As Ben Weir approached the starting line of the provincial cross country championship race in Prince George on Saturday, one thing crossed his mind.
“How to separate myself from the (300) runners. It was pretty crowded and the trail narrowed fast,” said the Oak Bay teen.
Within the first 100 metres Weir was clipped from behind and tripped to the ground. His left shoe was nearly pulled off, but not quite. Before he could adjust it, he was up and running.
“(The shoe) was half on, my heel was out, and I thought I could figure it out as I went. But that wasn’t happening, so I knocked it off.”
It was one degree celsius, with most of the 6.7 kilometre trail ahead of him. A trail consisting of ice, rocks and tree limbs, as well as some mud and snow.
Despite falling and going with one shoe, Weir surged to catch the lead pack, meaning he spent a good amount of the limited fuel a runner can expend in a race.
The 17-year-old finished second overall, 15 seconds back of winner Tim Delcourt from Surrey. When Delcourt learned what Weir went through to finish second, he tracked him down, shook his hand and gave him a hug, said Weir’s coach, Paul O’Callaghan of Glenlyon Norfolk School.
“I can’t emphasize enough how important the proper footwear is in a race,” O’Callaghan said. “We go over a lot of things before the race, footwear selection and identifying every possible scenario so you can be ready. And we even mentioned what to do if you lose a shoe.”
The key is not to panic, which is exactly what O’Callaghan shouted to Weir in their quick opportunity to chat on the first of the three laps.
“I said, ‘I lost my shoe,’” Weir said. O’Callaghan’s response was to, “stay composed, stay focused.
“A lot of athletes would spend energy worrying and either drop out or drop in the standings. The key is refocus on the task at hand,” the coach added.
Crucial to Weir’s success was his ability to keep his rhythm, which he managed to do despite running in just a sock.
“There were some jagged rocks, especially on the downhills, which is where I lost time, but mostly it was snow and mud, and my foot was pretty numb,” Weir said.
“In 30 years of Olympics and world championships I’ve never seen anything like it,” O’Callaghan said.
The most refreshing moment of the race for Weir was catching running mate Liam Kennel of Oak Bay High. The running mates finished one-two at the recent Island championships and managed to stay within striking distance of Delcourt until the final kilometre.
“We knew at that point it was all or nothing with Delcourt getting away, so we went for it,” Weir said.
Kennel came in third, six seconds back of Weir, with Thomas Getty of Mount Douglas Secondary in seventh. All three train with Keith Butler in the elite after-school program and are headed to the national cross country club championships at Jericho Beach on Nov. 24.
Weir is currently weighing his post-secondary options as a cross country and track and field student-athlete in Canada and the U.S.A., with an eye on engineering.