When many people hit the milestone of their 50th birthday, they share brews with friends, tuck into a cake or insist their family develops collective amnesia. Ultrarunner Donald Peterson took a different view, deciding to treat himself to 12 gruelling 50-kilometre races, over the course of his 50th year.
The Deep Cove resident is an accomplished ultra-endurance athlete who has run across deserts and through jungles, as well as being a seasoned competitor in North America. He decided to undertake his Deep 50 Challenge to raise funds and awareness for Help Fill A Dream, which assists children on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands who have been diagnosed with life-changing medical conditions.
“As a dad, I can imagine how tough it must be to have a child with a disability or for something terrible to happen, and for those parents, they have other things to worry about too. I’m an Island boy and Help Fill A Dream is an Island charity,” he explained.
The charity helps in a variety of ways, including with travel expenses, costs associated with having a child in hospital, home modifications and medications. Much of this practical help can seem as if dreams are coming true and Peterson has been moved by individual cases of children’s lives being enriched. He said often children don’t want to go to Disneyland or meet their favourite hockey player, but instead, their dream is something as simple as owning their own bike.
Running such great distances is beyond most people’s experience, and perhaps comprehension, but for Peterson, it is a realistic goal. He said 50 km is tough, but not as tough as a 24-hour relay event held at UVic a few years back when he ran 190 km.
“I like the challenge of running,” he said, “I like the journey you go through. It hurts up to a certain point and then its discomfort, and you just need to deal with that level of discomfort for the rest of the way, it doesn’t hurt any more or any less, it’s just painful.”
Peterson said the mental challenge is as satisfying as the physical, and he switches between disassociating himself from the pain and trouble-shooting why a part of his body is hurting. “You need to figure out mentally how to battle through the pain, there are peaks and valleys that you roll through on a mental wave.”
So far, Peterson has completed four of the runs, with his most recent running around a block in Victoria for five hours. His May run will see him take on the 47 km Juan de Fuca trail, with three extra kilometres tacked on to make 50.
Later in the year, he plans to up the ante, taking on Vancouver Island’s highest peak, the Golden Hinde.
You can follow Peterson’s adventures on twitter @cotu_vi and support his Deep 50 Challenge by donating at canadahelps.org.