The Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee (GVRAT) was an impressive event put on by Laz, Steve “durb,” Terri, Bad Mike, Sandra, and Naresh. The goal was to bring runners together virtually during the time of the Coronavirus. The event took place May 1st to Aug 31st. It would be a summer full of fun and challenge, as participants had to complete 1000 km within that time frame. The two main events were called the Race Across Tennessee 1000 km (RAT) and the Back Across Tennessee 2000 km (BAT).
There were tens of thousands of participants from all over the world. People who were just beginner runners, to seasoned ultrarunners. I’m sure that Laz’s mind was blown, as I’ve read in another article that he only expected a few hundred runners to register.
Managing the logistics and the computer system was a giganormous responsibility. Laz had trouble logging his own daily miles for the race because he played a big part of the crazy behind the scenes details.
The event was set up so that we could all “watch” each other through the system. There were multiple spreadsheets that updated daily, covering more time zones than I knew existed. The spreadsheets were detailed with our names, bib numbers, age, gender, overall rank, number of miles logged per day and per month, and number of times across Tennessee completed. People would enter their bib number and distance that they ran, walked, or hiked for that day, then the computer recorded it.
The coolest thing was that we could all see a map of the state and the race route for either the RAT or BAT. We could get a pretty good idea of where we were at in the ranking and see how far we had left to travel. And it was a long, long way. We were all little pins, strung out across the road. The setup allowed people to zoom into the map and see the street view (think Google Earth or Maps) of what it looked like in Tennessee where they were. Pretty sweet.
1000 km is the length of Tennessee, starting at the southwest tip and heading to the northeast tip. Well, the race was “calculated” in “Laz miles.” It wasn’t 1000 km exactly. It was longer, 1022 km. I’m pretty sure that he planned this out intentionally, as this is what he traditionally does with his race events. The infamous one being The Barkley Marathons, where people don’t know the course or distance of the loop until they have completed one loop.
Runners had to log about five miles per day to cross the RAT finish line on time. For a few thousand people, this was pretty challenging. People were figuring out when and where they could run, pushing their bodies to new limits, and doing all of this while a pandemic was going on. Some people had to wear a mask when they were out running, some had to run around their property or use the treadmill in their house, depending on their local Coronavirus precautions. It had to get done one way or another.
For runners who wanted to up the ante and suffer a little more for the buckle, they could do the out-and-back, which was BAT 2044 km. Around 10 miles per day. And a few handfuls of ultrarunners completed three to five crossings of Tennessee!
There were thousands of people who couldn’t believe the amount of miles that some ultrarunners were logging per day. I read on the race’s Facebook page, someone posted questioning that the ultrarunners were truthful in the distance that they were entering in the system. The race operated by honor and truthfully registering your daily miles into the computer system. That thread blew up with responses that yes, those numbers are true. Ultrarunners can place that amount of demand on their bodies. A handful of people were logging 50 km to 50 miles per day! It was remarkable.
Because the race had the extra 22 km, some runners never actually crossed the finish line. They stopped at 1000 km, obviously, they didn’t read the rules or about the distance. People finishing behind them passed them as they crossed the finish. It was comical. It just goes to show you that people don’t pay attention.
Everyone who completed the RAT received a sweet belt buckle. Depending on how many days that runners had left before August 31st, they could pay the small, additional fee to run BAT. Less people completed the BAT. For those who started back across, but wouldn’t arrive back at the start of the race, goaled themselves to reach the 1000 mile mark. Everyone who reached the 1000 mile mark got a cute little pin that read “1000 miles GVRAT”. People who made it all the way back to the start line got a really nice decorative fabric reward.
Ah, and I can’t leave out The Gingerbread Man. The Gingerbread Man was always in the lead. He was the fastest, nobody could catch him. The Gingerbread Man egged on the lead runner, forever being a mile or more ahead. I noticed on the Facebook page that it took a couple of participants some extra time to understand the concept of The Gingerbread Man. He wasn’t real, or was he? And he was never going to be caught. People didn’t get it. Anyways, The Gingerbread Man won the race.
My race experience and the challenges that I had to overcome
For me, the race went like this.
I knew going into this that the five miles per day would be somewhat of a challenge, however, thinking ahead, I knew that I wouldn’t be fully satisfied or feel fully accomplished. With all of my races cancelled, I was going to give this virtual one my all. I was going to do the BAT.
I goaled myself with 10 plus miles per day, which would have me finishing mid August. There would be time to start the third crossing or to just reward myself with being done early. The being done early was the nicest sounding option.
My miles were all logged on my feet, a combination of treadmill, road running, pushing my daughter in the jogger, trail running, hiking, and walking. I completed two self-supported 40-something ultramarathons at Moraine State Park on the Gracier Ridge Trail and the North Country Trail. I parked my Jeep aid station close to the center and off I went for a day of trail running. July was my biggest mileage month ever, 368.72 miles.
I mostly ran in Pennsylvania, but also had a trip to Indiana and Virginia.
