Whilst sharing a stage last year with the famed Dylan Bowman, Dylan referred to myself and Gary Robbins as 'the blogger generation' and whilst I have rather fallen into a lapse (an understatement if ever there was one) on blogging and moved more over in trying to keep up with the Instagram generation, maybe one or two of you are still listening out there.
In April of this year a coaching client of mine (Adam Benkers of Ten Junk Miles) asked what I thought about him doing the Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee. I hummed and hawed, said I'd seen something about it on social media but not looked at it much. After a quick bit of googling we agreed that the 8.3 kms daily average required to complete this challenge, the brainchild of Gary Cantrell (aka Lazarus Lake), seemed doable and so I have him Coaches authorization to sign up. I hung up on the Skype call (Zoom had yet to become the rage), sent out details of the virtual race (that soon became commonly known across the globe as GVRAT) to a few other clients who I thought might need some inspiration in COVID times and then began to think about it for myself ...
It has been many years since I have trained for a race, sure from time to time I've toed a line when the perma aches and pains have been at bay, but I've not truly dedicated myself to training for something since sometime in 2018. This was probably a smart move given I gave up on speed work in January of this year due to a bad hamstring and in mid March abandoned my run/ walk program once I got to 9 x (1 min run, 1 min walk) and generally felt like a bag of rattling old bones. But then COVID hit and by end of March our gyms and swimming pools started to close - I entitled my final swim workout (aka trying not to drown) on Strava as 'I'm screwed'. No gym, no pool, too many aches and pains to run. Don't even suggest ocean swimming in March in the Pacific North West. But I'm not one to give up lightly so in April I acquired some basic weights (thanks Bev and Deb), I tackled some stair reps (whilst scowling at anyone who did not keep a 2 metre social distance) and started walking. Walking felt pretty awful to start but as the old legs got moving they loosened up ... and I got back to run/ walk on the local track (3 x 1 min run/ 1 min walk). So naturally by end of April it was tempting to sign up for a virtual race across a state that I have never been to that required me to cover just over 8k (5ish miles for the Americans and Brits). It made zero logical sense but then probably most concepts that Laz comes up with don't make a lot of sense and that's why they appeal.
So on May 1st I was registered with the attitude of 'I'll try'. My top goal - bail if I started to get more injured. My 2nd goal - bail if I started to get more injured. My final goal - bail if I started to get more injured. By nature I like to finish what I start but this was a case of actually being smart for once and trying something that my head might be ready for but my legs might not. I has 123 days (the four months of May, June, July and August) to just keep moving. I figured I probably wouldn't have time to walk all of my miles but I also calculated that I could not run too many - that seemed far too ambitious (recall the failed 9 mins of running in mid March). In addition to the online race tracking I drew up my own spreadsheet and I started walking and jogging and logging my miles. I am generally not a fan of the word 'jogging' but I am a fan of glorious, aimless junk miles (please note - this is not what I advocate as a Coach, but it's the way my brain is badly wired) and this is probably one of the reasons that GVRAT appealed to me - it's not fundamentally about speed, but it's about plugging away day after day after day after day ... for 123 days (or less).
... And by the closing days of June I realised I was on track for a double GVRAT! Ok, not quite - I was a little behind but somehow I had logged far more than my required 8.3km average per day, and was closer to 16 kms/10 miles days. Go figure, you might think I used to be an ultra runner or something. So of course the double appealed and I knew I had to start playing catch up, so late June was a bit of a push and probably my main error of the project - I tried to play catch up too soon and whilst I completed a single GVRAT in less than two months, a few too many old aches and pains were appearing. Boo. Nice try Ellie, and I abandoned the thought of a double crossing (1200 or so miles) and instead settled on a mere 1000 mile/ 4 month goal. As an added bonus, Laz rewarded 1000 mile finishers with a cool pin - which seemed far more of an incentive than the map of Tennessee for double GVRAT finishers. Sure, I have two silver Western States belt buckles but some small pin that is probably mass produced in China seemed quite the draw. Ultra runners truly are not very smart.
To reach my 1000 mile goal I figured I needed a little extra motivation - another two months of dedicated training seemed a little daunting (the online tracker had overnight gone from saying that I was 100% complete for GVRAT to saying I was 50% for the double - ooof, way to downgrade a runner/ walker!) So at this stage I started to try raise funds for a cause close to my heart - Band of Runners which aims to bring veterans into the community of trail running. Please do check out their website here for info and a super eight minute video shot at their annual camp in 2019. No quitting now - numerous folks made kind donations so I just had to keep walking and jogging, but it did feel like added pressure to have other folks know what I was doing and now the risk of failure now seemed higher. And then another funny thing happened - about 10 days into July on my 1000 mile quest I found that I was bizarrely still ahead of the double GVRAT goal ... and my aches and pains had subsided. Like I said, I do enjoy glorious junk miles and somehow by taking the pressure off and deciding not to do the double I was still on track. Ok, back on the 1200 mile/ 10 mile a day goal!
I can honestly say it was no small feat for me to complete this task last Sunday. In 115 days I had propelled myself forward on my own two little (well, size 9.5) feet for 2043k or 17.8kms per day (11.04 miles). A little over half my miles were running, I hiked up mountains, I bushwhacked up gullies, I walked for 30 mins at the end of runs when I was too tired to run any more, and I went for 3hr urban walks to chomp away at the miles. It was hard, it was time consuming, it was fun, it was rewarding, and it was double the distance I set out to accomplish on 1st May.
So the next time you're not sure you can do something, how about saying 'I'll try'?
Happy trails to you all, stay healthy, stay safe and stay happy. And if you have read this far (thank you!) and are so inclined - please do consider a small donation to a very worthy cause, Band of Runners (click here). It would mean to world to me and my tired legs (I'm taking an easy week right now).