill training into my weekly runs and how much I felt it had helped when I had trained for longer distance events in the past. Then I pointed out the dirt trail on the hill that I have used in the past and the rest is history. So there you have it, we started in on hills and it was a slog at first. If you aren’t used to going up and down the same hill multiple times, it takes a toll on you physically and mentally. But Jason was game for it and by taking the same route up and down, he was also less likely to fall! Seriously though, he doesn’t fall on hill reps which is why we always stick to the same route…

Note the tripping hazards in the middle of the trail…

I’m not going to go into detail about every week of hill training, but you know what makes these mornings so great? It is the banter back and forth. It is the venting about the many challenges in life. It is the bragging about our kids. It is the talk about upcoming race goals. Upcoming vacation plans, frustrations coaching hockey and soccer and funny stories from the past are all scattered about on that hill. Every time I am on that hill, whether it be running with Eric, walking my dog, or doing those damn hill reps, I think of stories and experiences that have been shared there. Not only do those hills bring out the best in us physically by pushing us towards our limits, but they bring all of life into focus. Hill reps allow you to go through your emotions and leave the negative ones there, allowing you to move forward with your day in a more positive framework. Hill reps allow you to process challenges you may be facing and come away with a different or more focused outlook on things. Most importantly though, hill reps allow you to be yourself, overcome adversities and celebrate successes, all in the time it takes to complete them.

In a rare moment with Jason not on a hill!

Jason “The Ironman” has gone through training for marathons and ironman competitions with and without hill repetitions. He has stated that he feels stronger and better prepared when he puts in the hill work. I like to believe that his mind is also clearer and that he is more focused going into an event knowing he has pushing himself physically but also prepared himself mentally. I know I poke fun at him falling while out trailing, but seriously, I could not be more proud of this guy. Not only has he finished three ironmans and half ironmans, but he has finished more marathons than I can remember. He has faced his share of challenges and obstacles and keeps coming back stronger each and every year, more determined to improve on past performances. I am fortunate to know him and to be inspired by him on an ongoing basis. More recently, Eric has put in the work on the hill as well, and we’ve even added a second hill in the same area. Much like my time with Jason “The Ironman” on the hill, this gives me a chance to connect with my son. I think his current experience is more focused on the physical side of things, but over time he will likely embrace the same feelings that I have over my time on the hill. And to be honest, we don’t talk quite as much on the hill for one very important reason… I am almost always trailing my son because I just can’t quite keep up…

Eric tearing down a hill at Blackspur Ultra this past summer

Hills of the Prairies… this is the Blackfoot Ultra

I have been out on course for two hours and fourteen minutes. It is definitely not the fastest that I have ever run this course, but I overall I am pleased with the outcome. I had hoped to run the 25km course in under two hours and fifteen minutes, so I am right on track with one hundred metres to go. On my right side is my son Eric, running beside me. As we climb the final hill to the finish line we see spectators who begin cheering us on. I wave my hands up and tell the crowd of supporters “to make some noise.” The crowd goes crazy and I get a huge rush from the noise and the support as we finish. As I look over at Eric, I think to myself “this is great finishing right next to my son.” We are coming in at a comfortable pace but definitely not a sprint. Then it happens. With about fifty metres to go, Eric starts to sprint. As I swear under my breath, I yell out “oh no you don’t” as we race to the finish line, only metres away…

Eric as a 6 year old at the 2008 Blacktoot Ultra with Mom and little brother “coming soon”

The Blackfoot Ultra is known as a rolling ultramarathon about fourty minutes east of Edmonton. There is honestly very little flat terrain on this course. The hills aren’t as large as say, races in the Rocky Mountains, but your legs just never get a break. The course is quite run-able once you accept the terrain but those darn hills just never stop. Up you go, down you go, up you go down you go. Distances range from 25k to 100k and the event is always held the last Saturday in May. The race has been in existence since 2003 and is run by Gary and Amber Poliquin. Each and every spring, the local trail community comes out en masse to take part in this well run event that features amazing volunteers and beautiful trails. I first registered for the Blackfoot Ultra in 2007, attempting the 50km distance. Gary had informal training runs scheduled prior to race day so I decided to join the group for a 25km loop of the course on a clear, calm Saturday morning in late April. I was hooked. The trails were nice and wide (used for cross country skiing in the winter) and well maintained. I made sure to get out on course a couple of more times prior to the race at the end of May.

