The Self-Transcendence Ultra Classic….Ottawa 35 Years On

There is not very much about the very first Self-Transcendence 24 hour race held in Ottawa that anyone now associated with organizing the race can still remember.  The kind of exact records and details associated with nearly every current day race have somehow slipped away. It was after all 35 years ago.  A time when hard drives were what you did when you got in your car and went from Halifax to Vancouver.

No one today even knows which track it was held on, or the exact date in May when a brave band of runners appeared on starting line of a 400 meter track to do something that the world had rarely seen before. The little that we do know however is still pretty impressive.  Starting in May of 1981 the Ottawa race has an unbroken streak, except for one year, that now stretches back 35 years. It just may be the longest continually held 24 hour race in the world.

For the past few years the race, which now also accommodates a 6 and 12 hour event, has been held in the Louis Riel dome.  49 participants came to take part this year on September 26.  The winner of the race will be the Canadian 24 hour champion.

One thing that makes the research a little easier on the history of this race is that the indisputable fact that the great Canadian/Scottish Al Howie was one of the runners that first year.  He not only won but he also set Canadian and North American records at the same time. His distance for the 2nd race in 1982 was even greater.  He ran an astonishing 150 miles and 233 yards (241.726 KM) which pushed the record out even further.  He was so intent on improving himself when he came again, that in the 3rd race in 1983, he ran all the way from Winnipeg to Ottawa as part of his training.

Al Howie, an icon of endurance events would run a lot of miles and engrave some serious running history at the event for its first 5 years, and for a lot of other years afterwards in ultra races all around the world.

What becomes clear when you attempt to gaze backwards across the many years, is that something so unique and challenging 35 years ago is now dwarfed in comparison to some of the huge distance races that are being held elsewhere. Multi day running, though still not commonplace, is no longer shocking when brought up around most runners today.

Picture taken In New York

Picture of Sri Chinmoy and Al Howie taken after a race in New York

Sri Chinmoy, the founder of the marathon team saw early on that distance running would become much more common all around the world.  That people would use the challenge of long races to test a runners capacity in every way.  He first asked the members of the group in Ottawa to put on their first 24 hour race in May of 1981.

Long-distance running gives us a real feeling of accomplishment. We can run 100 metres forty times during the year and not feel the same sense of accomplishment as when we run one marathon. But speed and endurance are both important, especially in the spiritual life. If one has only speed, then one cannot ultimately succeed; we need endurance because the goal is quite far. Again, if one has only stamina and no speed, then it will take forever to reach the goal. Only if someone has both qualities will he be able to make very good progress in his spiritual life and achieve something really great in life.

Angie and Kevin before start

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Signing in

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Kimberly arrives

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Counters getting ready

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Cameron pinning on number

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Open spaces

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Pre Seve

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David Foscarini

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David Foscarini says he was ordered to come here by Utsahi, one of the race directors.  He met him at the 6 hour race earlier in the year in Kingston.  “Everybody has to come to Ottawa he said, so I am here.” David admits that it was an easy persuasion.  This time he is doing the 12 hour race but has done the 6 and 24 event in previous years.

He says his training has been not so great this past summer, so he thought the 12 hour would be a better fit.  He hopes to make 85 km. David says what he enjoys most about long distance running is the simplicity.  “I just put on a pair of running shoes on and go for a run.”

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David Foscarini

Bonnie and Bruce Barteaux

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“I am crewing for Bruce who is running the 24 hour race.”  Bonnie Barteaux is in familiar territory helping her husband Bruce.  They have teamed up for lots of races before, they have been here 3 or 4 times though she can’t remember exactly how many just now.  It is in the early dim hours before the 8 am start.  She admits that the job of a helper, especially if you stay awake the entire time is not easy.  “Bruce will tell you that all he has to do is keep running. I have to give him the stuff he needs.”

“Part of my challenge is staying awake in the slower hours of the night.”  She says the best thing about her job is being part of a team that is successful.  “Bruce is the current reigning 24 hour champion.  He is here to hopefully defend his title.”

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“Last year I did 180km.”  Bruce has added pressure this year as he just turned 60 and is as well trying to not only win the overall event, but also to take the Canadian age group record.  “I have 24 hours of work to do.” His personal best he says is a little over 207km.

