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Even though it seems like a first-world problem, the cancellation of the spring and summer race calendar due to COVID-19 was a shock to the routine of our running lives.
All those miles piled up in the dead of winter, all that hay put in the barn during a sloppy, wet spring. What was one to do with all that training now that so many of our start and finish lines had evaporated into the virtual ether?
Like so many, I ventured into the world of virtual racing. At the beginning of the shelter-in-place era, I was able to run my 50-mile goal race virtually, with my wife graciously serving as a support crew. Not gonna lie, it was a tough, character-building experience to say the least. So if a really long, slow run was so challenging, and the prospect of running solo time trials as virtual races did not seem personally appealing, what was I to do? What options out there could keep me motivated, moving, and (relatively) sane in this period of social distancing?
The answer came from the Head Geezer himself. Gary Cantrell, aka Lazarus Lake, is the mastermind of some of the most notorious races designed to test the physical and mental limits of runners such as the Barkley Marathons, Big’s Backyard Ultra, and The Last Annual Volunteer State Race. Laz and one of his friends cooked up the idea of a 1000k virtual race that virtually takes a person across the state of Tennessee, from the southwest corner across the Mississippi River from Memphis all the way to the northeast corner near Bristol. 1000k? Woof. That seems impossible. But then came the bait. The race would take place over 4 months from May 1 thru August 31. Completing it would require one to average a manageable 5.2 miles per day. Walking and hiking miles would count as well. Alright, alright, alright! Sign me up! Along the way, I was able to convince (or maybe con?) a few friends from November Project Columbus and CRC co-workers in Mike Ward and Andy Harris into the adventure as well.
We quickly discovered that there were going to be a few quirks that we would soon appreciate. In order to complete the route, we would have to run 1022k and not the advertised 1000. At that point, what’s an extra half marathon between friends? And due to the geographic quirks of the Mississippi River’s natural erosion and rerouting since the state boundaries had been originated, we also spent much of the first week simply trying to cross the river and enter what most people think of as Tennessee.
And since Mike Ward and I work mainly out of the Westerville CRC, we decided that we would also eat our way across Tennessee during the summer. Once we were both in Memphis, it was time to grab lunch from Ray Ray’s Hog Pit for some fine Memphis-style BBQ. We have also partaken of some other Tennessee originals such as Moon Pies, Goo-Goo Clusters, and of course our beverage of choice, Mountain Dew. It is safe to say that I am not losing as much weight as I had originally thought on this adventure.
The other thing that I have learned is that averaging 5.2 miles a day is tough. The “NOT being a morning person” means getting out of bed and getting the miles in doesn’t always happen. And getting them in after a good, hard day of driving around our capital city delivering shoes doesn’t always happen either. Oh, and the hot summer weather?!?!? Soooo much. There is a constant awareness of the location of the “pace buzzard”, the virtual carrion bird that taunts me by forging forward 5.2 miles every day, regardless of whether I can get out and run.
That daggum bird has also led to the motivation I had been searching for during this time. Runs are easily dismissed without goals, and slapping that virtual buzzard into the ground has become personal. It has also lead to quite a few adventures. Many weekends have been spent exploring state parks and trails I had never thoroughly explored, including Salt Fork, Tar Hollow, Scioto Trails, and Lake Hope and many sections of the Buckeye Trail.
So are you intrigued??? The guys at CRC Race Event Management have come up with a similarly-styled event in the Hell is Real Distance Challenge, a riff on the rivalry between the Columbus Crew and FC Cincinnati. Runners will have from August 15 thru September 15 to cover the 105.71 mile distance between Columbus and Cincinnati. That would require just under 2.9 miles per day. For the more adventurous, there is a Home-and-Home option that would double the distance to 211.42 miles, or little over 5.7 miles per day. I am in! There’s a lot of this great state of ours left to explore! You can find full race details here.