All smiles and perhaps a bit overconfident heading into my first 50k

Now I had run a couple of road marathons by this point so I felt that the extra eight kilometres involved in a 50km event such as this would not be too significant. What I didn’t plan for was the heat. The funny thing about the timing of this event each year is that there are some years when it is pouring rain and the temperature is just above freezing, while there are others that get close to the thirty degree celsius mark. This was one of those years. With a 9am start time, I would have a bit of time on the course before it warmed up. Driving up to the event that day, I immediately preferred the atmosphere compared to that of road races. I arrived shortly before 8am and there were already campfires going and everyone was saying hello to everyone else. There was no start line/finish line or banner that I could see anywhere. No one was warming up with sprints, high knees or butt kicks. It was the most relaxed race I had ever been a part of and I was hooked. I believe this was the first race that when I started, I didn’t feel any stress or tension which was a nice change. To start the race, Gary gathered all of the 50k runners beside the timers table and explained some of the rules and expectations on course. Then he picked up a sledgehammer that he was holding and told us that when he dropped it, that was the time to start running. And within seconds he lifted it over his head and we were off!

Pretty much what I looked like the entire second lap of Blackfoot 50km in 2007

The course was in great shape. Trees were in bloom and the grassy sections of the course were turning green. This course consisted of two laps of 25kms. On the first lap, I met up with a fellow named Derran, who I actually ran with for the entirety of the first lap. Derran would go on to be instrumental in getting me hooked on more trail runs and specifically relay events such as Sinister 7. But more about that in future blog posts. We chatted the entire time and got through the first lap in about two hours and eight minutes. Now being a rookie at this distance and getting distracted with great conversation while you are going up and down hills for over two hours meant one thing. I wasn’t drinking enough, had taken no nutrition and it was getting hot. After fuelling up a little bit between laps we got back out on course. It was just a matter of time though before we both started hurting. I don’t remember when we split up, but I think it was around the 30km mark. As I went on ahead I started cramping up badly in my legs. It got to the point where I would walk/run in intervals. Then it just became a walk. And then the cramping got so bad that I ended up walking backwards to relieve the pressure on my calves. You get a lot of funny looks and comments when you are doing this, that’s for sure. The second lap took an eternity. The temperature got up to twenty eight degrees celsius and my lack of hydration early in the race had caught up to me. With about six kilometres to go, another runner offered me salt tablets. He said it would help, and it did! Whether it actually helped or if it was more of a placebo effect than anything, I got back running and finished the event in five hours and twenty four minutes. Slower than I had hoped, but I was so glad to be finished. Never again, I told myself, would I run Blackfoot. No way, no how. Of course as time went on later that day, I started to realize the errors of my ways and my dehydration was so bad that I hadn’t even had the urge to use the bathroom until 10pm that evening. I didn’t pee for roughly fifteen hours. Ugh. There were definitely some lessons to be learned from this.

50km done in 2007. Many lessons learned…

So in 2008 I decided to go back, but this time I chose the shorter 25km distance. I was training for a couple of relay legs at the first Sinister 7 in early July and I thought pushing myself on a 25km race such as this would be good training, without putting too much distance on my legs, which may require longer recovery. Derran was back as were some other teammates that would be participating with me at Sinister 7. It was great to go out as a group and with my family (including my very pregnant wife) there as well to support me. This was a different experience for me. The weather was nice but not too hot. The race started later, at 11am and I ensured that I would be hydrating regularly on course. I felt great from the start and once I got into the second half of the race I found myself running mostly by myself. I was passing other runners from time to time but for the most part it felt like I had the forest to myself. I started thinking about what my placing may be. I figured I was around tenth overall and there was a chance I was one of the faster runners in my age category (34 and under). With about two kilometres to go, I passed another runner that had stopped for a gel. Perhaps he did not know he was so close to the end, or perhaps he really needed that gel. He looked about my age and when I saw him there, as soon as I got around the corner, I booked it! There was a lot of downhill in that last couple of kilometres running up to the lake so I took advantage of it and left nothing in the tank. I crossed the finish line in one hour and fifty eight minutes. Good enough for sixth overall, first in my age group and only thirty seconds off of fourth and fifth place. Thank you Blackfoot, I was happy to be back!

Strong 6th place finish way back in 2008

Then for over ten years, I never went back to the event. It was not for any specific reason or that anything had been changed that I didn’t like. Life just happened. I had two boys now and we started camping in Jasper the last weekend of May every year. It was great because all of the campgrounds and facilities opened up on May long weekend, but then going the weekend after there were no crowds and you had access to everything. I still went out to run and hike at Blackfoot several times a year though. In my training for my solo attempt at Sinister 7 in 2011, I actually went out every Wednesday morning for about eight weeks in May and June. I got permission from my place of employment to come in later those days and work a later shift so that I could get 25kms in every Wednesday morning. In addition to that, I always find myself out there in the fall when the leaves have changed and time seems to stand still at Blackfoot. Fast forward to 2018 and Eric is starting to join me out there for some 15-18km training runs. “Dad, why don’t we register for this next year and do the 25k” he said. “Well, you know that will mean no camping that weekend though and you guys love that” I replied. So after a family chat later that night, it was decided we would bump our camping into early June so that Eric and I could challenge the 25km course. Back to the Blackfoot Ultra after eleven years away!

