Without much fanfare and a very small support crew, Elias Kibreab of Vaughan, Ont. has quietly but decisively taken down the fastest-known-time on Ontario’s Bruce Trail. Kibreab arrived at Queenston just before 11 p.m. Sunday, breaking a tape held by his daughters, after being on the trail for eight days and 17 hours.
The previous FKT was set by Karen Holland in September 2021 at 8:22:51, and bettered the record set by Kip Arlidge last June by a little over four hours. Holland’s accomplishment–taking not just the women’s, but the overall FKT on a major trail–was feted throughout the ultratrail world.
According to his Strava, Kibreab’s average daily mileage was 100.64 km per day, with an average daily elevation gain of 2,047 metres. His arrival at the Bruce’s southern terminus coincided with Sunday’s lunar eclipse.
The Bruce Trail is Canada’s oldest and longest marked footpath, dating back to the early 1960s. The route mostly follows the edge of the Niagara Escarpment from Tobermory to Queenston and features a variety of terrain, from rocky, hilly singletrack to gentle paths through forest and farm fields, as well as some gravel sections and paved roads. While some parts are owned by the Bruce Trail Conservancy or by local conservation authorities, much of the route is on private property. The length of the trail fluctuates around 890 to 900 km; it is constantly changing due to weather, maintenance and construction.
Kibreab has lived in Canada in 2007. He grew up in the mountainous An’saba region of Eritrea, in the Horn of Africa. As livestock farmers, Kibreab’s family would take their animals across the mountains to graze, and during his high school years, he and his friends participated in short races. But in 2002, political instability in Eritrea forced him to flee the country; he lived in Sudan, Libya and Italy before making his way to Canada. Not surprisingly, his running took a back seat during this time, and it wasn’t until 2009 that he began running again.
Kibreab set off from Tobermory at 6 a.m. on May 7. On May 14 (his final evening), his wife Feven and their two young daughters surprised him for an impromptu picnic on the trail.
Kibreab, 44, an emergency room nurse at Humber River Hospital and a sub-3 marathoner, only recently made the transition from road running to ultratrail; he won the Haliburton Forest 100 Miler, his first trail race, in September 2021.
Kibreab was assisted by various friends and acquaintances who paced him on the trail, and by crew chief Allan Williams, who also assisted John Pockler when he set the same record in 2020 (which was broken by Arlidge). Crewing a week-long adventure like this is a logistical challenge; the runner needs access to more food and drinks than they can carry, as well as changes of socks and shoes, and sometimes first aid. Kibreab’s left ankle began to swell a few days in, but he continued on despite the pain. The weather suddenly turned unseasonably warm this week, after a cool, wet spring; temperatures on the final weekend were in the high 20s C.
Kibreab has created a Go Fund Me page to raise money for the Dekemhare Orphanage school in Eritrea, which he attended from 1989 to 1998, from grades 1 through 9. Kibreab says: “The boarding school currently supports approximately 100 students in the primary grades and 200 students in secondary grades. Unfortunately, the school has been having funding shortages to keep it running and I am hoping that with your support, I will be able to raise money and give back to a school that was so instrumental for my education.” To make a donation, click here.