For Alex Cutulenco, running in the winter months can get a little stale. So when the Toronto native caught wind of the Canada Running Series’ TTC Challenge, he thought he’d give it a try.
In the challenge, participants run the total distance of the Toronto subway lines—that’s 76.5 kilometers, just over 47 miles—over the course of January. But Cutulenco, 29, wanted to take it one step further. He aimed to follow the actual subway routes—and do it in a single run. So he drew out a course that covered each route on the Toronto subway map, which equaled nearly 100K, and went for it.
At 7:30 a.m. on January 7, Cutulenco and a running buddy left from Vaughan Metropolitan Centre, which is just north of Toronto, and headed south towards Toronto’s transit hub, Union Station. After reaching Union Station, he headed back north on an all-uphill route to Finch Station.
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“The first 50 kilometers actually felt surprisingly easy,” Cutulenco told Runner’s World. “I’m thankful that 45 of those first kilometers were run with friends, so they clicked off quickly.”
He then looped around and between his previous routes like a shoestring and finished at Kipling Station, about 15 kilometers east of downtown Toronto. For a 17 kilometer chunk of that stretch, he was all by himself.
“Those [kilometers] were very mentally challenging. But I knew as soon as I finished, I was going to have another partner join me and finish the last leg off,” Cutulenco said.
The last 30 kilometers—just under 19 miles—were a blur, but he managed to keep pace. As soon as he finished, Cutulenco shared a moment of elation with his running partner then immediately wanted to get out of the cold. Cutulenco credited his wife and his BlackToe Run Club teammates for getting him through the exhausting nine-hour experience.
“This challenge was more of a virtual challenge... so there’s no prizes. You do it for the sake of proving something to yourself and getting a little more in shape. I set out a goal for myself, and I completed it,” he said.
Cutulenco is used to difficult tasks. Just last year he completed the famous Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim trail in the Grand Canyon, which covers 48.3 miles and 20,000 feet of elevation gain. Such ultrarunning experiences taught Cutulenco a couple of important takeaways.
“Keep your training fun and create your own challenges, whatever they are,” Cutulenco said. ”Never stop believing in yourself, because your mind can take you very far.”
So what’s next for Cutulenco? An 100-miler? Back-to-back marathons? Not quite.
“My wife and I are expecting our first baby,” he said. ”I have a half marathon planned for March, but after that, I’m going to hunker down and focus on the other challenges of life.”
Chris Hatler is a writer and editor based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but before joining Runner’s World and Bicycling, he was a pro runner for Diadora, qualifying for multiple U.S. Championships in the 1500 meters. At his alma mater the University of Pennsylvania, Chris was a multiple-time Ivy League conference champion and sub-4 minute miler.