Spring 2019, one week before Blackfoot Ultra 2019

Eric and I had got out on the Blackfoot course a couple of times prior to race day, including a 25km effort the weekend before. Eric wanted to run the race on his own and push the pace, which was different than our usual routine where we start together, run for the first few kilometres together, then have Eric take off on me, generally beating me to the finish by one to three minutes when all is said and done. I told him to go for it. I had a time goal in mind and just wanted to enjoy the day, which was shaping up to be a great Alberta spring day. We popped by Fast Trax Run and Ski Shop the night before the run to pick up our race packages. Gary Poliquin, one of the Race Directors, called out “is that Scott?” It had been over ten years and I was impressed that Gary remembered me, although we had both taken part in some other races over the years. One of the things I love about the trail running community is that people remember you for who you are and for getting out on the trail, not for what your final result is. It was a pleasure to introduce Eric to Gary and be told that my son would likely beat me the next day. Not that I could really argue with that…

Fall 2018

Race day comes and the atmosphere is just as it was over ten years ago… relaxed. There are more tents set up than I remember, but these are for the soloists and I am pleased to see such a great number of people out supporting runners. As the time grows near to start, Amber Poliquin calls over the 25km racers for a pre-race briefing. We are expecting to have a few minutes to mentally prepare after this talk, but instead, once she is done, she starts the race! I think I see someone go darting down the trail immediately, but I’m not sure. Eric crosses the timing mat first, then I follow him and we are on course! Eric is looking strong and I am able to keep him in my sights for about the first ten kilometres. I have great company, running with someone who turns out to be the women’s race winner. But I also know that I am going out a little stronger than I should be. I finally back off around the 13km mark and slow my pace. Aside from the odd 50km, 50 mile or 100km participant that I pass, I am on my own until I hit the 21km aid station. I find it odd that there aren’t more people around me, or passing me. There can only be a handful of people ahead of me since I was one of the first to get on course. I haven’t passed anyone and only one person has passed me since the start of the race. As I come down a long gradual hill into the last aid station, I am running beside a wire fence. The course has me following it to the end, checking in at the aid station, and running back along the fence on the other side. I am shocked to see Eric on the other side moving slowly. I call out to him asking him if he’s okay. He says his knee is bugging him and he’s had to slow down. I tell him to keep moving and there are under four kilometres to go. I know he can do it.

A little over halfway through… photo courtesy of Alissa St. Laurent

I keep plugging away, possibly a bit faster now knowing that Eric isn’t that far ahead of me. Sure enough I catch up to Eric with two kilometres left. I know the remainder of this course like the back of my hand. I slow down and talk to him. He says the knee hurts going up hills. I explain to him that he should run with me on the downhills (remember there are no flats) and we can walk the uphills. I will keep him company and make sure he gets to the finish okay. He agrees and we start out. There is no question that I had the momentum when we came across each other and I’m certain that I could have beaten him to the finish by a few minutes if I had chosen to keep running. But this is my son, and I would hope that he would do the same for me, or someone else he found injured on the trail. There is more to a race than just a finishing time after all, even though it is hard to wrap your head around it sometimes. As we pass the sign informing us that we have four hundred metres left we are moving steady and before we know it we are climbing up to the finish line. Despite his knee pain, Eric is running, albeit slowly to the finish. No one has passed us in the last two kilometres and no one is currently behind us. I am thrilled to see family that has come to support us. This will be a great moment to remember finishing the race at the exact same time as Eric. I’m sure there will be some great finish line photos. Then with about fifty metres to go, Eric finds some sort of extra gear and starts sprinting to the finish. I am not pleased. So much for my nice moment finishing with my son. I yell out “oh no you don’t” and move my legs as fast as I can, crossing the finish at the exact same time as Eric. Once I catch my breath, I ask Eric why he did that, smiling, but not overly impressed to have to push so hard when I wasn’t expecting to. Eric replies by saying that his track coach at school always tells the team to finish strong and drain the tank, so he did. In my head I’m thinking “but I waited for you, ran with you, checked in on you.” Oh well, he was clearly feeling well enough to finish strong and I am proud of him for getting it done and pushing his Dad even when I didn’t expect it.

But hang on a minute… we got to talking about who was ahead of us and it became clear that there may have only been two males and one female that came in before us. So while we weren’t in contention for third overall, one of us finished fourth overall and would get the third place male prize. The suspense was building between us… I mean this was for bragging rights and I hadn’t beaten him in a race in recent memory. Now honestly, I didn’t care who beat who, but I did have some fun with the moment. There was some uncertainty in his face thinking that he may lose to his Dad… and that wasn’t something that happened anymore. So when the time came for the awards, they announced first place male, then second place male and then we both held our breath. And third place male is… and Amber announces the bib number first. And it’s mine. I give Eric a hard shove and laugh out loud. He is rolling his eyes as if to say “I can’t believe it.” When the results come up, we see that I beat him by 0.5 seconds. Basically I ended up ahead of him on the results because even though we hit the finish line at the same time, he crossed the start line slightly before me, probably half a step, which is the equivalent to half a second. What a day, what a finish and what a story. Once again, the Blackfoot Ultra doesn’t disappoint, leaving me with memories to last a lifetime.

