Elias Kibreab of Vaughan, Ont. crushes Bruce Trail FKT

Without much fanfare and a very small support team, Elias Kibreab of Vaughan, Ont. quietly but resolutely clocked the fastest known time on the Bruce Trail in Ontario. Kibreab arrived in Queenston just before 11pm on Sunday, breaking through a gang held by his daughters, after being on the trail for eight days and 17 hours.

The previous FKT was set by Karen Holland in September 2021 at 8:22:51, and broke the record set by Kip Arlidge last June of just over four hours. Holland’s feat – which took on not just the women, but the entire FKT on a major track – was celebrated throughout the ultratrail world.

Elias Kibreab begins his journey in Tobermory on May 7, 2022. Photo: Allan Williams

The Bruce Trail is the oldest and longest marked trail in Canada, dating back to the early 1960s. The route mostly follows the edge of the Niagara Escarpment from Tobermory to Queenston and features a variety of terrain from rocky singletrack and hilly to gentle trails through forests and farm fields, as well as gravel sections and paved roads. Although parts of it are owned by the Bruce Trail Conservancy or local conservation authorities, much of the route is on private property. The length of the trail oscillates around 890 to 900 km; it constantly changes due to weather, maintenance and construction.

May 9, 2022, 6:40 a.m. Photo: Allan Williams

Kibreab moved to Canada in 2007. He grew up in the mountainous region of An’saba in Eritrea, in the Horn of Africa. As cattle herders, Kibreab’s family would take their animals across the mountains to graze, and during his high school years he and his friends participated in short races. But in 2002, political instability in Eritrea forced him to flee the country; he lived in Sudan, Libya and Italy before coming to Canada. Unsurprisingly, his running took a back seat during this time, and it wasn’t until 2009 that he started running again.

Kibreab left Tobermory at 6 a.m. on May 7. On May 14 (his last evening), his wife Feven and their two young daughters surprised him for an impromptu picnic on the trail.

Kibreab (seated) with his family and supporters on May 14. Photo: Allan Williams

Kibreab, 44, an emergency room nurse at Humber Memorial Hospital and marathon runner under the age of 3, only recently made the switch from road running to ultratrail; he won the Haliburton Forest 100 Miler, his first trail race, in September 2021.

Kibreab was assisted by various friends and acquaintances who paced him on the trail, and the team leader Allan Williamswho also helped John Pocker when he set the same record in 2020 (which was broken by Arlidge). Organizing a week-long adventure like this is a logistical challenge; the rider must have access to more food and drink than they can carry, as well as changes of socks and shoes, and sometimes first aid. Kibreab’s right ankle began to swell a few days later, but he continued despite the pain. The weather has suddenly become abnormally hot this week, after a cool and wet spring; last weekend’s temperatures were in the low 20s.