Wow. It has been over a year since my last blog post. And boy, oh boy, has this last year been challenging for us all. It has taken me some time to get beyond all the bad things that happened to see this year wasn’t a total downer. There were some good things to come out of it.
A year ago I was recuperating from surgery on torn meniscus in my knee. It is every runner’s nightmare – an injury that could spell the end of a runner’s career. I was depressed and worried that day had arrived for me. One thing I was not prepared for was the amount of muscle mass I loss in the affected leg. I couldn’t bring myself to write about running. I wasn’t running and I certainly wasn’t having any fun or adventure. I was focused 100% on rehabilitation.
Then COVID hit. Races came to a screeching halt. I no longer needed to bust my butt trying to get back in shape for my next marathon. I was on my own for physical therapy when they curtailed their operations due to COVID. The only zooming I was doing was at home on video conference calls, not in planes to some far off start line.
I needed something to get me going again. I entered the Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee (GVRAT) that went from May 1 to August 31. It ended up being the best thing for my recovery. Participants had to complete 635ish miles, and could run or walk. I decided to try do a mix of running and walking. I started out on rolling hills but quickly found this was too difficult for me. In fact I injured myself the second week and had to take eight days off. A physical therapist I follow on Instagram posted a graphic that illustrated why I had such difficulty with hills. Due to my injury and surgery, I no longer had the necessary muscle strength. I needed to change my approach.
I found a flat trail and started walking. Every day I got up at 4:30 AM and headed out to walk between two and four hours. I was always the first person out on the trail. Those early hours afforded me the privilege of seeing a variety of wildlife including turtles, beavers, deer, and red foxes. I would usually see the same people each day out getting their own exercise. We never chatted, just a friendly nod or wave as we passed in our social distanced way.
There was one section of the trail with a detour down a steep hill. At first I could only take one step at a time. Over the first month my strength improved and I finally was able to walk – slow but normal – down that slope. It took me 78 days to complete the 635ish mile virtual course. Since I still had time before the end of the race, I decided to keep walking towards the next milestone of 1,000 miles. My strength had improved to the point one day I found myself breaking into a jog. I was elated.
During the 4-month race, I logged my highest weekly mileage (walking) ever – 102.19 miles – and my highest monthly mileage – 385.06 miles. If someone had ever told me I could do that, and with a bum knee no less, I never would have believed them. But there wasn’t much else to do during the pandemic, with everything closed, except go outside and walk. I was able to complete 1,000 miles of walking in 120 days. More importantly, I had regained strength in my leg and was now able to start taking baby steps back to running.
I entered a virtual 100-mile race in October. In addition to the 100-mile goal, we had weekly challenges to complete. The first week we had to complete a run at sunrise and post our mileage before 8AM. The second week challenged us to run doubles twice over the course of the week (two runs per calendar day, two times). We also had to log more total miles than the previous week. During the third week, daily emails were sent with a riddle we had to solve to determine how many miles we were expected to run that day. The final challenge was to run the most weekly miles for the month. I was doing things I had never done before. I was stretching myself in a way racing never would have done. And I was enjoying it!
My most recent challenge was 9-weeks. Every two weeks there was a virtual 5K. I decided to use the same course for each virtual race so that I could determine whether I was improving. It was encouraging to see I was regaining some of my speed while enjoying negative splits.
During 2020 I participated in six virtual races or challenges. At the time they seemed like the running equivalent of busy work but I did things I never thought I could do. In the process I was able to get back out on the trails and run. I started the year barely able to walk. Now I am running up to four miles several times a week on my favorite routes. Next I may try to see if I can add more miles to a run. I know my fastest days are behind me. I probably won’t be able to run any more marathons and half marathons either. I will take it easy because I learned the hard way not running sucks.