UltraRunning Magazine

Kathia Rached set two women’s records for Lebanon. Photo courtesy Survivorfest.

Survivorfest: Celebration of Strength, Sacrifice and Survival

Laura Kantor

Survivorfest takes place each year in Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada, and is a timed 6, 12 and 24-hour running event that is also a qualifier for the International Association of Ultrarunners (IAU) World Championships.

British Columbia’s Catrin Jones broke two records this year: the 6-hour Canadian record, completing 78.571k, and the 50-mile Canadian record in 6:08:16.

A new women’s 6-hour Mexican record was set by Carla Rodriguez DiMitrescu with 66.268k, and Kathia Rached set two women’s records for Lebanon: running for the entire 24 hours (no stopping) and completed 200k.

Photo courtesy Survivorfest

Three athletes—Michel Leblanc, Richard MacDonald and Tim Higham—qualified for the Canadian 24-hour National team.

Survivorfest took place on Strathcona Athletic Park’s (SAP) 400m track with solo and relay participants choosing the more competitive Loop A or more novice Loop B. Loop A used the four inside lanes of SAP’s 400m track for athletes looking to qualify for national teams and/or setting records while Loop B was an estimated 1.7k loop using the three outer lanes of the track and also pavement and concrete terrain off the track.

Photo courtesy Survivorfest

All Survivorfest’s proceeds go to the Saffron Sexual Assault Centre, continuing Townsend’s commitment to prevent sexual violence from impacting others. Since 2019, over $15,000 has been donated to the Saffron Centre by Survivorfest events.

Survivorfest founder and race director, Laura Townsend, is a sexual assault survivor and has been vocal about her experience to make positive change, which is why she started Survivorfest years ago with the tagline: “Celebration of Strength, Sacrifice and Survival.”

The timed event format is also near and dear to Townsend’s heart because as a mid-pack runner, there were races where she didn’t make the cutoff time within an ultramarathon, or she crossed finish lines where the only people left were a few volunteers. She knows how other mid-pack, non-podium-making ultramarathoners feel.

“It’s about inclusivity and not about the distance,” she says about Survivorfest and timed races in general. “You’re all moving for 24 hours.”

Photo courtesy Survivorfest

“There were people this year in Loop B who don’t usually make the cutoffs for other ultras, but they were on the podium for Survivorfest,” she explains. “It’s definitely a different feeling and experience for everyone with all athletes still there at the end of the race, 24 hours later.”

Pride in Pride.

This was the first year Survivorfest offered a non-binary category, with equal podium spots and prizing available.

According to UltraSignup, historically, all results have been documented either as “male or female” and so in comparing results and records to previous years, those were the only two options. UltraSignup simply didn’t have the coding set up to start something new.

Townsend says, “But we have to start somewhere, so why not now?”

The registration gender division wasn’t fixed in time for Survivorfest’s 2023 event for the two non-binary athletes who competed, and each completed 100 miles within the 24 hours. But UltraSignup is working on past results, coding and software to demonstrate its commitment to inclusivity within the running community and get the non-binary registration category functioning properly.

“Next year will be all about pride,” Townsend says. “There needs to be a push from the grassroots running community to be firm on the belief that everyone should be included.”

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