The PA trails that I adventured on: Connoquenessing Valley Heritage Trail; Connoquenessing Creek Woods; North Country Trail; Glacier Ridge Trail; Moraine State Park Bike Path; Hell’s Hollow; Brown’s Run Trail; Liggett Trail; Baker Trail; country roads.
IN trails: Chain O’ Lakes State Park; country roads.
VA trails: Occoquan Trail at Bull Run Regional Park.
As for dealing with the Coronavirus when running, I avoided busy places, practiced social distancing, and wore a Buff around my neck on the trail in case passing 6 feet away was difficult, I could tug the Buff up into a mask. On runs around town, I would go out of my way to avoid people by crossing the street or taking a different path. It was annoying. It all worked out and was safe.
To entertain, distract, or motivate myself I listened to heavy rock, metal, and running podcasts. When I was on the treadmill, especially late at night, I watched Netflix on my phone. There were several runs where it was just me and the sounds of the outdoors.
For the treadmill miles, I walked, ran, did a combination, and played some with the incline. There were times that I held on and walked backwards. I always kept the pace and incline easy, so that I wouldn’t wear myself out. This was a very long race.
Numerous runs were completed at night, after my daughter went to bed. I found myself staying up until midnight completing miles on the treadmill. It was difficult staying awake, and the miles adding up over time wore me out physically and mentally.
The toughest part began around mid July and remained until the end of the race, about a month later. There were two occasions where I mis-stepped from my narrow treadmill, catching myself with my arms on the side bars and quickly rebounding. I was so tired. As an ultrarunner, you need to learn how to move while falling asleep on your feet. It’s rough. This race was good training for that.
The amount of dedication that it took was exhausting in itself. Time management was difficult as I play many roles (mother, wife, daughter, friends, professional counselor, small business owner, and blogger for both of my websites) and had to make it all work, plus take care of myself. The running had to be the “taking care of myself” part. I didn’t even have time to shower daily or even every other day. Luckily, I hardly ever went out into public because of the safety procedures for Coronavirus and my mental health private practice is all online. I always washed up before meeting with a client. Look good and feel good.
The GVRAT race was a hardcore challenge by the end. The last few weeks I found myself feeling down, the joy of running was gone. I did everything I could to find the time to sneak in even just half a mile here and there to get across the finish line sooner. I missed a lot of things, all of the things that I could be doing if I wasn’t logging miles. I missed weight lifting, sitting watching Netflix, and more time with my family.
Being a mother to an 11 month old, who turned 1 year old by the time I finished, added to the difficulty of finding time. Everything happens on her schedule. A good chunk of miles occurred during her one to two naps per day. If I didn’t go on the treadmill, laps around the yard happened. I got a nice summer tan and lost the rest of my baby weight.
My daughter loves riding in the jogger, we would go two to five miles. Once the summer heat really kicked in, I would only take her out for a mile. She is an outdoor girl at heart.
I walked while I worked on typing up my client notes after sessions. Running my own business is definitely full-time work, even though I have a small caseload. I placed my Surface Pro 7 over my treadmill screen and would type, read, write blogs, reply to emails, and work on advertising while walking. There were days that I’d walk 5 miles doing this.
One of my good friends and fellow ultrarunner, Josh, was also participating. Whenever I checked on my progress, I checked on his. We occasionally messaged each other back and forth about how things were going. He was ahead of me for a while, but I caught up. We spent some time running virtually close enough to grab coffee and avoid any bad neighborhoods. It was fun. Because of the pandemic, Josh had to have his wedding canceled. My husband was a groomsman. My husband and I got to watch Josh’s cute, little wedding via Facebook live. It was sweet. During the race, Josh was struggling to manage an injury. Once he crossed the finish, he made the right call and decided to rest, verses doing the BAT. I don’t know who finished the RAT first, maybe we finished at the same time. He cheered for me as I continued onto the BAT.
I did end up finishing in mid August, as I predicted. In fact, I ended up accidentally starting on the third trip across. I was 5 or 6 miles into it, of course on the treadmill late at night, when I recalculated my miles and was thrilled to learn that I could stop moving!!
This race was fun and got me in extremely good shape. There were adventures and challenges along the way, making the summer highly interesting. There was encouragement amongst my friends and I as we all ran our own races. Overall, the vibe of the tens of thousands of people participating was positive. A light in a time of darkness.
Final Thoughts. I’m thankful for the support of my husband and my parents. My husband was even tired of me participating in the race by the end. He cheered me on, made sure I did my daily miles, and watched our daughter more than he was used to. My parents are very supportive of my running and watch my daughter while I race or spend all day on the trail for self-care. My mom likes to participate in 5 km races, she understands part of my running. Everyone was a huge help in allowing me to accomplish such a big challenge.
Would I ever do another GVRAT 2000 km? No. There are plenty of other ridiculous races out there that I want to do. The GVRAT helped prepare me to tackle these future endeavors.