I met Alfred Barr on selection, but selection is intense and its all about survival so although you are technically working as a team, you’re really there for yourself and the pursuit of the best job in Canada. We then, of course, spent a year together on SAR course 49, and SAR course is where you get to really know your course mates. Now, there are a ton of things to know Al Barr, but one of the first things I learned about him was that he liked to run… like a lot. It was obvious too, within just a few strides of a run, could be 1 mile could be 10, he would instantly grow a grin from ear to ear. Al was almost always smiling, but when he ran it was different.
I remember once asking Al about running and it went something like this:
Dylan: “so like, how far have you actually ran?”
Al: “jeeze, ha I don’t know. I suppose I’d have to get out training logs, do some math, I’m sure I could figure…”
Dylan: “at one-time dude. what’s the furthest you’ve run at once”
Al: “oh haha. I ran 100 miles once.”
Dylan: “YOU RAN 100 MILES! dude that is crazy, and dumb.”
Al: “ha, ya it is. Don’t ever do it”
I would later come to find out, after his passing, that he didn’t just run 100 miles. He won the race. That’s just who Al is, he didn’t want to brag or add any unnecessary details, I asked a question and he humbly answered.
So when it came to deciding what I could do in honor of my friend, the answer came very quick and very clear. I had to run. Far. Further then I wanted, further then I thought I could, far enough that there was a possibility of not completing the run. 100 miles.
I decided on doing the Capes 100 race in Cape Chignecto Park Nova Scotia, a 100-mile unforgiving trail run that boasts nearly 14 000 feet of elevation gain.
Before the start of the race, Steffi sent me a post Al wrote about why he ran. It brought me to tears as I read it aloud to my wife, it affirmed I was doing this for the right reasons. I’ll share a small part of it that I kept coming back to in my head during the race;
“I run because it makes me feel alive like really nothing else does. I love the challenge running offers. The camaraderie and physical and mental benefits. I love to push myself and discover a strength I never knew I had. I’m building my mind to believe what my body can do.” -Alfred Barr
5am Saturday morning, finally, 1 hour to the race start. I made a coffee with my jet boil, crushed some oat balls and a few eggs and got my running vest ready. The hour flew by and next thing I knew I was standing at the start line amongst probably 300 people. And ill admit, I looked a little out of place. If you don’t know me well, I’m not much of a runner. 205 pounds, muscular build, 6 feet tall. Some of these attributes would serve me well, such as climbing steep hills as I had the quads to power through, but some proved to be a hindrance, these runner types could seemingly glide across the ground without making noise while my fat ass pounded with each step. meh, can’t have it all I suppose ;).
My wife and I spent a lot of time discussing the race, and what the best attack plan was that would give me the best chance of success. Since I knew quitting wasn’t a thing I was going to do, all I needed to make sure was to meet all the time caps. At each aid station (there were 15) I had to meet a 21.6min/mile pace, at 100km I had to be less than 22 hours, and 36 hours was the total cutoff. The plan was to bank lots of miles while I was fresh and “early” in the race so if anything would happen, time would be on my side. The max I had ever run prior to this race was 20 mile, so there’s a lot of uncharted territories. I started the race by walking the first mile, this would ensure I didn’t go too hot and get caught up in the moment. I would then do an interval of 2 miles running, 1-mile power walking, for as long as possible with the exception of hills. Walk fast uphill, run downhill. This worked for the first 12 miles except most of this was on sand/rocks on the beach, very annoying to run or walk on, but stunningly beautiful.
At 12 miles I saw my “crew” a.k.a Becky. She had a giant cut out head of me which was hilarious and gave everyone a morale boost. I changed my clothes, took a poop, and ate some food as I would now not see Beck until mile 50! nearly 12 hours later.
The next 38 miles were through Cape Chignecto Provincial Park, I completely underestimated the terrain. I guess I don’t really know what I was expecting, but this trail was gnarly. huge downhill sections with lots of switchbacks followed by huge sections of uphill with NO switchbacks, straight uphill. Heres a picture of the Cape:
The trail goes all the way down to the water, then all the way back up to the top about 6 or 7 times. It was crazy, all single-track trail with roots and rocks that I found so difficult to get a good pace through it, slow down, speed up, slow down, ugh.