He also enjoys the camaraderie of events like this.  “You get to see and run with folks you have seen before.  That is the fun part.  Running is fun.  It gets a little less fun later on. The bear climbs on board and the fun factor is reduced.  The people are still here and it is great running with other folks who are going through the same highs and lows.”

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“It is not like dog eat dog.  If somebody is running well you encourage them, and if somebody is not running well you encourage them.  It is great.  Everybody is a winner.  Anybody who has the guts to run for 6, 12, or 24 hours that is great.  They are demonstrating a fit lifestyle.  They are challenging their own limitations.”

Bonnie adds as well that Bruce is making this his personal Terry Fox run.  “Every year since 1999 he has run at least 100km as a solo event for Terry Fox fund raising.”

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Bruce and Bonnie Barteaux

First step

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Debra Horn

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“I have only heard good things about this race.”  Debra Horn and her boyfriend Rodger have come from Cleveland to take part in the 24 hour race for the first time.  “For many ultra runners it is kind of an institution.”

She has run lots of 24 hour races but the race that will start shortly in the Dome is her first indoor event.

Debra says she always enjoys meeting fellow runners that turn up at the ultra races.  “The people are always enjoyable. But also it is fun to just run and not think about anything for 24 hours.  It is kind of like meditation.”

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Hans Maier and Blake Maier-Cavanagh

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This will be Hans Maier’s 23rd time running the 24 hour race.  He says when he came the first time it was simply the challenge of it that inspired him.  “I have been doing long distance running for the past 33 years.”

He continues to like the challenge of the race even now at age 76.  “The race organizers here are the top notch people in the world.”

Blake gets his number

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With Hans is his grandson Blake who is just 19 and been here 4 times before himself.  He will be running the 6 hour race and after which he will help his grandfather.  He says that being here is an adventure.

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Hans just ran a 100 km race 3 weeks ago.  “I am in good shape right now. But you never know what happens in a 24 hour race.” In his first race here 23 years ago he ran 156km.  Last year he ran 129km and hopes to improve upon that. “I just want to be optimistic about it.”

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Sue Armstrong

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“I have been here many times.”  Sue is not sure exactly how many times she has taken part in the 24 hour race but her forgetfulness is understandable since she first came and ran in 2002.  Give or take a year.  “It is a little vague,” she confesses. Sue also admits that back then there was not a 12 hour race, but the race directors  allowed her to sign up for the 24 hour and than dropped out after 12 hours.


The next year there was no looking back and she has run the 24 hour race ever since.  Her first full race she says she ran 162km.  “I was thrilled and I cried.”

Since then she has had varying success each time she has come.

“It is incredible.  There is a long term satisfaction doing the race and knowing that you can.  But the feeling you get, even when you don’t do well.  The last hour or so when you are on the track there is a feeling and energy that comes that is just incredible.  You can only experience it by doing it.  The bad thing is that you have to do that other 23 hours to feel that last hour.”

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“Even if you haven’t done so well yourself, the feeling off of everyone, the energy is phenomenal. That is so worthwhile.  That is the big motivation just to feel that feeling.”

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*Sue will break 2 age group records by running 175.75 km (109.2 Miles)*


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 Luc Gelinas and Huguette

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This will be the 2nd time that Luc and his wife Huguette have come to the 24 hour race.  Huguette will not only handle Luc and help with his numerous costume changes but she will also be working in medical giving massages.


“Last year I did this one and also a 100km race.”

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Luc clearly wants to enjoy himself and after every hour of the race he plans to change his tie.  “Last year I had some hats the only one I have this year is this one here.  They call me the clown runner.”

Huguette when asked what she likes about being at the race her response…..”TOUT.” (everything!)

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As for his own goals he Luc says he has no goal.  He runs only for his own pleasure.  “Just to be with other runners and to be with my wife.”

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Start 6 hour

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Jess Heroux


69 year old Jess tells me that he had to quit running for 10 years.  He does have a long history of running the race over the years but it is clear that he is up against a lot of physical challenges.  Ones which would make a lot of others simply want to stay safe and comfortable sitting in the bleachers.   Instead he continues to find enough satisfaction to keep coming back each year,  even if it is now doing the 6 hour race instead of the 24 hour.

“2 years ago I got a new knee.”  He says it was his left knee and he laughs as he points to his other knee and says now this one is bothering him too.

