Forty-two runners, each running a 100-kilometre ultra-marathon, all the way from Peterborough in Canada to the Sierra Madre mountains in central Mexico — the same 4,300-kilometre journey monarch butterflies make each fall.
That’s the dream of Peterborough residents Carlotta James and Rodney Fuentes who, along with Elmira’s Clay Williams and Toronto’s Galen Brown, have launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the first stage of what they are calling the Monarch Ultra relay.
Planned for the fall of 2019, the Monarch Ultra would be the first attempt to run the length of North America (Canada, the United States, and Mexico), with the objective being to raise awareness of the monarch butterflies who make the same journey and the threats to these resilient insects as well as other pollinators.
“Their populations are in steep decline,” says Carlotta James, who is a life-long runner and a pollinator advocate. “In the 1980s, their numbers were in the billions and now they’re in the millions. There’s many reasons for that: pesticide use, climate change, habitat loss, disease.”
James is co-founder of the Peterborough Pollinators, a grassroots citizen-led group working together to meet the challenge of declining pollinator populations. Peterborough Pollinators works in the community to raise awareness of pollinators so crucial to food security and biodiversity and to the well being of our ecosystems.
“I’ve had this dream for a while, to run beside the flight of the monarchs,” James says, explaining the idea behind the run. “I want people to understand the strength and beauty of the monarchs through this project, to understand our connection to the land.”
But the Monarch Ultra project not only involves organizing and executing the relay run — a feat all of its own — but also creating a documentary film about the run. That’s where filmmaker Rodney Fuentes comes in, along with producer Galen Brown, founder of Toronto’s 3004 Studios.
“We are looking for support to start filming the first stage of this documentary,” Fuentes says, “which is a road trip that we need to do from Peterborough Ontario all the way down to the Sierra Madre mountains in Mexico.”
The purpose of the trip is to review the intended route of the Monarch Ultra, a route designed by Clay Williams, an avid runner from Elmira who created and ran the Canal Pursuit for Mental Health, a 780-kilometre route from Georgian Bay to Ottawa.
“My role as the mapping expert is to make sure that the entire course of 4,300 kilometres is safe for runners to run on,” explains Williams, who is also the ultra-race director.
“That’s a primary concern. I also have to check out each of the stop points and make sure it’s a safe place to park a car and have a little crew on the side of the road.
“We’ll be talking to interested parties along the route as well: running groups and conservation groups, as many people as we can along the way to spread the word.”
The team is seeking to raise $30,000 through Kickstarter to support video camera rentals, lodging and meals for the crew during the trip, car rental and gas, travel insurance and permits, and crew fees.
Any extra funds raised through the campaign will go towards production costs, additional filming opportunities with monarch butterfly experts, and marketing to promote the project across North America.
Of course, an ultra-marathon relay run requires runners, and the team is also seeking ultra-runners who could each cover 50 to 100 kilometres along the route — running across a diversity of landscapes including mountain paths, forests, meadows, deserts, and cities.
“For the runners that participate in this project, to be able to feel a little bit of the pain, the struggle, but also the complete resilience of the monarch butterfly and what they have to go through every fall,” James says.
“It’ll be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for those involved and I also believe it’s going to be transformational for the ultra-runners.”
VIDEO: The Monarch Ultra
Ultra-runners who are interested in participating should email Williams at email@example.com. He will add your name to the list of participants and advise when registration for the race is available next year.
To contribute to the Kickstarter campaign (there are different rewards available for each pledge level), visit www.kickstarter.com/projects/1818077578/the-monarch-ultra-mapping-the-most-epic-run-on-ear.