Some people know him for his art and others know him for his breakdancing, but if you’re a runner in Toronto, you probably recognize Bernard Abarquez for his active involvement in the city’s running community. Since he began his running journey, the Toronto local has now completed multiple marathons and half-marathons, run as a pacer for several more, finished one 100-miler and competed in countless other distances. This year, in honour of his 42nd birthday, Abarquez has taken on Project 42, a task that will have him running 42 marathons in 42 weeks.
Like many athletes’ journeys, Abarquez’s foray into running began as a supplementary activity: he took up running as cross-training for his primary focus, Thai kickboxing. Although he would participate in Toronto’s Sporting Life 10K every year, he had no specific training plan apart from short weekly jogs. It wasn’t until he decided not to pursue a competitive career in Thai boxing that he transferred his efforts and energy to running.
“I enjoyed the art, I enjoyed the training,” he explains, “but I didn’t want to get into a fighting career.”
He started taking running more seriously in 2010, but it was a snowboarding accident in 2015 that changed his mindset toward the sport. After eight months of rehabilitation for his knee injury, he was grateful that he had the ability to continue running, and he began viewing movement as a privilege rather than a right. Instead of approaching running from a competitive perspective, Abarquez’s journey led him to a new source of fulfillment: inspiring others to look past their own limitations through running. Project 42 aims to do just that, proving that age is just a number by completing 42 marathons in 42 weeks, a challenge he started on his 42nd birthday on February 21.
Abarquez has been running “birthday mileage” since his 40th birthday, running 40K that year and 41K the following year, but this year his goal was to do a sub-three hour marathon in honour of his 42nd trip around the sun.
“Now it’s got to be something special because it’s [my] champagne birthday for [my] running mileage,” he says. “I thought because it’s 42, I should make it a goal race and get that sub-three hour and the Boston qualifier everyone’s always talking about.”
Like many of us, the pandemic got in the way of his plans, so he changed gears and instead decided to spend the remainder of the year running marathons. With the help of his friend Andre Morgan, a runner, photographer and podcaster who helped him come up with the concept, Project 42 was born. A number of sponsors have also gotten on board, including Rally Beer, Nuun Hydration, Reebok and Endurance Tap fuel.
To date, Abarquez has completed nine of his 42 marathons. Initially, the marathon was the only run he did during the week, but as he’s gotten stronger over the course of the project, he’s started adding in a few shorter shakeout runs during the week.
“As it’s going on I’m recovering quicker,” he says. “I’ve been feeling good, and I’ve been able to average 3:30 for each week.”
Throughout the project, Abarquez has chosen to support Hospice Toronto, a non-profit organization providing palliative care for terminally ill patients. He chose this charity because he saw a gap in fundraising events, and felt that they could use the support.
“There are already so many runs out there working with charities,” he explains, “but I’ve never really seen much with hospice.”
Every Sunday as Abarquez is logging his weekly marathon, he is reminded to be grateful that he has the ability to run week after week. He says he is looking forward to when the pandemic restrictions hopefully ease up, so he can invite people to join him for portions (or all) of his runs. Anyone who wishes to support Bernard’s fundraising efforts can go directly to the project website, and you can follow his progress on Instagram.