Eventually, it was the halfway mark, which meant I got to see Becky and change my shoes… it also meant I had another 50mile to go, and at this point, I was hardly running anymore, it was more of a shuffle, followed by walking…
The halfway point was awesome, Beck shared with me the support I had been getting throughout the day and it blew me away. I was sore, I was tired, I had hours and hours ahead of me. Al’s family members had sent videos thanking me and giving encouraging words. It was overwhelming, I cried, even as I write this now I’m choking up because it was so obvious how special my buddy Al was to so many people, and a simple act of doing something in memory of a friend can mean a lot to people. It was surreal. I hugged Becky, and she whispered “relentless forward motion”.
Those 3 words, which I had learned from Al, have become so meaningful over the last few years. Well over the next 20 hours they would become paramount to my forward progress in the race.
The next checkpoint really challenged the “why” of this race. It was the 100km checkpoint, and it was back at the start/finish line. Got here about 18 hours (4 hours ahead of the cutoff). It was midnight, getting a bit cooler, but the worst part was I was 200m from my tent. I could just call it, go to sleep, 100km is no joke, and honestly AL would have been stoked I did 100km, but he would have high fived me an then ran another 60km. So I got out of my chair, turned the headlamp on, and got to work.
It was insanely hard to get over the fact that although 60% of the race was done, I had about 14 hours to go. It even got to a point where I didn’t count the miles I just went by hours, what a crazy concept, 3 hours to next aid station.
The last 60km was a 30km out to a turnaround and then 30km back on the same trail. And although we had already gone through the crazy hills of cape chignecto, this leg of the race had the biggest ascents of the race. I’m talking miles, rather hours of uphill. My plan? power walk the whole thing. I had to just place a foot in front of the other and I would finish. This is where I went to a dark place and had to persevere. I was a wreck. One moment I would be motivated and stoked that I was “almost done” then next I’d be holding back tears. I just kept visualizing the finish line, and how good it would feel, and how proud Al would be.
For about an hour into this leg I could hear a group behind me slowly catching up, it took them probably another hour to catch up but I knew that meant they were moving a little faster than me but probably not so fast that I couldn’t match their pace. When we finally met I recognized one of the people immediately, Lisa! she was a friend of Becky and use to work out in our garage! how cool. So I asked if their plan was to power walk too and if I can join them. It was so nice to be with a group and it pushed my pace which kept me ahead of the cutoff. We were getting roughly 3 miles every hour.
I was still doing relatively well at the uphills, but going downhill was increasingly more painful. My left shin began to take a lot of the load as I was trying to ease tension from my knees. As the sun started coming up I decided to back the pace off and let them go ahead. This brought me to 1 Aid station before seeing Becky at the turnaround. I sat down briefly and saw someone doing the same, I hadn’t seen this guy before. Turns out he wanted to quit and had been sitting here for over an hour. “no, you’re not quitting dude, let’s go. stand up and we’ll walk this thing out”. He reluctantly stood, filled his water and we set off.
All I focused on for the next few hours was seeing Becky at the turnaround, I was giving everything my body had to move forward and I had 30+km to go. But Al always said you have 20x more then you think. Relentless Forward Motion.
Me and my new walking pal Shawn talked about our “why” for the race, we talked about finishing, and sometimes hours went with no talking, it was nice. During the last little bit before the turnaround, it was silent and I was thinking about Becky and what an incredible wife I have just sitting at a point waiting for me to round the corner. I’m so lucky to have someone that would give up a weekend just to support a project of mine. with about 400m to go (all downhill) I saw Beck. She had walked up the hill to meet me and walk together. I immediately broke down into tears, she gave me a huge hug.
I spent as little time at the turnaround as possible, took me 7 hours to get there from the 100km mark and I wasn’t getting any faster so absolute BEST I would be 7 hours to the finish. Also whenever I stopped it took a minute or two to get walking again. But now I’m walking to the finish. And the sun was coming up which meant the night was over, ahhhh.
