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Mike Ward (Virtually) Conquers Tennessee

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Mike Ward (Virtually) Conquers Tennessee

Since the start of May I’ve been taking part in The Great Virtual Run Across Tennessee (GVRAT)--an up-to-four-month-long virtual run that has attracted over 19,000 registrants from all over the world.

The crux of the event is that athletes have from May through the end of August to (virtually) complete a course that starts in the southwest corner of Tennessee and ends in the northeast corner.  Though advertised as a 1000K, the course is actually closer to 1022 kilometers (or about 635 miles).  To complete the race, you’d have to average just over five miles of running or walking a day for 123 days.

What a dumb thing, right!?  Pay a registration fee for a (objectively very ugly) shirt and a chance at a medal/belt buckle to commemorate the fact that you ran (or walked) consistently for four months.  (Perhaps you can tell I’m not really big on the whole “virtual race” idea--or at least I wasn’t.) For over 18,900 of us, it’s hardly a race.  It’s just another running log to update every day.

And yet, by the time this is posted I will have finished my GVRAT.  Likely not with enough time to go back across (which many, many runners have done), but maybe with enough time to get to 1000 miles over that four month span.  And for some reason that seems like something I’d like to do.  It won’t really mean anything.  Running 1000 miles in four months isn’t better than running 950 miles just because it’s more

But I think many of us feel like the current pandemic has given us an odd (dare I say) “opportunity” to try things we wouldn’t normally do.  Some of us are renovating our houses.  Some of us are instituting family game nights, or movie nights, or generally setting aside quality time to spend with those in their household.  Some of us are trying our hand at cooking dinner for seven days straight (gasp!).  Whatever way we’ve decided to take the lemons COVID-19 has handed us and turn them into our personal lemonade is something I think we’ll look back on in the coming years and say “remember when we did x?”

That’s more or less what the GVRAT has been for me.  Along with CRC’s Find Your Limit Virtual Mile Challenge, the GVRAT was one of the first post-pandemic events I took part in almost for the sole purpose of doing something I wouldn’t normally do.  And, quite frankly, both those events gave me more than I expected when I registered.  The GVRAT in particular has motivated me enough to run more miles over any three-month span (so far) than I’ve done in over 10 years.  Again, more miles doesn’t always equal better running--but the journey has been fun and that’s what makes it worth doing.  Ten years ago, running all those miles was a slog towards what would hopefully be a great goal race time.  What’s been cool about the GVRAT is that the path and the destination are the same thing.  Making the trek is the goal.

I have to say that I’m surprised by how much I’ve enjoyed the virtual running circuit that has come out of the pause on in-person races.  Certainly virtual races can’t replace everything that’s offered by traditional races--but that street goes both ways!  The beauty of virtual races is that you get the opportunity to do things that can’t be done in a road/trail single-course, single-day format.  CRC will soon be putting on a head-to-head, bracket-style virtual racing challenge that’s going to be killer, in addition to their our own version of the GVRAT called “HELL Is Real” where we’ll be virtually racing from Columbus to Cincinnati (and back, if you have the GUTS!)

Yes, it would be lovely to live in a time and place where we could do both.  Maybe you’d have a unique virtual race here and there to help you prepare for your “real” road race in the fall or spring.  Well, those days are on the way.  In the meantime, if you need some extra motivation, try jumping in a virtual race.  I can promise you it is not the same as the road races you’ve grown to love.  But in some ways that’s kind of the point.

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