I am not sure I was thinking clearly back on May 3rd when I first stumbled on the Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee (GVRAT). I was wrapped up the Covid crisis and certainly not thinking long term. It seemed to make a lot of sense to me, 635.7 miles between May 1 and August 31, that’s only 5.2 miles per day. I rationalized that the challenge would keep me focused during the hot, humid months of a Covid infected Tennessee and the only person I was racing against was myself. But on May 7th, the day I summoned my courage to log into the website and sign up, I did not realize how caught up in the adventure I would become.
The days started off easy, mostly three miles, five miles, even a few eight mile runs. I was excited to be part of an international group of 19,000 participants, all virtually running/walking across Tennessee and connected by one Lazarus Lake of Barkley Marathon fame and his facebook group that provided a platform for us, his “RATS” to share our successes and challenges. It was an upbeat, lighthearted group, all working toward the same goal. But beyond the excitement was a demanding race that required daily attention, no matter what. A missed day would result in a 0 and 5.2 miles that had to be made up in future days and I was already 31.2 miles behind because of my late start. It was a relentless effort, running and walking, no days to rest, no days to relax.
During those first weeks of the race, I was constantly tired and unable to fight the urge to nap, sometimes for hours at a time. As a result John, who works full time, took over the household chores, cooking, shopping and offering encouragement and an occasional shoulder to cry on. He continued this level of support throughout the race. My life became running, walking, eating and sleeping and my body became stronger. As May slipped by, my mileage built. By the time the 31st rolled around, I was surprised to discover I had logged 49 miles walking and 123 miles running, my biggest running month in years.
In late May, early June, John reminded me that we were scheduled to leave on an expedition to the Brooks Range in the Gates of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska in mid August. I had been so focused on my mileage that I had neglected to think through that. I scrambled to redo the math and discovered that my daily mileage had to increase to a minimum of 8 miles everyday to finish the race by our departure, meaning 56 miles a week for weeks. And so it did. By late June, the bush flight service announced they were cancelling the 2020 season so our trip was cancelled. Still, I held tight to my August 12th finish date.
I would like to say I took my mileage on the road to explore new areas but I didn’t. Everyday I pretty much followed one of two routes from the house and toward the end, extended the routes to cover nearby areas for added mileage. There was comfort in this sameness. My mind could drift, I could get home to let the dog out or just have a cool place to rest for a few moments. After a while, I knew how many miles or 10ths of a mile I had to travel to get home. As the neighbors took notice, several would stop me and inquire about the race, how far I had gone and how many miles I had left. I talked with neighbors I had never met and I appreciated their comments and support.
As I continued to get stronger, I started to believe anything was possible, 8-10 mile days I got that, 12 mile days, no problem, yes even 15 mile days sprinkled in. The heat and humidity reduced me to walking. I spent 4-5 hours a day in the sun carefully slathered in SPF 50 yet roasting like a coffee bean. When July 4th arrived, I had only 136 miles to go. The race was coming to an end and I wasn’t ready for it. I began to mull over the BAT (back across Tennessee) option. I knew I couldn’t get another 635.7 miles in the time I had left but maybe I could achieve the 1000 mile pin. I mentioned it to John and shrugged his shoulders. He had been counting the days too.
The Race Across Tennessee officially ended for me on July 15th. I finished 635.7 miles in 71 days. ** I was so pleased and a little stunned that I had actually done it. John bought a chocolate-chocolate chip Anything Bundt Cake to celebrate and we ate the whole thing in 3 days. Meanwhile I told him I wanted to continue on and he said he agreed that I should. On July 16th, I signed up for the Back Across Tennessee race.
I was confident I could get it done. The worry that something, such as injury would stop me began to fade from the darkness of my mind. But 12, 13 and 15 mile days, seemed to drag on indefinitely. We were in the dog days of summer in Tennessee and everyday was the same, I woke up, dressed, walked for hours, ate and slept. I was hot and tired and I just wanted to be done. Poor John, he listened to my complaints day after day. Never once did he say, “well you signed up for this.”
Then, 8 days out from my projected grand finish, I got injured. I am not really sure what happened that day, it was not dramatic or memorable. I was in a hurry to get home to beat a threatening storm (I didn’t beat it) and likely increased my step turnover beyond my ability. By the time I arrived home, I was drenched and chilled. My foot and ankle radiated pain and swelling set in.
Over the next two days, I wrapped the affected area with an ace bandage and completed 5 very painful miles each day. But I continued to worry that I may have fractured a bone and the idea of being within 100 miles and not finishing wore on me day and night. In the afternoon on the 2nd day I took a trip to the doctor to be sure nothing more sinister was going on. He diagnosed tendinitis and sent me home with a prescription for Voltaren Gel and the advice to take it easy. I didn’t.
The next day I slipped on my shoes and continued. I would take time to heal post race but emotionally I had to finish this race. I had made a commitment to myself that I was determined to keep. After several 12 mile days and three back to back 15 mile days I reached the virtual 1000 mile finish line. On August 18th I ended the virtual race the same way I began it, by myself. Oh there would be another Anything Bundt Cake to be eaten but the satisfaction of completing this race was enough. I hadn’t given up on myself, not once, I stuck to it and saw this race to the end. I finished 1000 miles in 105 days. Only a few short months ago would never have considered doing something like this and that pretty much sums up how much I have grown.
So, here I am, a week and a half out from the finish and reflecting back. The rough edges of the most difficult days have already smoothed out. I can hardly believe I actually travelled that far over the summer. Would I do it again? Yep, as a matter of fact I have signed on to a team of 10 to participate in the virtual Circumpolar Race Across the World (CRAW) beginning on September 1st, 30,130 miles. Lucky for me, my portion is only about 3,013 miles or 12.5 miles a day for a gold (8 month) finish or 8.5 miles daily for a silver (12 month) finish. The math has already begun……
**the certificate days are calculated from the May 1st starting day. I started on May 7th.