3rd and 4th place males respectively… not that anyone is keeping track!

A few weeks after Blackfoot, I got a gift card mailed to me as the prize for my third place finish. It said “3rd place male” and I made sure to put it on the fridge under a magnet that said “Remember.” “Remember, 3rd place male” would become a bit of a poke and a nudge to Eric to push him for his next race, and also to playfully remind him that his old man beat him this once. For once when I am “trailing” with my son, I am not trailing my son. What a relief, I mean he can’t beat me every time can he? I’m pretty sure I’m moving into my prime at 42!


When Hypothermia Sets In…

It is about 12kms into the 50km Canadian River Valley Revenge and I see Eric climb out of the ravine looking strong.  Surprisingly, he is the first runner through on the snowy single track and is followed about a minute later by a pack of three runners, all with frosty toques and icy beards.  The temperature is a brisk minus twenty three degrees and there is a strong windchill that is making it feel like minus thirty three. As he runs by me I ask Eric how he is feeling. He says that he feels good, isn’t in need of a change of mitts or buff and that he is glad he knows the course well as it is helping having been through the route before.  As he runs away from me, I am thinking to myself “what a great day, this is going to be so much fun supporting my son on his first ultra.” This is the last time I will see Eric until two hours later when he is brought back to race headquarters in a hypothermic state by Search and Rescue Volunteers. 

Eric just prior to race start

Hypothermia can occur when someone’s body temperature decreases to a point that is unsafe. Basically, the body ends up losing more heat than it is able to produce and this can be fatal in some cases. I am fortunate enough to have never personally had a situation in which I have experienced hypothermia. The thing about hypothermia is that it can be triggered in a matter of minutes and as well prepared as someone may be for the cold, if one unforeseen thing occurs, there can be a significant risk. Eric would be out in extreme cold for up to ten hours if he were to finish this race. Hypothermia wasn’t even a consideration when preparing for this event… preparing for it, or how to avoid it was just never considered because I did not think it would be an adversary of Eric’s.

Eric after being stripped down and wrapped back up. He would be in this state for nearly four hours.

I had last seen Eric at about the 12km mark of the race but when I went to see him at 18km’s, he never showed up. He was way behind schedule and we got to wondering what had happened. Had he had an injury, or fallen through the ice and into the creek? Perhaps he had taken a wrong turn and was already en route to race headquarters for the end of his first lap? There were a few of us out supporting him that day so we split up and I went to race headquarters where I laid out his change of clothes for lap two and waited patiently. Then I got a text that said “Eric is at the last aid station. He is not well. He is done.” My heart sank. My original reaction was a selfish one… I wanted him to finish this race, not for me, but for him because he had put in so much time and effort. I was even thinking that when I see him, maybe we can get him changed and back out on course. Then I saw him…

Eric at one of the aid stations on course

There are moments in your life that you remember because they leave a scar or permanent impression on you. This was one of them for me. Eric came into race headquarters very slowly with Search and Rescue Volunteers holding onto him and keeping him upright. He looked like someone had sucked the life right out of him. His face showed discomfort but also had a blank look as though he wasn’t quite himself at this moment. The volunteers sat him down in a chair and slowly started to peel the layers off one by one. He was dressed with four layers so it was a slow process but once the last one came off he was shaking uncontrollably. Socks and shoes also had to come off and his feet were like blocks of ice. A dry fleece sweater was put on his top half and he was laid down, wrapped into a space blanket with heating pads inside, then wrapped into a sleeping bag, followed by another sleeping bag and finally wrapped in a tarp. The volunteers took his vitals and told me that he was currently in a mild to moderate state of hypothermia. To give you all an idea of what this meant… it meant that his core body temperature was between two and five degrees (32-35 degrees celsius) cooler than it should normally be. His breathing was slow, his coordination was poor, and he was showing impaired judgment and cognition when he interacted with the volunteers. The most important thing at this time was to get his body temperature back up and warm his feet and hands that were like ice. As his body warmed up, the hope was the other symptoms would disappear. It would take over three hours of warming before he was able to get up under his own power.

