by Michelle Watrin
Eleven brave runners who wanted more than “just another marathon” completed 56 kilometres in Run for Water’s inaugural ultra marathon throughout Abbotsford’s Discovery Trail on Saturday.
The main portion of the event ran Sunday, as a record crowd of 4,254 runners participated in marathon, half-marathon, 10 km and 5 km distances.
An ultra marathon is classified as any run farther than a 43 km marathon, usually anywhere from 50 km to 100 km.
The 11-member group at the Run for Water event included Abbotsford city councillor Simon Gibson. World-renowned adventure runner Ray Zahab was the leader of the group, coaching, encouraging and cheering on all the runners through a scenic and warm route amongst the rural lands of Abbotsford.
“You know, it is really beautiful here,” said Zahab, a Chelsea, Ont. native. “And Run for Water is bar-none the best, most efficient charity group that I have ever seen in all of Canada. I believe in the people, the families, behind Run for Water and their cause that I will continue to come back to this event every year.”
Zahab had captivated 350 people who attended the Run for Water gala event the previous night, sharing how he had once been a two-pack-a-day smoker and through a series of decisions became a successful ultra runner when he turned 30.
Winner of several extreme ultras, Zahab went on to run across the Sahara Desert (documented in “Running the Sahara” with Matt Damon), set a world record in an unassisted trek to the South Pole, and start an educational, adventure organization, Impossible2Possible, that takes youth on extreme treks for educational purposes.
“It was priceless to run with Ray,” mother of three Jen Hockney-Kask shared. “He knew how to keep us moving toward our goal when things got rougher around the 40k mark in the heat of the day. He also helped me see the only limits are the ones you put on yourself and you really can continue to run when your legs feel like bricks.”
A big help to the runners was the surprising food Zahab brought along to share through the breaks every five kilometres. It wasn’t the typical gels found in stores for such events; Zahab had boiled loads of new potatoes in salty water, as well as picked up some smoked salmon for the breaks, all to be washed down with coconut water.
“For me, these are natural foods our body can digest easier than the items you buy in specialty stores,” Zahab explained.
“I was surprised about the potatoes and salmon,” said Randall Peters, co-founder of Run for Water and ultra participant. “But that along with his home-made sodium enhanced sports drink were given to us exactly when we needed it to keep going. This was really an amazing day with some fantastic people that brought some of us to tears when we crossed the finish line to a cheering crowd at package pickup after running together for six and a half hours. There were times I didn’t think I could finish, but it was great when we finally did.”
To earn a spot in the ultra, each runner raised over $1,500 to help villages in Ethiopia obtain clean water systems, the cause behind Run for Water. The group collectively raised over $20,000.
Tony Short from Pan Pacific Pet was one of the top fundraisers.
“My staff at Pacific Vet raised money for my ultra run,” Short said. “They made a big thermometer in the office tracking our money raised and it reached $3,600.”
“Having an office raise money in support of a runner is a great team building exercise and our staff are all very pumped about it,” Run for Water board member and Pacific Vet executive Phil Klassen explained.
Zahab already has plans for next year.
“I am coming back to expand on this ultra and continue to develop this part of the Run for Water weekend. This is something Abbotsford can continue to get excited about and support.”
For more photos documenting the ultra marathon, visit runforwater.ca.
Eleven runners took on the challenge of the Run for Water’s first ultra marathon on Saturday. (Menno Koehoorn photo)