Jim Willett of Newmarket, Ont. ran the Scotiabank Fredericton Marathon Sunday, the start of a three-week, 1,200 kilometre journey will eventually take him to the Ottawa Marathon on May 29. His Marathon2Marathon trek is his latest long-distance running adventure that all started after he finished treatments for colon cancer in 2011. During his upcoming journey, he wants to document the people he meets, the experiences he encounters and the places he visits and share them with the world via social media. Photo: Submitted This story ran in the Fredericton Daily Gleaner on May 7, 2016.
Jim Willett describes himself as storyteller, a cancer warrior and an adventure seeker.
This weekend, Willett, a native of Newmarket, Ont., will use Fredericton as a launching pad to highlight all three aspects of his personality, setting forth on an a trek that will link the Scotiabank Fredericton Marathon Sunday with the Ottawa Marathon on May 29.
The goal is to run both marathon events as well as all 1,200 kilometres in between, the latest test of endurance and dedication that helped him get through his fight with cancer, one that’s taught him valuable personal lessons and given him a greater perspective on life andimproved appreciation for others.
One additional, albeit important, component of his quest is to meet, interact with and record the many stories of his fellow runners and ultimately publish them on various social media platforms for the world to see.
“What I have learned is that every person in the race and every person at the race has a story. Everyone chose that start line and they are there for a reason,” said Willett, who arrives in Fredericton this morning. “They have their own motivation but you never know unless you are willing to ask them.”
His current project, dubbed Marathon2Marathon, is an offset of Willett‘s dedication to endurance or ultra running, that was born as Willett faced his own mortality following a colon cancer diagnosis in 2010. At 36, he found it a shocking development considering he was fit, healthy and active.
Yet, his life changed, quickly, as he underwent surgeries to combat the disease initially and then when doctors discovered later it had spread, six months of chemotherapy followed. During those darkest of days, he decided to investigate ultra running, something he always wanted to tackle but for one reason or another, he never got to it.
Willett considered himself an adventurous type so when his diagnosis came, he wanted to act on his motivations and set goals, because time had become a precious commodity. Initially, he looked at 50 km races and it snowballed into 250 km events, the first of which happened in June, 2011 in the Gobi Desert.
“The conditions were extreme,” he said of that first long race, spread over six days. “The heat was in the 57-58 degree Celsius range. I experienced all kinds of things – I got caught in a sandstorm, but it was an amazing adventure.”
Since then, he’s run in five continents, including races in the Atacama Desert, the Kalahari Desert and in Iceland. In that Gobi Desert debut, he got rid of the port used to inject the drugs into his body during the chemo treatments, a symbolic turning of the page.
It happened on the next to last section, where he buried the port at approximately the 75 km mark of an 80 km leg.
“I really felt like closing a chapter,” he said. “That is not to say you want to forget stuff like that because I never will – I have the scars to remind me – but it is closing one chapter so you do not get stuck living that over and over again. It signified I was ready to move on.”
In the past number of years, he’s maintained significant mileage and has enjoyed success, as evidenced by his 2014 record at the 890 km Bruce Trail in Southern Ontario of 10 days, 13 hours and 57 minutes, breaking the previous standard by two days.
Through his ultra distance experiences, he’s never completed a marathon.
Again, using adventure as his guide, he wanted to complete two marathons reasonably close together – in terms of time and distance. The timing of Fredericton and Ottawa worked the best in terms of his Canadian options.
During the three week intermission, he hopes to average 60 km a day, take in what New Brunswick and Quebec have to offer and ultimately make it to the nation’s capital in time for the May 29 event.
Along the way, he’ll take pictures, interview anyone who wants to talk and film large portions of his experiences.
He is posting information on Instagram – optimismninja; Facebook – facebook.com/JimWillettPage; and Twitter @OptimismNinja and will compile a video for YouTube when it all ends.
“As I have run over the world and done these different races, I realized part of the adventure is the people you meet and the stories you hear, the connections you make,” he said. “[Running events] are a different kind of experience and through social media, I want to bring people in and see what I am seeing firsthand.”