James Beer

Grey Owl Trail FKT attempt raises money for KidSport

Things started getting tough for James Beer around the 26-kilometre mark.

It was the morning of Aug. 12 and the Saskatoon trail runner had roughly 13 kilometres to go in his attempt to reclaim the Fastest Known Time (FKT) for Prince Albert National Park’s Grey Owl Trail. But his pace was slowing and his mind was wandering.

“I was starting to mentally be less present in the moment so I really had to buckle down and start to focus on staying present, keeping my legs turning over at a nice rate,” Beer recalled.

“As physically exhausting as that run can be, it’s just as mentally exhausting. You’ve got to be present every step. You don’t just turn your mind off on that trail or you’ll hurt yourself. Every foot strike you have to be aware of exactly where you’re putting your foot.”

Despite the fatigue — and a few falls — Beer dug in and made it to the trailhead in a time of 3:13:01 — more than two minutes faster than the previous FKT. It amounts to a pace of about five minutes per kilometre for the 24-mile (38.6-kilometre) trail.

“I don’t know if I could have done it any faster,” Beer says. “I think I gave it everything I had so it felt good that I made it and I felt good that I put everything I had into it.”

James Beer
Saskatoon trail runner James Beer trains on Grey Owl Trail before his FKT attempt.

Beer grew up playing a variety of sports and was primarily a basketball player in high school and college. He started running for fitness in 2011 and eventually got hooked on trail running. He boasts an impressive resume of podium finishes, including a victory in the 2018 Deadfall 50 in the Qu’Appelle Valley — his first ever trail race.

For all those accolades, one of Beer’s proudest running accomplishments is running a half marathon every day in December 2020 to raise money for the Saskatoon Food Bank. “I really enjoyed the fact that I was able to push myself, but also inspire others to get outside their comfort zone and donate to a great cause,” Beer said.

So when planning his running season for 2022, Beer thought about what else he could do to give back. He had run Grey Owl Trail twice previously, including in 2019 when he set the FKT with a time of 3:28. When he learned someone had bested his FKT with a time of 3:15, Beer decided to try and reclaim the crown — and raise money for KidSport in the process.

“With my background growing up playing sports and the impact of sport on my life and just knowing that lots of kids don’t have that opportunity, I just thought it was a great fit,” he said.

There’s still time to donate to Beer’s campaign and KidSport has not yet tallied up how much his campaign has raised.

James Beer ran the Grey Owl Trail FKT in the Hoka Speedgoats.
James Beer ran the Grey Owl Trail FKT in the Hoka Speedgoats.

Beer credits his fast time with spending a lot of time on Grey Owl Trail and training on similar terrain. Though he lives in Saskatoon, he has family in the Waskesiu area and was able to spend several weeks this summer getting familiar with Grey Owl.

“In 2019 I was in good shape going into doing the trail — I just didn’t have the technical expertise or the understanding of how technical that trail was until I started to try and go fast on it,” he says. Training on the trail this summer has involved lots of hills and running over rocks, roots and downed trees.

“It’s a beautiful run,” Beer says. “Unfortunately, when you’re going that fast you don’t get to take in everything. But I don’t know that you’ll find a prettier trail in Saskatchewan. Even if you just go and hike it, it’s such a beautiful area. The scenery, the trees, the challenge of the up and down. It’s just a great place to go and explore.”

After celebrating his successful FKT attempt with a beer, Beer was back to running the next day and it was “training as usual” just four days later. He’s now looking ahead to the Beaver Flat 50 in Saskatchewan Landing on Sept. 17. After a disappointing DNF at that race last year, Beer has his eyes on the podium.