Canadian Running

Boss Of The Bruce

For Karen Holland, the planning and logistics involved in setting the overall supported FKT on Ontario’s Bruce Trail played to her strengths. Luckily, the things she couldn’t control – like how her body held up – also worked in her favour

- By Molly Hurford

It was still pitch black out, early on Sept. 12, as Karen Holland made the final push across the grass to touch the cairn at the end of the 900-km Bruce Trail. For eight days, 22 hours and 51 minutes, the 35-year-old ultrarunne­r had been following the white blazes that mark the trail from Tobermory to Niagara, and she was finally done. In the process, she’d not only taken the women’s fastest known time ( fkt), but she’d bested the men’s time, as well. “I never felt that the highlight would be finishing or getting the fkt,” she says. “I actually feel like it’s almost the low point, because you’re like, ‘It’s done, so what now?’”

Since moving to Kimberley, Ont., two years ago – literally alongside the Bruce Trail – Holland has been exploring the Blue Mountains and Beaver Valley sections. But long before that, she’d been curious about what setting the fkt would take. Her longtime running friend, Chantal Demers, had set the women’s record in 2017, and had been encouragin­g Holland to consider an attempt. She’d done a relay of the Bruce with a group of women, she’d run multiple 100-milers, and frankly, with the pandemic cancelling or making travel nearly impossible for all of her planned races (including the Western States 100) for a second year in a row, she had nothing better to do. So, she started to plan.

Logistics play a major role in any attempt of this magnitude: almost nine days on a trail, a support van available with crew that traded off every couple of days, host housing and nutrition, and hundreds of runners joining in for anywhere from five to 100 km of trail each day. Sounds great – but it’s also a logistical challenge of epic proportion­s. Luckily, logistics are Holland’s strong suit, whether she’s planning something like this or helping a friend (like this reporter) prep for a 100-miler.

“The logistics aren’t easy to put together: the Bruce trail spans 900 kilometres, and a lot of stuff happens in between,” she explains. “You need to make sure that your crew is taken care of, that you’re taken care of. It was basically project management, which is much of what I do for work in sales analytics. There were a lot of spreadshee­ts involved.”

The Bruce Trail fkt has lowered considerab­ly in recent years: in 2020, John Pockler dropped it to nine days and 17 hours. Then, in June 2021, Kip Arlidge took it even lower, down to nine days, three hours and 27 minutes. While Holland was intrigued by the rapidly-decreasing times, she already had her eye on the sub-nine-day goal. Arlidge’s run cemented the notion that it was within reach, if all the pieces fell into place. And both former fkt holders were excited to share advice, and even came out to run some miles alongside her as she closed in on the record. The former women’s fkt holder, Demers, did more than that: she crewed for the first four days. The beauty of

“Your today is built off yesterday, is built off yesterday’s yesterday. You don’t ever have those fresh legs that you started with after day one”

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