How far could you run in an hour? How about a day? How about six days?
The Canadian record for a six-day race has stood for nearly 130 years, but if Jerry Hughes has his way, it will fall this month at the Cowichan Sportsplex during the One Track Mind Ultramarathon.
An experienced ultramarathoner from Victoria, Hughes is aiming to take down the record set by David Bennett in 1891. Bennett ran 540 miles (870 km) in New York City, and Hughes is going to try for 555 miles (just over 893 km) between Nov. 15 and 20.
“It’s not an easy task, I know,” Hughes says with a laugh. “I will be running an absurd amount, for sure. I wouldn’t really call it a run so much as a shuffle.”
This isn’t just about seeing how far he can run. Hughes is also on a mission to raise money for the Help Fill a Dream Foundation, an organization that supports families whose children have been diagnosed with life-threatening conditions. Hughes, now 40, was a beneficiary of the foundation 25 years ago when he and his siblings, went on a dream vacation to Disneyland. He is hoping to raise $144,000 for the foundation with his ultramarathon. That’s $1,000 for every hour of the event, and he will be running each hour for a different kid.
“I’ve done a few other things for Help Fill a Dream,” he says. “But this one is the biggie.”
COVID-19 has taken a toll on Help Fill a Dream, Hughes points out.
“Not only are kids not getting to go on dream vacations because of coronavirus, but they’re also not getting donations,” he explains.
In order for the record to be official, at least two other runners have to take part, so to accomplish that and to raise money, organizers Lisa Large and Joshua Heath have opened the event to other runners. Five runners have committed to all six days, and others have signed on for 24- or 48-hour sessions as solo runners or teams. Entries are limited due to COVID-19 restrictions, but a few spots are still available on the One Track Mind Ultramarathon website.
“There has been so much local support, so many runners doing 24 hours just to be a part of it,” Hughes says.
Hughes is living with Gardner’s syndrome, a rare disease of the colon with a life expectancy of 35 to 45 years. Hughes’s father died of Gardner’s syndrome just before his 34th birthday, and his own kids, now nine, six and 22 months, have a 50 per cent chance of inheriting the condition.
“My goal in life is to show them that anything is possible,” Hughes says.
Hughes had to wear a colostomy bag for a year when he was 13, before he had surgery for a j-pouch, which bypasses the colon. He still needs checkups every year. That hasn’t kept him from being athletic. Hughes’s personal best is 234.5 km (145 miles) in 24 hours, which is the Canadian record for the 35-39 age group. In June of this year, he took part in a virtual race “across Nova Scotia,” in which he ran 792 km over 14 days, while still working at his job as a chef at Cherries Breakfast Bistro in Victoria.
This is the first time he’s tried a full-on six-day ultra, though.
“I’m taking the big plunge,” Hughes admits, noting that he has run just over 3,000 since June 1 to prepare for this month’s race.
Hughes won’t be running for 24 hours all six days, but close. On the first day, he plans to run for 20 hours, and wants to hit the 125-mile mark. If all goes well, he will hit 225 total miles on day two, and 315 miles on day three. He will slow his pace after that, and plans to average 80 miles a day over the last three days to total 555. When Hughes isn’t running, Galaxy Motors in Duncan has loaned an RV for Hughes to sleep in.
“Day one and day two will be serious,” he says. “After that, I’ll be a happier guy.”
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