Harvey Mathies (left) and wife Karon ran 70 kilometres to celebrate their birthdays.

Ringing in a new decade with a backyard birthday ultra

On a warm Thursday evening last month, Harvey and Karon Mathies left the Bessborough Clock Tower to run a 6.6-kilometre loop along the river.

It was Sept. 29. Karon had turned 66 one week earlier and Harvey was a week out from his 70th birthday.

The couple wanted to celebrate the milestones by doing “something unusual” — so they decided to tackle a modified backyard ultra that would see them run 6.6-km loops overnight until they hit 70 km.

“The big thing is we said ‘Let’s run through the night.'” Harvey says. “Because that way, we get to do something different. People always run 70k, but not everybody starts at night and goes through the night.”

Karon Mathies (left) and husband Harvey ran 70 kilometres to celebrate their birthdays.
Karon Mathies (left) and husband Harvey did a 70-kilometre backyard ultra to celebrate their birthdays.

The Mathies haven’t always been runners; they picked up the sport in their late 40s after their kids had grown. They quickly fell in love with trail and ultra running and have finished a handful of 100-km ultras. Karon has also completed a 100 miler.

“It’s amazing what you can do when you don’t know what you can’t do,” she says.

The pair say they can run ultras as masters athletes because being active is part of their lifestyle. They train in some capacity every day and gain motivation by running with others, including some who are decades their juniors.

Some of those training partners joined them for the first and last kilometres of their birthday ultra, but the Mathies ran most of the distance with only each other for company. They talked a bit — and at one point listened to ABBA playing from Karon’s phone in the wee hours of the morning — but spent most of the kilometres in comfortable silence knowing each was thinking about the other.

“One thing about running is, when you’re really tired, your emotions are really at the top,” Harvey says. “All of a sudden you get way more appreciative of each other.”

Harvey Mathies (left) and wife Karon ran 70 kilometres to celebrate their birthdays.
Harvey Mathies (left) and wife Karon at the Bessborough Clock Tower during their birthday backyard ultra.

Despite running regularly, Harvey lined up for the birthday ultra not having tackled a distance as far as 70 km in more than three years. The uncertainty about whether he could do it made the experience all the more special. “Always do something that you think you might fail at,” Harvey says. “That builds character.”

Fortunately, failure was not in the cards.

Harvey and Karon completed more than 10-and-a-half loops of 6.6 km to make it back to the Bessborough Clock Tower for the last time at 7:45 a.m. on Sept. 30, just over 12 hours after setting off. They celebrated with a shot of Fireball — a longstanding post-ultra tradition — and stumbled into the Sheraton for brunch. Staff treated them “like royalty” after learning of their overnight adventures.

It didn’t take long for the couple to be back to training and, while they aren’t yet sure what their next unusual adventure will be, they’re sure it will be fun.

“It’s all about challenging yourself to do something you didn’t think you’d be able to do,” Karon says. “And if we can inspire one other person to change their mind about their activity and be healthy in life and try things they didn’t think they’d be able to do — that’s our goal.”