Eric being treated to by Edmonton Regional Search and Rescue Association Volunteers
Photo courtesy of Sheryl Savard

So what had happened out there? It was definitely cold, but we had done training runs in similar conditions in the past two months. We started to piece the story together as Eric became more coherent and it turns out that he had a problem with the water hose on his hydration pack. When he had stopped at the aid station around 13kms into the race, the top was frozen and wouldn’t open. What ended up happening was that after much effort trying to get the top to open so water could flow, the top broke off and water sprayed all over his gloves. Then he took his gloves off and for ten minutes (or more) he tried fixing his hose with his bare, wet hands, in the exposed windchill of minus thirty three. Once he got it back on, he put his wet, cold gloves back on and started moving again but noticed his body getting colder and colder. Having to trample through fresh knee and hip deep snow in one spot didn’t help his condition. The cold was spreading from top to bottom, from hands to feet. He was finally reduced to a slow walk as his feet felt like blocks of ice. His hands were colder than he had ever felt them. And still he moved forward. Upon arrival at the final aid station of the first lap, he was immediately checked on by Search and Rescue Volunteers. At first they tried to get him warmed up enough that he could finish the final stretch of lap one to race headquarters. But after a few minutes it because quite clear that he shouldn’t go on. If he would have went on, one of the volunteers said, he likely would have been found passed out on the trail somewhere in the final three kilometres. It would have taken the volunteers longer to get to him and the outcome would likely have been much worse.

Eric leading the pack 5kms into the race

This was not the race report that I had planned on writing this week. I had plans to detail the full 50kms and highlight the ups and downs of “trailing” on the Canadian River Valley Revenge course. When Eric had been stripped down and bundled back up the first thing he said to me was “I’m sorry Dad.” I told him he had nothing to be sorry for and that we were all just glad he was safe. There will be other races and adventures to come. Myself, I felt like I had let him down. I had helped him prepare and plan for this event and this was something I just hadn’t considered. I mean, who considers a hose on your hydration pack leaking all over you in the arctic-like cold conditions we were experiencing? I should have. When Eric was in his warming state, I was speaking with Sheryl and Todd Savard, who are the Race Directors for Canadian River Valley Revenge. Sheryl asked me if I was going to write about hypothermia in my next blog. At the time I recall saying no, this was too hard to go through, I don’t think I will want to write about it. But… as the days went on after the event, I felt that I should highlight this day. Despite the scare that Eric gave all of us, there were so many positives that could be seen on what I originally felt was a horrific day. First and foremost, friends and family came out to see Eric start the race and to cheer him on course. He is a lucky guy to have such a great support network. Second, he toed the line of his first ultra. It may not have gone how he wanted it to, but he had the will and determination to try it. Third, Edmonton Regional Search and Rescue Association volunteers were amazing. Seriously, these volunteers do not get the credit they deserve sometimes. My family is forever indebted to your care for my son. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Fourth, Canadian River Valley Revenge has a great group of race participants and incredible Race Directors. Sheryl and Todd, thank you for checking in with us the next day. And last, we learned how quickly hypothermia can set in and if not treated in a timely fashion, can end horribly. It was a positive ending for Eric as he recovered quickly and does not have any lasting effects or symptoms.

Eric and Flying Moose teammate Carl prior to the race

Eric was fortunate in this situation that he came out in one piece and despite requiring nearly four hours of attention from Search and Rescue on race day to warm up, he was up and about in the days following. I told him the day after the race… “if that ever happens again in this type of cold weather, drop the pack and leave it. Gloves stay on. You stay moving. And perhaps wear some warmer socks just to make us all feel better from the start!” Eric is currently planning to still complete the full 50km course in the coming weeks, preferably in milder conditions… I’m looking forward to supporting him once again.


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!


Wait, did the bearspray get packed?

I am five kilometres into my final leg at the Blackspur Ultra this past August.  Dusk has set and its about to get quite dark once the trail drops back into the trees.  I look down at my watch and notice the battery icon is flashing. Crap. I forgot to get Eric’s watch after I finished leg 5 and before I started leg 6.  My watch is a very basic garmin and only lasts for about four hours before it dies. I had asked Eric to borrow his garmin (which is far superior to mine) for the final leg, knowing that mine would eventually die.  Oh well, it’s not the end of the world not knowing the exact distance remaining once it dies. Just then another thing occurred to me… much more important than the watch for me. I had asked Eric to pack my bearspray for me at the transition as I knew I would feel more comfortable having it while running in the dark.  Was it in my pack? I don’t remember seeing it get put in. But I’m sure he remembered to put it in right? Right? Right?

The Blackspur Ultra is a 108km ultramarathon and relay that is held annually in Kimberley, British Columbia near the end of August.  This was its fifth year in existence and was another product of Sinister Sports, the company that also operates Sinister 7 and the Canadian Death Race.  My son Eric who I am constantly trailing with (and behind), had expressed an interest in this race the previous year. There were six legs for the 108km distance and if we had three runners, each doing two legs, then each runner’s distance would be between 34 and 38kms.  Eric was wanting to move past the 25km distance that he had become accustomed with over the past year. As a father, I did not want my son progressing in distance too quickly since he was still growing and I wanted to avoid any sort of long term injury so early in his running career.  I had slowly brought up his race distances over the past year. But now he was wanting to do more. And honestly he was strong enough to do it. I contacted my good buddy Carl and we entered the race. The Flying Moose, as our team has been called for about ten years, was re-born with some youngblood!  

