He didn’t think it was possible.
Like anyone solely accustomed to road running before making the jump to traversing trails, mountains and glorious natural landscapes, Enzo Federico was skeptical when his friend first convinced him to run the length of the Baden Powell Trail more than 30 years ago.
“I’d dabbled in the trails but never really thought about it as being a thing to do all in one go. I ran parts of the trail, I hiked lots of it, so I knew the trail – but being a roadrunner I didn’t think I’d be able to do that,” Federico tells the North Shore News.
His friend, Shane Collins, was optimistic that an almost 50-kilometre trail run spanning Horseshoe Bay to Deep Cove with a climbing elevation of around 8,000 feet could be accomplished in less than 10 hours, if one was inclined – and prepared – to make the journey.
“I was willing to be convinced,” says Federico.
In 1989, Federico, Collins and a group of eight friends did the necessary preparatory work and, even though people thought they “were crazy doing it,” completed the trail run, raising approximately $150 for BC Children’s Hospital in the process.
“We didn’t have that many people, but we just did it as a group run,” says Federico. “Right from the start we said that anything we do we want to use it as an opportunity to give back to the community.”
After more than three decades spent turning that initial infatuation with North Shore trail running into an annual event known as the Knee Knackering North Shore Trail Run, Federico was honoured for his achievements, volunteerism and community spirit recently with the 2019 Tim Jones Community Achievement Award.
He received the award at the opening night of the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival held at Centennial Theatre on Feb. 22. The award is in honour of the late Tim Jones of North Shore Rescue, who passed away in 2014.
“It really, really meant a lot to me. I felt pretty humbled by it all,” says Federico, adding: “I always like to emphasize I was a co-founder. Shane Collins and I did it, and Shane passed away just over a year ago. … We just met at the right place at the right time.”
Federico describes how a race that started out among friends grew and grew, and within five years it had grown to accommodate up to 125 runners by 1994. Today, due to high demand, those wishing to have their knees knackered as they run the massive trail must enter a lottery system which caps out at 262 runners.
“You look at anything in the outdoors now … people go in droves up there now. I think social media gets the word out a lot quicker and people want to try all these things a lot more,” he says. “In the ’80s we had nothing like that to be able to get the word out, and people were really skeptical.”
Federico recalls giving presentations at running clubs and marathon clinics back in the ’90s in an effort to drum up interest for the Knee Knackering run. As more and more people eventually signed on, tempted by the trail run’s ultramarathon quality which compels participants to traverse most of the North Shore in less than 10 hours, the charitable bent of the event increased as well.
Since 1989, the annual event has raised more than $120,000 for various charitable organizations, with monies raised going to support North Shore Rescue for the past 20 years.
“We always emphasize we don’t want to just make it about that day. The charitable contribution is the first thing we did. Not a lot of races were doing that back then,” says Federico.
Years of Knee Knacker have come together to form something very special, says Federico, so much so that he can’t remember it all — but runner Greg White’s 9:59:59 finish several years back, literally one second shy of being disqualified, springs to mind, as does the story of one Harvey Nelson, who finished the race with five minutes to spare circa 2004.
“He was 71 years old and he had probably one of the biggest crowds cheering him on to finish ever,” says Federico, noting that participants climb an elevation of 8,000 feet before descending another 8,300 feet in the process.
Federico doesn’t run the trail himself as much as he used to these days. His last time doing it was back in 2013, but he remains on the committee for the annual trail run, and still provides lots of guidance and logistical work so that it runs smoothly every year.
This year’s Knee Knackering North Shore Trail Run is taking place on Saturday, July 13.
Asked why he continues to stay involved with the event even though he’s not running it himself anymore, he says he can’t get enough of the jubilant expressions on people’s faces as they cross the finish line.
“They’re doing something they think they can never do and the smiles and achievement that they have, I get a lot out of that.”