Running 6.7 kilometers really isn’t that far. No problem. That’s easy, right? Yet it felt increasingly difficult to convince myself of that by the time Sunday morning rolled around last weekend, because by then, 6.7 km felt nearly impossible.
I participated in a virtual event called the Quarantine Backyard Ultra, a race, as the name would suggest, spurred on by Covid and our new and weird physically distanced lives. With every race cancelled this summer, Race Directors got really creative in coming up with new ways to inspire and torture us, and while I haven’t participated in many, I was intrigued by the Backyard Ultra concept and felt that there was no better time to try it out then during a pandemic.
Quick summary of the race concept. You choose a course that is 6.7km long. That could be around your living room, your backyard, your neighbourhood, a trail, it doesn’t matter. Just make sure its flat and safe enough that you can run it in a mental fog. You sign on to a Zoom meeting where you find hundreds of other runners in their ‘starting corral’ (living room/front entrance/deck/car), wave hi, and then you run that 6.7 km, every hour, on the hour for as long as you can. So you start at 7:00 am, run 6.7km, stop, drink a coffee, wave at the Zoom meeting, chat with your friends, put your shoes back on and then at 8:00 am, run 6.7km again. And again. And again. And again. And…ok you get the idea. There is no finish line, the only way you win is by being the last person still putting their shoes on and running at the top of the hour. Everyone else gets what we call in the run world, a DNF (Did Not Finish). No medal for you.
You can see how this format lends itself well to the cruel craziness that has been 2020 right? So, of course I dove in. What have I got to lose?
I admit I went into the event with my confidence a bit shaken. A solid spring training season was derailed by an injury that left me house bound and stir crazy for most of June. That, paired with a whole pile of other junk happening in life, left me a feeling like a shell of who I normally am (Movement. Nature. People. Even in a Pandemic.). But as my leg started feeling better thanks to an amazing physiotherapist and some potent anti-inflammatories, I got back out there and remembered how much running has always helped me heal, how it grounds me and brings me back to my true self. Maybe this race was exactly what I needed.
I set up my aid station, struggled to figure out the tech, and while my family still slept, I watched the clock on Zoom tick down to start time and stepped out my front door as I hit ‘Record’ on Strava. And imagine my surprise to see my friend David smiling on my front porch, running shoes on. I knew he was considering stopping by, but had no idea it would be for the first laps! Off we went, obviously excited about the day, cause our pace was way too fast as we chatted in the early morning sun. First lap done in 35 minutes with plenty of time to relax on the front deck until the clock ticked down to start the next lap. Those first four laps were truly a gift, they felt easy, conversation and company was
Laps 5-9 I was joined by friend and run coach Paul who I had shared my last 100 mile adventure with this time last year (Sinister 7: 100 Mile Ultra 2019). We’ve supported each other through all kinds of crazy run endeavours over the years so of course I knew he
would want to be a part of this, but I really knew he was making a sacrifice when he said he would come for the hottest hours of the day. Normally he prefers the early mornings and cooler temperatures yet here he was, running hot pavement in the rising temperatures, which he paid for later with heat stroke symptoms. I was still feeling really good and was taking care to cool down with ice and plenty of liquids (electrolytes, coconut water, Infinite, ice tea) and had started carrying a small handheld of water while I ran as well. The kids were even getting in on the fun and bringing us ice and drinks and enjoying the unlimited screen time they were allowed while mom was busy. I was also visited by Glenda, my energy healer and physio friend who graced me with her love and KT tape to help hold my faltering right leg together. Love her.
The laps together with Paul were a typical mix of easy conversation side by side, followed by Paul running ahead in silence, checking his watch and keeping me hustling. I was a consistent 38 minutes per lap still and very happy with my progress. The heat for the day peaked at about 27’C which felt pretty intense since it was only a few weeks ago we had the last few blustery hints of snow and I really hadn’t had any chance to heat train, but I still managed to stay cool and hydrated the whole time. At some point, getting closer to evening, I even snuck in a shower, brushed my teeth and changed my clothes to help me cool off and feel like a whole new woman. Paul left, encouraging me to just keep taking one lap at a time. Good advice, Coach.
Another lap with Julia on her bike which marked a momentous occasion as I announced it was time for my first ever ‘tarps off’ run and I stripped down to my sports bra. I have always wanted to muster up the courage to run in just a sports bra but the perfect
I was then joined for the quietest lap of the day by my son Levi on his bike…conversation was impossible as he wasn’t wearing his hearing aids and was way out in front of me the whole time, but he loved a chance to get in on the action and I sure appreciated the company and his sweet curb hopping skills as he cruised ahead.
