Running for a cause: virtual Cabot Trail Relay Race will benefit local businesses

One of the country’s most popular running relays is going virtual this year.

Typically the main street of Baddeck, N.S. would be packed at the end of this month, with hundreds cheering on the final runners at the Cabot Trail Relay.

For the second year in a row, the race had to be cancelled because of COVID-19.

“Having no relay for two years in a row, it just felt like a lot of our energy had been sucked out,” says Grace Mason-Parkinson, a member of the organizing committee for the Cabot Trail Relay Race.

Due to the pandemic, the relay has pivoted to a ‘virtual challenge’, allowing runners to participate from anywhere in the world.

While that’s good for runners, the real benefit will go to the businesses along the trail, including a non-for-profit, that has been instrumental to the event over the years, but is now struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tim Duguay is one of the owners of Route541.com, a company that has organized virtual running and cycling events during the pandemic. He’s also a longtime participant and volunteer at the Cabot Relay.

“It’s ‘Christmas for Runners’, you hear that reference a lot,” Duguay says of the Cabot Relay.

Now, Duguay is challenging others to run the nearly 300 km route, from a distance, to help those who typically host the runners along the Cabot Trail.

“We want to find a way to give back to that community, but more importantly, the entire Cabot Trail” says Duguay. “So we’ve reached out to all the businesses we could along the route, and we just want to support them.

“With the lack of being able to fundraise, it’s been hard to give back to our communities,” says Amanda MacQuarrie, President of the Baddeck Lions Club.

Each year, the club serves the meal at the end-of-relay banquet at the Baddeck Arena, feeding more than 1,100 runners in a matter of minutes, which always draws a standing ovation.

“It really warms our hearts,” says MacQuarrie. “Sometimes, some of us will have tears coming down our face, because we are overwhelmed with the gratitude.”

Since the pandemic has cancelled several of the club’s biggest fundraiser, a large portion of the proceeds from ‘Virtual Cabot’ will go back to the Lions Club.

“As Baddeck Lions Club, we serve our community. So being able to receive those funds is helping us serve our community,” says MacQuarrie.

Participants can sign up for the ‘Virtual Cabot Relay Challenge’ as individuals, or as a team.

While organizers admit it is impossible to replicate the trail’s world-famous scenery and mountainous terrain, they say the response from runners has been pretty great so far.

“The amount of team requests… last night, I had three different teams reach out, asking if I wanted to be on their team,” says Duguay.

The virtual relay is scheduled to be held May 29 and 30.

If the current lockdown restrictions are lifted by then, some runners say they still plan to head up to the Cabot Trail and run their ‘virtual’ leg in person, which would add to the cheer surrounding the event, and provide some much-needed traffic to some businesses in the area

Even if they don’t hit the trail this spring, organizers say once the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us, and the relay is able to run safely in-person again, runners will be back on the trail in full force.

“I think we’ll see a celebration unlike anything Baddeck has seen in a while,” says Mason-Parkinson.

For now, they’ll focus on going the distance to give back, and creating something positive out of these uncertain times.