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Crossing the Prince Edward Island

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In August, Denver’s Jeremy Bradford took a break from his busy—and successful—racing schedule to make the first-known attempt at crossing Canada’s Prince Edward Island in one shot

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When Jeremy Bradford’s relatives scheduled a family reunion for mid-August this year, it meant he would have to miss running the Leadville Trail 100 for what would have been the third straight year.

But to Denver native Bradford, who has finished 10 ultramarathons in 2012 – winning six of them, including five 100-milers – this was no excuse to slack off.

“I can imagine what you are probably thinking and it’s true,” he says. “I’m that type of obsessed runner who turns every family vacation into some sort of running event.”

Some research revealed that the town of Cap-Pele, in New Brunswick, Canada – where Bradford’s French-Canadian family would be staying – was only a short drive away from a bridge connecting to the Prince Edward Island (PEI), a 2,100-square-foot province that sits across the Northumberland Strait to the north and east of New Brunswick.

“I found that there is a trail on PEI called the Confederation Trail, that runs the entire length of the island from tip to tip,” says Bradford. “I quickly became fascinated with the idea of traversing the entire trail and started scouring the internet for any information about fastest-known-times.”

But he could not unearth any evidence of previous attempts to traverse the entire 279-kilometer (approximately 173-mile) tip-to-tip trail that runs from Tignish to Elmira. He sent an e-mail to the PEI RoadRunners, who put him in touch with local runner and Confederation Trail guru Michael Gaudet. “He informed me that to the best of his knowledge no one has ever attempted to run the entire length of the trail in a single shot before,” Bradford says.

It also turned out Gaudet was planning his own September attempt at running the entire trail without stopping.

“When Jeremy contacted me he said he would hold off doing the run if I was hoping to be the first,” Gaudet says. “I told him my motivation was not to be first but to hopefully finish.”

“He [even offered] me his support and that of his friends and other runners on the island,” Bradford added.

It was not the only support Bradford would receive.

“Luckily, my wife seems to enjoy supporting me, and my kids are young enough to think playing in the woods for hours while waiting for their daddy is fun,” he says. “But really, I feel incredibly fortunate to have such a supportive family.”

Trophy Series Leader

Bradford is more than just a prolific racer: he is also currently leading the 2012 Trail Runner Trophy Series, which tallies results from 138 trail races in the US and Canada and compiles points for those completing both shorter races and races of marathon distance or longer (Bradford is leading in the latter category). In addition to regularly placing at the top of Trophy Series races, racing frequently has helped Bradford amass a huge point total.

“I hadn’t really entered the series intentionally, but I got an e-mail early in the season that told me I was leading it,” he says. “Now I’m kind of excited about the idea of winning it. Some races, like the Lean Horse [100 Mile, in South Dakota], I wouldn’t have entered otherwise.”

Bradford placed fifth at Lean Horse on August 25 – barely ten days after finishing his PEI crossing. Since March, he’s won Moab, Utah’s Red Hot 100 Mile, Nevada’s Coyote Springs 100, Wyoming’s 52-mile Rocky Mountain Double Marathon, the Black Hills 100, Wyoming’s Happy Jack 100, and Colorado’s Grand Mesa 100. He also placed 19th at Colorado’s Quad Rock 50 Mile, and ran the occasional non-ultra race. He has ambitious plans for the rest of the year, including the Boulder 100 Mile in Colorado and the American Discovery Trail Marathon, where he hopes to hit a Boston Marathon-qualifying time (3:05) before his 35th birthday launches him into the next age bracket. The only catch – he will run the Breck Crest Mountain Marathon in Breckenridge the day before. (Update: after a 5:05 effort at Breck Crest, Bradford clocked a 3:20 at American Discovery Trail.)

“I don’t really train during the summer,” he says of his hectic racing calendar. “I mostly just recover between races.”

Most remarkable, perhaps, is the fact that Bradford had hardly run a step before 2009.

“It was just another one of those mid-life realizations that I was out of shape and needed to live better,” he says. “On New Years 2009, I ran the next day, and couldn’t make it a mile. I wanted to run a marathon but ran a half first…eventually I did the Leadville 26.2-mile, and fell in love with trail running.”

Since then, he’s been busy running nearly every weekend during the summer (and spring, and fall).

“But I’m not sure why I started winning this year,” he concedes. “I just started running much faster this year.”

The PEI Crossing

At 5:05 AM on Sunday, August 12, Bradford – accompanied by Gaudet – set out from Tignish on the island’s Northwest side along the trail – an abandoned railway that consists mostly of flat crushed gravel sections. Gaudet would accompany Bradford for what he estimates were the first 25k, and again for a 65k section through the night.

The run went on without a hitch at first, but then Bradford’s skies darkened in more than one way.

“The first 100k went really smoothly, and we were chatting and running,” Bradford says. “Then a rainstorm came in. It got really dark at night, with really, really heavy rain, torrential rain. It got really difficult to see, even with my headlamp.”

“The night run was surreal,” says Gaudet. “Bats crisscrossed our head beams throughout the night and raccoons seemed equally confused by the heat and our lights.”

When it wasn’t raining, Bradford had to deal with humidity and subsequent chafing – something relatively foreign to him. Despite the roadblocks, though, he covered the first 100 miles in under 24 hours. “My wife came out to crew and mule for me then, but I got sick and couldn’t hold down food. I was dry heaving constantly. That point, with over 70 miles still to run, was one of the darkest points overall.”

But he persisted – for unselfish reasons.

“I’d already told so many people and family members, and people had come to the island and rearranged their travel schedules to be there,” Bradford says. “I decided it was something I was going to do whether my body wanted to or not.”

“At this point my uncle got on a bike and rode with me,” Bradford continues. “He rode probably 100k total, and then with 2k to go, at a road crossing, he got off and walked with my wife and I.”

Bradford’s wife also ran with him through the second night, when he says he experienced hallucinations. “With 50k or so to go, she joined me,” he says. “It was great – I totally needed her. I would have been a wreck without her.”

At 3:31 AM the second morning—46 hours, 26 minutes after setting out from the other side of the island, Bradford finished his traverse of the trail. Pending Gaudet’s attempt, it is the only known completion of the trail in one shot – and the fastest.

“It was a big group effort, which was pretty amazing,” Bradford says. “I remember during the second night, being overwhelmed with this sense of gratitude. It was really profound, like in that raw, emotional state you can get into when you beat yourself up that way. It was all the help I had.”

“It became a lot easier when I just decided I needed to be there, to see it happen and have it all pay off for everyone,” he goes on. “This had never happened before in a 100 – usually I’m in charge of deciding whether I’ll be able to continue. When I abandoned that, when it wasn’t my choice anymore, that was pretty helpful.”