I had never been to Kimberley but had been nearby in places such as Panorama.  I was told by the race director that we would love this course, mainly due to the great singletrack that it offered.  Training went well and we felt prepared as we arrived on the Thursday before the race. Carl had booked a place for us and we were fortunate enough to find that it was located just off the ski hill, about a ten minute walk to the race start.  There was a great energy when we picked up our race packages on the Friday and attended the pre-race meeting. This event was much smaller in scale than Sinister 7 and Canadian Death Race and had more of a “neighbourly” feel to it.  

The race started on Saturday morning and Eric had the first two legs.  The start made us all smile because everyone had their game faces on, the gun went off and everyone charged ahead… for about one hundred metres before they got turned straight up the ski hill for the next kilometre!  The quick start gradually became a slow walk up the hill. Not Eric though! He was running around some people, walking for a bit, then running more to get better positioning. And that was the last we would see of him for the next couple of hours.  What a great day it was. We had put up our shelter right near the transition area and had a clear view of the ski hill. Every leg started and ended by runners going up and down the ski hill so there was really no way we could miss our runner. The first few runners came in and it was very impressive.  Two soloists in the 108km distance and two soloists in the 54km distance were the first four runners in after leg 1. Then to our amazement, over the loudspeaker comes… “First team coming in is Flying Moose!” What?? Eric was the top team runner to complete leg 1? Eric flew down the hill and into the transition area.  He was feeling good, got some nutrition and was back up the hill. Carl and I looked at each other and had a conversation about how it must feel to be seventeen again!  

Leg two was a little different for Eric.  Turns out just past the 25km mark he started to get a bit of an upset stomach and had to walk on and off for a few kilometres.  Then his legs started throbbing. When he came in, he looked done! He had a couple of teams pass him on the second leg, but most of these teams had six runners, so every leg they were sending out someone fresh.  What Eric accomplished, coming in after 34 total kilometres, was a record distance for himself and in very good time. I was very proud of him and it was the first time we hadn’t actually started a race together. Usually we would start a race together and he would take off on me at some point, but we had each other to keep company for part, if not all of the race.  This was not only a physical test for Eric, but a mental one as well. There were struggles, but he learned from them and will be stronger next time.  

Carl set out on legs three and four.  Carl is great to run with. Super laid back, loves the trails and is funny as hell.  Carl had done his own training for the race and his long runs weren’t as long as ours were, but the thing about Carl and what I love about having him on a team, is that he always gets it done.  He came in off leg 3 looking and feeling not too bad but had some aches and pains. Leg four was a different story as his body rebelled on him. About half the leg was climbing and he struggled with it.  But hey, we weren’t in any sort of hurry so he could take as long as needed, as long as he finished.  

Now the thing about being on a relay team is that you have to guess when your runner is coming in and be ready for them so that you can get out on course right away.  As a team we usually set our rough estimates before the race so that the next runner knows when to be ready. You don’t want to be the guy or girl that is not ready when your relay runner comes in to transition with you.  This happened to me once at the Banff Jasper Relay. I was part of a team based out of Sherwood Park and did not know most of the runners. I was connected through a friend at work and it sounded like a great opportunity to run in the mountains.  I was running leg three which was north of Lake Louise on Highway 93. My distance was 21kms, the weather was great and I was feeling good. The leg ended on a long downhill with the transition at Mosquito Creek Campground. I came flying down that hill when I saw the transition area and flew right through the finish.  Everyone was cheering and clapping and then silence. “Where is my runner? Are you kidding me? What do I do?” I went from being relieved to finish so strong to a feeling of disbelief bordering on anger. There was murmuring all around as the crowd could not believe what they were seeing. Finally one of the race volunteers came over and told me “you can keep running and once your runner arrives we will get them to drive up the highway and you can switch when you see them.”  I was exhausted. I had given pretty much all I had and the thing about Mosquito Creek Campground is that it’s downhill going to it, but as soon as you pass the campground, you have a long uphill on the other side. Well, what choice did I have. Being a fairly competitive person, I chose to keep moving since the clock wasn’t stopping. I ended up running about three kilometres before a car pulled up beside me with my runner. “We are so sorry, we misjudged how long it would take to get here.”  In my head all I could think was that they should have been here about an hour ago, well in advance of me coming in. I handed off to the next runner, got into my vehicle with my wife who was following me on the side of the road, and never wanted to see that person again. Turns out I didn’t ever see them again. Hopefully if they ever entered another relay event, they were better prepared.  

