17-year-old’s early exit opens chapter to running ambitions
By Darren Lum
Nick Phippen is one teenager with an undeniable desire to run down a dream.
At 17, he was the youngest runner taking on the 100 mile signature race at this year’s Haliburton Forest Ultra held several weeks ago.
Phippen said he believed he could run the 100 mile distance, which would demand close to 24 hours of endurance.
“I thought I could do it. I thought I’d try it and, I mean, it was a lot harder than I thought it was, but it was worth a shot and I’d definitely do it again,” he said.
One of the top runners in the field of the race told him to give it a few years of training and races before he makes another attempt.
His ambitious goal was upended a little past 6 p.m. when he had run 12 hours and close to 45 miles into his attempt during a descent on a single-track area between checkpoints two and one (checkpoints were in reverse sequence) that left him with a badly twisted ankle, which resulted in being slightly hampered about three weeks after he competed.
“It was just one of those weird rocks that I happen to step on and I just rolled it. I heard the crack and I was like, oh, man. That hurt,” he said.
The injury left him limping to checkpoint one.
“I tried to run it off, but it was pretty bad. I didn’t want to make it a lot worse than what it was,” he said.
He ended his attempt because he had concerns about permanent damage and how that could affect his running dreams.
The most difficult aspect to tackling this distance is the recognition of the time it takes. At 24 hours of running time, the Haliburton Highlands Secondary School alumnus said this distance is much more of a mental challenge than a physical one.
For all the ups and downs runners face figuratively and literally, the greatest challenge is battling the negative thoughts. Phippen said one negative thought can fester.
“A lot of it was just like in your head to keep going and keep running. It was hard to wrap my head around the fact that I had to run 24 hours. Like it was kind of crazy to think about once I started doing it. Your body goes numb after a certain point. You kind of just can’t really feel your legs and they’re just there. It’s a lot of in your head, like just gotta keep moving. Just keep moving,” he said, referring to the self talk that happens.
He’s thankful to all his supporters, which included his parents who provided food and other necessities, to friends, past coaches, and volunteers and other runners at the race.
It was a huge leap from his previous high of 50 kilometres, which he ran the year before at the same Haliburton Forest race. Last year, he ran the 50 kilometres in six hours and four minutes and 13 seconds and finished 11th overall.
His next course of action is to head out West this autumn to the mountains of British Columbia where he plans to compete and train in the hopes of one day making the national team. Part of his plan is to run a few 50 mile races, 50 kilometre races and marathons. He said he’s focused on taking small steps for now, but his dream is to represent Canada at the Olympics. For now, he’s looking at developing and is excited for what’s next. As far as another 100 mile race goes, he said at his age he will take a few years off so he can be fully prepared for another attempt.
There’s something special about running for Phippen that doesn’t compare to other sports (though running provides excellent conditioning benefits).
Getting to run in Haliburton County offers inspiration in addition to the enjoyment of the activity.
“It’s just a beautiful place to run through. It’s peaceful. It’s quiet. It’s no one but you and nature and it’s just great to experience,” he said.
Taking on a 100-mile race is all about the passion for running he has, but his advice for other young people on taking on any challenge is related to love and never giving up.
“If you’re being told to do it, you’re not gonna like it. So you definitely got to love it. But you got to try new things too. Not everything’s going to be easy, but if you don’t quit, you can do it. The best advice I can give is just to challenge yourself and have fun with it,” he said. “We’re young. I’ve got 30 to 40 more years of running, hopefully. That’s a lot of time for running and learning so you got to enjoy it and not quit now, right?