When Newfoundland’s Jef Combdon turned 40, he realized he needed a big change. That Easter, he laced up his first pair of running shoes since high school. Over the next 12 months, he and his wife Joanne trained and finished two full marathons and three halves. At first, they didn’t mind what surface they were running on. But as with many runners, road running became their gateway of further exploration into the trails.
Roller coaster trails
While living in Toronto, Combdon was mainly a road runner. But every chance he could, he was running at one of the York Regional Forest tracts north of the city. In 2012, he moved to St. John’s, Nfld., thinking he’d be running the trails even more. Yet, the smooth singletrack of Toronto trails were replaced with technical roots and rocks “with enough vertical gain and drop to make a rollercoaster at Canada’s Wonderland seem flat. After a few failed attempts, I decided that the trails in Newfoundland were too difficult for me to run.”
What once was an impossible concept, became the next feat. Three years later, Combdon registered for the East Coast Trail Ultra on a whim. The 50K race runs along the iconic East Coast Trail in Newfoundland. The very trails that seemed too difficult became Combdon’s muse. “I used the upcoming race as a way to force myself to overcome the challenging terrain. That spring and summer, I hit the trails two to three times a week, gradually turning that fear and disbelief into a passion… the sense of accomplishment, running further or longer each week, achieving something that I previously regarded as impossible.”
“I discovered that not only were the trails in Newfoundland extremely fun and exciting to run, it was as much a mental workout as it was a physical workout to run them.” Combdon also discovered a new life passion. His love for running, specifically trail running, grew beyond what he previously thought possible. He decided to forever hang up his road shoes (other than the odd notable road race, of course).
Adventures before races
Combdon prefers adventures over races. His one and only trail race was was the tough Pike’s Peak mountain race in Colorado. Just one year after he began trail running, Combdon and his wife Joanne climbed 2,382 metres, finishing 4,202 metres above sea level. With limited oxygen supply, they completed their biggest accomplishment to date as a team.
This year, Combdon has big goals. “I’ve been turned on to the notion of doing self-contained, multi-day trail runs. I’d first like to run south to north through the Avalon Wilderness Reserve. As a member of the Qalipu First Nation, it would be special for me to run on the same ground as the southernmost herd of Woodland Caribou, though it will be a slog as there isn’t really a trail to follow.”
After 19 years of marriage, Jef and Joanne discovered something they were compatible at– “running along a trail that follows a picturesque and rugged coastline for hundreds of kilometres, full of interesting rock formations, sea stacks, natural geysers, wildlife, and waterfalls. With an endless supply of blueberries. Every day, 365 days a year, trail running is an adventure for me.”