It doesn’t take too long when you move along with Jess to be impressed with just how much he has accomplished and continues to accomplish as a runner.  He seems have been to all the big races such as Western States and 10 Boston marathons. Though they seem to all have taken place some time ago when Jess had all his bits and pieces working just a little bit better.  Despite this he laughs and says, “I am doing pretty good considering.”

“I had an aneurysm in 1993 and during the operation I had a stroke.  The stroke left me paralyzed on the right hand side.  I didn’t know if I was going to live or not.” He says this with real poise and peace, “the years go fast.”

As for the track he laughs and says that the 400 meters of track in front of him feels more like a mile and a half.

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Why he continues to come he says is because of the camaraderie and the people.  While we are moving along he often calls out encouragement to the other runners.  Jess says he has no particular goal, “I just do whatever I do.  I don’t care if I even finish this race.  I have already done 11 races this year.”

“I am exhausted,” he admits and says so with a laugh. At this point he has been moving along nicely but still has nearly 5 hours to go.  “It is nice walking.  I would rather be moving than walking.”

He says the 24 hour race here is special.  He enjoys the race more since it moved inside the dome.  “I am in heaven.”

Of course at this moment his knee is sore, “but I will keep going.”

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The board

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Paul Smith


In an attempt to find out as much of the history of the race as possible I spoke with Paul Smith who was doing the 12 hour race and has taken part more times than anyone else.  Paul isn’t exactly sure just how many times but when it is confirmed that this race is the 35th time he says he has been here 33 times.  “I have missed 2 races.”

“I missed the first one because I didn’t know about it.”  When he turned 65 he decided to run a 48 hour race in Drummondville.

Paul says that his first 24 hour race was the Self-Transcendence race here in Ottawa.  “I have been a jogger since I was 14 years old.  I started in 1959 where I grew up in Bathurst New Brunswick.  There was a 5 mile loop around the basin and every day after school I would go home and run around. At that time there was no other runners.  I was the only person on the road that would run.  I enjoyed it and tried to improve my times.”

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Paul says that he has a personal best of 116.9 miles (186 Km) for 24 hours.  Today he is running the 12 hour race and admits to being 70 years old.  “I am doing it this year because I just turned 70.  I wanted to do one as a 70 year old.  It will probably be my last ultra.”

“My goal is to always stay on the track and keep moving.  It doesn’t matter how slow I am.  It is just about participation. I think the real race is the human race. I think all the years of running and being active improves my life in general.  To get the most out of it you have to move.  Be active.  Doing something.  Get excited about something.”

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Debra, Cameron, and Sue

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A Poem

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Blake Maier-Cavanagh and Jayne Dutton and Johanne  Audet (6 hour finishers)


19 year old Blake tells me he has done the race quite a few times before.  He says, “I have done better than I have ever gotten. I got a marathon this time.  Usually I get around 35 km. This year is a lot better.”

Jayne says, “I also got my first marathon.  I found it very tough but it was a great race.  It really tests you.”  The 2 now look out in admiration at the runners who will still on the track moving many more hours from now.

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Johanne who also just finished says, “I really liked it.  It was my first ultra.  It was well organized.”

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Blake and Jayne and Johanne



Mark Jones and Sarah

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Comments by Mark Jones and Sara after his win in the 6 hour with 72.4km.

“He beat Atmavir by just one lap.  It was fun.  It is always fun.”

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Team Mark end of 12

Results 6 Hour

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Mark Weghorst

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Angie Darbyson


Angie won the 12 hour outright with 117 km.  When she finishes I joke that she looks so fresh that she could easily keep going.  She has achieved her goal of 100 km some time earlier and was simply staying out on the track to finish the 12 hours.  “The last hour was the best.”

Her goal was to make 100 km in 9hours.  “I was hoping to qualify for the Canadian 100km team.  This is my first 12 hour track race.”

Angie confesses that after she achieved her goal she spent the last 3 hours chit chatting and walking around.  Even so her total was 16 km more than the next finisher.  “I had fun.” (laughs)

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As for the 100 km, “It was very challenging. It was actually very hard.” As to why she stayed on moving, “I felt like I should complete the 12 hours.  You can’t just stop.”

In the future, “I would like to do 100 miles at some point.  Hopefully next year I guess.”

