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Breaking:: Despite Raccoons, GPS Hindrances, and Injuries, Ontario’s Bruce Trail Endures a 900km Run


A dozen Hamilton runners made their way through 900 kilometers of rugged southern Ontario track this week, running day and night for a good cause, but the journey hasn’t exactly gone to plan.

The 24-hour Bruce Trail relay race, which began Wednesday morning in Tobermory and ends at the trail’s end in Niagara Falls, has been disrupted by raccoons, trail changes and injuries.

“The very first night nobody slept. We had several raccoons attacking our camp,” said runner Sunny Humber.

However, these disruptions do not stop this group.

We Run the Bruce is made up of members of the Hamilton-based We Run Club. They raise money for the Memorial Clinic Barbra Schliferan organization that provides legal aid to marginalized women who have experienced violence.

The group has so far raised $6,727 of their $15,000 goal.

Run the Bruce runners aimed to complete the Bruce Trail by Sunday, but one runner says they put safety first and will take longer if necessary. (Submitted by Stephanie Jetté)

Humber, 28, said the relay is also intended to raise awareness after a number of women were attacked on the Bruce Trail in Hamilton in 2022.

As part of their effort to raise awareness, the teams running the nighttime stages of the relay are all women, working in a buddy system.

“For years I was used to running alone on those trails day and night. I often ran without a phone or any kind of safety equipment. And then I just got a little scared,” said Humber, adding that she felt like she lost access to the path.

The relay is her way of taking it back.

Raccoons, changing trails and broken GPS trackers

The first few days of the run haven’t been as smooth, Humber said.

After a noisy, raccoon-fueled catastrophe on the first night, most of the runners didn’t sleep for nearly 48 hours.

The raccoons came through a screen door on the RV where the runners kept their food, she said, and after being chased off, the raccoons spent the night trying to get back into the RV through a sliding roof.

“The runner who finally got the raccoon out of the RV thought it was just a couple of runners eating a really loud late night snack,” she said.

That hasn’t been the only challenge they’ve faced.

One of the runners suffered an ankle injury on the first day, forcing her to transition from runner to part of the support team.

The trail route also had to change from time to time.

Part of the Bruce Trail goes through private property, Humber said, meaning the routes on some parts of the trail change frequently.

Runner Patrick Rivers, 33, did much of the logistical planning for the relay. He said the Bruce Trail network changes almost annually in the Owen Sound region.

“We’ve covered about 130 miles of the official Bruce Trail, but in the last 32 hours we’ve probably walked 180 miles due to rerouting or getting lost and trying to find other runners,” Humber said Thursday.

Rivers said the team also had issues with the satellite trackers sewn into the runner’s clothing a live feed of the runner’s locationsand have resorted to sweeping the path on foot if someone shows up late.

A map of Ontario with a blue line along parts of the Bruce Peninsula.
The group is expected to drive through Hamilton on Saturday on their way to Niagara Falls. Their run can be tracked online, although there have been some GPS hiccups. The location of Runner Jacob Haas can be seen from Friday afternoon. (folder/share.garmin.com/werunthebruce)

Fortunately, he said smoke from the wildfires in northern Ontario and Quebec has not affected the runners.

“We had a plan and we knew things were coming and we would have to adapt.”

Running the Bruce requires ‘mind over matter’

To train for the run, Rivers said, many of the relay team members took part in Hamilton’s Around the Bay race.

Somewhat ironically, he said, some team members also ran in a London, Ontario marathon called Rugged Raccoon — a race that takes place entirely at night.

Runners take a group photo in front of a tent at night.
Runners with the Run the Bruce relay were besieged by a pack of raccoons on their first night camping for their first night. (Submitted by Stephanie Jetté)

Rivers said he prepared by “going longer and longer distances, knowing that we will have a daily output and a significant amount of mileage.”

For Humber, a big part of preparing for the run was mental.

“It’s mind over matter,” she said.

“You have to be mentally strong and able to perform when you are tired, keep your wits about you, stay calm under pressure and know how to navigate and read the course.”

Rivers said there will be a homecoming rally for the runners at Hamilton’s Carter Park between 3:30pm and 5:30pm on Saturday, with activities for family and friends.

Part of the team will drive in to attend the party, but with the delays, Rivers said the entire team may not have time to stop on their way to Niagara Falls.

“This is not a race, but we have a goal to finish on Sunday. But at the end of the day we want to finish this safely.”

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