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Athletes who decide to take part in an ultra marathon have to decide if they want a support team helping them or not. Sundridge resident Kip Arlidge, who established a new ultra marathon record for the Bruce Trail by completing the 890-kilometre distance in just more than nine days, opted to go with a support team by his side. That team from start to finish was made up of Maddy McDonald and Eric MacPherson, two fellow students he met and became friends with while he studied at Queen's University. The support team plays a vital role in an ultra marathon like the Bruce Trail. Most of the supplies are kept in a van and one member drives the vehicle to the next checkpoint while the other sometimes would run or hike with Arlidge to keep him on track and then the support team would swap roles. Arlidge said having a pacer with him on the trail became important in the latter stages of the trip when all three had become “sleep deprived and not mentally sharp as we should have been.” Catching up to the van gave everyone a brief break where they could drink water or also have a small bite to eat. The support team also served a critical role on Day 7 of the trip when 24 hours of heavy rain hit. There was no stopping and Arlidge made his way through muddy conditions, soaking his running shoes and socks regularly. He had four pairs of shoes and started with 12 pairs of socks, with the goal of switching them off regularly to avoid blisters. When the rain arrived, one of the support team members drove to a nearby department store and bought two dozen pairs of socks because the first dozen were drenched. The running shoes would still be wet and all stops were pulled to make them as dry as possible so as to not hamper Arlidge's run. Running and hiking nearly 900 kilometres in just more than nine days also means considerable travel at night. That's where the support team also proved invaluable. While one member would drive to the next checkpoint, the other would run, usually ahead of Arlidge, with both wearing headlamps. “This allowed me to take a more passive role,” Arlidge said. “They did the navigation and I would often just follow them. So I didn't have to be super mentally sharp and I could stay focused on managing my body instead of paying attention to where I was going.” Arlidge says ultra marathon runners are very competitive, but there is also great camaraderie in this elite class of runners and it was nice to see some of these athletes run alongside him for short distances as he passed through Collingwood, Hamilton and Orangeville. His parents, Trish and Colin Arlidge of Huntsville, came out to morally support their son when he was passing through Collingwood, as did his wife, Megan. On Day 3 Arlidge met up with another ultra marathon runner on the Bruce Trail. This was Steve Kenny, a 41-year-old resident of Owen Sound who had himself completed the journey in just more than 12 and a half days. They chatted for a few minutes before both resumed their respective treks. An element Arlidge always had to be mindful of when traversing the trail was falling and breaking an ankle, but using ski poles reduced this risk. Dealing with the midday heat from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. was a constant factor, and Arlidge said he got through this obstacle every day by continually telling himself the heat would pass as the day wore on. Food was another important consideration, and Arlidge changed how he ate as the trip progressed. “The first day I tried eating on the go because it was more time efficient,” he said. “But I was feeling nauseous and was not adjusting well. So for the rest of the trip I would just eat during the short breaks I took when meeting up with the van.”
Arlidge says something he was expecting to happen along the trip as he became more sleep deprived was having hallucinations.
"I've talked to ultra marathon endurance athletes and it's quite a common experience from what I've been told," he said.
"But I didn't have any hallucinations and I don't know if I'm disappointed or not." Arlidge told The Nugget it would have been a good idea for him to have done a “practice run” of three to five days of ultra marathon running to better prepare for the Bruce Trail. This is something he strongly recommends to other runners. Anyone who has taken on the Bruce Trail as an ultra marathoner has done so with a support team. There is no known record of anyone attempting the 890 kilometres unsupported, where you are truly on your own and carry everything yourself. Charlotte Vasarhelyi of Kitchener, however, conquered the Bruce Trail in just under 17 days in the self-supported category, which means no person helps you but you purchase supplies along the way. Arlidge found the Bruce Trail journey definitely pushed his limits, and once he resumes competitive running, likely next summer, he will again use other events to push his limits still further.
Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The North Bay Nugget