iRun because running loves me back.–Rhonda-Marie Avery
For ultra-runners, running the Bruce Trail is a significant accomplishment. Spanning 885 km along the Niagara Escarpment, the Bruce Trail is “Canada’s oldest and longest marked footpath,” and a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. This summer Rhonda-Marie Avery, a legally blind runner, took on the challenge of running the Bruce Trail, sharing her incredible story and why every runner should experience this stunning natural wonder.
By Katherine Stopa
Rhonda-Marie Avery (@envisions2014), a legally blind runner, successfully completed the Bruce Trail in support of Achilles Canada, a non-profit organization that provides people with various disabilities an opportunity to run. With the help of two running guides, and the support of a team of over 50 volunteers, she began her journey from the north end of the Bruce Trail on August 4th, 2014. During her quest she posted daily podcasts on her blog, and received unwavering support from the online community. She walked the final 5k with the general public, disabled or not, so that everyone could experience the Trail.
Training for the Trail
To prepare for the big run, Avery’s coach Steve Mertz (@beastmodecoach) created a plan that included four back-to-back long runs paired with a mix of biking and swimming, and core and strength training. Mertz worked with Avery on the equally important emotional elements as well, by recognizing exhaustion or frustration, and how to work through them during a tough run like the Bruce. When working with a coach it is important to “trust the plans you’re given,” says Avery.
To complete a successful trail run, a blind runner needs the proper equipment—Avery recommends Salomon gear—and a guide. Not just someone who can call-out for markers or debris, but someone who really understands you both as a runner, and as a person. As Avery explains, “I needed a guide who understood that my brain could only focus on rocks, roots, sticks, and mud for so long. I needed a guide who could keep me engaged and focused at the same time.”
Avery found an amazing team that would guide her and her spirit every day during the Bruce Trail run. The social media community also kept her going. “During the run, there were some pretty dark days,” recalls Avery, “I would log online during our lunch breaks to see all of these supportive messages that screamed KEEP GOING!!! [sic] This made a huge difference, and I can’t thank people enough for that.”
A meaningful mantra, for any runner, is also important. Rhonda would tell herself to “wait ten minutes.” As her friend once told her “feel whatever you feel right now, honour it, and then move on.” Just wait the ten minutes to see how you really feel before making any judgments.
Listening on the Trail
What should a runner listen for when running the Bruce Trail? Here’s how Avery vividly and beautifully describes the experience:
1) Listen for drums on top of the Lion’s Head. After hearing drums, she had asked her guides if they had heard them too, something that made them all move faster. She still hears the drum beats in her dreams.
2) Listen to the trees singing in the dead pine forests near Beaver Valley; they will tempt you to stay and take it all in.
3) Listen for slow motion dinosaur steps on the pebble beaches. “Call them hallucinations. I call them life-changing,” said Avery.
Runners should also take the time to stop at Tiffany Falls. “When we got there [to Tiffany Falls] I felt like the view was worth 1000km and I hadn’t earned it yet. It was just amazing,” depicts Avery.
“I promised myself at the beginning that this would never be about me—it would never be about whether or not Rhonda could do this—it had to be about the message. If I enabled, inspire or changed one view of disabled people for on person, then my quest had meaning. I only hope it was enough. It doesn’t get easier, it get’s done.”
So next time you go for a run, take the time to listen; I know I will.