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Monarch Ultra Relay goes short for 2020 with 50K charity run

The event has already raised more than $3,000 for the Cerro Pelón Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary in Macheros, Mexico

This time last year, runners in the Monarch Ultra Relay were in the middle of a 4,300K run from Peterborough, Ont., to Macheros, Mexico, following the migration path of the monarch butterfly. This year, Monarch Ultra co-founder Carlotta James and her husband Tim Haines won’t be going nearly as far, but they will still be running a 50K ultramarathon in Peterborough on November 1 to raise money for Butterflies and Their People, a nonprofit in Macheros. James only recently started accepting donations for this event, but she has already surpassed her fundraising goal of $3,000, and the run’s GoFundMe page now sits at more than $3,800, 100 per cent of which will be donated to the nonprofit. 

Even without a global health crisis, the Monarch Ultra Relay wouldn’t have taken place this year. “We’re going to do this relay every two years, because it takes us that long to plan everything,” James says. Planning a run that sees participants run through three countries is a lot of work, and James says they “faced so many problems” last year, from insurance issues to troubles with vehicle rentals (they ended up buying an RV for the runners) and more. While COVID-19 didn’t affect the Monarch Ultra this fall, James has already reworked the 2021 relay so it will align with coronavirus guidelines. 

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“We’ve had a change of plans for next year,” she says. “Things are really bad in U.S. and Mexico, and since most of our run is in those two countries, we came to the decision that we need to stay in Ontario. We will be running along the Waterfront, Bruce and Trans-Canada trails.” Instead of running 4,300K like they did last year, James and the other relay runners will cut the distance in half and run 2,100K.

So why run a 50K this year if there wasn’t going to be a Monarch Ultra in 2020 anyway? Because, like so many other charities and nonprofits, Butterflies and Their People has been struggling during the pandemic. This nonprofit helps millions of monarch butterflies by preserving their habitat in Macheros at the Cerro Pelón Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary. Unfortunately, the sanctuary has been closed due to COVID-19, which put hundreds of people out of work. As James notes on the event GoFundMe page, “Economic desperation pushes locals into illegal logging, making the work of the Butterflies and Their People guardians more important than ever.” She says the annual salary of a “forest guardian” is around $4,000 to $5,000, and although her fundraiser won’t help pay everyone who works at the sanctuary, “every little bit helps.” 

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James says she is “completely blown away by the support so far. It’s surpassed my wildest dreams.” She points out that running and raising money to preserve the habitats of monarch butterflies essentially doubles as working to support humans, too. “We need a healthy ecosystem,” she says. “The more we work on conservation, the better off we’ll all be.” 

A couple of other runners will join James and Haines for 10K or 20K legs, but it is by no means a mass participation event, and James says they will social distance throughout the run. The run’s GoFundMe page will be live until November 2. To learn more about the Monarch Ultra and Butterflies and Their People and to show your support by donating, click here

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