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end of 12 hour angie

Darika one of the race directors gave this speech:

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“Every year the Canadian association of ultra runners holds a number of different championships throughout the country.  This year, the Self-Transcendence race in Ottawa is the host of the 100km ACU championship, for both men and women.

“Not only is Angie the winner of the women’s ACU championship but she is also the overall winner.”

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special award angie

Counter Bipin


Results 12 hour

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Nearly there

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Taking it easy


Working hard

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Stephen with 100 miles

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It’s over

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Kimberley Van Delst

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“This is a beautiful race because there are beautiful people here.” Kimberley has smiled for 24 hours and inspired many others out on the track.  Her results this year have not been her best.  She is voted however the most inspiring runner.

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Kimberley after

Debra and Rolly

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Next year??

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Paramita in medical

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A different kind of inspiration



Pablo Espinosa

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Pablo wins the race this year with 204 km.  When asked how he feels he says, “I am tired.” His total this year is a personal best for him and also means he is the new Canadian champion.  “It is not so bad.”


“I was pacing myself and doing my own race from the beginning.”

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Pablo after


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Bruce Barteaux

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“I don’t come to these things to just wander around.  I tried pushing it.  I had the Canadian age group record in my sights and it just wasn’t happening today.”  Bruce finished in 2nd place with 188km.

Bonnie says he was 6 laps short of the record. Bruce, “I was close but not close enough.”

“I knew it was going to be hard hard work to do, or even just to try it. I committed myself about 3 hours out.  I said if I am going to do it I have to commit now.”

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“It was good.  A lot of good folks out there and and there were some fantastic performances run.”

Bonnie adds that even though Bruce knew he would not get the age group record he kept pushing hard right to the end any way.  “He just kept driving it.  I am so proud of him.”

Bruce says there a lot of pretty impressive Canadian age group records that are currently challenging him.

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Bruce finish

A long night

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Hans Maier

“It was fine.”  76 year old Hans finished the 24 hour race in 13th place with 137 km.

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Why Hans likes the race he says, “is because you never know what is going to happen.  It is such a long race, lots of things can happen.”  He says that the demons come after 50 or 60 km.  “So you have to handle the demons.  The demons go when you handle them properly.  They are mental as well as physical.”

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He is sitting contently as we speak which is now just a few minutes from the award ceremony.  Hans smiles and tells me that he has won the battle once more.  “I handled them.  I am in control.”

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Hans finish


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Utsahi, along with Darika were the race directors for this great event.  Of course it would not have been possible without the help of so many people who helped so much and for so long with counting, food, and set up.

“This is the Canadian championship as well,” Utsahi tells me.  “We are part of the Canadian ultra series, and we are part of the qualifying for those who want to run in the world championship.”

Now both he and Darika are directing the event but he says his first encounter with it was in 1990 when he ran himself.  “I ran it 4 times.  It is easier to run than to organize.”

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“The vision behind this race is incredible.  How could Sri Chinmoy, at the time (35 years ago) have envisioned to seed 24 hour races all around the world.  There were tons of them.  That was one of the starts of the ultra world.”

“People did not know at the time the potential of human beings to do long races like this, and Sri Chinmoy saw that.  He made it happen.  Look at this.  It is continuing.  Good people.  You can see, we are having fun.”

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“Congratulations to everyone who has run this race.  In Sri Chinmoy’s philosophy all the runners are winners.  Because each of you has transcended yourself.”

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Try to be a runner, and try all the time to surpass and go beyond all that is bothering you and standing in your way. Be a real runner so that ignorance, limitation and imperfection will all drop far behind you in the race.



5 Comments to “The Self-Transcendence Ultra Classic….Ottawa 35 Years On”

  1. Vidura says:

    This blog captures the spirit of long distance running, a world of transcending oneself no matter what gender or age.An inspiring and fun read.

  2. Rupantar says:

    Absolutely the best post race report I have ever seen! Well done.

  3. Grahak says:

    This is a fantastic,inspiring blog. Thanks for posting it.

  4. Akkerbez says:

    I am so grateful for this great manifestation and inspiring blog.

  5. shivaramgi says:

    Utpal has captured the true spirit of self transcendence of the Run yet bringing out the personal expression of each participant nearly all of whom reflect this spirit – beyond the world of name, fame and glory of the competitive world.

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