François Brûlé Runs 100 Miles for Charity
Story by Michael Seguin
Photography by Mile 90 Photography
From 5 am on May 29th to 9 pm on May 30th, you might catch a glimpse of him. At first glance, he might not draw too much attention to himself. Just a 56-year-old man in running shoes, with a pair of water bottles strapped to his vest. ‘Just another person trying to stay in shape throughout the pandemic,’ you might say to yourself. Or maybe: ‘Just another man enjoying a leisurely jog during the nice weather.’
However, depending on where and when you catch sight of him, Assistant Deputy Fire Chief François Brûlé might have been enjoying a leisurely jog for 40 hours.
An ultramarathon (also called ultra distance or ultra running) is, well, exactly what it sounds like. Defined as any foot race longer than 42.195 kilometers, a typical ultramarathon can last anywhere from 6 hours to 10 days. Some can even encompass distances of 1000 miles.
Why anyone would willingly subject their body to such torment is beyond most reasonable people. But François has found a good reason. He will be spending almost 2 days running a 100-mile lap around Windsor and Essex County to raise money for the Canadian Fallen Firefighter Foundation.
François Brûlé, a lifelong Lakeshore resident, has been a volunteer firefighter for 23 years.
“It sounds cliché, but I’ve always loved helping people,” François states. “I was in the Naval Reserves as a Medic. So, I’ve always had the inkling to help out medically, and to serve. I did that for eight years. And then, through school, I got into sports medicine. I was an Athletic Therapist back in the day, helping out athletes.”
After leaving his career as an Athletic Therapist, François found himself searching for something to fill the void. Fortunately, he saw an ad for the Lakeshore Fire
Department in the local paper.
François recalls. “It was the first municipal amalgamation of the municipality of Lakeshore. So, I took on the challenge. I applied!”
Twenty-three years later, François concedes that things worked out. In 2019, he was promoted to Assistant Deputy Fire Chief of the Lakeshore Fire Department.
And after years of serving with his fellow firefighters, François is intimately
familiar with the dangers of the profession.
“Firefighting is inherently dangerous,” François admits. “We’re trained to follow our training and our operating guidelines. We do the best we can. But it’s still
dangerous—either directly, due to events at an incident or because of things like occupational illness and disease resulting from exposure.”
Cancer is one of the better-known occupational hazards of the profession.
“These are things we’re seeing more and more of,” François states. “Everything in your house is synthetic. Your furniture. Your clothing. Pretty much everything you own. When those combust and burn, there are toxic materials being created and released. And although we’re wearing protective equipment and breathing apparatus, it can still get in our pores and our lungs in some shape or form. There’s also the whole mental health and wellness aspect that firefighters and all first responders have to deal with.”
As a result of these dangers, several organizations have risen to support firefighters. One of these charities is the Canadian Fallen Firefighters Foundation (CFFF), an organization created to honour and remember firefighters who have fallen in the line of duty and support their families. They were responsible for creating the National Firefighters Memorial in Ottawa.
Inspired by the CFFF, and an avid ultramarathon runner, François has decided to run 100 miles around Windsor and Essex County to raise money for the charity.
When asked to describe the sensation of running such great distances, François has only one word: “PAIN.”
François replies. “You are going to experience pain. It might start towards the end. It might start as early as midway. You’re not injured, but it is pain. And pain plays games with the mind. It tells you, ‘Hey, it’s time to rest. You should stop. You should do this. You should do that.’ The pain is going to stay. It’s not going to go away. It might be easy to pack it in. It might be easy to put your feet up. But, as soon as you do that, within the hour, you’re going to be kicking yourself. You’ll wonder why you let yourself quit.”
Most ultramarathons feature aid stations every 5 to 7 miles. Thanks to the pandemic, François will be undertaking this event alone.
“Most races have aid stations at regular intervals, so you know you can have fuel and drinks,” François explains. “In some cases, you have the opportunity to see your crew or even change some of your clothes. And you know it’s all preset and predetermined. You can plan your race strategy accordingly. With COVID everything that’s going on, we can’t have aid stations every five miles. I’ll be relying on what’s open out there and family and friends.”
François estimates that the trek should take him just under two days.
“It’s not a race,” François states. “The objective is just to get through the journey. I’m not competing against anyone. I’m just going to enjoy it and get through it.”
François’s route will take him through areas serviced by eight different municipal fire departments, including the Lakeshore Fire Department, the Leamington Fire Department, the Kingsville Fire Department, the Essex Fire Department, the Amherstburg Fire Department, the LaSalle Fire Department, the Windsor Fire Department, and the Tecumseh Fire Department.
“We hope we get the message out to all those areas and beyond,” François explains. “If someone wants to come out and walk a mile with me, or meet up somehow for a show of support, then that’s something positive.”
And positivity, François stresses, is something the world could use a lot more of in these difficult times.
“We are all going through hard times,” François states. “We’ve been at this pandemic for over a year now. It’s less than ideal. This ultramarathon is a way for me to get out, stay fit and engage with the community. And if I can raise some money for this great cause, then it’s all worthwhile. That’s the greater good.”
Any and all donations in support of this initiative can be made directly to the Canadian Fallen Firefighters Foundation at the following www.cfff.ca. From there, you can directly support François by selecting Donate Now, Online Donation Form, Fund and then 6-100 Miles for the CFFF. Alternatively, you can mail in a cheque.
“All donations come with a taxable receipt,” François states.
François encourages anyone interested ultramarathon running to dust off a pair of shoes, get outside, be patient, go slow and easy and start pounding the pavement.
“Running 100 miles is not an unreachable goal,” François stresses. “It might not happen overnight, but it can be done. When we put our minds to it, we can do just about anything.”