CHERYL LYON – Each year since 2019, a group of ultra marathon runners from the Peterborough area have run 4000 kilometres to save something very small and something very big.
The small thing is the Monarch butterfly. The big thing is human existence on this planet. The two communities at either end of the marathon are Peterborough, Ontario and Zitacuaro, Mexico.
The runners’ route mimics that of the Monarchs’ annual epic migration to the forest groves of central Mexico, where they will winter over. Once, there were so many butterflies in those groves that the sound of their fluttering has been described as a rippling stream or a summer rain. Tree branches have been known to break under their weight. Those lucky enough to witness their abundance describe it as “the personification of happiness.”
We all know the Monarch ⎯ the gorgeous orange-and-black-with-white-spots butterfly. Sometimes its caterpillar stage can be spotted on a milkweed plant, the only plant they depend on for this reproductive stage in their life cycle.
Now, though, like so much life on the planet, the Monarchs’ numbers are plummeting toward extinction ⎯ a drastic decline resulting from an economic system whose emphasis on “development” has led to the Climate Crisis.
In just the last 20 years, Monarchs have declined by 85%. The western population — crossing the border to overwinter in California, has suffered a 99% decline. Their numbers are now less than half of what is necessary to avoid extinction. At the same time, milkweed, the butterflies’ “nursery”, is imperiled by urban expansion and pesticides.
How does running help this heartbreaking loss?
Action begins at the local level, where we all live. The persistence and resolve needed for an ultra marathon testify to what we can do in every community, large or small, to act together in confronting the crisis.
In this inspiring local-to-local collaboration, the Peterborough Monarch Ultra Marathon partners with the Mexican community of Zitacuaro, whose citizens hold a Monarch Festival to greet the arriving Canadian runners. It’s the definition of local-to-local. https://www.themonarchultra.com/peterborough.html
Many Mexicans see the arriving Monarchs as symbols for the souls of ancestors returning to bring comfort to departed loved ones. Some celebrate by dressing up as Monarchs in parades with the butterflies often representing support for immigrants. Their long migration may also signify the strength and endurance we humans need to adapt to climate change.
An ultramarathon is any footrace longer than the traditional marathon length of 42.195 kilometres (26 mi 385 yd).1
The Monarch Ultra’s runners break the distance to Mexico into stages run by different runners.
This year’s ultra runners will begin their journey for the Monarchs on Sunday, 15 October at Millennium Park in Peterborough. If we can’t run ourselves, let’s infuse them with energy as they embark upon their marathon’s first stage.
- Wikipedia ↩︎