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Good thing he doesn’t live in California: Rhode Islander plans to run the entire length of his state

Jon Pincince's goal is 80 miles in one day, from the Burrillville woods to the Atlantic Ocean, to raise money for the Nonviolence Institute

Jon Pincince is an avid runner who plans to run the length of Rhode Island, covering 80 miles, on the North-South Trail Thursday to raise money for the Nonviolence Institute in Providence.
Jon Pincince is an avid runner who plans to run the length of Rhode Island, covering 80 miles, on the North-South Trail Thursday to raise money for the Nonviolence Institute in Providence.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

CRANSTON, R.I. — Heat, horseflies, and hamstrings.

Those are three possible answers to the question Jon Pincince will face early Thursday morning: What could possibly go wrong?

Before the sun rises, Pincince will begin running in the woods of Burrillville, near the Massachusetts border, setting off on an 80-mile course that extends the full length of Rhode Island, north to south. If all goes well (or well enough), he will stick his sore feet in the Atlantic Ocean in Charlestown at sunset.

So why is Pincince, an avid runner who grew up in Woonsocket and lives in Cranston, embarking on this trek to complete the entire North-South Trail in a single day?

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For one thing, it’s his 43rd birthday. He ran 35 miles on his 35th birthday, so his idea of a birthday bash goes well beyond cake and candles.

Like everyone else, he’s been cooped up amid the pandemic, so he’s itching to do something more adventurous than curbside pickup.

And, significantly, he is doing it to raise thousands of dollars for the Nonviolence Institute in Providence.

“We’ve all been experiencing the craziness of 2020 — and not just 2020, but the past few years,” Pincince said.

Sometimes, he said, you can feel helpless, wondering: What can I do? How can I make it stop? How can I make it better?

So this journey provides not just a distraction; it also offers “a way of helping a little bit on a personal and political level,” Pincince said. “It’s something to do in these crazy times.”

Sure, some might call an 80-mile run crazy. One person who pledged to support the run sent him an e-mail with the subject line: “Midlife crisis.”

But Pincince offers a different explanation: “Runners are fans of terrible ideas,” he said. “It doesn’t take a midlife crisis for people like us to love terrible ideas.”

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Which leads to the question: What could possibly go wrong?

Pincince said he has already received one answer: His cell phone is malfunctioning just before he heads into the wilderness.

But he might not need it at all because a lot of people will be helping him along the way. He has divided the course into 11 legs and recruited a different person to run with him on each leg.

His wife, Christine, will get him started, beginning at 4:30 a.m. in the Buck Hill Management Area in Burrillville. (Because of parking access, he will actually need to run two miles north before turning south on the North-South Trail).

His 13-year-old son, Charlie, will be riding a bike with him, beginning at Willie Woodhead Road in Chepachet. This reporter plans to join him at Mile 59, at the Richmond Dog Park.

And his 19-year-old daughter, Molly, will run the last leg with him. “She promised that if I make it to Mile 74, she will make sure I make it to the finish,” he said.

P.J. Fox III, executive director of the Nonviolence Institute, expressed his thanks, saying, “When people push themselves, they can achieve great things and build hope within others.”

He wished Pincince well on the run, saying, “As the old Irish blessing goes: May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back — for 80 miles, Jon!”

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To prepare, Pincince has been racking up the miles, peaking at 83 miles in a week.

In years past, he has completed five marathons, with a personal record of 3 hours, 10 minutes, 21 seconds.

This year, he has run the North-South Trail over the course of four different days — marveling that renowned New England trail runner Ben Nephew once ran the whole thing in 12 hours and 13 minutes and estimating that he might complete it in 16 hours, at a pace of roughly 12 minutes per mile.

Jon Pincince has been consulting this Garmin map of the fastest North-South Trail run, done by Ben Nephew in 2013.
Jon Pincince has been consulting this Garmin map of the fastest North-South Trail run, done by Ben Nephew in 2013.Courtesy of Jon Pincince

He has packed four pairs of size-12 Hoka Clifton running shoes, and on Tuesday he went to Rhode Runner to pick up a fifth pair a half-size bigger in case his feet swell.

He has secured $7,210 in pledges for the Nonviolence Institute — choosing the nonprofit as the beneficiary after reading a Globe Q&A with the executive director.

He has packed granola bars, body glide, Heavy Duty Off, and enough ibuprofen to anesthetize the average household pet.

In short, he is as ready as he can be.

But he knows obstacles await.

He knows temperatures will climb into the upper 80s.

He knows the trail will contain roots, rocks, and boulder fields.

He knows David Preston, who owns a Rhode Island public relations firm, recently hiked the North-South Trail and tweeted Pincince a warning: “Worst. Horseflies. Ever.”

He knows that, while he might actually enjoy the first 40 miles, at some point this will seem like a truly terrible idea.

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Still, he knows that if he can make it to Charlestown, if he can stumble out onto Blue Shutters Beach in the fading light and thrust his feet in that ocean, he is going to say to himself: “Holy (expletive), look what I did!”

For those who want to follow his progress, friend Patrick Laverty has agreed to take over the @JonPincince Twitter account to provide updates throughout the day. For those who want to donate, send a pledge note to jpincince@gmail.com, but then make the actual donation directly to the Nonviolence Institute at www.nonviolenceinstitute.org.


Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com