It started to cool off and cloud over, bringing relief for laps 12-17 when I was joined by the best run partner a girl could ask for, Tania. She somehow managed to juggle feeding and caring for all our collective children, taking care of me between laps and running 40+km with me all with a smile and loads of encouragement. (I’ll never tire of adventures with her!) As we neared the end of each lap we could discuss our transition plan as my time between laps was shrinking to only about 15 minutes by this point and it was a whirlwind of activity to get everything done, wave at the Zoom crew, and head out
It felt like the party was winding down as we all laughed and danced with the DJ rapping on the Zoom call and kissed the kids goodnight. A lap with Kirk on his bike and Tania still running, and then Tania left at midnight to catch a few hours of sleep. I was mentally preparing for a few laps on my own in the dark which I had mixed feelings about. On the one hand, running alone in the dark is rather magical… I do plenty of it in the winter on early morning road runs. But I was also a bit nervous about being alone out there on a hot summer night on a predictable route at a predictable time. These are the things female runners think about every time we head out, and certainly I saw plenty of people all through the night who didn’t seem to have anything better to do then hang around. However, as I was trying to force some more calories down and roll my aching feet, I heard the voices of my beautiful mom friends Julia and Paula outside. They rocked up on their bikes to see me through the night. Find your tribe. Hold them dear. And they will show up for you when you need it most.
I’m afraid I wasn’t able to express my gratitude as much as I would’ve liked by this point. My throat was dry, conversation was difficult and my pace was starting to slow even more. But these incredible ladies chatted and giggled the whole way along, encouraging me and entertaining me for two hours with conversations about everything from Fortnite to vagina’s to raising teenagers and wanting to steal lettuce from the community garden since they were out anyway in the dark and it felt like an exhilaratingly naughty
As Blake and I ran up to the house at 3:45am (and past a few meters then back again…each lap needed about a 30 m addition back and forth to get to 6.7!) I got a little teary at the sight. My husband Kirk was sitting there with a smile and his bike ready to go. All through the day he had helped me by managing tech, buying a new armband so I could hold my phone easier, bringing me food and drinks and asking about my caloric intake. He stayed up watching EuroVision while I was out with Blake and was ready to fill in so I didn’t have to go out alone. Yes, this quarantine has been tough on all of us and there have been days that working from home and home ‘unschooling’ and watching all our plans for the future fall apart has taken a huge toll, but as I saw him sitting there, waiting for me, I was again reminded that the lights of my front deck and the people who make that place home, are worth sticking through the hard times with. I couldn’t do what I do without the incredible people that prop me up when life feels tough and love me through it all. He hopped on his bike and away we went off for another lap as the sun came up. Love him.
Kirk headed to bed and I was joined by another run friend Thomas. Thomas and I have also had our share of fun run adventures, but I’m sure that this one couldn’t have been fun for him at all. He showed up in the rain, at 5 am to walk for two hours through my neighbourhood while I struggled to hold conversation and keep food down. But that’s just the kind of guy he is. I was really starting to feel awful by this point. I had managed to keep my jog at a fast-enough shuffle for the last few laps that I still had at least 8-10 minutes between laps to regroup but I could feel the wheels coming off fast once Thomas arrived (not that I blame him!). I was walking as much as running and watching the clock with urgency to make sure I could make it back in time for at least another lap. This time, I only had 4 minutes to spare. Kirk had kindly left me some sugary oatmeal out for when I came back and I tried so hard to swallow some but it came right back up. Ugh.
I checked in on the zoom call and gave my best smile and wave.
Down from 1200 runners to only 42. I headed out to see what I had left in me.
Thomas and I were joined by Victoria who couldn’t sleep and wanted to join in the fun and we started out on what felt straight out of a dark comedy featuring something between a ‘Victory lap’ and ‘Walk of Shame’ (one person in our trio who shall remain nameless was, in fact, hungover!). I shuffled a bit, but quickly realized I was far too nauseous to maintain any sort of run pace so I made the decision to enjoy the lap as best I could and see what happened.
So, what happened? We chatted and power walked and I stopped to throw up a time or two. The best thing about run friends is that stopping to puke doesn’t even mean you pause the conversation or even flinch; I was offered a pat on the back and some water to rinse and we kept our relentless forward progress. An hour passed. I didn’t make it back in time. I was done. I chatted with the Race Director and he informed me that technically I only completed 23 hours and that was my official time. I’m not too worried. I know what I did.
161km in 24 hours.
And quite happy with that.
I had sort of hoped for a bigger personal best. Over 100 miles would have been great. However, I was exhausted and nauseated and pretty drained and the clock won. If this was a regular ultra I would have walked until I felt better and worked on getting my calories up so I could start running again. But this wasn’t a regular ultra. That clock was brutal and like Lazarus Lake (the evil genius behind this race format) says “When its easy, its easy. But when its hard, its really hard”. There is no comparing those first laps with David, done in 35 minutes, to those last laps with Thomas racing the clock. First it felt breezy and sunny, but it ended cold and increasingly impossible. The winner of this race went on to 51 hours (the world record is 68 hours!) and my utmost congratulations to those that stuck it out that long. I’ll never view 6.7km as ‘easy’ again. But I will forever view 6.7 km as best shared with friends. I was totally blown away by how such a ridiculous race concept could bring out so many people to run, bike, cheer and support me.
Tania came back to the house to get her sleeping kids shortly after I stumbled to bed to try to sleep. Her and another friend Denise packed my kids and our camping gear up and then drove me to the mountains for a couple days for some much-needed recovery time. Our last morning at the campsite, I was quite happy to stay at the campsite with the kids so the two of them could run a lap on the trails around the campground. It was kinda nice to watch someone else for a change as they went out for:
Just. One. More. Lap.