Anyways, back to Blackspur.  Carl was late. I was ready in advance of when I thought he would be in.  I kept running to the bathroom to pee. I was nervous, excited and really had wanted to finish during daylight.  But I knew that was an outside chance to begin with. We would see runners coming down the hill and say “I think that’s Carl” and I would scuttle over to the transition area only to see that it was someone else.  Finally, Carl did come down the hill and he seemed fine. When he got down to the transition area though he was done. He exclaimed that Blackspur had kicked his butt. I was just glad to see my friend in one piece and at the transition area.  So off I went into the trees and straight up the ski hill!  

Leg five was great.  So much windy single track and rooty terrain.  I tripped and fell about three kilometres in, giving myself a cut up knee, but nothing too serious.  The conditions were perfect and I had hoped to complete the 18km leg in two hours. I finished in two hours and one minute.  Perfect. I was feeling good and wanted to get as much daylight as possible so I wanted a quick transition. The problem is that I hadn’t told anyone else that I wanted a quick transition.  So I pulled into where my crew was and got my bladder filled up in my pack and threw my headlamp into my pack. The only thing I had asked Eric to do between legs was to give me his watch and put my bearspray into my pack.  I came in hot and wanted to get back out quickly. While I was talking to my crew, I was assuming Eric was putting things in my pack. I quickly stopped at the food tent and continued onto leg 6.  

Fast forward to the beginning of this post where I am in a meadow in very little daylight.  I put my headlamp on and notice the watch battery icon. Crap, I forgot to get the watch. No big deal, I can live with it.  Then I was looking around the meadow thinking “this would be where I would likely see a bear. But did the bearspray get into my pack?”  The funny thing about races is you often don’t want to stop. And I didn’t want to stop to check. I figured if it was in the back of the pack that would be great, and if not… well… I didn’t really want to go back five kilometres to get it and then come back another five kilometres to this point.  The odds were low of running into wildlife, but this was the one time I was running on a course such as this without my bear spray. I continued on and it got dark fast. I was about halfway through the final leg when I came around a corner on a trail and my right foot hit a rock. I had a lot of momentum and I was coming down a hill.  What did this equal? A complete yardsale on the trail. I flew into the air and landed squarely on my right shoulder. I yelled out in pain. My headlamp flew off. My hiking poles were gone. I was certain I had broken my arm. “Okay Scott, take a few deep breaths and calm yourself” I thought. I found my headlamp down the trail. The poles were found in the bushes.  “What was that noise in the bushes? I’m sure that must be another runner right? But that came from the trees, not the trail!” I knew that my arm was in rough shape but I got everything back together and was back on the trail moving forward in quick fashion! At the aid station shortly after I saw my shoulder was a bloody mess. The volunteers were great and offered to fix it up, but I wanted to keep going and told them it would make for a better finish line photo.  

Ultimately I finished the final nine kilometres and had never been so happy to see a finish line.  As I was running down the ski hill to the finish I was thinking to myself… I wonder if that bear spray was actually in my pack?  Once we finished, crossing the line together as a team, I asked Eric about the watch and of course, the bear spray. He replied “oh, no I guess I didn’t give those to you.”  I was on the final leg for two hours and forty five minutes and his response indicated that he hadn’t even clued in to the fact that it was forgotten. Gotta love teenagers! As we were walking over to the medics to get my shoulder looked at, he says to me “Dad you did great but what took you so long on that last leg?”  Maybe I would have been faster if I had been chased by a bear? Thank goodness I had my bearspray with me. Oh wait…


My First Blog Post

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.

Why Trailing Is So Important Right Now…

The term self-isolation make me feel very uncomfortable.  This isn’t because I do not think it is important… but it creates a sense that you do not have control of things in your life and that you need to limit yourself to regain that control.  Now at this time, self-isolation is mandatory for anyone that is showing signs of illness or has been around someone who has.  Please self-isolate if this is your situation right now.  But prior to COVID-19, what did self-isolation mean?  Were people doing it?  Absolutely they were, it just wasn’t for the same reasons as they are now.  Individuals have self-isolated when they are feeling depressed or suffering from anxiety.  Men and women self-isolate when they are under a great deal of stress in their work or personal lives.  Self-isolation can be seen as beneficial at times in your life and now could definitely be one of them.  Or maybe it is not…

Solitary trails are just waiting for your company!!

If you are healthy and not impacted by illness at this time, you may still be forced to work from home or in an office with a skeleton crew.  If you are a child or youth, you currently have no sports team to be a part of, no classmates to play at recess with and you may find yourself sitting at home with nothing to do.  One thing that has been clear through our current global situation is that it is still okay to be outside in nature.  Take a walk, go for a run, hike in the river valley, pull out your snowshoes, ride a fat bike, go on a scavenger hunt in the ravine and of course, don’t forget to walk the dog!  Trailing is more important now than ever!  If you are able to get out and enjoy nature and fresh air, do so!  You may be doing it on your own, but you are still doing it and that is important right now.  With a lack of routine starting to creep into everyone’s lives and so much uncertainty about what will happen next in the world, it is important to keep some things going and the outdoors is a great place to be.   

