Canadian adventurer extraordinaire Hélène Dumais chronicles 888K ultra in new documentary
Hélène Dumais cannot be stopped. It’s kind of her thing. The Quebec-based ultra runner has a long history of athletic achievements, but perhaps none quite as impressive as becoming the only woman to ever finish the Infinitus 888K Trail Race. No, there isn’t an extra 8, the Vermont race is 888 kilometres. And, she didn’t just finish. She won.
Now, two years after her achievement, Dumais has produced a documentary about this unique race and its participants that has just been released to the public for the first time.
Dumas was first heard of the Infinitus Race from a fellow runner.
“He told me no woman ever finished it and I could be the one to make it happen,” she says. “The rest is history.”
She first attempted the race in 2016. Although she didn’t complete it her first time out, it left a very large impression.
“While there, I was fascinated, disturbed, and amazed at the same time by the event itself and the people taking on this almost impossible challenge,” she says. “I said out loud “there should be a documentary film made about it!”
Facing Infinitus, like the race, is about the pursuit of something bigger than ourselves. The film follows a few athletes in the 2017 edition of the race when Lance Parker becomes the only finisher and John Spelco, a 70-year-old runner, inspires. There is also commentary from Sebastien Boucher, an osteopath and endurance sports specialist, who explains what is going on physiologically during a race of this magnitude. But, for Dumais, the most powerful moments come from those who overcome big challenges in life and can transfer it to the event.
“It will touch, move, and inspire anyone who’s facing impossible challenges that they may have in their own life, whether in sport or any other areas of life: health, business, relationships,” she says.
A Montreal native, Dumais is a running coach, CrossFit trainer, and motivational speaker.
She says the call of the mountains and adventure was there before she even started running. She solo trekked the French Pyrennes (800K) when she was 23. Back home, she started running in the woods and it stuck. Before long, she entered her first 10K run. Yes, she won.
“I was hooked but I thought maybe I have the potential to explore here,” she says. “As I increased the distances, it felt right to spend more time running in nature, so the longer the better. Besides the people I love and I care for, nature is like a second home.”
Thus began a running career full of exceptional highlights such as being the first and only woman to finish the Survival Run Australia. She was also the first woman to ever finish the Survival Run Nicaragua in 2016 two days after getting second place on the 100k Ultra Fuego Y Agua. She finished second in the gruelling Montane Spine Race in 2017.
Needless to say, she thrives on extreme challenges.
“Extreme events require not only physical abilities but mental and emotional strength and experience. I feel alive knowing that I am the only one responsible for my survival and getting to the finish,” Dumais explains. “When we get that in life, that we are on our own, this shouldn't scare us or make us feel alone, but empower us to take responsibility for making the life we really dream of.”
Of course, it hasn’t always been such a rosy outcome for Dumais.
At Survival Run Canada in 2017, Dumais was knocked down a steep snowy peak by a fellow runner and started careening full speed straight towards some rocks.
“Before I hit, I managed to roll over on my belly and was able to slow down and stop my fall,” she says.
Although she’s been through a lot, there is little that compares to a race like Infinitus.
“It is the longest time and distance I have ever run,” she says. “This sort of event has its own category beyond ultramarathons. As much as it is a race, because it is so long, you have to pace yourself, cultivate patience, train the mind, the body and the spirit to be laser-focused for 10 days non-stop.”
Although she spent a few years of her life tackling Infinitus, now that it is over and the movie is out, she says she is ready to move on.
“I am an adventurer and constantly need new and different challenges,” Dumais explains. “So when I do finish, let alone win an event, I am ready for something new after. Though this race has a special place in my heart.”
Although her days competing at Infinitus are over, she has been coaching clients to tackle the race including in 2019 when she went to crew and pace a competitor in the 250-mile distance.
“He crushed it!” she says. “It was a blast in many ways: to see him conquer his own Infinitus, to reconnect with the community of the event and the trails I spend so many hours on, days and nights, rain or shine… It is part of me forever now.”
Of course, the 2020 edition of the race has been cancelled following the COVID-19 pandemic, but she plans on being there in 2021 to crew and pace another client on the full 888k distance.
Until then, the pandemic hasn’t interrupted much of her life, as she works mostly online and at home. She did say it has provided her with a rare opportunity to re-focus.
“Spending time and attention on the film was in big part possible because of the pandemic,” says Dumais. “Half of my work was in-person clients, which got cancelled, so I redirected this time to the launch of Facing Infinitus! The one thing I do miss is to lift heavy barbells at the CrossFit gym and to hug people.”
When asked what advice she would give those looking to tackle bigger challenges, she says you have to dream big.
“Then dream bigger!” she adds.”Pursue only projects that really call you from the bottom of your heart. Aim for something you have a 50 per cent chance to finish. This will get you out of your comfort zone and this is where we grow, we discover ourselves, and even better we invent ourselves!”
As it grows in popularity, the film is being added to streaming platforms such as Vimeo On Demand.