As you may have noticed, the space year 2020 hasn’t gone quite how any of us envisaged it. A pretty horrible few months so far that, as with previous posts, I don’t really need (or particularly want) to dwell on to be honest as we all know the state of play out there at the moment. Needless to say however, we’ve all had to adapt how we live our lives just a tiny little bit.
One of the things that I’ve been super impressed by is how the running community has sprung into action with various challenges to keep us all motivated with all of the actual races currently on hiatus. I’m certainly not the only one that can sometimes struggle to keep on track without an end goal in sight and the way my training intensity began to tail off as April’s marathon looked less and less likely (before plummeting off a cliff completely as soon as it was officially cancelled) is testament to this. Without something tangible to aim for, sometimes the old brain can switch off a bit and everything starts to feel a little bit…pointless.
To try and keep motivated with everything on hold for the foreseeable I decided to take part in my first ever virtual races back in April, and very rewarding they were too. A virtual half marathon on the day of my aborted actual full one (which turned out to be a surprisingly successful day at the office) followed up with a tilt at the metric distance (26.2km) a couple of weeks later as part of the 2.6 Challenge, a combination which topped up the fundraising very nicely in the continued absence of the main event.
Both runs were totally solo efforts though, and with some of my favourite ever races being the ones I’ve done with my wife and various friends and family over the years it was time to try and do something as a group, a team challenge in these socially-distanced times. There’s no better motivation in my opinion than doing things together, sharing the journey being there for each other and encouraging each other, either by the side of the road in an actual race or in this case over a Whatsapp group in a virtual sense.
findarace.com’s Plan B challenge once again provided the platform for this as they launched “Act 2” on the back of £25k raised from the original set of events for the World Health Organisation’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund. A small team began to form and we all spent a bit of time picking out one of their cumulative total challenges based on the number of runners we had on board, with my wife also taking part in an individual challenge to hit a solo 100km total alongside the group effort. The team grew from an initial handful of runners, eventually all the way up to a (hopefully not unlucky) 13 and with the squad complete we decided to plump for the mammoth 750km challenge and crossed our all our fingers and toes hoping we’d set an achievable target.
We were barely a few days into the challenge however when we hit our first setback as one of our runners was forced to dial it back and rest a bit due to an ankle problem, a legacy of a bad break from a climbing fall back in 2018. The team total on our shared spreadsheet didn’t look like much initially after we’d added our first couple of runs and as a few more kilometres began to trickle it began to hit home quite how far 750km really is. Roughly the distance from Manchester to Brighton and back as the crow flies, it takes me nearly five hours each way to do that journey by train when I head down there for work. Had we bitten off more than we could chew here? Even with 13 of us running, could we actually pull this off inside the 31 days we had available?
Gradually though it began to look like it was actually on. By the 7th May we were already over a quarter of that vast total, two days later and we were a third of the way there. We were ahead of schedule and the runs were coming in thick and fast. By the 13th we were over halfway: on target and with a little time to spare already.
The runs were regular and varied, with many of us venturing out before work when the weather was a little cooler, catching a lovely sunrise and returning home ready to face the day’s challenges. The current lockdown rules had pretty much all of us working from home and so lunchtime runs also featured heavily, getting out to stretch our legs and break up the monotony of the working day and just see something other than the interior walls of our homes.
Long runs, short runs. Weekday, weekend, day and night. There was a little bit of everything, with even those in the team facing massive life commitments such as running for the first time since giving birth barely two months ago, or running alongside moving house with everything that entails. Running after spending entire days decorating (so much more tiring than you imagine it will be) or tending to our gardens. Running hungover or even after a beer or two that very same day (not advisable). The recent parents out running a relay around their local park, with their tiny new arrival watching on with whoever was resting at that point. Even a pair of us out running solo and then bumping into each other (two metres apart) in a park on one occasion, the first time we’d seen each other since the middle of March.
It was amazing how it all came together with everyone contributing, and all of us agreeing along the way how great it was having something to motivate us to get out and about and add to our total and with the support of the group behind us. We all had our shared goal. If we wanted our medals we had to go and earn them, and based on the one I got for April’s challenge, they’re surprisingly decent quality, certainly better than some of ones from actual races I’d done in the past. Whether it would have been the same if the weather had been the series of torrential deluges we had between November and February we’ll never know, but here with a succession of glorious days, literally the sunniest May on record, the kilometres rolled in thick and fast, sailing through the 500km mark on the 18th of the month and then just over a week later hitting the magic target with five days still to spare. An incredible effort.
We ended up closing on a grand total of 891.8km, smashing the target to bloody pieces by nearly 150km. The 13 of us ran further than the entire length of England, and we’ll soon have the medals to prove it.
There were a whole host of personal achievements along the way too, with my wife successfully completing her solo distance challenge and then some, and others pushing themselves to, say, run the equivalent of a kilometre per day, or to run for the first time in literally months, or for the first time since giving birth. Some of us aimed to simply get out and run more regularly, subsequently surprising ourselves with how often we were actually able to do it, with the prizes gleaming tantalisingly at the end and an incredibly supportive Whatsapp group keeping us all going.
It had been a brilliant challenge and something quite unlike anything any of us had done before, and we’ve already signed up to the next one. An event spanning an entire month and with a large group of friends all united in working together towards a shared goal, each with our own aims and expectations of what we thought we could achieve. At the beginning there were nerves and apprehension. At the end, glorious success and the overriding feeling as we all basked in the glory was: it’s surprising what a little team spirit can do to your motivation. We all came, we all saw, we all conquered.
We were all in it together, which hasn’t been easy to say while living in isolation over the past few weeks, and together we all achieved something pretty amazing. Go team.
Images © findarace.com