There was so much uphill on the way to the turnaround I was dreading the downhill, it was agonizing. I learned that walking backward was slightly better, so every time we were going downhill I turned around and walked backward. It also started raining and would rain for the next 5 hours. By the next aid station, my downhill was so painstakingly slow that my bud Shawn pulled ahead and carried on, I don’t blame him. He wanted to be done as much as I did.
There are things positive about walking alone (for me anyway) I felt I complained less about my pain, breath, step, breath, step. I didn’t really want to talk anymore, and I was starting to hear and see things so I spent a lot of energy ignoring that. The other incredibly difficult thing was I hadn’t eaten anything really solid since the 100km, I was just drinking ginger ale and water. Had absolutely no appetite and I was crazy exhausted and tired.
At the final aid station before the finish line, there was another guy, he was having some foot problems and I was able to convince him to walk with my sorry ass. He agreed and we shared some miles together. Every now and then I would get a bit ahead, then he would, then we’d walk together. Either way, it was nice to share the misery with someone. The only easy part was reminding myself why I was doing this, which would put a smile on my face.
Out of nowhere, Becky came up the trail. I almost thought I was imagining it. And briefly thought ‘i must be nearly there!’ that is until she told me she had been walking for nearly 2 hours. Again! what a support crew, she came all the way up those crazy hills to help me through the finish line. what a wife. For the next few hours, we talked (mainly Beck while I tried to listen and ignore my shin pain) about our little Boy, we talked about how proud AL would be, how proud people back home are. It was an unreal moment, and something I will never forget. Every 30 min or so I would stop, Beck would hug me, I would let out a few tears, and then carry on. Relentless Forward Motion.
The last mile of the race is in the marshy wooded area, I knew this because the first mile of the out and back was in the marshy wooded area. So I just kept looking for that turn, and envisioning it, and thinking about the finish line… its right there…
Some wooded areas, a bunch more hills, and a few flat uneven spots later we came around a corner to a hill. At the bottom of this hill, i could see the turn to the marsh. There it is, 1 mile to go.
Id like to think I picked up my pace but I doubt I did. The one thing for sure is that I had a huge smile on my face, I was going to finish. Beck walked with me for another 15 minutes or so and then sped ahead so she could watch me cross the finish line. That gave me the last 10 or so minutes alone. I relived the previous 160km in that 10 min. I thought about all the people I had seen, talked to, I even had met a few people that knew Al. I came to realize why Al like these challenges, and I finally understood what he meant by what I quoted at the beginning of the article “The camaraderie and physical and mental benefits. I love to push myself and discover a strength I never knew I had.” Al liked to feel alive, he liked to test what the human body was capable of, he ran because he could. It was in those moments I realized how lucky I was to be out there because AL would have done anything to go through what I just did. I had just “Carried the Fire”.
The final corner I could hear the cheers of someone ahead of me crossing the finish line, my turn next. Just before exiting the woods I saw Lisa again. She had arguably a bigger smile then I had “Dylan! you did it!” I gave her a hug, it was so nice to be back at the farm. There the finish line lay 200m ahead with a huge line of people clapping and cheering. It filled me up inside, I was so shocked, proud, happy, every emotion fled through my body. With about 50m to go, I sort of jogged, my legs were crazy heavy.
I immediately hugged my wife. It was the most sincere, true, loving hug I had ever given. She never waivers and is the absolute rock of our marriage. She knew how much this project meant to me and wanted me to fulfill it more then I did.
I can’t thank my friends and family at home enough for the kind words, messages, and cheering from home. I truly thought of everyone during this adventure and you guys helped me more than you can imagine. Don’t hesitate to ask the same from me if you ever need that little boost.
And to Kate and Jules, thank you so much for looking after our baby boy while we were away for the weekend. You guys played a massive role in the success of this mission and I can’t thank you enough. It was the first time Beck was without TJ for more than a day, and it’s incredible to have friends like you that we trust and love.
As for my buddy Alfred, there you go bud. You told me to never do it, and I can’t help but think you’d laugh at me if I told you I did. I think about you all the time, and wish you could have seen me out there. Miss you bud. Rescue Brothers Forever 49.