Run with It: No Sleep ‘Til Brockville

Group Picture of Runners

Introducing our guest writer Parm (He/Him; @toofastforthetroll). Parm embarked on a journey of camaraderie with some running friends not only to test the limits of running but also to strengthen friendships through a mutually founded love of running. Born and raised in India, Parm came to Canada after high school . He started running in 2018. He has bonded and become a staple in the running community especially with the We Run North York run crew. At present, he is training for a 5Km race with the pace project group.

After I ran the Georgina half marathon in October 2021, I was looking for something to do while taking a break from running. I watched some guys running from Toronto to Chicago and then running the Chicago marathon. I wanted to join them but it was too late at the time. I told my friends about this and their first thought was why? I guess the answer to that would be I was bored of solo running and training all summer, doing the same thing every week. This relay sounded like a good experience to have with friends. It was less about running more about bonding and mateship

Fast forward to May 21, 2022. Somehow I managed to recruit 7 other runners from WRNY(We Run North York run group). We departed from Bayview Village Mall in North York. On our itinerary was a non-stop ultra relay over the Victoria Day long weekend, traveling 345 km to Brockville. The adventure was divided into 35 legs, with each runner covering between 8 to 12 kilometers per leg. In total, the runners each covered 45-50 km over a span of 32 hours, all without sleep. Over 50 runners from the WRNY crew showed up to support the send-off for the relay team. 

It’s only crazy if you do it alone

There are a bunch of ultra relays people do to challenge themselves and to test the limits of the human body. Our relay was not about competing, going solo for long distances or breaking some records. It was more about supporting each other and having fun; each runner of the relay brought their own strengths to the table – whether it be a combination of pace, distance, and/or surface – and were all united by the desire to push our limits while having fun times with friends. One of the runners was even at the tail end of his annual 21×21 challenge (running 21 half marathons over 21 days). 

Initially the plan was to run to Sudbury, but there were some safety concerns around the route, so we switched to running east along the lake and one of our crew members suggested Brockville, home to the Brockville tunnel of lights which also happens to be the Oldest Canadian railway tunnel. From there, the destination was decided and the route planning began.

We’ll Figure it Out

The idea for the ultra relay was first sparked in November and we started asking people to join our venture. By March, we only had 3 people sign up and so we considered changing the destination to accommodate a shorter distance (e.g. Niagara). However, things started looking up in April as the temperatures got warmer; interest in the relay began to gain traction and some new and familiar faces hopped on board. All throughout this time, we had a bunch of Zoom calls to figure out the routes and logistics of our relay. Luckily, our team had some great planners with exceptional Excel skills that made the whole plan a lot easier to follow. Two of our crew members offered their cars for the journey and we brought some food and snacks along to keep us going. Cars really helped us carry our dry clothes, food, and water. The idea was runners could take a nap or rest in the car while waiting for their next leg and also at night it was helpful to have a car driving close to the runner for visibility and runner’s safety issues. Just prior to the weekend, there was rain and thunder in the forecast and so we made sure to pack enough running clothes for all kinds of weather. 

Thunder and Lightning

Photo Credit: Parm

After several months of planning the relay, it was finally time to bring it to fruition. We ran our first leg with our amazing and supportive crew We Run North York, with 50 runners who showed up to kick off the relay with us. The first leg was straight east on Sheppard Ave and the crew ran with us until they felt comfortable and then turned back around to head home. After the first leg, the grueling heat and humidity began to take its toll on our runners, especially since the route was very open with no shade or cover. From the scorching heat, the weather took a turn and we were then faced with thunder and lightning. One of our cars found shelter early, but the other car was stuck on the road, where all kinds of debris were flying around, trees were falling and power lines were catching fire. Even as we drove slowly and carefully through the storm, we saw lots of cars pulled over, and so we decided to pause and wait for weather conditions to improve before continuing on our way. During this time, one of our runners was stuck on the trail in the middle of nowhere, halfway through his leg. We were so worried about him despite knowing that he is one of the toughest humans you will have ever met. Fortunately, he found shelter under one of the nearby railway tunnels and was safe from trees and other flying debris. Nonetheless, when you run and get sweaty and have to wait for an hour in the cold wind, it is not very cool. To make things worse, his phone almost died and he called us with only 2 percent battery to find him and give him a battery pack once the storm calmed down. Things could have been a lot worse, but after the worst of the storm passed, we got back on track and we continued to push forward towards our destination. As time passed, the group pushed even harder – the pace started to pick up and soon enough, we were creeping ahead of our original schedule despite the setback from the storm. We thought we would slow down overnight or the next day, but we were so inspired by each other and never slowed down. Most of the legs went as planned except for bad weather, some cramps, bad lighting at night and not to mention drunk drivers. All these challenges pushed us to the limits and made us even run faster with early finish. One of our runners was supposed to leave early for work on Monday but because we were ahead of predicted time and the group’s positive spirits he decided to stick around till the end.

Dream team gets it done

Regardless of bad weather, sleep deprivation, bad food and other barriers thrown at our group, we pushed through. All things just seem to work out when you have a great team and people who are willing to work together no matter how tough the situation is. At the end of it all, we finished ahead of schedule and took some nice photos at the Brockville tunnel and of our group to commemorate our achievements.

After our mission was accomplished, we celebrated at a fish and chips bar like true lads. Everyone had a great time and was pleased with their efforts. It was  an amazing  bonding experience with exceptional support from our running friends and family.  We cannot wait to see what our next adventure has in store for us.

Lead Photo by Parm