At 13 years old, Kimberley’s own Ben Taylor-Vallance is the youngest-ever finisher of the Black Spur Ultra 54-kilometre race, which was held at Kimberley Alpine Resort from Aug. 26 to 27.
“I didn’t know I would be the youngest of all time, but I knew I would be one of the younger people to finish,” Taylor-Vallance told the Bulletin.
He has been into running for about two years now, first starting out alongside his dad, a long-time runner himself. This was his first ultra marathon, but he said he’s done some “shorter” 20-km runs, and is on a cross country team.
His dad, Jeff Vallance, said that at first he was hesitant to sign his son up for the gruelling 54-km trail run.
“He wanted to do it and I kind of made a deal with him where, ‘hey if you get up with me and get out and put in the time and practise on the different legs of the race then I’ll put you in,’ and he did, so I registered him a little bit later. I probably only registered him about maybe three weeks ago. So I couldn’t really say no because he put in the time and I had no doubt that he’d be able to finish it.”
Taylor-Vallance prepared for the race for about a year, running the individual legs at least once or twice a week, getting to the point where he was very familiar with the trails.
“I progressively tried to go faster and faster,” he explained. “So when it’s the Black Spur day, you know how fast you’re going to be on the first two legs, but the third one’s always … you never know.”
He said the first two legs of the race went fairly well, conditions were good and he did the first leg in around two hours, 20 minutes and the second in just over three. The third leg, he said, is when fatigue really starts to set in.
“Once you’re at the aid station on the third leg you kind of feel like you’re almost back, but you aren’t,” he said. “It’s just one step after another, you keep going and thinking of the feeling of finishing.”
Jeff, who also ran the 54 km, added that there were times on the trail when one of them would be struggling and the other would set the pace, and then they’d switch it up.
“The ultra marathon group, everybody that does it is super, super supportive and everybody that would run along with us or run by us, they would ask him how old he was and they would just be blown away,” Jeff said. “It was really neat to get all that support and encouragement on the trail, it was quite special.”
Jeff said his son’s grandparents came to town just in time to see him run down the last stretch of the race, and his mom, brother and sister were there to cheer him on as well.
“It was kind of funny, when we were coming up to the finish, when you approach the bridge of the ski hill, I told him ‘hey buddy you go first and that way everyone can see you coming down the mountain.’”
“I had this that we would cross the finish line together, but he went in front of me and he totally took off and he finished about a minute ahead of me. So much for that vision of running across the line together,” he added with a big laugh.
After taking a few days to rest his very sore legs, Taylor-Vallance said looking back on the experience feels pretty great.
“It’s a big accomplishment for anybody, so just coming down the ski hill there, you just don’t want to slow down, you want to finish,” he said. “At that point you’ve been running for over nine hours and you want to just lay down.
“I just felt super accomplished. I had a small interview and they told me I was the youngest to ever do it, I was very happy with myself knowing that. Like, I’ve done an ultra marathon … yeah.”
Taylor-Vallance, who was born and raised in Kimberley, added he has no further big races planned but plans to sign up for Black Spur again next year. In the meantime he’ll spend time mountain biking, snowboarding and, of course, trail running.