by: Chantal Warriner
18 Women from Ontario, Canada with One Goal
901.5 km / 563 Miles (with detours at time of relay)
The Bruce Trail was built in the year 1960 and is known as Canada’s oldest trail. It also happens to be Canada’s longest marked footpath and provides access to the magnificent Niagara Escarpment. It is entirely built and maintained by volunteers who share a dream to secure the continuous conservation corridor that stretches along the escarpment from Tobermory to Niagara Falls, Ontario.
The trail attracts thousands of outdoor enthusiasts every year. It’s only logical that these hikers and runners would want to set end to end records. Isn’t that human nature?! There are men’s/women’s solo records, ladies team records and coed team records. Not forgetting the many others who share bragging rights.
On May 5th, 2016, a friend of mine emailed me about this “once in a lifetime opportunity to set a Bruce Trail ladies relay record”. The email was very motivating. It stated things like “YOU could be a Bruce Trail Record holder!; Are you in? Will you break the record with us??” How could anyone say no to that, right?!. Needless to say, the team was built and runners committed very quickly.
The fastest known time (FKT) for the ladies relay we were trying to break was reported at 5 days, 17 hours and 56 minutes. Our team, named Wild Bruce Chase, was hungry to break the record. The organizer of the event, Erin Dasher, Ontario’s 5 Peaks Race Director, had tirelessly planned and meticulously detailed the logistics of the end to end continuous relay event.
With almost 70 legs ranging from 5 to 15 miles, each runner spent hours researching their routes and maps in order to efficiently run the terrain and perform exchanges without a hitch. Team members also ran group and route specific training runs to prepare. This preparation, in addition to fitness and generous resources highly influenced the outcome of this richly rewarding adventure.
Less than two short months later, we began on July 1st, 2016. There’s something to be said about beginning such an epic attempt on our national Canadian holiday Canada Day. We were feeling patriotic, confident but also nervous to see how the long weekend was going to be executed. If you’re picturing a beautiful morning of blue skies, birds tweeting and a big orange sun cresting the horizon, you couldn’t be more wrong. Our relay began at 5 am on July 1st, but the 1st of our 18 courageous ladies started the relay and 400m into the leg, it began to treacherously downpour! We began the 563 Mile Fastest Known Time attempt and our runner couldn’t see more than 10 feet in front of her. Great!! It got real, real fast!! Gulp.
The following days past in a blink of an eye. I got to know my teammates at base camps during the shifts I wasn’t running. It’s amazing to share such an experience with a very diverse group of women. 18 women in close quarters for 4 days, sounds like a setup to a bad punch line, but in all honesty, we got along pretty darn well considering the high mileage, sleep deprivation, long shifts, dehydration and calorie deficits.
These bonds will never be broken. I sincerely love and respect every one of them. The funny stories from the weekend are endless. However, most are probably not appropriate to mention on a blog post. The team will keep those close to our hearts.
This bracelet went from runner to runner and travelled the entire trail. Yes, it was pretty crunchy and very smelly at the end.
Here I am on Day 2 sneaking in a cat nap in between runner exchanges. (photo credit: Denise Brady) It wasn’t long before my mat was nicknamed “big blue”. I don’t think I slept more than 24 hours at a time at base camp, so these few moments of stolen slumber were very welcomed.
There was always a runner on the trail. The weekend highs of 86F (without humidity) brought some challenges, but we continued to the push the pace! Some of the ladies have never ran at night before. Luckily the only bear was seen in the daylight. Every night runner tied up their shoe laces, put on their hydration vests, sported their headlights and ran their butts off without a word of complaint. Truly commendable sportsmanship. No one wanted to let the team down!
So what was the motivation behind the incredible challenge that brought runners through water, mud, slick rocks, uneven terrain with views of breathtaking escarpments? It’s quite simple really: “We’re just a group looking for a good challenge!” says Dasher. Although the team is diverse in age, experience, and geographical location, all the women on the team would agree that we were are all looking for a great challenge while having fun along the way. And that my running friends, is what we did! Hands down!
Runner coming through to the last exchange in Niagara Falls. Most of team then ran the last 4 miles together to finish the 563 Mile relay in the early morning hours of Tuesday, July 5th, 2016.
A well deserved celebration: official finish time of 4 days, 1 hour and 39 min to claim the Ladies Relay Fastest Known Time. How do I feel about this you ask? I’m ecstatic of course!! It’s amazing to think what strong women with a similar goal could accomplish. It’s so surreal!
There isn’t any doubt that each lady was an essential part of the success of the relay, but I can’t go on without mentioning the charitable support demonstrated on this Canada Day Long Weekend. Many spouses, parents, family members, training partners, and club members generously donated their time to assist in cooking, driving, pacing, and supporting the team. Also, the outpouring of support these amazing companies (left) gave us was paramount. Without this support, our journey wouldn’t have been as successful! On behalf of WBC, from the bottom of our hearts, thank you so very much to every single one of you and your team members! We are beyond grateful!
So what’s next? I look forward to the next challenge our Wild Bruce Chase will tackle. (There’s been plenty of talk, so stay tuned). On a personal level, perhaps an attempt to break the Women’s Solo Bruce Trail’s FKT record. Cough, cough… ;P