This is a reflection from Russell Lavis following his ultramarathon challenge to run 100km on August 8th. Read on for more of Russell’s experience running further than he ever had before.

“When you are in pain of any kind, remember there is more in you. Never give up on yourself.”

On August 8th at 8 am, I set out on a journey of a lifetime in support of a special organization: Bereaved Families of Ontario – Toronto. The goal was 100 kilometres, on foot. 

I woke up that morning at 3:40 am; my mind, body and soul could not rest any longer. My first thought – today is going to be the most challenging and special day of my life. By 7:30 am I was feeling terrified. I stepped cautiously everywhere to preserve as much energy as possible for the day ahead.

At 7:40, I met the BFO-Toronto staff whose positive energy stabilized me as I prepared to take the first step of this adventure. This showed me clearly the importance of connection and support when I knew I would have to dig deep to find the resilience for the journey ahead. I took deep breaths, reflected on the reasons I was taking on this challenge and… I was off. One step in front of the other.

Not even 2 kilometres in, my hydration pack malfunctioned leaving me with only one bottle of water for the first 30 km of my journey. Setbacks like this take a toll both mentally and physically. However, I completed the 30 km route and arrived at Pantry Park where I faced the next 70 km, or 187 trips around the track. Greeted by Meredith Cochrane, Executive Director at BFO-Toronto, I felt again buoyed by the presence of others. Meredith isn’t a runner and didn’t have expert tips for me, but just her presence made things easier.

My twin sister arrived with supplies for fuelling and I continued. I passed the marathon point (42.2 km) and I passed 50 kilometres which took me into ultramarathon territory for the fourth time in my life. It was so important to celebrate those victorious moments, even as I knew more challenges lay ahead.

The power of support and companionship showed themselves again when, feeling delirious and exhausted, I looked up to see Jonathan, a friend and running companion. He drove me to keep running and filled me with gratitude. Soon after this, Councillor Brad Bradford arrived at the track. We conducted a brief video interview about my 100K challenge and the launch of BFO-Toronto’s 5K Memorial event. And then… we ran! Brad was great to talk to and his energy helped me keep my pace up. We ran seven laps together and every step beside him was a great one. 

The next source of support came in the form of my colleague Evan. I had been looking forward to his arrival throughout the day as he was a runner himself. He and I ran together as I crossed my personal distance record of 65 kilometres, a truly special moment. At this point, my muscles were starting to seize and I was starting to feel delirious with exhaustion. 

At this point I took a break and as a group we collectively decided that given my deep physical pain and mental exhaustion, I would run to 70 kilometres and call it a day. My twin sister came back to meet me at the track by my 67th kilometre when my exhaustion and pain were exceeded only by my determination. I took her hand and she ran alongside me for those last few laps.

I had started to cry, reflecting on all the reasons why I took on this challenge and continued to brim with determination to run as fast as I could… for all the people who are suffering and specifically for those who have come to BFO-Toronto after suffering a devastating loss. For the final lap, I was joined by my sister, my boss Meredith. and my colleague Evan. We started at a walk but not even halfway through, I decided it was time to run again. I put every ounce of energy into my legs and ran with my sister at my side. Seconds after I crossed that finish, I broke into tears. There was no one simple emotion; there was joy, exhaustion, relief, pride – I was in disbelief that it was time to stop after 11 hours. It was time to go home.

I did not reach 100K physically, but I did reach 100% of me mentally, spiritually and physically. That is all that matters in all that you do! 

Russell Lavis 100K

The next day, I realized some truly amazing lessons such as:

Life is what you make it. Attack your goals. We have so much more potential than we think. Strengthen your mind as much as you can. When you are in pain in any way, you are not done, there is more in you. Never give up on yourself. Your biggest battle will often be with yourself, and it’s so important to find ways to overcome that battle. Self-doubt happens, it’s inevitable; having belief in yourself is how you overcome it and see what you are truly capable of. And connection – people and support can remind you of all these things when you falter or forget. 

I feel so empowered to have taken this incredible journey in support of BFO-Toronto. BFO-Toronto is an incredible and special organization that I have the absolute privilege of working for. 

Any and all donations are greatly appreciated!