Eric getting one of his weekend runs coming out of the ravine near home

Get up every morning at the same time you normally would.  Make your bed.  A co-worker of mine told me that if you get up and make your bed, you have already completed two tasks for the day and that you are starting off on the right foot.  Nice!  I’m on the right track to my day now.  If you are a morning runner or walker, keep this pattern up.  If you prefer to go in the evenings then do so.  It is very easy right now to get consumed by the information overload that is all around us and to forget about what makes us who we are on a daily basis.  Stay in touch with family and friends.  Put down your phone and finish that book you started.  Watch a movie instead of the news.  Listen to a podcast about the outdoors instead of to the radio.  Play a board game with your kids.  Immerse yourself in nature.  

Time with the kids outdoors is important not just now, but always!

While most of the talk out in the world right now is about physical health, we cannot forget how important people’s mental health is in this current climate.  One of the best things you can do for your mental health is to disconnect and get active.  This afternoon I ran home from work rather than take the bus and train. 16kms at the end of a long day seems like a lot but it sure was nice to pound out a tough day on the trails before getting home. I listen to a podcast called “The Ongoing History of New Music” by Alan Cross. It has so many great stories about bands and musicians that it interests me and also distracts me from my day. If it is cold outside and you would prefer to run on your treadmill in the basement though, so be it, you are still being active.  I know my previous three runs have been in this state because I just got tired of winter and needed a break from the cold in the mornings.  And it is hard to run for 10 or 12 kms on a treadmill.  Maybe not physically, but mentally it can be draining.  So I find some motivating YouTube shows by Billy Yang, The Ginger Runner and Run Steep, Get High.  I love the images of races that I have never been to, of trails that look like so much fun to run down (not so much up!) and seeing the sense of normalcy in everyone on the screen.  “Where Dreams Go to Die” is a great documentary by the Ginger Runner about Gary Robbins quest to finish the Barkley Marathons.  Billy Yang’s “The Why” is so inspirational for anyone that has done, or is considering attempting an ultramarathon. And if you don’t want to go that route, pull out a classic running film like Prefontaine, Without Limits or McFarland.  If running is not your thing, how about films about the outdoors such as “Into the Wild” or “A Walk in the Woods”, both of which are better books than movies, but still a good watch when you are working out indoors.  

One of my favourites… but still a better read!

My son Eric, who I blog about regularly has still been running outside on a regular basis. Longer runs two days in a row this past weekend were spent in the ravine near our house, enjoying trails that are definitely not that busy most days but could be!  Today he is meeting a friend from school for a run in the river valley.  You can still run with a friend outside… maybe just no high fives right now (which stinks because I love a good high five – who doesn’t?).  My wife is currently training for a couple of races this summer and she put in her longest run this year so far on Sunday.  14kms outside in a cold, icy wind. But she felt less stressed after her run and was able to come home and relax.  My youngest son is still playing with the dog outside, spending some time on the backyard rink and spent part of the afternoon with me at the dog park on Sunday afternoon. The sun was out, it was a bit cool, but we all felt better having been out and away from all of the news.  

The boys enjoying a skate on a nice March evening…

So what I would say moving forward is keep trailing and keep a routine of being active if you are able to.  Just because you may feel isolated from everyone, may not mean you have to stay in your living room the entire time in front of the television.  If you are gearing up for summer and fall events, now is a great time to create those training plans and dive right in, because you have the time.  Don’t let your physical and mental health slip if you are not currently impacted by illness.  Complacency and an overload of news and social media will lead to other health issues, all of which can be avoided.  Find a workout buddy that you can stay connected with over the phone or online.  Or maybe you still workout with them outdoors and practice social distancing.  Remember, no high fives right now!  To my running friends, including Carl and Jason the Ironman who I have written about in past blog posts, I challenge you to continue your planning and training for the summer and fall.   Check in weekly with me and lets talk about the highs and the lows right now.  To my hiking buddies, I’m still planning on getting into the backcountry in late April.  Are you?  Start preparing by getting into the trails near your home when and if you are able.  

The trails are in great shape right now and fortunately (or unfortunately) are pretty quiet

One thing I can say with near certainty, is that you will feel better if you hit the trails. Trailing is amazing and don’t let what is going on in the world impact your love of the outdoors, of muddy trails and of too many hill reps.  Well, you may not love the hill reps, but you know you will feel better having done them.  So to everyone that can still get outdoors, do it and I will be sure to give out lots of “air” high fives.  Stay active, stay safe and stay positive everyone.  Do not isolate yourself if you don’t have to.  Remember that the “new normal” is whatever you make it to be…

My wife’s new normal!!