The first ever very-long-distance run to connect all three countries in North America, the Monarch Ultra will truly put runners to the test in a 4,200 km relay that takes participants through the migration path of the Monarch butterfly, a route mapped out by Elmira runner Clay Williams.
Participants will begin in Peterborough, ON and wrap up in Mexico. In doing so, they’ll also have the opportunity to tell their story to the public, as director and cinematographer Rodney Fuentes is filming the journey.
“The intention is not just to run this distance, it’s to create awareness about butterflies and conservation in general,” explained Fuentes. “So we didn’t want just to document the run; want to runners to tell the story. So, there will be runners talking about it. We will be talking to experts in the field. Ideally, this documentary will come out and learn about butterflies, learn about the environment, and raise awareness for pollinators.”
“We believe documentary projects about monarch butterflies is an invitation for us as human beings and global citizens to think about our place on this Earth,” added pollinator advocate and ultra-runner Carlotta James. “To leave a lasting impact that’s positive, that’s generative, that’s sustainable. That there’s a place for our children and grandchildren.”
There has been a drop in the number of pollinators over the past years. For example, the honey bee population has been noticeably declining since approximately 2006, known as colony collapse disorder. This is due to a variety of environmental and biological factors, such as parasites and climate change.
Pollinators are crucial to maintaining habitats and ecosystems that many animals rely on for food and shelter. The population of pollinators, in general, has been suffering since the end of the 20th century, including Monarchs.
James said the idea came to her while she was out for a run along the forest trails in Peterborough and was surrounded by Monarch butterflies.
“They fly between 4,000 to 5,000 km,” said James. “They weigh less than a paperclip. And yet they can make this incredible journey. And to me, we all need symbols of hope and resilience in our life right now because of how the world is.
We’re also really trying to show the challenge of what the Monarchs go through. This is a lengthy migration. We don’t want it to be easy, either. We want it to become a little bit difficult. Because when we go through difficulties in life, that’s when we come out of it feeling like a renewed person.”
Fuentes predicted that the run would take approximately 40-50 days to complete – about the same amount of time as the butterfly migration.
Williams has mapped out the route for participants. Destinations included are Toronto, Indianapolis, IN, Little Rock, AR, Austin, TX, and Mexico City. He planned this route using his experience from previous long-distance races, including organizing a 750 km trek to Ottawa. Google Maps was his friend.
“I have the main route that Google calculates,” explained Williams. “Then I use Google satellite view to get a little closer up picture of what the roads and paths actually look like. For example, going over a one-lane bridge over the Mississippi – not a really good idea to send a pedestrian over a mile-long, one-lane bridge.
“So I look at the course fairly close and then I can get an even closer look using Google street view. It’s cool doing that because I get to see all the things we’re going to look at when we’re running.”
The organizers have launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the project, as well as accepting participants who may want to get involved with the endeavour.
“The campaign is the big focus right now,” said Williams. “We’re letting people know we’re doing this and there’s an opportunity to support us. And ultimately, we’re doing something pretty wild and exciting and something to get attention. The intention of getting that attention is to divert it to the cause of our pollinators that are dying off at alarming rates.”