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Relay fundraiser looks to cover length of Canada with 205-marathon event

This cross-Canada relay starts in Victoria and heads all the way to St. John's, N.L.

With so many cancelled races in the past 12 months, and the possibility of more to come, runners around the country and the world have created and completed a wide variety of personal challenges. Some of these challenges have grown from small runs to group events, which is how a solo marathon turned into a cross-country relay for Zoe Clarke. Clarke, who lives in Fergus, Ont., has organized a relay from Victoria right across Canada to St. John’s, N.L., which will feature 205 marathons. This 8,000-kilometre journey, dubbed the 205 Marathons Virtual Challenge, will begin on May 17, and Clarke is looking to fill relay legs from coast to coast in the coming months. 

Creating the challenge

Before the pandemic hit, Clarke lived in Toronto (she’s currently working on her PhD in computational biology at U of T), where she started running regularly. She completed one half-marathon (the STWM Half-Marathon in October 2019) before races everywhere were cancelled, but the next few runs she had signed up for — including a race in May that would have been her first marathon — never happened. 

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An injury around the same time as those race cancellations sent her into a bit of a lull, but she continued to train, and she found that she particularly enjoyed her long runs. “I decided to work back up to marathon fitness,” she says. She started training more seriously and ended up running a solo marathon on back roads around Fergus in September. 

“After doing that, I thought about how easy it is to create a goal like that for yourself,” Clarke says. Around the same time, advertisements for the Terry Fox Run were everywhere, and Clarke saw many news stories recounting the Canadian icon’s Marathon of Hope. “He ran on freeways, but I thought there could maybe be a way to run on backroads across Canada.” 

Just to see if it could be done, Clarke started looking at a map of Canada and tracing a route solely on backroads. When she told friends and family about her idea, the response was overwhelmingly positive, and she began to consider turning it into an official event. 

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“With races not happening, there’s no motivation to go anywhere and run,” Clarke says. “I thought, ‘What if I made this a destination-oriented event to bring people together across the country and run this relay?'” Working on mapping out the route (which Clarke says was a very long and tiring job), she eventually covered the length of Canada, connecting the two coasts with 205 marathons. 

With her route ready, Clarke set dates for the event and planned on arranging two marathons per day. Each leg has a specific starting point, and Clarke hopes to see every section of the cross-Canada journey run in order from start to finish. The relay is scheduled to begin on May 17 in Victoria and finish in St. John’s on August 27. Clarke also notes that, while the event is called the 205 Marathons Challenge, participants can run a 10K or half-marathon if a full 42.2K relay leg is too much for them. 

Fundraising efforts 

When she came up with the idea to create an official event, Clarke decided on adding a fundraising aspect to the relay. “I ended up looking into a lot of Canadian charities that exist and narrowed it down to five that I thought were underrepresented,” she says. Those five charities, which can be viewed on the event website, cover a wide variety of causes, from mental health to wildlife conservation and more, and donations can be made when registering for the relay. 

To learn more about the 205 Marathons Virtual Challenge and to register for the event, click here.

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