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Jim Willett’s Bruce Trail challenge completed!

Willet-BigWildChallenge-485
Photo by Bob Hatcher

I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, I’m saying it’s going to be worth it. #DigDeep

That was Jim Willett’s first tweet from the start of his most recent adventure. Willett, Cancer survivor and iRun’s September cover story, was on a mission: complete Ontario’s Bruce Trail from end-to-end in record time and raise money for Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) in response to Mountain Equipment Co-op’s Big Wild Challenge. And what a challenge it was. On the night of September 18, Willett finished in an incredible 10 days 13 hours 57 minutes.

“My mind is still buzzing. I’m hoping tonight I’ll be able to go to sleep without nonstop flashes of the trail in my mind,” Willett recounts the day after he finished. “I spent so many hours looking down at my feet, watching where I stepped, that I’d see it at night, too.

The last few days were the most challenging. I was pretty well on track of my goal, until 2 days to go. My plan on the second last day was to try and do the 80k/ day I’d been averaging, but then to run for another 3 or 4 hours after dark—with the support of 2 friends—and finish with 105-110k on the day. Then I’d have a shorter day of about 50k on the last day. All the hills before Hamilton, however, really slowed me down and my quads felt like cement.

By the time my friends got to me I’d only done about 60k. When we headed out into the night, I was feeling terrible. I was so tired I was falling a lot, and then I started throwing up. We managed to get another 13 or 14k in before I called it a night. But that also meant I needed to throw down a 90k day if I was going to finish on the 10th day.

With 75k to go, I took a nasty fall and strained my right achilles—among other bruises. I called my crew and they came back to the next available meet place. I had to decide if I was going to walk the rest and take an extra day to finish (quitting wasn’t an option). I sat down for a while, ate a sandwich, had some iced tea, asked them to tape me up, then sucked it up for the rest of the day.

Every step hurt, and I knew it was probably stupid, but I just wanted to finish! That was probably the defining moment of this whole thing for me.“

When asked about his most memorable moment, Jim replies, “There were so many beautiful amazing moments, I’m not sure if I could pick just one. The wildlife… the waterfalls… the landscape… oh my. And it was pretty badass when Cody Gillies came out to pace me one day, to help me break his Bruce Trail record. One more reason to love runners.”

Orangeville, ON’s Cody Gillies is the now former end-to-end record holder. Gillies set the record in October 2012, at the age of 22, in 12 days, 7 hours and 39 minutes.

iRun contributor and photographer, Bob Hatcher, was so inspired by Willett while photographing him for the cover story, he followed Willett in the chase vehicle through the last legs of the run and was there to meet him at the end:

Willett is not the only runner to complete the Bruce Trail from end-to-end in the last month. Rhonda-Marie Avery, a legally blind runner from Barrie, ON, took on the challenge in support of Achilles Canada, a non-profit organization that provides people with various disabilities an opportunity to run. Avery vividly and beautifully shares the experience of listening to the sounds of the trail with iRunNation in Envisioning the Bruce Trail.


Willett has contributed to iRun on a number of occasions in the past and the team at iRun is continually inspired by his journeys and positivity. You can donate to Willett’s Big Wild Challenge campaign or perhaps his story inspires you to start your own. You can also find Willett and his page The Optimism Revolution on Facebook.

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September 23rd, 2014

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