Public health officials have encouraged us to think of our life-disrupting efforts to fight COVID-19 as a marathon, not a sprint.
Mark Carey is choosing to take that advice literally.
He’ll trace the perimeter of Toronto, from the waterfront north to Steeles Avenue, and from west Etobicoke to the eastern edge of Scarborough. The distance is the equivalent of running three marathons in a row and then another 10 kilometres. It will probably take him about 24 hours.
It would be insane for most people, but Carey has twice completed even longer runs and was already training for a 100-mile (161-kilometre) race at the end of this month, before the event was postponed until September.
In a phone interview on Sunday, Carey said he has always wanted to run for a worthy cause and this is as good a time as any.
“Given the circumstances of the race being postponed and the current crisis we’re in, it seemed like it was the right time and a good fit to do something like this,” he said. “So I mapped it out and decided to go for it.”
Carey, a father of two who runs an internet consulting business from home, thought the route would be closer to 80 or 90 kilometres, so he was a little surprised when he calculated the full distance. But he said it didn’t deter him.
The Brampton native has been running ultra-marathons — defined as any race longer than a standard 42-kilometre marathon — since 2013, and has completed two 100-mile races: in 2014 and again last October.
Carey said you have to be “at least a little bit crazy” to be into ultra-marathons, but he insists it’s not as crazy as it sounds. “The human body is capable of a lot more than we think it is.”
Carey started long-distance running in 2009 when he was living in Bermuda, beginning with 5K races and slowly increasing his distances. He ran his first marathon in 2011, and back then he couldn’t fathom wanting to run a single step more.
But after reading “Born to Run,” the Christopher McDougall book about ultra-runners, he got into the idea of tackling 100-mile races to “see what it would be like.”
He found he liked the challenge to both his mind and body, and he enjoyed pushing the limits of his discomfort to see what he could endure.
As part of his training, Carey does four “short” runs of 15 to 18 kilometres during the week, and then a longer run of about 40 kilometres on the weekend. A few weeks ago he did a “double,” in which he ran a total of 100 kilometres over two consecutive days, but he isn’t planning to do another before May 30.
Unlike some ultra-marathoners, Carey doesn’t typically sleep during his runs and he eats very little. His stomach can’t handle much more than a little fruit, say, or a Clif Bloks energy bar.
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Carey said he wanted to raise money for the Red Cross because its mandate is to help the most vulnerable people, which he believes will be even more important as social distancing restrictions are lifted over the next weeks and months. He has set a $100,000 fundraising goal.
Carey said he sees parallels between our current situation in the fight against the coronavirus and the feeling in any long-distance run when you hit the proverbial wall.
“We’re at kind of one of those moments where it’s easy to feel like it’s never going to move forward.”
When that happens in the middle of a race, Carey said he tries to remind himself that the discomfort he is feeling is temporary, and on the other side of the wall is usually a second wind.
“Getting across that bridge is the main challenge.”