Will Harper-Penrose; ultra runner, coach and stay at home dad, shares his experience as a new parent amidst a pandemic - and how the sanctuary of nature has created the most powerful bond between father and son. 


Twenty twenty was a weird year for everyone.

Some struggled with job loss and drastic changes to their lives, while others were furloughed and just moaned about being stuck at home with their children. Between us, my wife and I dealt with all sorts during the early days of the pandemic. I quit my teaching job right before COVID hit and the schools shut, meaning I spent several months doing odd jobs; delivering prescriptions, tutoring and generally struggling. Hayley worked from home and like everyone else, lost the ability to socialise and see her family as they live hundreds of miles away. Despite the turbulent times, we managed to grow a baby who was born in the autumn, when pandemic life had become almost normal. Throughout the pregnancy lots of doors were closed. Antenatal classes didn’t happen, appointments were mum only and even then they were so rushed, Hayley felt as though she didn’t know what was happening half the time. Seeing your baby for the first time through a FaceTime call is a strange experience. Dads were allowed at the birth by September, so I was able to be there and welcome Lowen River into the world.  

The world shutting down wasn’t entirely a bad thing though. People rediscovered the outdoors and it became normal to see cyclists and hikers enjoying nature and exploring their local woodlands. Being someone who has always spent more time outside than in, I felt like I was beginning to share my world with a lot more people. In an optimistic way, I’d like to think that more people enjoying nature will mean it’s better looked after and it’ll be in better shape for my son as he grows and finds his way through it.

I remember the first time we took Lowen for a nature walk, tucked into my jacket for a listening trip along our nearest river. He squeaked as I walked and I must have checked a hundred times that he was ok and still having a nice time. Since that walk he’s become a lot more aware of his surroundings and loves to jump in puddles (who doesn’t?), search rock pools for choice stones, point out every bird that flies overhead and run into the sea at full speed regardless of the temperature or his clothing. Not having baby classes to take him to left us with little choice other than to get outside and explore. There is only so much Hey Duggee you can watch after all.
We are spoiled for adventures, living in Cornwall. We can be on the south coast for the morning hike, where he’ll sleep in the backpack amongst the dawn chorus and dewy trees, then be running wild on the sandy beaches of the north coast in the afternoon, trying our best to empty the energy tank for a peaceful evening.

Lowen is now 18 months old and does much of his exploring under his own steam, running up and down hills, through steams, carrying sticks and throwing stones. He is a nature baby and doesn’t know anything else. I probably should socialise him a bit more, now that baby groups are back in action, but I get so much out of seeing him explore that I’m reluctant to give up even a second of it. Hayley and I decided to flip the usual parenting roles as it suits our work and lives better to do it this way, meaning I have all week to spend with him. We’ve been together, in this setup for six months and I wouldn’t change it for the world. In a way, we’ve got the pandemic to thank for the amount of time we’ve been able to spend together.

We gave Lowen the middle name ‘River’ to help him find his way through life, as rivers do, meandering through nature, growing as they flow to their destination wherever that might be.
Lowen River, Tiny Explorer 🌱
Follow @will.h.p for ultra running inspiration and how to smash parenting in nature.