SANDPOINT — Blisters, chafing, sore feet and utter exhaustion did not stop Gwen Le Tutour from setting a world record.
In an effort to bring awareness to cancer prevention, the Selkirk Fire, Rescue and EMS firefighter ran 100 miles over the weekend in full firefighter gear — right down to the boots. The previous world record was held by a firefighter ran a marathon in full gear, and as a marathon is 26.2 miles, Le Tutour nearly quadrupled the record holder’s miles. Beginning Saturday morning at 8 a.m., Le Tutour completed the 100 miles in just under 29 hours.
It was a trying experience even for the conditioned ultra-runner, and Le Tutour said he couldn’t have done it without the support of so many who rallied around him for the world record.
“Almost everyone who was around us pushed their limit,” Le Tutour said. “So many people this weekend ran more than they ever ran before … Together, we were able to do something that we couldn’t have done without each other. It was so incredible.”
Even in the middle of the night, when there was only two people who had committed to witness the run, the couple said there was never less than eight people with Le Tutour. At one point on Sunday, he had 25 people on the trail with him. As Le Tutour struggled toward the end, several people showed their support.
“They saw Gwen’s vulnerability,” said Le Tutour’s wife, Katie Adams, as she looked at Le Tutour and added, “They saw you suffering. And our friends and our community stepped up. People who weren’t really comfortable with doing this kind of stuff, did it anyway.”
One of those who stepped outside his comfort zone was Selkirk Fire Capt. Britian Whitley, who geared up in his own turnouts, helmet and boots and joined Le Tutour for almost 13 miles to support him in his push toward the end. Another firefighter with a prosthetic leg rode a bicycle alongside Le Tutour throughout the night.
Adams and Le Tutour’s friend, Erik Olson, who many may know as the principal of Farmin-Stidwell Elementary, ran the entire 100 miles, and he hadn’t even planned on it. Le Tutour said Olson has been with him since day one of his training for the event. He had told Le Tutour he was going to run with him as far as he could in support, and as the run progressed, he just kept going.
It was people like Olson, Adams said, who helped Le Tutour through to the end. Though he may have finished the journey anyway, it wouldn’t have been “as fun, as fast or as smooth” as it was if they had not been there, she said. “It made a huge difference for him and for me,” Adams said.
“It made it, no doubt, a life-changing experience,” Le Tutour added. “The 100-mile run in firefighter gear was what started that, and then everything that built around that is that experience that we all got this weekend and it changed our life.”
Adams, of course, is one of Le Tutour’s biggest supporters. She joined him for the majority of the run, making sure he stayed hydrated and got the nutrients he needed to keep going. There was one point when she took a nap that Le Tutour was in trouble.
Le Tutour ran the majority of the miles, but around mile 67, he said he knew he should have slowed down. He kept going anyway, he said, even know he knew the pace was no longer sustainable as exhaustion set in. At mile 70, Le Tutour said he got to the Sandpoint fire station and “totally crashed.”
“He was in a worse spot than I’ve ever seen him in any race,” Adams said. “He didn’t know where he was, what mile he was at or what was going on.”
That was the longest break he took throughout the entire 100 miles, which was about 40 minutes. He got some rest, food and water, and “came back to life,” he said.
From mile 70 to mile 87, Le Tutour pursued a mix of jogging and speed walking, and then walked for about 10 miles.
“The last 13 miles were really hard because it was so slow,” Le Tutour said, adding he tried not to focus on how much he had left to go, even as the end drew near. “Every single step was just so painful. I was doing my best to stay in the present, in the moment, not worry about how much I had left to go, and try to focus on one step at a time. If you do that, at some point you are going to get there.”
There were times, he said, where he wanted to stop. Le Tutour said it felt like “too much,” in part because his pace, for him, was slow. And he felt bad, he said, because so many people had joined him and he wanted them to be able to run with him, but at that point he just couldn’t run anymore. He was able to push through, however, and run the final three miles, he said.
Adams said he pushed himself hard the entire way, completing the first 50 miles in just 13 hours. After making such good time, it was not surprising that he had to slow down at the end, she said. Ultra-running is not all about running anyway, Adams said, as only the elites run a full 100 miles, and that is not in firefighter gear and boots.
“It’s not about running, it’s not about a marathon time, it’s not about a pace — it’s about the experience and a personal journey,” she said. “There is no competition other than with yourself.”
It goes to show that, even if the pace is slower than they would like, if someone needs to get somewhere, they can get there, Le Tutour said.
The next steps is to organize and submit all of the witness statements, video and other requirements to the Guinness World Records and hope for the best in making it official. Even if it is not accepted for some reason, Le Tutour said that was not the primary purpose of his mission anyway.
The 100-mile run is the first campaign of the nonprofit Plant Positive, founded by Le Tutour and Adams. As both are long-distance runners, the couple said they wanted to do something that would make “a lot of noise” to bring attention to their cause in hopes that it will inspire people to make even the smallest steps toward a healthier lifestyle, which is the mission of their nonprofit.
According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, 50 percent of most cancers can be prevented, Le Tutour said. Each year, he said, a half million people die from cancer, so if 50 percent can be prevented, that is a quarter million who could be saved. Saving lives, Le Tutour said, is why he became a firefighter in the first place, and this is another chance do just that.
For their next project, which is already underway, the couple enlisted local filmmaker Scott Rulander to create a documentary. The documentary will not only to highlight Le Tutour and the world-record run, but also share stories of other local individuals who decided to take responsibility for their own health, to reduce their risk and do everything they can to prevent cancer.
Plant Positive is accepting donations, which will go toward completion of the film. For information on the nonprofit or to donate, visit plant-positive.org.
Mary Malone can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.