Running through the heart of Ontario on a personal two week journey

Ultrarunning has changed gears, for the better, in this decade. An increasing number of runners are partaking in this distant cousin of the marathon. This has been exceptionally true in the most populated province in Canada. Ontario is home to the Ontario Ultra Series and it caters to more than five hundred ultrarunning enthusiasts who take part in a demanding twelve race series through the racing season.

Despite these annual challenges, some ultrarunners in the region, look beyond the typical races and undertake their own goals pushing their personal limits. These athletes embrace the varied terrain that is available in the vast province. Charlotte Vasarhelyi is one such runner who embarked on this personal journey in the summer of 2010.

Bruce Trail is an iconic running and hiking trail in Ontario that runs on the edge of the Niagara Escarpment. Stretching from Queenston in the south to Tobermory in the north, this 896km stretch of trail, has enthused runners and record breakers over the years. Some want to go faster, others want to go further, but Vasarhelyi wanted to go further faster.

Having been one of the most decorated 24-hour ultrarunners in Canada and having represented Canada on five-straight national world championship teams and one commonwealth championship team, Vasarhelyi is no stranger to pushing the limit on any given weekend. She has regularly held records over several courses in North America and is one of the most recognized faces in races on the continent. Now she holds the Bruce Trail Speed Record of 13 hours, 10 days, 51 minutes breaking the former record of 14 days, 10 hours. 



                              Vasarhelyi running with one of her pacers, Ken Niemimaa on the Bruce Trail (photo: Niemimaa)


I had the opportunity of speaking with Vasarhelyi recently and asked her on what led her to take on this amazing journey. She explained, “I wanted to embark on this adventure in part, to realize a new level of self discovery which only comes when you peel away all the layers, and you are able to see your true self” She added, “I wanted to use this journey to learn and grow, to become a better person.”

So I was curious if the Bruce Trail was an overnight phenomenon or was this an accomplishment that she had been envisioning over a few years. Vasarhelyi shared, “I have had the dream of completing the entire Bruce Trail for over a decade, having hiked and ran the trail most of my adult life.” It was in 2005 that she first sowed the seeds for embarking on this glorious adventure.

Logistically it is difficult to organize a 50 km or a 100 mile event. Theoretically it is a nightmare to plan a multi-day event. Vasarhelyi agreed and shed light on the plans of her event, “I originally planned my days utilizing the 45 maps that were developed as running legs for the Blaze (relay speed record in 2009), and crew access points and restocking was done at the end of each map/section, roughly 22-24 km average.” Having been part of the Blaze the Niagara Escarpment Trail Relay in 2009 assisted her in planning her own solo attempt.

Being part of several 24-hour events, I can appreciate the mental and physical toughness, needed in such an event. What I cannot imagine to comprehend is the overall game-plan needed for an attempt of multi-day magnitude. Vasarhelyi took me through her run, “The original plan was to cover the distance in 11 days. At the end of day 4 and going into day 5, I abandoned this plan as I found crew access was needed more regularly for restocking and total mileage per day changed at that point.” All runners realize the importance of re-evaluating goals during their race or between races. Multi-day events are no different from the shorter ones when it comes to re-strategizing.

Vasarhelyi continued on recollecting her thoughts from the run, “From day 5 we continuously planned and adjusted crew access areas and ran for most daylight hours, only running short sections in the dark either in the morning or night.” Heeding to what her body was saying and listening to the difficult terrain she adjusted her run adding, “Strategically this was the best as I always moved better in the early morning, and quite slowly, especially during the last few days into the night averaging about14-15 hours per day.”

Completing the daily run is only half the battle, recording the daily mileage and ensuring the accuracy of daily times is another task all together, considering when one is attempting a record. Vasarhelyi realized this very early in her planning process and assured that it was imperative to record everything. She explained, “Team Charlotte synchronized our watches at the start of the solo attempt in Tobermory to have an overall working time for the run.” Daily updates were also sent to blogs and websites that were following her progress.

She added, “Additionally, each day, we  synchronized our watches for the start, and logged start time, location, every pit stop location on the map (and times), and finishing time/location in my log book at the end of each day.”  Vasarhelyi had an outstanding crew working with her making sure she made it to the finish line.   

Running over 800 kilometres in 14 days requires some solid training. The run by itself is physically torturing but being on the trails for two weeks straight can be mentally unravelling. I asked Vasarhelyi how she prepared for such a journey and she said, “I ran a minimum of 100 miles every week (except 4) in the 12 months leading up to the event, and even had a few weeks at ~150 miles.” She also threw in some races to keep her competitive, “I entered races that I knew would be very challenging, that I normally would not have run and that anticipated I would rank poorly in, simply to build additional mental and emotional strength.”

So what does Canada’s veteran 24-hour runner have in the plans after accomplishing an amazing feat, “The first goal that I have is to achieve a distance over 200 km at a 24 hour event, and another is to break 18 hours for 100 miles.” Ensuring that this trail runner stays close to her routes she is planning on attempting another end-to-end trail run.

I asked Vasarhelyi on what she hoped to achieve after accomplishing this record. She said, “I strive to be a positive role model to others, and show people what you can do if you set your mind to something.” She added, “I truly believe that the only limitations that we have are the one’s that we put on ourselves.”

Having run on two national teams with Vasarhelyi, I have been a witness to her mental and physical toughness on a first hand basis. I was truly amazed by her record breaking run but not entirely surprised. I will be intrigued to see what this runner from Guelph, Ontario can achieve next time she ties her running shoes and hits the trails.


Nadeem Khan

Media and Communications Officer