Jerry Hughes of Victoria is preparing to run for a very long time in just a few weeks. Starting on November 15, he’ll be running to try to break the 129-year-old Canadian six-day record of 870K, which David Bennett ran in New York in 1891. Since Bennett set that record, many runners have tried to beat it, and while some have gotten close (most notably Michel Careau of Quebec, who ran 868K in 1993), none have been successful. Hughes says he believes he can be the one to finally go farther than Bennett did, and he’s going to go for it at the One Track Mind Ultra in Duncan, B.C., while raising money for the Help Fill a Dream Foundation.
Hughes’s running history
Hughes didn’t get into running until 2014. His first race was a 10K, and after that, he says he was hooked. “A month later, I did my first half-marathon in 1:40,” he says. In 2015, he ran his first marathon, posting a 3:11, and then he decided to jump to ultra distances. His first ultra was the Squamish 50-miler in 2016. He followed that race with a 100-miler in California, where he had hoped to run under 24 hours. He was successful, not only posting a sub-24 result, but sub-20, finishing in sixth place in a little over 18 hours.
“It was at this point that I realized I had a bit of a gift for this,” Hughes says. Since then, he has run multiple ultramarathons, from 100-milers to 24-hour races and backyard runs, and now, he’s going for his first six-day race. When COVID-19 hit and shut everything down, he decided to raise money for the Help Fill a Dream Foundation, a charity that supported Hughes and his siblings (all of whom live with Gardner’s syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that can lead to colon cancer) when they were younger. With that in mind, he reached out to his friends Lisa Large and Josh Heath to organize the One Track Mind run.
One Track Mind
When Hughes came up with this idea, he decided he wanted to run a 144-hour (six days) event to raise $144,000 for Help Fill a Dream and to support children and families who are living with rare illnesses. His primary goal is to raise as much money as possible for the foundation, and while he knows $144,000 is a lofty bar that he has set for himself, he says he believes it’s reachable. Really, any amount of money will help the charity, which Hughes notes has struggled since the start of the pandemic (along with most other charities worldwide).
Hughes credits Large and Heath, both of whom are race directors for the event, with doing most of the work ahead of the One Track Mind. Runners themselves, Large and Heath met Hughes through the sport, and Large has been on Hughes’s support crew for several of his ultramarathons. Large and Heath have worked as race directors before (Large runs the Vancouver Island Trail Running Series), and they say their main focus is always fundraising. When Hughes approached them with his idea for a 144-hour race that doubled as a $144,000 fundraiser (hopefully), they were in.
“We started building the race, but because of the pandemic, we have very limited participants,” Large says. This will make fundraising more difficult than a regular mass participation race, but she says she isn’t discouraged. “We’ll do most of the fundraising by telling the world who Jerry is and his amazing story, plus the story of the record as well.”
To make the race a bigger event, the trio of Large, Heath and Hughes added 24-hour and 48-hour races to the six-day run. They hope to have five runners in the six-day event (so far there are four), and 15 in each of the other two. In addition to the number of participants they’re allowed to have on the track due to COVID-19, there will be contact tracing for everyone at the run, hand-washing stations at the venue (which will be outdoors at the Cowichan Sportsplex in Duncan) and a number of other COVID-19 guidelines they’re following, all of which adhere to the provincial rules.
“It hasn’t been difficult to plan with these COVID restrictions, just different,” Heath says. “It’s more about the creativity of how to work within the new guidelines.”
As for the run itself, Hughes isn’t aiming to run any farther than he has to, and going into the race, he just wants to beat the 870K record. “What I’ve learned from previous mistakes is that I can’t go for something that’s so out of reach, because it might limit my actual race,” he says. “This is my first six-day race, but it won’t be my last.” He has a tight schedule that he plans to keep over the first three days to get him to a little more than 500K. After that, he’ll have room for error when things inevitably start to get tough in the final three days. Ultimately, whether he breaks the record is not nearly as important as his main goal for the run.
“The reason I’m doing this race is for Vancouver Island kids and families with rare diseases,” Hughes says. “I want to raise the money for them and to show them that, even though it’s a difficult year, there’s someone there for them. I want to run 144 hours for the different kids on the island and to hopefully inspire them.”