Families that Play Together!

Over the next few weeks, we’ll feature families that get out on to the trails together. We’ve got stories on twins who tussle at the sharp end, father daughter combos, mothers who let their little ones run before they walked, and this wonderful father son trail team, Eugene and his father, Herman Van Der Merwe.

“My dad started running in 1984, and did his first comrades in 1987. He has done 13 Comrades. I did my first when he was doing his eleventh (I was 25, and he delivered me to Drummond on perfect 9 hour pace), and we also started together for my second (twelfth for him), and my tenth. Dad turned 65 last year November, the day after he finished his first 100km Skyrun. 

My dad entered his first trail run pretty much on a whim, it was one of the Wildrunner Trail Series® runs in 2014, and he basically got hooked in the first km. He has always loved nature, and anything challenging, so it’s a match made in heaven. He seems to love it more with every run he does, and he gets an extra special kick out of leaving people 30 years his junior in the dust. His enthusiasm was definitely the biggest motivation for me to start running trail, and it does seem to be pretty infectious.

The biggest difference between road and trail for me lies in the mindset: I'm pretty goal oriented on the road, and almost every run will have some or other goal, whether time or distance or reps or some other measurable thing. Trail on the other hand is much more about the experience: the places we get to see, the people, the stoke, you know… trail stuff! I enjoy doing both, but trail undoubtedly falls way more on the fun side of the performance/fun spectrum. 

The Jonkershoek Mountain Challenge in 2017 was the first time I ran more than 18km or so on trail and I was a little apprehensive about the unknown, but dad and I spent a couple of days together beforehand getting amped, so we were both really excited at the start. We started together, but he was taking it easy because of a lingering shoulder injury, so I went off ahead and had a super enjoyable race (aside from a spot of light cramping). Unfortunately dad took two falls on his injured shoulder, but in typical fashion soldiered on to the finish, albeit outside the cut-off. For me the run itself was an awesome experience, (the part between 12 and 28 km is where the trail bug totally got its teeth into me...), but sharing the anticipation, excitement on the day, and war stories afterward with my dad dominates my memories of the race far more than the actual running. The Marloth Mountain Challenge (also 2017) was a slightly more relaxed experience since we both wanted to have a more conservative run, but the nerves hit both of us pretty hard at the pre-race briefing. We started together again, and had very different runs: I had a really rough time up to the first aid station at 24km, and pretty much the only reason I didn't bail there was because I knew my dad was out in the mountain as well, probably having more fun than anyone else. My dad's run was a super steady effort, but he started slipping behind the cut-off in the last 10 km as it started getting dark. He ended up entertaining the sweepers with his trail stories all the way to the finish.

It is hard to describe the sense of privilege I feel in being able to share these experiences with my father. He takes enormous pride in my running, and I'm constantly in awe of his immense mental and physical strength, perseverance, and the ridiculous amount of fun he has whenever he gets out on the trail. Very few other people my age can share these kinds of experiences with a parent, and that sharing is the thing I treasure most about running. It’s not just the big races either, some of the small things are just as special, like the way every phone conversation we have starts with a full recap of every run we've done since the last time we spoke! It also gets me quite excited about what sort of things I may be able to do with my children as they grow up, though I think I'll have a much harder time keeping up with them!