Jerry Hughes completes his 1,373rd lap of the track at the Cowichan Sportsplex at the end of his six-day Canadian record attempt and fundraiser in November. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

Jerry Hughes completes his 1,373rd lap of the track at the Cowichan Sportsplex at the end of his six-day Canadian record attempt and fundraiser in November. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

Six days on the Cowichan Sportsplex track for ultramarathoner

Record bid misses, but fundraiser a success

The bid to set a new Canadian six-day running record at the Cowichan Sportsplex in November fell a little short of that goal, but the event as a whole was deemed a success by the runner himself and organizers.

Victoria’s Jerry Hughes was aiming to break the standard of 870 km (540 miles) set by David Bennett in 1891 between Nov. 15 and 21. He persevered through inclement weather and stuck it out for six days, ultimately finishing with 549.2 km (341 miles).

“I feel really good,” Hughes said shortly after completing his 1,373th and final lap of the track on the morning of Saturday, Nov. 21. “I’m really excited about what we’ve done here. We wanted to be on the track for 144 hours and raise as much money as we could.”

At the time Hughes finished his run, the One Track Mind ultramarathon had raised more than $32,000 for the Help Fill a Dream Foundation. By the time donations closed, that number was $36,217.47 — easily passing the adjusted goal of $35,000.

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While Hughes was taking aim at the 129-year-old Canadian record, four other runners joined him on the track for all six days. Matt Shepard of Valleyview, Alberta wasn’t far behind Hughes at 516.8 km (1,292 laps). Calgary’s Brenda Dryer completed 456.6 km (1,141 laps), Victoria’s Yana Hempler ran 420.8 km (1,052 laps), and Port Alberni’s Dave Nesbitt finished with 382.2 km (957 laps). Shepard had taken aim at Bennett’s mark in July, but was hobbled by a knee injury and fell short.

“I can’t say how amazed I am that we started with five runners in the six-day, and finished with five runners in the six-day,” said Lisa Large, who organized the event along with Joshua Heath. She commended the participants for battling through “torrential downpours” on the second and third days of the race, and freezing temperatures on the final night, when runners’ shoes slipped on the track and they claimed they could feel ice in their sports drinks.

The race director for the Vancouver Island Trail Running Series, which has been put on hold due to COVID-19, Large organized the VanIsle 460 virtual race in June and July, in which Hughes took part, and he then recruited her and Heath to plan the six-day run. She was astonished by the amount of interest.

“I had no idea when I started this that these were as big as they are,” she said. “I didn’t even know the records existed.”

In order for Hughes’s record bid to count, they needed a certified track and two other competitors. Thirty people ended up participating, either for all six days, or 24- or 48-hour portions. Shawnigan Lake’s Trent Goodwin signed on for a pair of 24-hour runs, and Janet Curley of Mill Bay ran a 24-hour block.

Pacific FC, Victoria’s Canadian Premier League soccer team, got wind of Hughes’s record attempt, and four players made the trip to the Sportsplex to present him with a jersey signed by the whole team. The following day, the entire squad came out and ran with Hughes for an hour and a half.

Hughes may have fallen short of his record bid, but two other records were set during the course of One Track Mind. On the first day of the event, Catrin Jones of Victoria broke the Canadian women’s six-hour record. Viktoria Brown of Whitby, Ont. broke the Canadian women’s 48-hour record.

The event will return next year, organizers and runners vowed, but in a warmer month.

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Jerry Hughes is greeted by fellow ultra runners Brenda Dryer, left, and Matt Shepard after running for six days on the Cowichan Sportsplex track. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

Jerry Hughes is greeted by fellow ultra runners Brenda Dryer, left, and Matt Shepard after running for six days on the Cowichan Sportsplex track. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

Jerry Hughes, left, and fellow ultra runners Matt Shepard, Brenda Dryer, Dave Nesbitt and Yana Hempler are joined by One Track Mind organizers Lisa Large and Josh Heath at the end of their six-day odyssey on the Cowichan Sportsplex track. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

Jerry Hughes, left, and fellow ultra runners Matt Shepard, Brenda Dryer, Dave Nesbitt and Yana Hempler are joined by One Track Mind organizers Lisa Large and Josh Heath at the end of their six-day odyssey on the Cowichan Sportsplex track. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)