Nancy Ward is ready to run. SUPPLIED

Ladies. Imagine your 50th birthday is this August, and after 18 months of Covid, there’s a hint that the world may be opening up. How will you celebrate? You’re free to dream large and lavish, or intimate and reflective. Sky’s the limit to how you choose to celebrate this milestone birthday—you can even stretch the festivities to full two days if you like.

How many of you, other than Nancy Ward, whom you’ve perhaps met as an affable and helpful Circulation Technician with the Pelham Public Library, chose to celebrate your birthday by trail running 50 miles along Niagara’s Bruce Trail, then follow that up with another 50 kilometres the next day? That’s two days and 130 kilometres of irrepressible festivity.

Ward is an ultra distance trail runner. Her favourite event is the Twisted Branch Trail Run, a 100K August race through the forested hills of New York’s Finger Lake Region, which she has run five times. The 2020 race was cancelled because of Covid, and Ward was unsure if border closures would allow her to attend the 2021 event.

Ward wanted to compete in a truly memorable race to celebrate her 50th, and she was also aware that the Pelham Public Library has cancelled many of its usual fundraisers due to Covid regulations. Incorporating fundraising for the library became part of her birthday plans.

Ward conceived the “Give 50 for 50, 1 Weekend, 1 Woman, 50 Km + 50 Miles” fundraiser scheduled for Saturday, August 14 (50 miles) and Sunday, August 15 (50 kms), the week of her 50th birthday. She approached Amy Guilmette, acting library CEO, who thought it was great idea.

Since Ward will run alone, “This [event] can run no matter what happens, even if things were to turn south again, we can do this race and fundraiser no matter what,” says Ward.

Ward continually refers to “we” during our interview. She will have a team of library staff and family to share managing her various aid stations along the way and posting internet updates on her progress, but to be clear, Ward will be the only one lacing up in trail runners that weekend. Friends and fans can cheer her along on line.

Consistent with the 50 theme, Give 50 for 50 has a $5000 fundraising target, which Ward would love to surpass. She asks that you consider contributing a donation in any domination of 50 coins: 50 dimes, 50 quarters, 50 loonies or 50 toonies.

“The funds raised will go directly to library services in the wake of Covid, to pull ourselves back up and give the services we know people appreciate.”

The donation portal located in the upper right corner of the library’s home website page is open now.

Ward, who usually runs a couple ultras each year, hasn’t raced since 2019. She had been doing maintenance runs, but no long runs, and hadn’t been pushing herself. That changed in January when the decision to go ahead with Give 50 for 50 was made.

The funds raised will go directly to library services in the wake of Covid, to pull ourselves back up and give the services we know people appreciate

“Well, if we’re going to do this, we might as well try something different. We’ll get into shape and see what we can do. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be painful anyway, because even though I’ve tried to prepare, and will continue to prepare, you know, that’s the nature of ultra running,” says Ward.

The painful part Ward knows well. Her longest race was 100 miles (161 kms). Making light of the enormous challenge, she continues, “This one’s different, we’re dividing it over two days. And 50 miles and 50 kms are my favourite distances, so put together, maybe they’ll be even more favourite, who knows.”

I mention that running along the Bruce Trail isn’t considered easy, citing the massive, irregular rocks, foot-sucking crevices and slippery moss that make up much of the famous hiking trail. Ward indicates she has done her homework.

She will begin Saturday’s run in Queenston at around 5 AM. Ward refers to the Queenston to Roland Road section in Pelham as being “pretty runable, pretty Short Hills-ish,” which is the area where she frequently runs and trains.

“The Roland Road parking lot is about the 40K mark,” says Ward. “From there towards the end in Grimsby, to the 80K mark, is probably the hardest part of it. When I get to the rock, there’s a lot of concentration, because there’s a lot of chances to trip.”

She specifically mentions one section of trail.

“There’s a section just before you get to Quarry Road, there’s a portion that you’re literally running less than a foot from the edge, which is probably a 200 metre drop.”

Then she flips the concern to a positive, “I’ve got to remember that spot. It’s beautiful, I’ve got a breeze there, it’s a great view.”

Although August should be hot and dry, I ask Ward if she’s concerned about rain. Her first thoughts are that she doesn’t want to see the family and friends who are supporting her have to stand around waiting in the rain, then she shares that in her experience, trail running in the rain is no fun.

During the 2019 Twisted Branch, she recalls, “We had for at least an hour and a half just a monsoon. It was crazy, and it was late in the race, after the 80-kilometre mark. I was like, I’ll just curl up here, not go any further.”

Ward states matter-of-factly that there’s always some weather, and indicates she has the bumps and scrapes to prove it.

“But I don’t want to lose any teeth or end up with a black eye,” she adds with a laugh. I debate whether to remind her that she’s the one who chose to celebrate her birthday by running 130 kms, but let it go.

I ask Ward to convert the kilometres into hours—how long will she be running each day?

“I honestly don’t know. Because of the back-to-back days, I can’t push the first one too hard or I won’t have legs for the second day. The fastest I’ve done 100K is ten and a half hours, but not on this course, so we’re at least that. I would say I’ll probably be out there for 12 hours. Second day, depending on how I feel and whether I fall or anything, at least seven hours.”

As if 19 hours of running isn’t enough, Ward says the back-to-back format adds another challenge.

“It takes me a while to adjust to eating normal food [after a long run], and I need a meal in me Saturday night to make it through Sunday. I gotta get out there early, get home in time for my stomach to adjust, eat a meal, then have it in me for Sunday.”

Will turning 50 change Ward’s approach and attitude to running? She explains that ultras are different than marathons, which is a young person’s distance, noting that runners transition into ultras during their late 30s to 40s, and that racers 50 to 55 years old still comprise a large group.

She says positively, “I try not to think that it’s going to change anything. I want to feel good, want to compete. I’m not a fierce competitor. You compete with yourself, try for a personal best, and hope to feel good when you finish. That’s a huge accomplishment. I feel very comfortable out there, I don’t feel that I’m old in any way.”

Ward returns the conversation to her library fundraiser, Give 50 for 50. “Many people have said, ‘We love your service, especially during COVID.’ You don’t know how many times we’ve heard, ‘You’ve helped me get through this pandemic, thank you so much.’”

Ward is quick to point out that staff are just doing their jobs, and they’re happy to do them, but she hopes her Give 50 for 50 ultra birthday run may inspire library patrons to donate so the library can keep up key services.

“I just want to finish this, do really well, get the donations in, feel like it’s worth the effort,” concludes Ward. Her racing history suggests she will finish the event.

All of us who love and depend on our library can ensure Nancy Ward exceeds her Give 50 for 50 donation target, and guarantee her the memorable 50th birthday she deserves by donating now.