Laura Townsend is on track to run 50 ultramarathons by the time she turns 50, but that’s not the only thing keeping her busy. She’s also a mother of five.
“My kids range from the age of six to 14. I guess I’m an ultra-mom because I started off with triplets,” Townsend said with a laugh.
An ultra-runner is anyone who runs farther than a marathon distance: 42.2 kilometres.
A few weeks ago, Townsend ran her 23rd ultramarathon. She’s also organizing the inaugural SurvivorFest24, which has participants continuously loop around the 400-metre track in a 24-hour, 12-hour and six-hour event.
The 44-year-old said she never expected to be on track for 50 runs. In fact, she never expected to be on a track at all.
“I grew up on a farm, so having an active lifestyle was part of our life. But at school, when the coach would ask us to run, I felt like it was punishment.
“I hated running as a kid.”
In her 20s, she began running five- and 10-kilometre runs to relieve stress and meet new people.
“When my husband and I found out we were having triplets, we decided we would keep one thing that we like to do outside of family life and work.”
Townsend chose running.
“I still can’t believe that’s what I landed on after hating it for so long!” she laughed.
“I found a great group of people. Most of them were moms and it was my social club and my time away to be active. Suddenly, I found myself in a half-marathon clinic.”
Shortly after, she signed up for her first ultramarathon. After her 13th ultramarathon, she decided to push herself even further.
“I decided I would run 50 ultramarathons by the time I was 50. In the process, I am raising funds for Saffron Centre, the sexual assault centre in Sherwood Park, because I’m a sexual violence survivor.”
It took Townsend until her 20s to break the silence about what had happened to her as a child.
“My family believed me. They never questioned it.
“I also heard a lot of ‘me too.’ The more I heard that, the more I would feel the strength to let others know that they aren’t alone. There is something beyond being a victim.”
Townsend said it’s heartbreaking to know that sexual assault is still happening.
“On Thursday, I woke up and felt so powerful and so strong. About two minutes before my morning run, an article popped up that a woman had been sexually assaulted in Terwillegar. It’s been emotional. I know I’m doing the right thing and we’re making change happen, but it also shows that we have some work to do,” Townsend said.
Townsend first heard about Saffron Centre when the organization hosted an education program at her children’s elementary school.
“They’re educating our young people. They talk to Grades 1 to 3 about saying ‘yes’ and ‘no,’ setting boundaries and being a good friend.
“In Grades 4 to 6 they start talking about social media. In junior high and high school, they layer on this again and talk about relationships and friends.”
LISTEN BELOW: Sherwood Park mother of five aims to run 50 ultra marathons before 50
“I remember thinking what happened to me might not have happened to me if I had that knowledge and had that program in my school. It’s so important for our kids. It’s going to change them,” Townsend said. “People are saying ‘#MeToo? Get over it’. There’s a stigma attached to that. It’s still happening. It’s still happening to our sons and our daughters.”
SurvivorFest24 takes place on Saturday and Sunday, with money raised going to the the Saffron Sexual Assault Centre.