Forty-two weeks ago, Toronto’s Bernard Abarquez began the remarkable challenge of running 42 marathons in 42 weeks to celebrate his 42nd birthday. On Sunday, Dec. 5, Abarquez completed his challenge in the heart of Toronto, running 17 2.5-kilometre loops around Exhibition Place, joined by many members of the Toronto running community.
Instead of approaching running from a competitive perspective, Abarquez’s journey led him to a new source of fulfillment: inspiring others to look past limitations through running. Abarquez got the idea for Project42, having run ‘birthday mileage’ on his previous birthdays. His goal for his 42nd birthday was to run a sub-three-hour marathon, but his planned races were postponed due to the pandemic. After chatting with some of his friends in his Everyday Fit Social Club, Abarquez started Project42.
At the start of his project, Abarquez was only running once weekly for his marathon, but as weeks passed, he gained fitness and started to add a few shakeout runs and workouts into his weekly mileage. Abarquez changed up the scenery on a few of his runs, completing marathons in towns across Ontario in Sauble Beach, Hamilton and Brighton. As races began to open up with the easing of the pandemic restrictions, Abarquez completed three in-person marathons, achieving his Boston qualifying time and sub-three-hour goal at the Muskoka Marathon in October.
“At the start of the challenge, running 42 marathons was daunting,” Abarquez says. “I began to approach every run with excitement and told myself to take things one marathon at a time.” As he began sharing his journey on social media, many runners in the Toronto community started to get behind his project. “Every run I would show up at, people were genuinely excited for me, which kept me positive throughout my challenge.”
Abarquez began running seriously in 2015, but since then, the unofficial Toronto running ambassador has completed multiple marathons and run as a pacer for several more. An accomplishment he’ll never forget is when he finished his first 100-miler. “The ultra community taught me to be optimistic – everyone in an ultra race wants you to succeed,” says Abarquez.
“I had fears of course, and at the start, I wasn’t sure if I could do this,” says Abarquez. “There was never a day I didn’t want to be out there, running.” Several sponsors were on board alongside Abarquez for Project42, including Rally Beer, Nuun Hydration, Reebok, Undefined (socks) and Endurance Tap fuel. His friend Saul Weiss supported Abarquez on the bike for 36 of his 42 marathons and ran the entire distance himself on two occasions.
Throughout the project, Abarquez supported Hospice Toronto, a non-profit organization providing palliative care for terminally ill patients. He also contributed towards the Scarborough Health Network, which helped his cousin beat cancer 11 years ago.
In terms of what’s next for Abarquez, he plans on changing his running shoes to snowshoes this winter as he plans to run a self-supported snowshoe marathon.